It is so different and special that it took me some time to get used to it. I was in Havana for four days and by now I think there are more beautiful places in Cuba. In Havanna you see incredibly beautiful and renovated houses next to buildings that seem as if they wouldn’t even survive some wind. Havanna is dirty, there is waste everywhere and the streets smell bad. However, there are also areas that are super clean, mostly of course, where the important buildings are.
A lot of Cubans work hard and long but a lot of them also just sit in front of their door and chat with their neighbours all day. I definitely had difficulties with the very fine line between the extreme rudeness and the immensely warmheartedness of the Cuban mentality. Well, I guess it could also just be me who took it as a rude manner and maybe that’s just their way to talk very loud and to impatiently complain. Me personally, I found it difficult to handle. However, once you really started talking to someone, all of a sudden they were incredibly friendly. How is anyone supposed to understand that…
Some general information about Cuba
Capital: Havana (La Habana)
Official Language: Spanish
Currency: Pesos Convertibles (CUC) and Pesos Cubanos (CUP), 1 CUC equals ca. 1€, 1 CUC equals 25 CUP
Size: 109.884,01 km²
Inhabitants: 11.238.317 (as at 2014)
Climate: Tropical with an average temperature of 24,9°C and a lot of rain during the summer months
Location: in the Carribbean Sea, north-east of Cancún, ca. 510 km airline
Distance: I took a plane from Cancún to La Habana which took me like 1:30h and costs normally between 250-350€ for a roundtrip.
(Sources: Wikipedia und climate-data.org)
A different political system
As you’ve already seen, Cuba has two currencies: the Peso Convertible (the tourist’s currency) and the Peso Cubano (the local currency). In Cuba everyone can pay with both currencies but as a tourist you always pay in Pesos Convertibles for sights, museums, etc. 1 Peso Convertible is 25 Pesos Cubanos and while in the local bistrots, cafés and restaurants you get a pretty big plate for a small amount of Pesos Cubanos, you pay quite expensive prices between 7-15CUC for a dish in the “normal” tourist restaurants. However, you definitely taste the difference in the quality of the food. In the local restaurnts you mostly have things like hot dogs, fried chicken or pizza with sausage. For me as a vegan the only option was normally some rice with vegetables. Doesn’t satisfy you for a really long time but it definitely saves you money.
Generally you should lower your expectations concerning food in Cuba. The only thing I found really delicious was the fruit, but this is delicious in Mexico as well. It happened more than once that I ordered food in a restaurant (in the tourist restaurants as well) and I had to choose a different dish three times because they didn’t have it anymore. The problem: Cuba suffers from constant lack of products in every way. The reason for it is their economic system. I found a quite suiting quote on the webpage Cuba Heute (Cuba Today):
“There is no doubt about the fact that Cuba has a planned economy. The question is if it is planned well. In reality, the country’s national trade system has been working in chaotic ways for years now and nobody ever suceeded in creating a minimum of organisation yet.”
(Original version of the quote: “Es besteht kein Zweifel an der Tatsache, dass Kuba über eine geplante Wirtschaft verfügt. Die Frage ist, ob sie gut geplant ist. In Wahrheit funktioniert das nationale Handelsnetz des Landes seit Jahrzehnten auf chaotische Weise und es ist bisher niemandem gelungen, ein Minimum an Organisation zu etablieren.”)
In my opinion this is exactly what happens. I often had the impression that everything is pretty unorganised and even finding water can be quite a challenge sometimes. This is why you should NEVER leave the house without a bottle of water as it is likely to happen that you’ll be looking around the shops for one or two hours until you find some water. And this is in a country in which you cannot drink the tap water.
The idea of having two different currencies is theoretically not a bad one. This way the local people also can afford the entrance prices to museums or the taxi ride to the beach. However, the plan of social equality doesn’t really work that way. Because all the Cubans working in the tourism branch earn a whole lot of money in this country. According to my conversation with lovely Liliana the average income in Cuba is about 25USD a month. This is what a taxi driver earns with a one-way ride to the airport with a tourist. Or let’s take a look at the Casa Particulares. These are private households that rent rooms for travellers. You pay around 25-30CUC (which is almost equally 25-30USD) per night. According to Liliana the taxes are around 15-20%, which means that there’s still enough money left.
Nevertheless, you have to see Cuba from a different persepctive as well.
Sure, there’s not too much to see of complete social equality and a functioning economic system. But you can definitely learn a lot from the people there. The Cuban’s desire for freedom and inner peace is really big. I talked to a lot of people that just wanted to live their life and were happy that way. In Europe, I got used to people longing for more and more but in Cuba, for the first time, I had the feeling that the things are quite good the way they are. That there’s surely always potential to make things better but I learned how important it is to take life as it is exactly at this moment and that it’s good the way it is. And just for that lesson I think my trip to Cuba was totally worth it!