I have been back from Cuba
for a week today, but it has been a busy week getting back into the old routine at home, catching up with stuff at work, plus we got a nasty cold in the plane. Even today I am still under the weather
, but it is Easter weekend so there is plenty of time to rest
La Habana is a beautiful city filled with history, but it is in dire need of some serious tender loving care
. I learned that Cuban people have limited to no access to many products we take for granted, among them tools and paint, plus life is expensive and when choices boil down to buy paint or buy food
it is not much of a choice.
And yes, Cuba is a communist and socialist country, and many things are taken care of by the government, but their economy is struggling and what the people get from their government is barely enough. Regardless of that fact most Cubans are warm and friendly people, showing a genuine interest in exchanging with foreigners and not only interested in your money.
Of course people working in the touristic sector hope to get tips, but they are actually grateful when they get one and most of the time they share with their coworkers. And then there are the people maintaining bathrooms, who have a really crappy job and for whom tips are the only remuneration they get. They are content with a 5 to 10 cents tip, and the one time my wife gave an old lady 50 cents she got kissed on both cheeks and profusely thanked.
There are two currencies in Cuba, the National Peso (with figures of historical people) and the Convertible Peso or CUC (with figures of monuments). The CUC is worth the same as the American dollar and 25 times the National Peso. I was warned by the travel agent to check my change when I buy something, as a common scam is to give change in National Pesos (thus 25 times less than what you're owned), and at a money-exchange counter to count my money before leaving.
I had nobody try to scam me either of those ways, but here are my other experiences:Cigar scam
: I have been offered a few times cigars the same as government-approved, but 20CUC instead of 100CUC a box
. I refused and later talked to locals who told me the cigars I would have gotten were the cheapest of the cheapest, worth at most 5CUC a box, and only people way down on their luck smoked them. Remember that if it too good to be true, then it is too good to be true Mojito scam
: A nice guy on the street or a tour-guide tells you, "Want to drink the best mojitos in all Habana?"
translates to "Want to overpay for a crappy mojito so I can get a cut?"
Mojitos in Old Havana go for 2½CUC usually, but with the best mojito scam
you will pay 4CUC and sometimes 6CUC. There is also a big probability your 6CUC mojito has no alcohol in it Hemingway scam
: Ernest Hemingway, writer of The Old Man and the Sea
among other books, lived in Havana and is a local legend. Beware that if he used to hang out at a bar or restaurant, you will pay more for your drinks (ex. 4CUC for a mojito instead of the regular 2½CUC). I suspect some establishments of falsely claiming Hemingway stopped by just to overcharge drinks. The less dishonest ones may charge you more because, at some undetermined point in time, Ernest Hemingway farted as he was passing by in front of their bar and that justifies the surcharge Jineteros
: Like in all Countries you have scammers, and in Cuba they are called Jineteros
(do not mix-up with a Jinetera
which means prostitute
make a living by latching on a tourist
and are basically money-leeching lampreys. To be honest life in Cuba is hard and people need Convertible Pesos to afford things like shampoo and toothpaste, plus these guys think all tourists are loaded and will not get hurt in any way if they're relieved of a few hundred CUC (1 Convertible peso = 1 American dollar, remember?). And yes I had to deal with a few of them but I did my research before leaving for Cuba and was prepared :bademoticon:
First off these guys have to seduce
a tourist and are fluent in more languages than just English, so learn their usual pick-up lines: How long have you been here?
, Do you like my country?
, and the most popular: Where are you from?
. Those are meant to break the ice and get you talking to learn more about you. Now, if you know what you're getting into and don't mind overpaying your guide, it can be an interesting experience
To ward off jineteros there is a magical incantation
that goes like this, I have been in Cuba for a week and I have no money left.
this will have the effect of a potent jinetero-repellent
. Jineteros ask you how long you've been in Cuba because they prey on virgin tourists
, since if you have been some time in the country it means you have already been through the jinetero seduction routine
. And if you have no money then you are not worth all the time and effort
One rememberable experience I had was when walking down
a small street in Havana. Two guys were sitting on a doorstep and the tall, hip, expensive-shades wearing one
called to me, "I want to be your friend, I want to be your friend.
" You want to be my friend but won't get off your butt? Perhaps since he was a tall guy he figured he was less intimidating if he remained sitting
I chanted the magic incantation
, I have been in Cuba for a week and I have no money left.
and ABRACADABRA! He immediately did his best to avoid eye contact with me
So scammers are easily dealt with and it made for a fun experience
Taxis now... too many regular taxis, vintage car taxis, tricycle-taxis, and coco-taxis (motorcycles encased in a yellow shell) for the number of tourists available. Maintenance and gas are also expensive in Cuba, 1.10CUC a liter during our stay. And thus you can't walk 5 steps without being offered a taxi, which can get irritating but that we always refused politely. Remember that these people are trying to make a living in an environment with very limited resources. And of course, always settle on the price of the ride before getting on a taxi
While we were in Havana, a girl in front of us saw the coco-taxis and said, "Look, minions!"
and truth be told those things were the same color as a Minion
I still haven't gotten that mental image out of my head
The rest of our stay we spent in Varadero and enjoyed the beach
We went on a catamaran tour, that was really awesome
, and a JEEP tour where I got to drive a 4-wheel-drive Suzuki that was clearly made for people with legs way shorter than mine. Regardless we had a great time there too
I will be posting some selected pics of my Cuban vacation as soon as I sort out the nearly 2000 I took. Blame the 32GB memory card I bought before the trip. Now I need a new camera, because on our last day of vacation I fell in the sea with said camera in my pocket
fortunately the memory card was not damaged
Pictures from Cuba