11.12.2013 - 21.12.2013 25 °C
Before heading home to Colombia we decided to visit the island of Cuba in the Caribbean. It was a nice experience to be in the hot weather again after winter in Europe and we were once again close to the sea. The latin culture was evident from the moment we landed. This was the airport where our luggage took the longest to collect, and I think it was because everything is done manually. It also took an incredibly long time to exchange money from euros in to Cuba’s two currencies and by the end we didn’t think we would ever get out of the airport.
We had organized for a Cuban friend of a friend to pick us up and when we walked out into the arrivals area of the airport it was great to meet them and see their car. To be in Cuba was like going back many decades in time. With the old style cars, buses, and buildings it seems like a movie from the 50’s or 60’s.
Cuba is a peculiar place. The political system that they have used for the last 50 years is Communist, however they are in a time of change at the moment and are moving more toward the Capitalist system. Everybody here gets a portion of food every month like a form of welfare, which includes products like rice, red beans, oil, sugar, coffee, etc. All cheap and accessible products grown in the country. If people want different things they need to buy them, and this is one of the big problems for this country because they have to pay for the extra products in a different currency compared to the one they get paid in.
The Moneda Nacional is the currency the Cubans gets paid their salaries, which on average is around 500 pesos moneda nacional, or equal to $20 USD per month. The second currency is the covertible peso, which is used to buy and sell most of the non-Cuban products, and is the one used primarily by the foreigners. One convertible peso is equivalent to $1 USD. For instance, to buy a kilo of meat can cost $3 to $5 USD, a liter of milk can cost $3 USD, and a nice dinner in a restaurant is around $10 USD.
The situation with two currencies has made life for Cubans really difficult, and they are often forced to create some kind of business to be able to get convertible pesos, like renting rooms to foreigners, buying and selling things, renting cars, sell tabacco to tourists, etc.
I realize how easy our lives have been in the sense that if we want something, or we need to repair something at home like a freezer, a stove, a tv, etc, all we need to do is save some money and repair the device, or buy a new one. For Cubans it is not possible, firstly to buy anything is really expensive, and to be able to find it in the country is nearly impossible. For this reason these people are really good at repairing things and finding ways to make things work for longer or simply doing things in different ways to get what they need.
It is definitely a really special place. We were so blessed, as always, that when we arrived in Cuba we found out the International Festival of Cinema was on, and the pass for entry to 16 movies cost less than 50 cents total, so we decided to include a movie week in our itinerary. We enjoyed it so much, and saw 2 or 3 movies per day, every day, in these grand old style cinemas. If you get the opportunity to see movies like Gloria, The longest road, Metegol, Gold Fish, Gun in two hands, or the Gold Cage do not hesitate to watch them (with subtitles).
Cuba is very famous for their music. It was really interesting to see the number of shows in different places that were put on every night, some of them incredibly cheap and others getting a bit more pricely. We had the opportunity to listen to concerts with trova cubana, salsa, latin music, and rock. We were lucky the Festival of Jazz was on during our visit and we could enjoy this kind of music as well. Something new for us was the number of Cuban people who like Rock and Heavy Metal music. Every Sunday there is a place which promotes bands that play covers of famous rock groups.They are called “Pena of Rock”; and this type of music is really popular in Cuba because in the 70s the only music they could listen to on the radio was from one
station in Florida that was close enough for the signal to reach Cuba, and this was the type of music the station played.
Cuba can be expensive if everything is paid for in convertible pesos, so as soon as we arrived we managed to get moneda nacional and try pure Cuban cuisine at an economical price. Pizzas, sandwiches, ice cream, fruit and juice could be bought for less than 50 cents and big lunches for around $1 USD. Of course, the local favorites the Mojito Cubana and Daiquiri were some of the cocktails we needed to try in this country.
Havana was the place we spent most of our time and was a great place to explore. We visited the old Havana are where you can find many Cuban people offering tabbaco, cigars, rum, handcrafts, music, food, and many other things. There were also museums of chocolate and beer, and many small markets in the plazas that were part of our daily walks. Outside of old Havana things change and the poverty could be seen, as well as the ancient buildings, and some very crowded buses.
We had a fun time, and feel Cuba is a place which is easy to fall in love with, however there were moments when we were really tired with this culture because everything requires a lot time here. Our patience was tested a couple of times. For instance, unfortunately our Ipod was stolen and to be able to get the police report for the insurance it took us three days, after visiting four different stations, talking to lawyers and investigators and telling the same story to about ten police officers.