I thought it was too late for Cuba but it isn’t. Change is sooo slow unlike what we have experienced here in Poland. It’s because they have put on so many regulations and high taxes on private business that not many people can do it. They use the money to plow back into the economy. So you still have plenty of time to see the “old” Cuba.
A lot more renovation and lots and lots of hotels being built so it’s just right for Trump because all the hotels will be expensive. The Plaza Vieja in Old Havana looks like anywhere in a Latin country. Lots of nice cafes, restaurants, and everything brand new. I wonder if the same people still live in the flats as before the renovation? Because even if calle Opisbo is full of tourists like any other city, like it always was, go one block off of it in any direction and it looks like I remembered; no renovation or shops and Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
What I particularly noticed was how many MORE vintage cars there were. Most are used for tourism ($25 to La Finca) but where did they all come from? They must have scoured the junk yards and the countryside and fixed them up. Very few seem to have any of the original parts (even seemingly original mirrors or bumpers are new – another industry) or used by regular people for getting around. They are still used by them for taxis as a couple of my pics showed.
Cash is still king and I still walked around with $1000 in my pocket and still didn’t like it. Internet is controlled with hotspots scattered around. You can see them especially at night with the glow coming from a dark park from cell phones and computers. Yes, Cuba too went from the 50s to the 21st century. I went into the Ambos Mundo Hotel to buy an internet card, sat on the sofa in lobby, ordered a mojito and checked my email and where to eat in the new Havana. Cubans sat outside on the sidewalk and did the same. I don’t understand why they didn’t come in and sit on the sofa with me. You DON’T have to buy a mojito. CNN had a long story about the Internet being controlled there so the information can be controlled. What WOULD we do without CNN helping us see the light?! But as I walked behind the people sitting on the curb in front of the Ambos Mundo to see what they were looking at, they were all on Facebook. And since Facebook now censors, oops, controls, oops, informs you when you are reading fake news, what do you need the Cuban government for, I ask you?
I got 2 Cuban stamps in my passport but I was there to talk to teachers of English who I met at the ELL conference in Birmingham so I guess I was legal but when did they start doing that? Not that anyone seems to care. The place was full of people with American accents but hey might have been Canadian.
I went out for lunch in a cheap private restaurant (got food poisoning that night for the first time in my life) with the teachers afterwards. One them told a great story. Her husband (she was about my age) at the age of 17 was cutting sugar cane. Che Guevara was his boss and he was a real slave driver. He met him and his friend walking down the path one day and demanded to know why they weren’t cutting sugar cane. They said they were going to another field because they have been cutting all day. I’m going to check, Che said and if you’re lying, I’ll kill you. She said everyone was terrified of him because he treated them all as slackers which she said a lot of them were. After all, they’re Cuban. I loved it! So much for the legend but she did say if it weren’t for the discipline, the Revolution would not have succeeded. The teachers were all strong supporters of the Revolution and seem to think all the changes will be positive as they know what happened in other countries. I have to agree as the regulations seem to be really strict so the vultures just can’t fly in and sweep everything up as they did in Eastern Europe after its revolution. You can buy a house on the ocean for $10,000 but Cuba is doing it right. You can only buy it if you are a Cuban citizen and living in Cuba. So no Miami vultures flying in like they have in Poland to throw out 80 year old widows who have lived in the house for 50 years.
I made a new friend from this group, Maria. We hung out a few times and she told me all about life in the new Cuba. I left her everything I brought with me when I left. Too bad I didn’t fill another suitcase. I was flying Business and was allowed 2 bags. But who knew? So now I’ve been to Cuba 3 times and each trip was different. I probably won’t go again unless it’s from Miami. 45 minutes. Still, it seems strange to be so close to the US and yet so far.
Literacy Museum was closed. Some museum is always closed when I’m there. This time it was because of the 9 day mourning period for Fidel and all the holidays got moved forward.
I stayed at an AirBnB for $35 a night. Basic but Irma treated me as part of the family. She invited me to Christmas Eve dinner with her family. I ate very little as I was still recovering from the poisoning but it was absolutely delicious. Chicken, black beans and rice, yucca. Simple but absolutely delicious. The chicken is unbelievable! So this is how it used to taste without hormones or antibiotics and free range. She said this is the way they celebrate Christmas Eve in Cuba. This was a traditional meal with family, no presents, no decorations, no singing, no religion, no church. It wasn’t because of the Revolution or Communism. Come to think of it, I didn’t see one church in Cojimar.
The most interesting part was the Museum of the Revolution. I watched a TV program, one of many honoring Fidel and the upcoming Revolution. It was mostly in English (they subtitle everything) because they talked to CIA agents and famous Americans like Edward R. Morrow. Fidel speaks English too as does his son. (1959). Harry Belafonte in that program said that to understand the Revolution, you have to understand the history of Cuba.
I didn’t think any of the tourists cared about the history but there was a 20 minute line to get in. There’s a lot of reading (I didn’t recall that the last time I was there) as it explains the history in chronological order. And you know what? People stood there and read it! The comment I heard most was, “Huh. I didn’t know that.”
The CIA Museum is gone as well as the anti-American posters outside the new American Embassy. They kept the Venceremos! and Patria o Muerte! signs. The Facista, Made in USA signs are gone though. Too bad. What a statement!
I was reading Our Man in Havana there and when I came back I watched the movie. It was filmed in Havana 2 months after the Revolution and it was great to see Havana in it’s original glory and the cars too! Why, I might have ridden in a couple of them. What are you waiting for?