With a little exaggeration, I’ve been in the Caribbean for almost a month now, so it’s about time to report about it! I started with Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean.
December 4 th I successfully passed my psychology exam and the 5 th at dawn I already lined up at the airport waiting for a flight to Havana. 1 week unforgettable journeys, cities and people in Cuba! Who’s already read National Geographic (US. October) number, you’ll pretty much know everything I’ll write about here..
On the way to Cuba Magda was stopped at the airport, and we got a little frightened when we were basically asked everything: “How long are you staying? Where are you staying? What are you going to do? What are you visiting exactly?” – everything.
In Cuba everything is a little bit strange – the lady who we lived at started off. The cheapest way is to stay at a “casa particular” – that means a Cuban will give you accommodation. This could only happen, if they have a permit to host – and they must pay 150 peso convertible [CUC] (more or less 150 USD). Well yes, money also works very strangely as there is the original “moneda nacional” – where actually among many revolutionists Che Guevara can also be seen. Peso converitble was made, when other currencies started to flow into the country, to cut this off, this second currency was made that is more or less has the same value as a US dollar. Speaking of which, there is a fine on US dollar, just to make the whole situation simple. As valuable things, TV, fridge, etc. can be bought in this currency, Cubans host tourists with pleasure, in exchange for some CUC.
The country has changed a lot these past years. My sister visited Cuba 2 years ago and according to her stories there was nearly anything in the shops. Now it is a little bit different. In our trip we have talked a lot with locals, especially the taxi drivers and the landlords who gave us accommodation. Spanish language skills helped me a lot – without that it would’ve been impossible to communicate well. Moreover, me and Josip knew exactly what we wanted to ask. Therefore, we’ve learnt a lot of things. For example, in 2013, in principle they’ll all get passports. It doesn’t mean that they’ll travel, because they don’t have money, but the fact, that they own a passport without any paperwork is a huge. Another big step, is that they can sell and buy their property and cars freely. Plus, growing tourism make more opportunities. I think, however I haven’t lived back then, Hungary went through a similar change back in those years. Anyhow, the wind of change is in the air, everyone can feel that. The truth is, they are very much afraid of Cuba turning into such a dangerous country as the US, or Mexico. On the way home from Viñales I got talk a lot with our driver, while the others were comfortably sleeping in the backseat (you can’t believe how comfortable these cars are!) of a Chevy from 1951. A peruvian girl was traveling with us – just to fill the car – and she asked, how is it possible that these old cars are in such a good shape. The point is, that there was a time in Cuba, when people didn’t have any money, so they couldn’t even buy gasoline and for almost 20 years they simply weren’t using them at all. When better days came, they swiped the dust off these cars and each of them upgraded their as they could.
Of course, I started talking about the weather with the driver. The dry and at the same time bearable winter and the humid, unbearable summer is an typical boring topic on the Caribbean. Here he added that he indeed loves the cold weather – I laughed out loud. – “How cold is that?” – “Well, it does get down to at least 17 ˚C”
After seeing my enthusiasm about the 61-year-old automatic (!) car, he let me drive it for at least 15 minutes on the freeway. He told me it was the car that everyone could buy at that time who had a salary – that’s why there are so many of them in Cuba. It wasn’t difficult at all to drive this enormous piece of steel, driven by a new model 2 engine, he himself built it in, like the latest radio as well – he actually studied to be a mechanical engineer, but because living of a governmental salary is almost impossible he rather drives a taxi – for which tourists pay with CUC. After we talked about love as well. He told me, he lives with one woman all his life, rather than chasing many. “By the way, all women here are too used by the time they reach 18” – as he said. This actually caught our attention too. A tremendous amount of divorced and very light-headed people. – So we actually agreed that as there is no chance to talk about politics nor travel, so they put all that energy (and that means a lot) into their private life.
I was telling him about Hungary, about my grandparents emigrating to the US in ’92 and due to my knowledge of Spanish about Mexico as well. After a short silence he asked me if these countries were dangerous… I told him they are indeed very dangerous. He nodded silently and I understood what he meant…he’s afraid of the changes. He lives in a country where there might not have a huge range of choice as we have, nor he can travel the world, but he is safe and he gets all social support from the government. At this point, I actually remembered all the talks and disputes about our ex-socialist country and our opportunites today. And our latest popular topic: education – governmental stipend?! – even in Mexico they wouldn’t believe me when I said it works like that in our country. Well, if we are in the footsteps of the US and western European countries, we need to wake up of the dream that the communism has left for us. Talking about our opportunities – I think the same. Until I understand everything of Cuba’s world, nothing has really changed. (Except for the super-giant markets).
When we were traveling from Cienfuegos to Trinidad we changed our chauffeur and our car as well – a Buik from 1951 this time. We were 5 of us in the car this time, and seizing the chance I sat in the front with Josip (very comfortable next to the driver!) to talk to him a little. (Josip could also tell a lot of stories, the funniest one was maybe the one that he heard from his granddad, when Tito had gone to “a miserable Latin American country” and to show people how great the relation is, he returned with 3 ships full of mangos. This was the time when everyone in Yugoslavia received a mango.) In the end we chatted the whole trip through. It was already dark when we set off from Trinidad and we could notice how slow he was driving when we got closer to the shore. He said it was because of the crabs that cross the roads during the night. Then he added: and the cows that are wandering around the fields. In Cuba one can get arrested for 20 years of prison by slaughtering a cow, while for homicide “only” 10. So sometimes, when they want to eat a little meat besides the rice and beans, they just let the fence a little weak so that the cows could go out during the night and indeed there are some people who slaughter them behind the back of the police. (Here I remembered the scene from the Hungarian movie “The witness” when they were slaughtering a pig…) The next day when they go to find the cows, they’ll just report that some of them weren’t found. Of course, we talked about the changes with him too and the life they live in reality. A doctor is paid 40 CUC a month in average. Needless to say, it is almost impossible to live out of this money, so when they visit the doctor they bring presents: parfumes, ham, everyone what they can. “This is how we help each other.” – The best job you can get is where there is something you can take home. This naturally can be sold away under the table, and this is how it goes with everything: cement, milk, etc. “Everyone does this.” – At this point Josip asked: “OK, so everyone knows about it, how come Raúl doesn’t see it?” – “Aww, he also knows about this…As we say here: We pretend to be working and they pretend to pay us. – Well this is how we live! – If we need a new pair of trousers – that’s exactly the salary of a month…then maybe the shoes get broken, but that month there is a huge party – so the Cuban will go to the party and wait another month for the shoes…”
Faithful to our history
We have also visited the Museum of Revolution too. Josip and I got bored soon and named all this “Fidel and the seven dwarfs” and “Little red riding Fidel” stories. By the way, these tales were advertised on bill boards all around the motorways. So, there we were at the coffee shop of the museum. On the bookshelves books about Fidel’s life in several languages. Then coffee was served… well, I can surely say I don’t think I’ve drunk better coffee than that.
On the one hand yes, it is very sad, because talented, smart and beautiful people have very few options in life. They, themselves don’t believe that the change has been standing in the doorway … or don’t want to believe it. On the other hand, they have everything, never more than just necessary, but with a little common sense and good connections it can turn out well. And we must not forget that on the Caribbean they can play music and dance in all circumstances be.
The cities and of course the sea were beautiful. I cannot believe how, but within a week I managed to get a hint of almost everything: the city, Malecón (seafront promenade), music, Hemingway, Spanish colonization, French colonization, tobacco fields, sugar cane fields, boating on a lagoon, white sand, palm trees – beach.
More photos here.