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Published: April 25th 2006
Apologies everyone but the internet is pretty crap in Cuba, so I have had to download my Cuba trip in dribs and drabs.
Cuba Libre - Free Cuba, or another way of asking for a rum & coke.
Arrived in Havana on the 10th. Your hand luggage is x-rayed after you pass through immigration. Mini had a camera charger in her bag, and was asked if she had any other electronic items, whereupon she showed them her walkie-talkies. There & then her passport was requested, and she was told to collect it at the exit. After we got our luggage we went to the exit and I got through no problems, however Mini was told to go through Secondary Inspection. A lot of electronic items are prohibited in Cuba such as DVD players & cordless phones, so her walkie-talkies were confiscated but she can get them back when we leave. What a calamity.
Cuba is a mass of contradictions and misconceptions; it's really hard to pin it down. You come with a ton of questions and leave with either more questions or some of them unanswered. Certainly I had a preconceived romantic notion of Cuba being the land
of revolution, Che Guevara, rum, cigars, Cuban jazz, salsa & old American classic cars. And there is a definite and exciting vibe here.
Fidel is 80 this year, but no-one seems worried about Cuba's future. Their motto is to live for today and tomorrow will take care of itself. Certainly there will be changes, but who knows for sure.
It's interesting when you ask people about how things are run, you will get different answers everytime. There appear to be 2 sides of the coin. On one side there is the socialist dream comprising free education for all, low mortality rate, everyone is equal, and a great health system. However on the other flip side, the average Cuban only earns about 13 Cuban Convertible Peso's (CUC's) a month. And the usual way the locals can get access to the CUC's is to work in the tourism industry as guides, taxi drivers and in the bars & hotels. So if you have a heart attack there's a good chance your cabbie is a trained doctor & can revive you. It also means that there are more people begging from tourists, and asking for money particularly if you take a
photo of them.
Went into a State-owned co-op to look at what they offered. A bar of soap costs 1CUC, shampoo costs 3CUC (1 weeks wages), and a t-shirt costs 9CUC (3 weeks wages). We've been collecting any soaps & shampoo from the hotels to give away as gifts to the locals. But people appear generally happy given the deprivations.
In a lot of ways Cuba reminds me of Asia. The entire plumbing system across the country is crap so you have to put the toilet paper in the waste bin and not flush it down. Plus you need to tip the attendant as they give you some loo paper.
It's a given that people smoke everywhere. They believe the smoke blows away the bad spirits.
Cubans are naturally flirtatious and will make lots of sexual references, or comments about your body. If a lady is called a "Mango", it's not because she's rotund but a Sexy Lady. And if you are well endowed with a huge gut & ass, you are said to have a balcony & kitchen respectively. Al Loi if you're reading this, I suddenly thought of you.
Divorce rates are high
Old Ministry of Industries building where Che used to work
at about 60%. This could be because infidelity is common place, or multiple generations live in the one house. Also marriage and divorce are really cheap, about 4CUC. People also use this as a means of transferring property. For example, if one couple owns a house and another couple wants to build a unit on top of it, they may do an under-the-table deal whereby couple #1 divorce and then inter-marry with couple #2, build the upstairs unit, and then divorce after 6 months, thereby splitting the property. Very neatly done.
Cows are very important here as the milk is required for the schoolkids. There's a funny law that if you kill a human it's 20 years in jail, but if you kill a cow it's 30 years.
One guide mentioned there are no homeless people. Supposedly if you pay rent for 5 years or 10% of your income, then you will receive the title of the unit or house you are living in. Whether this is true or the party line, it's hard to say as everyone gives you a different answer.
Hitchhiking is common as you need special permission to purchase a vehicle. State-owned vehicles
Jose Marti memorial
This is the national hero of Cuba. Founder of the Cuban Revolutionary Party who fought to rid Cuba of the Spanish
(blue plates) are obliged to pick up hitchhikers. There are even special guys with little clipboards organising the hitchhikers at major crossroads.
The people in our tour group are a lot older than expected but very nice. There are 18 of us ranging from 25 to 75 yrs - a couple from NZ, few Canadians, and the rest are Poms.
On the 11th, we did a tour of Havana. Saw a lot of the main Plazas, Necropolis Colon (main cemetery), Jose Marti memorial, Old Ministry of Industries where Che was head honcho, Castle Morro, and Habana Vieja (Old Havana). The Capitolio (old parliament house) is a fine example of Cuba thumbing their nose at the US. The building looks exactly like Capitol Hill in Washington DC but ever so slightly taller.
Did the touristy thing and had a few lemon daiquiris at El Floridita which was one of Ernest Hemingway's hangouts.
We have 3 more days after the tour in Havana, staying at a casa particular (home stay), so will have more time to soak up Havana then.
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