This blog post could easily be titled: Things That Make You Go Hmmm…
While experiencing both the beauty and hardships of Cuba there were several things that I found interesting that don’t really fit into any of the other posts so I’ve collected them here.
- Shortages are a normal part of life. It’s normal for a restaurant to only have half the menu available. If there is no gas in one town, hopefully the taxi has enough to get you to the next (our’s didn’t).
- If you see something available that you want you better buy it on the spot. One day in Cocodrilo Andrew noted that there were lychee (a small plum like fruit) peels on the ground and wondered where to buy them since we hadn’t seen any fresh fruit for sale. A couple minutes later I saw somebody walking down the road with lychees and I asked where to get them. She pointed to a blue house and said they were there. I was headed back to our place to get money when our host passed by. He insisted that if I wanted lychees we needed to go right then and get the money later. We went together and I procured the last bunch of lychees. There were 3 people in line behind me that were out of luck. I felt bad and ended up giving half my lychees to them. This all happened in less than 10 minutes.
- A toilet seat is a rare commodity. In general the plumbing situation was slightly better than in the other countries we visited (or maybe we just got used to bad plumbing). However, only about 1/4 of the toilets had seats. The rest were left with that narrow bowl lip that you normally only encounter on midnight bathroom trips when somebody has left the seat up.
- You can’t go anywhere without finding music playing. Usually live music and usually pretty good.
- Sunscreen is only available in the big tourist hotels and the shops are only open for limited hours. It’s pretty expensive too, so make sure you bring enough with you.
- Everything is either priced for locals (very cheap) or tourists (roughly American prices). There is no middle ground.
- A car costs more than a house. A restored American car will run $20,000 – $30,000. Run down Russian cars are less, but still expensive for what you get. A house will be in the $8-10,000. It’s all about supply and demand.
- There are 2 different Cuban currencies, Pesos and Convertibles. A Convertible is worth roughly a Dollar (though it costs $1.15 to get a Convertible and you only get $0.85 if you change it back to a Dollar). There are 25 Pesos to a Convertible. A few years ago there were only a select group of Cubans that were allowed to have Convertibles, now there is just a lot of confusion. At the domestic terminal I tried to buy 2 rolls and 2 coffees which was priced at 4 pesos (16 cents). I didn’t have any pesos and tried to pay with convertibles. They wanted 4 convertibles ($4) since the price is 4. I refused to pay 25 times as much as I was supposed to.
- There are no commercials on TV. No reason to create demand or drive choice to something that may not be available. We were amused that the only bottled water available had the tagline #1 in Cuba printed on the bottle.
- The dateline of the newspapers include the phrase, “Year 59 of the Revolution”. The front page always includes a history lesson on the heroics of Fidel, Che, or some other revolutionary hero. There is usually a history lesson inside too. Something such as how the west stole Palestinian lands to create Israel or how the brilliant economic policies of Chavez would work perfectly if only the Americans would quite agitating and inciting riots in Venezuela. Sports coverage seems to be reasonably propaganda free.
There is a big billboard in Havana that translates to The American Embargo is the longest running genocide. While I certainly don’t consider the embargo to be a genocide it also doesn’t make any sense. It’s not as if the US is withholding some critical piece of equipment that would suddenly make the economy flourish and lend support to the Castro regime. Cuba can buy all its essentials elsewhere. Cuba has a lot of problems of their own making all the embargo does is provide a convenient scapegoat for the government to point to. In fact, providing this excuse for the many problems does far more to prop up the regime in the eyes of the people than the embargo could ever do to bring it down.