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March 26, 2012 / catherinebwrites


Some people think that I don’t “get ”  Cuba.   I get Cuba all right.    I’ve read their history of colonisation, oppression slavery and more colonisation.    I know the Americans handed it over to the Mafia in the 1940’s and 50’s.   I know it had obscene wealth and even more obscene poverty, illiteracy and lack of medical services. I understand absolutely why Fidel and Che started the revolution and I sympathise totally with it.

I know about  Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs in the 1960’s.   I know about the American embargo.    I know that Baccardi continues to pour millions of dollars  into trying to foment trouble on the island.   I know that the C..I.A. assisinated Che and have made numerous attempts to assassinate Castro.   I know that they continue to use Cuban groups in Miami to try and create trouble.   I believe that the American involvement in Cuba is outrageous and its embargo indefensible.

I went to Cuba full of empathy for the revolution and aware that the conditions there would be difficult.  However there were several things that make  Cuba extremely difficult for even the most sympathetic traveller.   The American embargo explains why there is so little available  in the shops and why food is so limited but there are things that it does not explain.

Lack of information.
I speak good Spanish and still found it next to impossible to get reliable information about times of buses or trains.   People who have lived there told us that they have had to wait three, four or even five days to get a train from  Santiago to Havana.    And that they had to go to the station every day to find out what the latest position is.     That’s fine if you have no time limit on your travel.    It’s impossible if you need to be back to catch a flight.

We had the strong impression that Cuba has no idea how to deal with independent travellers and caters only for group travel.    The irony is that most of the group travellers ( those we met anyway) are  unaware of Cuban history and are there only for sun, sea, sand and sex.   The independent travellers were much more clued in and more likely to be sympathetic to the Cuban position.   They are the ones who want to visit smaller towns and thus bring money to them but their ability to visit other parts of the island is stymied by the lack of information.

Cost of Living for Tourists.
Because there is little public transport tourists have to relay on taxis and taxis are not cheap…. at least not for tourists.   A visit to the Botanical Gardens ended up costing us over 100 Euro… it really wasn’t worth it.   Food is very expensive  for what you are getting .   Besides I feel very uncomfortable knowing that no Cuban can afford to eat in the same restaurant as me.   The only Cubans you see are the girls or boys being entertained by middle-aged men.

When we tried to hire a car we discovered that the cheapest cost Euro per day but there were none available.   The ony cars available were 175 euro per day! Plus we could not get any decent maps.
A bus to Vardadero cost 11 Euro if we were with a group but 55 Euro if we travelled independently! Plus, nobody could tell us for sure  what time it might go!
I have no problem at all with charging tourists more than the locals would pay.   That happens in every poor country and that’s perfectly reasonable.    But I think there needs to be some sense of value for money.

The Jineteros
The scam artists and prostitutes of both sexes.   The levels of prostitution are clearly visible on the streets of Havana and as a tourist you are being continuously approached by people who want to scam you.

The sense I had was  that Cubans were proud of their history.   Proud of the Revolution.   Proud of the achievements of the Revolution.   Proud of the fact that they have the highest level of literacy in the world.   Proud of the fact that they have sent doctors to Africa and South America.   Proud of the fact that they have educated doctors from Africa and South America.   They were very aware of the financial crises in the U.S and Europe.   It was on every news bulletin we saw.   They saw it as the end of Capitalism.   At the same time they seemed entirely unsure of what the future of Cuba might be and they longed for the freedom to travel and for better times.

One Comment

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  1. Mark Rathouz / Mar 27 2012 2:40 pm

    Glad to see you back and bloggin


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