SCU: Day 10

Published: August 25th 2007
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No class for me today as I went on a tour to the legendary Sierra Maestra mountains!

I booked myself on an English speaking tour and I was told it would be me and two English speakers. They were a couple from Norway and very friendly. The rest of the group was made up of a dozen tourists from Barcelona. I've never seen so much jewellery worn on a tour. I thought it was in bad taste to flash so much gold around considering the poverty in Cuba. Obviously being robbed isn't a concern for them or maybe they're just too arrogant worry about it.

After the three hour drive to get up there, the first thing that jumped into my head was "Piss Weak World", as in the dodgy tourist attraction sketch The Late Show did in the 1990s. Our day was spent at a tiny hotel buried deep in the mountains. The "hike" was supposed to be in English but due to the number of Spanish people on the tour, it was conducted in Spanish except for the odd "you understand" in English. I left the hike after ten minutes so I could have the waterfall all to myself. It was tiny but beautiful to swim in. On closer look though it occurred to me that the waterfall wasn't actually a natural river but was being fed water through pipes up above. On the hike earlier, I took a photo from a lookout point above the waterfall and noticed the river above the waterfall was dry but I didn't think about it until I saw pipes gushing water further down stream from the waterfall. I felt ripped off!

After the rest of the group arrived at the waterfall, I decided to do some horse riding through the Sierra Maestra mountains. It was just me and the 70-odd year old cowboy. My horse was called "Princessa". Note to self: next time I horse ride, wear a bra, not a bathing suit. Not the most comfortable experience. I was having a lovely time riding through the dirt tracks and looking at the dense vegetation until I saw the old cowboy hit Princessa on the bum with a stick to make her go faster. I ignored that one but when he hit her in the head with the stick I got the shits and told him I wanted to go back. No-one hits my horse in the head.

More info on Cuba care of our tour guide:

- rations are limited to the point that after two weeks the staples have run out so people have to buy things on the blackmarket.

- there is one doctor for every 170 people although a lot of doctors have been transferred overseas to more poverty stricken countries.

- the trucks used as public transport are Chinese but the engines are American so therefore they can't get parts to fix the trucks. Like with the American vintage cars, they've had to reinvent parts in order to fix their automobiles.

- beef and milk are only allowed for kids up to 7yo and people over 60yo. Because of this people shoot cattle in paddocks but this comes with a 20 year prison term if caught.

- signs saying "CDR" are seen throughout towns. It's kind of like a Neighbourhood Watch program but more like Big Brother. Apparently when US currency was illegal, CDR members would search through other Cubans' rubbish to find proof of illegal activity so it made many Cubans weary of CDR members in their community but when the Hurricane hit it was said that CDR is very helpful when it comes to civil defence.

I had a brief conversation with the tour guide when everyone else was on the walk. He told me he was an English teacher but left teaching because the pay was bad. He then said the felt students listened better to male teachers. I told him I disagreed and said there's no place for sexism. He looked puzzled so I told him that if he had a daughter I'm sure he'd want her to be treated the same as if he had a son. He said "do you think?". I thought perhaps he didn't understand English but he was an English teacher so he would've understood me loud and clear. As a result, he didn't get a tip at the end of the tour. That's the thing I don't understand with the neanderthal Cubans who harrass us, would they like it if someone treated their daughter/sister/mother like how they treat us?

I've heard a lot of positives about how the Socialist model is working for Cuba. But I can't help but think about how a group for gay people was quashed and its members jailed for being gay. How is that not a human rights abuse? In that respect Cuba is no better than the US or any other country. In fact they're alike in a lot of ways. For starters, they both hold artists and sportspeople in higher regard than people who actually benefit the community such as doctors, nurses and teachers. So they're just as screwed up as Capitalist countries in that regard.

Havana is definitely my favourite city I've visited to date. It is best described as beautiful chaos; urban, seductive, dirty and alive. Santiago de Cuba on the other hand is surbubia; nothing open on weeknights, bored youth wandering the streets, uneducated men harrassing women, a sub-standard Carnival for drunk locals to attend. For a better comparison, Havana is Sydney. Santiago de Cuba is Campbelltown. Give me urban or rural, but not suburban.

Tonight we went to Casa de la Traditional which was basically a house with a live salsa band and a tiny bar. They sold 1L bottles of rum to Cubans for CUC2 but made tourists buy small cocktails for CUC2. When some of the girls arrived with their 'boyfriends' we managed to get a bottle of rum and some cola to mix our own drinks. Again, the western women were expected to pay for the guys and this time, when one of the rude bastards stuck his cup at me demanding rum I told him no. He glared at me and moved his cup closer and I said no again, but louder. He said something to one of his friends in Spanish and didn't talk to me for the rest of the night. Thanks, mate.

On the way home, our dodgy taxi ran out of petrol and the taxi driver had to push us the rest of the way home. That about sums up Santiago de Cuba.


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