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Cuban Life Revealed (1 Good and 1 Bad)

Weeks 4 - 5 October, sunny and 31 degrees in the shade No es facil en Cuba - it ain't easy in Cuba and my unsophisticated motto for Cuba is "if you see it, get it"

sunny 31 °C
View Thomas's Great Adventure on edandsuet's travel map.

Imagine waking up one morning to find you are living in the 1950s where food rationing is still the norm, you have to boil the tap water if you want to drink it, it will take all of your lunch hour to queue for the bank which closes at 3pm, it could take up to 3 hours to source and purchase food for the next few days, you'll earn around $25 US dollars a month from your government job and you can't buy a bar of chocolate for love nor money - welcome to Cuba. Luckily, Cubans are happy go lucky, resilient, enterprising and constantly finding ways to improve their lot after enduring over 50 years of austerity.

Moneda Nacional Pandaneria - queuing to buy biscuits

Moneda Nacional Pandaneria - queuing to buy biscuits

For me, Cienfuegos was a turning point, as Cuba started to creep up on me and almost grew on me, but then another maddening, frustrating situation would occur - it is definitely a love/hate relationship.

Cuba is revealed through numerous anonymous open and closed doorways, whether off the main avenidas and plazas or down the residential calles. There is often no way to tell what a door will lead to; signage is distinctly lacking in most cases or confusing and shop windows can display a random selection bearing no resemblence to what the shop sells.

Selling Tropical Fish from your Living Room, Cienfuegos

Selling Tropical Fish from your Living Room, Cienfuegos

My favourite and most unusual enterprise that I discovered was in Cienfuegos; an aquarium tienda run two blocks down from our casa from a living room where the shuttered window had become the shop display of various tanks of tropical fish. The tanks were arranged between a sofa and armchairs adorned with family ornaments. I was invited in to look around.

Behind an anonymous heavy dark wood door off the colonaded main street, a gloomy tardis like shop was revealed. There were no shop windows or signs but it was stocked with a multitude of goods for Cuba from tins and pasta packets to children's toys. Men with photo albums of sofas and armchairs roamed the central shopping street while ladies perused the albums, asking for prices - the Cuban equivalent of the Argos catalogue.

We have finally perfected the Cuban stroll in Cienfuegos and the number one national Cuban past time of finding a shady place to sit and watch the world go by. There's always something entertaining whether it is the guy skillfully fishing with his line off Punta Gorda, neighbours assisting with repairing a 1950s classic while the kids play barefoot football in the fading sunlight at the end of the day, a shopping bag being lowered with a rope from a balcony two floors up so that it can be filled with bananas, or listening to your neighbour's music from across the road.

Twenty first century technology hasn't really arrived yet in Cuba which is part blessing and part curse. It is a cash economy due to the US blocade with limited debit cards and ATMs and a dual currency. Moneda Nacional known as Cuban pesos (MN$) and Cuban Convertibles (CUC$) which are used by tourists and by Cubans (if they can get hold of them) to buy modest luxuries such as deodorant, shampoo, house fittings and limited white goods. Our casa in Trinidad did not have a washing machine.

The dual currency creates an inequality within the communist society which is a paradox, as does the relaxed rules on private enterprises such as casa particulares, hairdressers, taxi drivers, restaurants etc. Any private business generating revenue from tourists is lucrative as services are paid for in the much sought after CUC$, whereas any government job such as teacher, doctor, nurse, government run hotel or restaurant will be paid in MN$. This results in many government workers taking on two or three jobs to survive or sell goods/services from their front room!

Cuba really is full of contraditions. To get an idea of how restrictive the Cuban communist regime has been, here are some restrictions that have been lifted since Raul Fidel took power from his brother:

  • mobile phones and electronic goods were legalised in 2008
  • Cubans were allowed to buy a car in 2011, only 38 of 1000 Cubans have a car compared to 800 of 1000 Americans
  • Cubans were allowed to buy their own houses in 2011
  • Cubans were allowed to travel outside of the country in 2013

Beautifully Restored Cienfuegos

Beautifully Restored Cienfuegos

Posted by edandsuet 16:00 Archived in Cuba Tagged habana trinidad cienfuegos

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