June 17, 2017

CUBA - VINALES

Let’s talk money for a moment. I’m talking, CUBAN money.  Cuba has 2 official currencies.  The Cuban Peso, sometimes called the National currency or in Spanish, the Moneda Nacional “CUP” and the second currency is the Cuban Convertible Peso “CUC”. 
Currently, there is approximately 25 CUP per CUC and the CUC is about 1 to 1 with the US dollar.

Fruits, vegetables and other staples can only be bought with CUPs.  Basically, none touristy type things can only be bought with CUPs.  Luxury goods and services including most imported goods and anything intended for the consumption by foreigners/tourists are paid in CUCs.

A tourist can exchange their currencies in Cuban banks and hotels at a rate of 3% however if you are converting American dollars, it will cost you 10%.  I suggest you convert your US dollars to Canadian or Euros before going to Cuba.  You cannot buy or sell either currency outside of Cuba so spend it all before going back home or better yet, help out a local.

Because the US doesn’t want American tourists to spend any money whatsoever in Cuba (yeah right, how is one to do that ?), you cannot use any ATMs or American Credit Cards. 

OK, enough about money, on to the lovely Valley of  Viñales…..


 VALLEY OF VINALES



MANY PEOPLE HAVE THIS TYPE OF TRANSPORTATION

In the Valley of  Viñales, we found a young man by the side of the road that was willing to drive us the four of us around in his father’s car.  He is an engineer, making 80 cents an hour or about $30/month.  The government had sent his father, a nurse, to work in Africa for $350 a year for several years.  Upon his return to Cuba, the government offered him a car for $5000 (I think our driver meant $500).  Somehow, his father had saved enough to purchase this old car.  So, he and his son started a taxi business however it didn’t really seem like any other taxis we took.  So what, he made as much money in one day as he would have made in a month as an engineer.    He brought us all over  Viñales, anywhere we wanted to go, he was willing to drive there.  Funny thing is, we gave him lunch but he wouldn’t eat with us……Here’s a good example of a Cuban afraid of what some government official would do if he saw him eat with us ?

GUAVA RIGHT OFF THE TREE FOR LUNCH



Our taxi driver on the left.  The middle man was trying to sell him his watch.

Notice the horse and buggy.  That's the seller's transportation

We visited two tobacco farms.  Remember in my last blog, I mentioned that the tobacco farmers had to give 90% of their crops to the government?  The government then exports or sells cigars to the locals.  I much more enjoyed paying these farmers directly for cigars.  Although, I have no clue what I’ll do with them.  For 1 CUC a cigar, why not help out a farmer !

 


 VALLEY OF VINALES


 We all took puffs of a cigar but Tim looked very professional.


AND THIS IS HOW YOU ROLL A CIGAR

CIGARS FOR SALE AT THE TOBACCO FARMS

TOBACCO PLANT

TOBACCO LEAVES DRYING INSIDE

TOBACCO FARMERS

ONE COOL DUDE

We hiked some areas of the valley:









THE LADY OF THE HOUSE WAS SELLING COFFEE BEANS





 VERY DRY SEASON




RICE DRYING






Everywhere we visited, we stayed in a “Casa Particulare” which are rooms in people’s homes.  They charged us $25 or $30 a night.  There are so many of them, it’s really easy to find one.  The outside of their homes has a blue sign that looks like an anchor.  The red signs are casa particulars for the locals.  I’m not sure what the difference is but I’m positive they are much less in price. 

The homeowners must pay the government $40/month for operating a Casa Particulare whether they rent or not.  The owners would take down our passport numbers and call in to the government.  At one Casa, the owner never did this.  I wonder if his business was legitimate or he was saving some money somehow ? 

STUNNING ORCHID AT OUR BUS STOP







May 31, 2017

CUBA - HAVANA

This is what I learned from Cubans we met along the way.  Whether it’s completely true or not I’ll never really know but others who have traveled extensively in Cuba have learned pretty much the same things as I.

A MODEL OF VIEJA HAVANA

Cuba offers their citizens free medical care and education.  Most people, no matter what job they do, earn approximately $10 to $30 a month.  The government gives them a monthly ration card so they can get for free;  so many pounds of rice, cooking oil, some eggs and such.  It’s a minimum amount of food, just enough to sustain them.  If they want more food, they need to purchase it.  Most grocery stores are just about empty except for alcohol.  There are markets to buy fresh fruit, veggies and some chicken and pork.

MOST STORES HAVE MINIMAL FOOD FOR PURCHASE

The cows belong to the government.  If you kill a cow, you will go to prison for 15 years however if you kill a human being, it’s 8 years in prison.  Beef is for exportation and tourists and most likely government officials.  Also, tobacco farmers must give their government 90% of their crop.

Many Cubans find other ways for making an extra buck.  Sure you’ll see some Cubans with more money than others, in this case, they probably have friends or family in other countries that send them money or they work for the government.

There exists a black market.  If you need something that you cannot purchase simply because there isn’t anything to buy in the stores, simply ask around and someone will tell you where to find it.  In fact, potatoes can only be purchased on the black market.  If you ask for some at the market, they will pull some out from under their counter for you.

Cubans are not allowed to move to another province.  In fact, it is next to impossible to afford to travel.  In most cases, when a person is born, they live with their parents until their parents die.  When they marry, the spouse joins either parent’s home.  The government doesn’t build any new homes.  Cubans live rent free however they do pay for electricity and phones.   They can swap homes with another person and recently, they can purchase a home however, it’s unlikely they can as they have little money.

Cubans seem to be content with what they have.  A possible reason for this is that they all have the same.  They are all either middle class or poor.  The government does make sure that they have the very basic needs of life.  I just read from another cruiser’s blog that they talked to a man who had a baby carriage.  They asked him how he got it and the man showed them a baby ration card.

Most Cubans do not have cars and travel either by foot, bike or horse and buggy.   Since 1959, when Fidel Castro assumed power, the majority of Cubans have been prevented from importing foreign cars and parts.  Since then, locals have to rely on their ingenuity to fix and create custom parts to keep their vintage cars running.  I’m pretty sure the vintage cars get their beautiful paint on the black market.

SUSAN & REBECCA FOUND A GIRLY CAR

THIS IS A RARE CAR CALLED AN "EDSEL" MADE IN THE UNITED STATES


One way people make an extra buck and if they are lucky enough to have access to a car, is being a taxi driver for the tourists.  They can make more money in a day then in a whole month.  We often used these taxi drivers rather than use the buses. 

We stayed in “Casa Particular” which are rooms in people’s homes for rent.  They charged us $25 to $30 a night.  There are so many of them, it’s really easy to find one.  The homeowners must pay the government $40/month for operating a Casa Particular whether they rent or not.  Often, the owners will cook breakfast for a very small fee.  We found we got more food at the casas then in restaurants.

We found a taxi who would drive the 4 hours to Havana.  The highway was impressive with 4 lanes on each way with mostly farm land on each side.  Once in Old Havana, we walked with our friends Rebecca & Dov on the quieter streets looking for a Casa Particular to stay for a few days.  As soon as I met the owner, I knew this was the place.  Our rooms were basic but each had their own bathroom and air conditioner which the government obliges the home owners to have for their guests.  Our hosts were amazingly friendly and they made sure we had loads to eat at breakfast.

For days we walked the streets of Old Havana viewing the beautiful architecture.  We ate street food and sat in tourist restaurants.  By the way, only tourists are allowed to eat lobsters and meat!  We found a brew pub in one of the squares and tasted their beer which was pretty good.  There are several parks and each are beautiful. Certainly, the government spends lots of money where tourists visit, it was obvious.  As soon as you left the tourist area, there was lots of garbage and crumbling dwellings.  The government obviously doesn’t care that much about their own people. 

COOLING DOWN WITH A BEER AT THE BREW PUB


RESTORED BUILDINGS:


THE CAPITOL BUILDING



BUILDINGS THAT AREN'T SO WELL TAKEN CARE OF.  SOME OUR PEOPLE'S HOMES:






One of the things you cannot miss is the amazing Cuban bands.  The music is plentiful and you can’t help but get up and dance.  I just couldn’t get enough of it.  We went out several nights, late, just to listen to some music.






 Here are some things we saw while walking around:

ALL SCHOOL KIDS HAVE UNIFORMS.  THE COLOR OF THEIR SCARVES OR UNIFORMS TELLS YOU WHAT GRADE THEY ARE IN 

ESTATUA DE CRISTO

REMAINS OF A U2 SPY PLANE 

FORTALEZA DE SAN CARLOS DE LA CABANA



We decided that we needed to have a drink everywhere Hemingway did:

THIS BAR IS WELL KNOWN FOR HEMINGWAY DRINKING MOJITOS

MOJITOS ALL LINED UP

THIS BAR IS WELL KNOWN FOR HEMINGWAY DRINKING DAQUIRIS

DOV & TIM HANGING OUT ON THE STREETS OF HAVANA

ONE OF SEVERAL BEAUTIFUL SQUARES IN OLD HAVANA

WHAT A PAIR !

WATERWAY VIEW FROM THE MALECON (PROMENADE) BETWEEN OLD AND NEW HAVANA




TRANSLATION:  I LOVE YOU FIDEL

FISHING