Today I tell you my first experience traveling to Cuba. Being the first time I was in a Caribbean country and especially in a country with dictatorship there are many things of Cuba that caught my attention and that you should know before you get to the island.
A state employee charges between $15 and $40 per month. I mean, there’s the same relationship between you and a Cuban, and you and Cristiano Ronaldo. Why do they charge so little? See point 2.
Obviously no one can live with such a low salary, then the solution is to adapt and offer the tourist as much as possible.
Today, the truth is, the Cuban a little more ambitious and no longer wants to work for the state. He prefers to work in the import and export market or in tourism, where only with tips can draw a month’s salary.
After all, Cuba looks like an economy entirely subsidized by foreign tourists.
There’s only one employer: The State
Every time I asked who manages this or that, the answer was always the same: the state. And besides, when asked, they look at you like you’re crazy. It is a fundamental law of the economy without competition the fact that everyone loses, and in this case it is obvious that employees and consumers are the ones who lose out. Employees charging little and being unmotivated by the unconstructive environment, and consumers because they have a higher price of the product, compared to a market where companies fight to lower prices and gain market share.
The diet is prepared by the state, not the nutritionist: it is the government that decides what each family can eat, based on its components and activities. According to his decision, he hands out a kind of coupon check called a ration card, with which you show up at the store. Depending on your card you get some food or another, for example a liter of milk, 4 eggs, a loaf of bread… That’s why they say no one is hungry in Cuba…but the truth is that it is a country where nature is extremely rich and dazzling, but it is not exploited.
There is delicious and very nice fruit everywhere. Get coconuts, pineapples, guavas, papayas… there’s so much fruit that they even throw it away! They have 15 types of potatoes. Stop by an agricultural and taste everything… as you can!
Drink juices, pineapple and coconut cocktails, and eat pineapple and coconut separately as well. There is no country in the world that has invented as many cocktails as Cuba, from Cuba Libre (invented by Cubans in the USA, that’s why Cuba Libre), mojito (not only bodeguita does!), daiquiri, to piña colada… and i’m sorry if I forget any.
It’s amazing how such a small country has given so much to the history of music, setting an era with thousands of rhythms that we listen to to the most remote corner of the world. Today the reggaeton throws more among the young, but strolling through the habaneros bars you can enjoy groups playing and people dancing to its surroundings salsa and meringue.
But Cuban music does not end here, having eventually been the navel of the world of musical convergence, and South American, American, African and Creole influences have been merged into Music Guajira (Campesina), Rumba, Son, Cuban Jazz, Mambo, CháCháChá reaching hip hop (Orishas) and reggaeton.
The truth is that the cars of the 50s have a style, and we can not avoid photographing them as they are so rare for us. But then one begins to investigate and discover the reason why there are so few cars in all of Cuba and why they are all old.
Since the embargo of the United States (year 62), North American cars were no longer purchased, that is why there are only Chevrolets from the 1950s, of which only the chassis remains, since the engine has obviously been changed at least 10 times .
Starting in the 1960s, only Comecon, that is to say communist, cars could be imported, under state approval. For example the Trabant, Lada or Moskvich. It was very difficult for them to let cars that were European, such as Peugeot or Mercedes, although from time to time they closed an eye for a friend.
These beautiful cars are only in appearance. If you take a 2-hour trip in these models, it’s equivalent to a 24-hour trip in any other type of car. You have to keep in mind that:
- They have no window
- The noise won’t let you hear your own thoughts.
- Air conditioning is rare.
- The seats usually have the springs protruding from the seat, and vibrate like a washing machine in the spin phase.
It does not end here: until 2014 it was forbidden to buy and sell cars in Cuba. In other words, if you wanted to change your car, you couldn’t. Even if you sold the car, it was like not having sold it, and when the owner died, the heirs could claim it from the buyer, which generated a series of fights that you can imagine.
It is now possible to buy and sell cars, but we are far from a perfect market. In fact, at most it is possible to own 2 cars, and it is advisable to have only one so as not to trigger envy from neighbors or investigations by inspectors. But the real problem is the price of the cars. Being a rare commodity, they cost a lot: a 1995 Peugeot 405, which in Cuba is considered a modern car, costs more than $ 70k. This car in Europe is not seen on the streets, and if you really wanted to buy it it would surely cost less than € 1,000.
If there is one thing that works in Cuba, it is private houses.
The houses are very clean and the service is excellent … and they are also cheaper than any hotel. Do you know why hotels are so expensive in Cuba? Because they are all from the State, and that sadly means that the service is expensive and of poor quality. Which employee would work with a smile at a hotel for $ 20 a month?
The houses originally offered rooms within the houses themselves, creating more chance for interaction with the locals.
But over time, Cubans have been building independent units, where tourists have a bed, a fridge and a bathroom … and share the patio with the house.
Do you want breakfast? You pay separately, normally from 3 to 5 CUC.
Do you want lunch or dinner? You pay separately, from 5 to 12 CUC.
And I can guarantee you that the food is delicious. Beans are much better than in bars and restaurants, the fruit and vegetables are delicious and if you have a craving and communicate it in time, the owners will do their best to satisfy you.
Do you want to do the laundry? They also do it to you.
Do you need to book taxis, transportation or excursions? They usually do that too, but don’t be surprised to pay a commission for that.
I didn’t know this word, but I had to get used to it quickly.
Substantially they are people who spend the day on the street, expecting to see tourists and offer any type of service regardless of Cuban legality. Since I was with my girlfriend, we were not offered prostitutes.
Traveling abroad I was always someone open to dialogue with all kinds of people, I always found it rude not to answer people who approach me in a friendly way, and I always liked letting myself get involved with the locals to see how far they can go . But in order to survive I had to swallow my smile, because on the streets of Havana it was like attracting the attention of these characters.
They all came to ask me if I was Spanish, if I was a tourist, how long was I, and then they started with their play. At least 4 people told me the same stories and in the end I almost believed them … if it wasn’t that they had already told me about the stories they usually tell you in Havana to hook you up:
- “Today is the day of the cooperative, every 23rd of the month Raúl Castro allows him to sell cigars to the workers of the tobacco factory, at a lower price.” But then they take you to the house of a friend who gives you cigars made with leaves. banana.
- “Today is the independence party, there will be concerts and parties in the malecon square and there will be a stop with Raúl Castro.”
- “I take you to a place to change money cheaper.”
- “This is Compay Segundo’s bar, today Buena Vista Social Club is coming to play.”
Security and Police Control
“Cuba is a safe country, the tourist is sacred, there are no weapons, there are no drugs.”
I have heard practically every Cuban I have come across say this. And it’s true. It is a safe country, the streets although they seem dangerous, they are not. The use of drugs is severely punished, which greatly reduces their use and sale on the streets. Now, it is not a country for the naive either, because as I already mentioned, you have to be a parrot of what they tell you, and security, if you compare it with Venezuela or the rest of America, because it is obviously not that high. But what it really seems is that security is the palliative that Cubans use, the medicine that they have been supplying to justify repressive government and police control. In other words, “we do not have the Internet, but our children are not stunned with mobile phones and can return home safely.” There will be many inspectors and police, but with this control I feel safe. The government will do bad things, but at least there is security. Freedom does not imply lack of security. Lack of ethics and education lead to lack of security. It is clear that if there is nothing to steal, no one steals. But the nice thing would be that there is something to steal, but stop being envious, and work harder to achieve a society based on respect. Cubans are convinced that it is capitalism that leads to violence, drugs and lack of security.
One of the most subtle forms of control of the freedom of Cubans and tourists is control of the media, including the Internet.
Obviously all the radios and televisions belong to the state and the only telecommunications company and Internet provider could not be missing: ETECSA.
The service offered by this state company is in line with the monopolistic markets: high price and lousy service. The connection is so bad that it costs to send photos by whatsapp, to connect you have to look for the wifi points in the public squares of the cities or in front of the hotels. You will not recognize the points by a poster, but because you will find hundreds of people looking at the mobile phone or with a computer on their legs or lying on the ground.
But before connecting and being able to enjoy the service, you have to find an ETECSA store, also easily recognizable because it usually has a queue of 10 people to buy the mythical scratch card, which with a code entitles you to 1 hour of Internet for 1 CUC.
That is, any western company to have 40 hours a week of Internet, to be able to communicate with its customers and suppliers, at the end of the month would have to spend more than $ 150.
A state employee, if he wants to watch some YouTube videos at night before sleeping, has to spend 5% of his salary, or he can also connect for about 20 hours in a month and not eat anything.
You don’t have to remember that all Internet traffic is filtered and controlled by the state.
The thing that has struck me most in Cuba is the bookstores: it is not that there are not, because there are even more in Spain … it is that they do not sell books. They have 6 to 15 books, 2 on Che Guevara, 3 on Fidel, another on Cienfuegos and others that do not give too much information on current reality, of the Romeo and Juliet style and after romantic novels, to understand us. So if you expect to find current books, contemporary literature … complicated!
In Cuba there are 2 currencies, and you have to change both on the island.
The CUC, that is to say the convertible, is worth the same as a dollar. This is the tourists currency.
The CUP, that is to say the national currency, is worth 25 times less than the dollar. Theoretically it is the currency of the Cubans, but the truth is that everyone can have it.
In other words, 1 CUC = 25 CUP.
Avoid going with US dollars, because the change penalizes 10%. So it is best to leave with euros.
It is advisable to change 90% in CUC and 10% in CUP.
Shopping for cheap food, or cheap transportation like tuk tuk is better to pay in CUP, because if you pay in CUC they will mess with the change. I have not once seen that the correct change has been returned to me … and look what a coincidence, always in your favor.
To change money never accept change on the street, you always have to go to the local bureau de change, which is called CADECA, money exchange. Obviously it belongs to the state, and every time you change, even if it is 10 euros, you have to go with the passport. The employees scan it and leave the information of what you changed on the computers, so that the government knows what you spent and where you changed during your stay in Cuba.