Category Archives: Cuba

Entrepreneurship and the Socialist State

Standard

I am an entrepreneur and I am not ashamed.  I like to make money and I like to do good, and when I can do both simultaneously, I am at my happiest – so Cuba presents a conundrum.   How could someone like me (a business person) live and thrive in Cuba?

  1. Someone like me (a foreigner) has not right to stay in Cuba beyond the terms of the tourist visa or temporary residency granted because of one’s work.
  2. If someone like me was looking for a more permanent solution…then (easiest solution)  it would be time to get married to a Cuban…..and Miguel was good looking, but he wasn’tthat good looking!
  3. Most private enterprise is limited to small service businesses – selling food/restaurants, taxis, hairdressers (of course), renting rooms in homes, etc.  The services I get paid to render in the US are non-existent in Cuba…because they are free.

So unless I plan on being a black market business chick….which (for the record) I do not….making money in Cuba remains an elusive concept to me.

How do you make money in Cuba?  If you have some ideas, I would love to hear them.

Advertisements

The Dark Side of Paradise

Standard

Our final night in Cuba. We had finally gotten to our last casa particular, after 6 hours on a Viazul bus from Trinidad, and not only where we tired, we were starving as well.  So with our bags stowed away, my travel buddy and I ventured out into the Varadero night to find an open restaurant and feed.

We considered a nice looking Mexican place, but the prices and the fact that only one table was occupied, kept us walking.  We finally settled on a nice pizza place that had a couple of filled tables.  We ordered our food (pizza and calamari) and for whatever reason, of all the places we could have sat, I chose an enclosed side room that looked like it was setup for more formal, wine with your meal, dining.  This is where this story begins.

My 8-year old travel buddy and I sat at a table for two and directly across from us, on the other side of the room was a table set for three, and overflowing with empty beer cans and a bottle of wine.  Seated at the table were (1) an Italian woman in her early 50s, sporting a blond bob, a tight, breast enhancing, black dress and a voice so deep…you really had to consider, she could be a he; (2) an average looking Italian male, probably mid-30s; and (3) a stunning Afro-Cuban girl who was probably 5 feet 11 inches (without heels) and all of 100 lbs (45.4 kg for you metric people).

Why was this scene any different from any other?   [Warning – I have never watched a Columbo detective flick, but I can play detective too] I noticed that the  man was overtly trying to get the Cuban girl to drink more beer and she, being rather inebriated already, kept pushing the beer can away.Then the conversation would flip from Italian to Spanish then to Italian.  In Spanish, the Italian woman would describe different recipes (in a light tone) and in Italian, her baritone would come out as she talked business.

Now I don’t speak or understand Italian….I barely speak and understand Spanish (well okay I can get by and be conversant in Spanish) the point is, there was no reason for me to understand any of their conversation but I’ll tell you what I did understand:

  • The Cuban girl was told she could make up to 4,000 euros a day and the work would not be hard;
  • The men she would be dealing with would be a diverse set but there were many Pakistanis, Arabs and some Africans;
  • She (the Cuban) should come and  commit to working for them.

The Italian man then started to take some pictures of the Cuban, then turned the camera to the Italian woman, who immediately and sternly said, no pictures (of her).

Now I am not a “worldly” woman, in that slimy, underworld sort of way, but I have watched enough TV and movies to have a very active imagination.   And given the context and just how everything unfolded … I am pretty sure I was witnessing a young woman being enticed into a global sex/slave trade by shiny lights, fancy talk, and alcohol. If I let my mind run, I could see that they would get her permission to leave Cuba by saying she had an employment contact with an “Italian Firm” as a model, travel agent, etc.  Then she would leave the country and it would become impossible to track her down.  She would become one of the thousands of beautiful girls out there who are trafficked and enslaved for the express purpose of satisfying someone’s deviant sexual desires.      THIS IS SO WRONG!

This Afro-Cuban girl was promised a daily wage that would take the average Cuban 20 years to earn.  And she…thinking of all the ways that money could improve her situation and that of her family’s, is the lamb being led to slaughter.   The irony here is that, while many Cubans may (or may not) think that they are really poor and suffering, relative to so many other parts of the world, Cubans are living in paradise.   Compared to the average person living in Sierra Leone, India, Thailand, or El Salvador, Cubans have an abundance of everything. Of safety, security, food, education, medical care, great hairdressers and cheap nail salons.  No Cuban is homeless or starving or illiterate.  But the desire for “more”, more stuff, more house, more cloths, more luxury, drives people to make choices that put their  lives in peril.

I wish that Cuban girl knew her worth. I wish she knew that “all that glitters is not gold” and that smiling faces do not equate to good intentions.  I wish she knew.

My Trip in a Cuban Ambulance

Standard

I freely admit that sometimes I am a complete klutz and I can have two left feet.  When I was in Santiago de Cuba, I really looked forward to hearing some live music.  So I got prepped to go to the Casa de las Tradiciones.  Put on my tight jeans, a nice cleavage bearing tank top and some 4 inch heels…..WRONG!!

Lesson 1 – Never wear 4 inch heels (trying to look cute) on uneven terrain, cobbled streets, at night when you can’t see straight, in Cuba.  That’s just asking for trouble.

And of course, not 10 minutes after starting my journey, I took a dive into a hole on the side of a curb and twisted my ankle all the way round…at least that’s what it felt like, and I could have sworn I heard something crack.

Lesson 2 – When you severely twist your ankle, reconsider your footwear, go home and put your foot up.

Did I do that?  Of course not!  After yelping and tearing up a little, I proceeded to the Casa to hear that music (not dance) and then limped home.  And the next day I got up and walked/limped around all day.  Remember this is my dream destination and I wasn’t going to let a little pain keep me down.

So by the time I finally arrived in Trinidad, my foot had swollen to twice its normal size..totally gross and I figured I’d go see the doctor….who first said, “take your blood pressure medication”, then “you are going to the hospital”, in an ambulance, no less.  One thing about Cuban health care, they are darn efficient.  Between that doctor’s visit, the round-trip ambulance ride, x-rays, orthopedic consult, and final doctor’s exam, I was in and out in under 60 minutes.   And the total cost, including anti-inflammatory meds was $57.

Lesson 3 – Follow doctor’s orders as closely as possible.

They wanted to put a cast on my foot and have me off my feet for 15…yes 15 days.   Did I do that?  Of course not….duh, dream vacation!   I sat for an hour and a half, then I had to be up and about again.  You know what they say….you can’t keep a good woman down!  Oh yah!

Now that I’m back home, the swelling has finally gone away and while my foot still hurts, I’m walking with a small limp, and heels are an impossibility – I can say that it was totally worth it.

Where to Stay in Cuba – Casa Particulares

Standard

Cuba has multiple faces that it presents to visitors:

  • Those on packaged tours, get the – “Come see our awesome, virginal beaches with clean, clear blue waters, sun and relaxation.”
  • Those on cultural tours get the – “Come see our awesome cultural heritage as represented by our musical traditions, and our Tropicana dancers.  And don’t forget to check our folkloric music and dance troupes, which really keep the African spirit alive and strong here.”
  • Those on medical field tours get the – “Come see what we accomplish despite the US blockade…but we still need meds and accessories.” And finally;
  • Independent travelers often get the – “Do you have any extra change for me, leave me your lipstick, if you have any extra cloths…”

With all these varied images, how does one get a real feel for what Cuban life is like for most people?  The best solution for real insight is staying in Casa Particulars.  A casa particular is a privately owned home where the owners have decided to rent out a single room or an entire on-site apartment.  While every casa is different, as every family is different, casa particulares allow one to live in homes and have unscripted conversations with both staff and owners.

Hands down, our favorite casa was Hostal Valmaseda in Trinidad at the home of Iris and Conrado.  This home was special because from the moment they met us at the bus station, they treated us as family and by the end of our first day, we felt as if we had known them for years and this was more a homecoming than a tourist/cultural stop.

Iris works at Museo Romantico (to be covered in detail in a separate blog post) and Conrado tends to all the visitors during the day.  Our bus arrived at 6:30 am and Conrado was waiting with a sign, so we could make a beeline straight toward him. He immediately took our large bag and given the option to walk or take a taxi, we chose to walk to his home.  The day then proceeded as follows:

  • My travel buddy and I took showers and a nap;
  • We went down for breakfast, where I asked for the nearest clinic because I sprained by ankle 2 days before and now my foot was the size of a football.
  • I left my travel buddy to play with the kids in the house, which she happily agreed to, and accompanied by Conrado, I went straight to the clinic for foreigners,
  • Then I was put in an ambulance to the local hospital for x-rays and an orthodpedic consult, then back in the ambulance to the clinic for a final analysis, meds and $57 USD in total payments. (doctors recommended that I immobilize my foot for 15 days and stay totally off it…and of course that didn’t happen cause I was on my dream vacation….duh)
  • Then back home for 1.5 hours of rest and repose with my foot up.
  • Then the rest of the day walking about the city with Conrado, getting to meet restaurant owners, and enjoying the perks of having a well connected, not-a-tour guide, guide.
  • Then back home for dinner
  • And back out for live music and salsa dancing (which happens across the street every Sunday for the locals- definitely not in the guide books)
  • Finally back home for the evening.

During the same day, I got to meet the entire family clan and my travel buddy completely abandoned me to tour the town and play stick ball with the other kids.  Our first day in Trinidad could not have been more perfect.

So, if you plan on visiting Trinidad, Cuba, please consider staying with Iris and Conrado at Hostal Valmaseda (call 53 52770915 or email imirce@ss.caracol.cu).  They are an amazing couple with two sons, 8 and 2, and their youngest has Downs Syndrome.  They are the most loving family ever and I promise , you will not be disappointed.  Check out  the pictures below:

Why So Many Cuban Classic Cars? – Gallery

Standard

QUESTION – Little Lucie, why did you take so many pictures of cars?

RESPONSE – Because it’s interesting!

Presenting Little Lucie’s Gallery of Cuban Cars