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.
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 LEAVES DRYING INSIDE|
|ONE COOL DUDE|
We hiked some areas of the valley:
|THE LADY OF THE HOUSE WAS SELLING COFFEE BEANS|
|VERY DRY SEASON|
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|