“There is a lot of talking about you here!”. Baracoa, August 20th, 2011

I believed my stomach issues came from the excitement of flying to Cuba. No, it was the fear of “flying” to Cuba. Only one hour with Cubana Air but it certainly was one of the longer hours in my life. As some people kept reading I figured the smoke is just steam from the air-conditioning, more worrisome was the kind of plane (McDonald Douglas 80), the age (far beyond 30) and the Russian language everywhere, not ideally indicating its been kept well.  The stewardess (not flight attended) said in the middle of the flight: “Oh yeah, turn off electronics…..!”

Somehow we landed, the two young English girls shared a taxi with me and wow, within minutes the flight was forgotten. As usually I did not take my big camera for dinner and the walk into town but I am happy to have captured my first impressions with the i-phone.

I was overwhelmed, fascinated and impressed by the nightly atmosphere of old Havana. A mixture of music, street food, top restaurants, nice squares, poor streets, little light, friendly people, charme, character, easiness and struggle. Clearly the reality of handling a hard life as joyful as possible. Over the weeks to come the fascination of Cuba would stay, even increase, the easiness I felt myself this night would not stay. Travelling isn’t as relaxed as the music here and it has so much to do with the system, the socialistic system. Let’s start with the “casa particulars”, a very positive development in recent years. The government has allowed house owners to lent rooms to tourists and within months thousands of such sleeping options were opened. The advantage for the tourist à rather cheap accommodation, contact to locals and local dishes to eat, for the house owners it is the income option as well as the contact to “outsiders”. The government benefit is the 200 peso convertibles (value = US $) tax per room per month which must be paid no matter if guest have come or not. That is also the great risk for the home owners leading to partly dramatic scenes of trying to get tourists when a bus arrives somewhere. For the Government this money seems to be so important that it accepts the great risk, the uncontrolled contact of people with outsiders. Following impressions of my first accommodation in Havana.

I stayed over the weekend including Monday more or less in old Havana, enjoying the street scenes, the totally different world, capturing as much as possible with my camera. All the clichés, from old cars via salsa bars, beautiful woman to poverty and struggle turned real within a couple of days.

As things are relaxed but also out of my control I decided to head far south quickly and work my way back north over time. This way I will get closer and closer to the departure airport instead of further away, reducing the risk to miss my flight in 3 weeks. That strategy proves right immediately when my attempt to buy a train ticket fails poorly. The next day I try again until a tourist girl pulls me back with the words “There is a lot of talking about you here!”. So I learn about the system of waiting without knowing when its my turn and then going to the counter for the actual purchase. In our case it took 1,5 hours but hey, I can only recall what usually the poor say to the western world people “You have the watches, we have the time.” Arabell and her boyfriend also want to go to Santiago de Cuba this Tuesday, so we enjoy a lamb dinner before the overnight train takes off with 2 hours delay.

Santiago welcomes me with good weather, nice photo options, a two hour chess games and a wonderful lady in my casa particulars.

Check out the photo in which you see her, a picture of her and her husband when getting married, 50 years ago. He died 2 years back and her daughter run off to the US, so she is happy to serve tourists with a wonderful breakfast. Another classic is the taxi driver, who actually is a professor. Making a monthly professor income in 3 days of taxi driving is an option not many can resist. If you can not afford a car you can still transport tourists with a bike, making descent money as well. If a bike is also not possible you might end in the park like the older lady.  Young girls see there future outside of Cuba. Instead of swimming the 90 miles to Miami they are looking for a man that marries them, age and looks do not matter as long as he is from the western world. The children do not know about all this. They live a great childhood, playing without mobile phones, internet or play stations. They have no danger of drugs or early alcohol abuse, they live free and save, just like I did in East Germany. Even education is good. The limitation kick in later in life……………

Walking through Santiago I took photos here and there. Suddenly I saw myself in a factory for printing various calendars or schedules. The machines seemed to be the first development of the industrial revolution, unbelievable in two ways à they still have to use them and they still can use them, they are still running fine. Wow.

The main fundamentals of Socialism are education, medical services and education followed by support for woman and subsidising main life needs such as food, transport and living space. In terms of transport I made the most of it, took my cheapest ride ever. The 30minute bus tour from Santiago to Siboney cost me 0,06 € (in words 6 Euro Cents), great. Unfortunately these fundamentals lead to major debts and in the long run to a disfunctional economic system  running down a country, making the people suffer and get poorer, year after year. A good example is the ridicules car museum I visited. Any real car on display here would be younger than what you find on the streets. The prehistoric parc however (surely not profitable) I liked a lot. More than 200 ancient species in real size displayed on a large green land.

On my way back I found this beach used by locals, I saw the fish they eat as a snack (the foto shows it BEFORE eating, smile) and a fight ending in arrest. Yeap, on this day I managed to get a bit away from the tourist paths.

To this public beach workers of big factories would be taken with their families as a part of social happenings. I had to pay a bit more to one of the many bus drivers to make him take me back to town. This inspired to look into the varies ways of transport in Cuba. There are hardly no mobile phones, there is no internet and there is only little traffic. Almost nobody can afford a car here. So the bad roads are left to busses, trucks, taxis and horse carriages, yes, horse carriages, by far the most used transport in towns. Then there are bike, with and without engine and old eastern European cars, taxis. Saving for THE Lada car (see photo with a yellow and white one on it) from Russia used to be my dream as a child, it was what I saved every penny for ….until the wall came down, then it became a Mitsubishi. More advanced but not nice to ride (very hot and sticky) are the trucks and above that, you start to find regular busses as we know them from the west. These busses are just one of so many reasons why I say “visit Cuba now!!!”. Step by step but still fast, the horse carriages will be gone, the busses will be normal –> great for the Cubans but sad for the tourists. Above the bus is the train of course and the private cars. Then comes the inland flights but that is not an option for me. I am about to board a bus to Baracoa, a costal town you hear a lot about……………………….

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1 Comment

  • gabor says:

    Yes, we had a free childhood in Eastern Germany.

    We were voluntary members of these blue and red pioneer brigades, got just a few potitical information about Lenin, Thälmann, Liebknecht and the Nazis in the Western part of Germany and learned a more or less one dimensional view of the world.

    They did a really great job!

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