Cuba Pt II

Wed 14 Apr 2010 02:55
Cuba, part II
Before we knew it, Laura and Lindsay were on their way in. I'd been looking forward to this for a while, as it seems that I'm a bit of a 'homey', and was missing the place (only a little mind you!).  Unfortunately Cuban bureaucracy meant that we couldn't take the girls sailing, but we loaded them onto the boat anyway, introduced them our rather basic way of life, and they coped well.  After a few days exploring the city, we headed to the beach.  We hadn't realised that there were quite so many tourists in Cuba (they are seem to be concentrated in the hotels on the beach), so our confident - "don't worry, we'll organise accommodation when we get there, the Caribbean is empty" almost ended us up back on the next bus home!  After Miles' lack of success in booking a hotel, we handed over to Lindsay, who just happens to be fluent in Spanish.  With a little help from Laura's parents booking for us on the internet (thank you!), we found a place to stay, and headed for the beach, and the unlimited food.  This rather excited us - in fact excited Miles and I a bit too much as we ate so much we felt sick (and very guilty when we were back in the Havana - I'm not sure how the Cubans that work in Varadero feel about foreigners, but I'm sure it's not positive).
It's a tough life:
However, the excess eventually had to end, so back to Havana we headed for a tour of the revolution sights, a few of Ernst Hemmingway's favourite places.
and ok, a drink or two to let it all sink in
and yes -  it is true -there are lots of old cars in Havana (and Lada's are really expensive!)
and it seems perfectly normal to repair them in the middle of the road - this one was still here the a day later:
before finally, the chicken, rice and beans, all became too much and Miles and I made a run for it (forgetting that Lindsay and Laura were still on the boat!)
Guys - thanks so so much for coming out.  It was really great to see you, and we'll see you again in a couple of months.
So all in all, Cuba is an amazing place.  It has a highly educated population and a huge potential. However, the population is very repressed, and tourism can only serve to drive home how little families are forced to survive on. The basic wage is less than £10 per month - and Cuba is not a cheap place!  Wages are tightly controlled by the government -  and the wage range is very small - doctor's wages are very similar to street cleaner's wages.  This results in many that can leaving, and many people giving up professions to go in to jobs with access to tourist money - eg taxi driving or tourism. Analdo (our guide) was actually a computer programmer, and most taxi drivers seem to be amazingly well read ex-teachers with multiple degrees.  In fact, we ended up giving a lot of our books away to taxi drivers, as particularly english books are very hard to get hold of in Cuba.  This huge waste of resource is hard to fathom - for us it is hard to understand where the incentive is to work hard - and looking around, I think the Cubans struggle too.  Most time is spend trying to supplement (without being caught) the government's meagre wages.  This includes young girl's father's in effect selling their daughters into relationships with foreigners in exchange for financial support for the family. There is no need for this in what has been and should still be an affluent country.
The control is tight - Cubans girls can be arrested for even talking to foreigners, and no Cubans are allowed onto our boat - guards closely patrol this.  Guards that we originally thought were there to guard our boat, we quickly learned were there to guard us.  ie make sure that we were not conversing too closely with locals, and not inviting any Cubans on to our boat - they are particularly alert when girls try to get on to a boat.  I was even quizzed a couple of times - I'm not sure they believed it was my boat!  Having accumulated a huge amount of food, we decided to give our spare supplies to Analdo.  He borrowed a car to take the supplies away, and was stopped half way - the guards had seen him load them into the car and wanted some too - as did the customs men.
Whether or not people agreed with the revolution 50 years ago, people seem to believe in Cuba, and for the most part don't seem to want to leave (at the moment leaving means 'gifting' all of your possessions to the cuban people), but are increasingly frustrated with the regime.  However, as long as the government controls every part of people's lives, and as long as people are kept at subsistence levels it is difficult to see how things will change. As tourism continues to expand, however, it is also difficult to see how things will not change.
One thing is certain - the more you travel, the more you realise how much more attention we should be paying to US foreign policy...
On a lighter note -  can anyone tell my why this man is filling his horse and cart up with petrol?