Medellin - La Habana - Vinales - Trinidad - Cienfuegos - Santa Clara - La Habana - Medellin
What I felt and thought in Cuba
This is the summary of my two weeks holiday in Cuba.
It has been 52 years since Cuban Revolution Army (M-26-7) defeated the US backed Batista regime. Fidel Castro had been leading the country for nearly 50 years till he retired a few years ago. Cuba survived the US embargo, the fall of the Soviet Union, and economic crisis, and developed its unique Socialism. As a revolutionalist, I had lots of expectations towards Cuba. I wanted to feel the history of the revolution and current lives of Cubans with my own skin.
After spending 2 weeks in Cuba, I have now mixed feelings. Cuba is now in a situation to rebuild the economy with the tourism and relationship with Latin American countries such like Venezuera after sufering economic crisis since the collupse of the Soviet Union.
What I saw was lots of Cubans were depending on tourists money. Wherenever I went (well, as a tourist I went to tose touristic places) there were Cubans tried to get "business" with us. I did not see so much "money driven" people in other latin American countries, so I was shocked.
When I got on an airport bus to Habana City, all men were waiting for ladies to get on first, so I thought "Cubans have a lady-first culture", but I did not see much of this culture elsewhere.
I felt those people tried to get our "business" did not know how to treat foreginers.
Whereever I went , cab drivers called out "taxi, taxi" to us many times, and when people came to us with "Hola, amigo!" always end up with "Do you wanna buy cigars? It is special today (everyday is special....)" To make matters worse, they were very persistant and annoying.
I guess for them asking is free, and if they get a business, they are lucky, if not, it does not matter, they just try anyway.
Oh, so called "Bici Taxi", they are actually three-wheeled, so "Tricicle". Those "Taxi Drivers (Riders) always asked us "Bici Taxi?" or "Taxi, Taxi". Every where we went, even for a short walk, they bothered us. They bothered us so so much, in the final days of our stay in Havana, Laura finally said to them "It's a Tricicle!" Well, finally we got them, Laura.
Those poeple came to us did not have good manners either. They often yelled out to us "Hey Chino! (it means Chinese or Asian)" Well, I am an Asian and was called "Chino" in Central Americas. But I did not feel that bad as much as in Cuba. I guess this was because the way Cubans said "Chino, Chino" had the bad intension (racism).
I thought what they feel if they were called "Hey, Cuban!" like that way in a foreign country? In "civilised" countries, people would not call other persons that way.
It got better in the country side though.
Although they rely on tourism money, they do not have much thoughts on how to please tourists, so that they spend more money here. Well, it may be because of "Socialism"nised service and lack of competisions...
Where is that revolutionary spirit? Che proposed "new man", but as far as I saw in Cuba, there was none. In the school, I read before, kids are taught "To be like Che!", but I did not feel anything like Che from those Cubanos. There were signs of Che and stating "Your ideas live, your examples will remain", but I did not see those reflect on people...
Education level of Cubanos seems to be higher than other Central Americans. Lot of people do understand and speak English (not fluently though). But this also leads to more annoyance to tourists. As they can speak English, they followed and continuaslly asked us if we were interested in their "products (cigars, mojito etc)" or "sercices (taxi)".
I tended to compare Cuba and other Central Americas, where was (is) dominated / controlled by the States. And I was thinking what was the revolution for the majority of Cubanos?
Not all Central American countries are fully independent from the States (such like El Salvador and Panama, I felt strong the US presence), the living standard is getting higher and higher. In contrast, Cuba has been against the States since the revolution and beloned to the Soviet side, the living standard in general seems to be higher than average Central Americans. The majority of Cubanos seem to have basic goods, if not fancy. So the wealth is distributed more evenlly in Cuba than Central Americas.
However, if I ask the question myself, "Is there the spirit of Revolutionary or Socialism I could feel?", I would say, "No, there isn't much." I saw more downsides of the uniqueness of Cuba than good sides, such as bad services, lack of choices etc.
In Nicaragua, also over thrown the governemnt with revolution, I felt hope there. But I could not feel that in Cuba. That was really sad truth for me.
So far I am criticising Cubanos, but I had good experiences with Cubanos too. All of families at Casa Paticular (like home stay) were very kind. They respect our privacy, but did care about us. There were humble too. However, they charged us for everything (well, except medications when I got sick).
I think they were truely kind people, but I might be wrong. The fact is if we stay a night, it will be more than monthly income of averge Cubanos!
Basically,they are very cheerful and relaxed. But at the same time (as the most of Latin Americans) they are sloppy. Well I like them because of those reasons. These traits of Latin Americans are "something" we - Japanese- need to learn.
Before this trip, I thought a "Socialist" nation would be very different in many ways from "Capitalist" nations. However, in myopinion, there weren't much different from Central Americas. Well, noiceable differences were, less stores, unable to buy things when I wanted, and bad customer service. I reckon those are because there weren't much cpompetitions, but what I felt was, generally speaking, they did not have consideration making customers happy.
So if Cuba lose its title of the "Revolution" and the "Socialism" , it will be just "One of Latin American" country. Then there would not be much tourists coming in, I suppose. For the better economy, Cubanos need to improve their ways of doing business to get more repeaters.
Unfortunately, there was not encounter that made me feel "I want to be friends with him/her!" At other countries, people came to us for just out of curiousty, but in Cuba (in my experiences), those people came to us were 100% money driven. Ah, one exception. The gentleman Laura and I met on the way to Havana city from the airport. He helped us hitchhike. He was ascientist researching vaccine, so he was highly educated and had a good manner.
There are two currencies used in Cuba, mainly for foreigners "CUC" and for Cubanos "CUP" are used. 1CUC (about US$1) iequals to 24CUPs. Foreginers can use both currencies, but those touristic shops and restaurants accept only CUC. It seems like those CUP shops are subsidised by the government and selling things really at low price, but there aren't much choices and the quality of goods are low.
I guess foreigners are supposed not to use CUP. But we can exchange CUC to CUP easily at money exchanges at the airport and in city.
I stayed in Cuba for 15days and used 508CUCs. On average, I used 33CUCs a day. It was not expensive but not cheap eaither. The airport tax is 25CUCs, and I spent 50CUCs on taxi, those were very expensive. Basically, accomodation and transportation costs are high in Cuba.
Even the handful of men/wemen with aspirations led the revolution and inspired people, they cannot achieve or cannot even come close to their ideas? It may be better to follow as time goes by? There are Pros and Cons that Fidel Castro Ruz had done, but I am sure that he thought "I have to do something about Cuba",risked his life to make better Cuba, and made the revolution. From what he said, and wrote, I am sure that Ernesto "Che" Guevara also faught for the better future of people. The enemy they tried to defeat was "Injustice and Inequality" of this world.
It has been 52 years since the revolution. How close have they come to their ideas? I was questioning myself during my trip in Cuba, but I got no answer.
But it is true that in the course of history "Heroes" like Fidel and Che came along, made the revolution and changed the future of Cubanos. Human history may be a natural flow, but also artificial, of course.
So if it is the case, as Fidel said at the trial of the raid on Moncada barracks, "History will absolve me. " I just follow my belief and go on my way.
As a revolusionalist, I will put more efforts and do whatever I can do for the better future of Japan.
The diaries of my Cuba holiday are in Part 2 and Part3.