3 days in Cuba was hardly enough! Being on a cruise we did not enjoy the hospitality of the local Cuban B&B’s and only made it to one authentic restaurant. Our experience was defiantly glammed over. A 5 hour walking tour of Old Havana gave a nice taste of the surroundings and we were then free to wonder around on our own. I felt we only got a peep into the nice side of Cuba, and to see the real story we would have had to venture to New Cuba and the out skirting villages. Between visiting a cigar saloon where we experienced the Cuban tradition of cigar smoking complete with the Mojito, Rum, Cuban Coffee and a Romeo/Juliet Cigar then off to see the very talented cabaret dancers at the Parisian, there just wasn’t enough time to take it all in. I would have loved to see the museums! There was always the guilt factor too. Here we were on a ship that had gourmet meals laid out and these people were working their tails off for whatever they could get. Needless to say obesity in Cuba did not seem to be an issue.
It was very apparent that Old Havana besides being rich in culture and architecture was the tourist hub. The streets were constantly being cleaned for the tourist and we only noted a few incidents of begging.
Cuba has a two tiered currency system : the moneda libremente convertible (CUC), and the moneda nacional (MN or CUP).In general, the CUC, which is pegged to the US dollar, is used to purchase luxury goods. For tourists, that means just about everything, from internet to hotels to meals at restaurants.
The CUP, which is equivalent to CUC by around 25:1, is used primarily by Cubans for staple goods like rice, beans, and flour. Obtaining a few CUP can be useful for paying for street food and public transportation, which Cubans also pay with CUP. The system is intended to keep necessities cheap for Cubans, while keeping luxuries expensive.
Cubans working for the government are paid a monthly salary in CUP, equivalent to around $40.00 a month. The system has pushed a vast percentage of Cubans to let go of their government day jobs in favor of working in tourism, where they have the opportunity to be paid in CUC and earn a month's salary in a day.
You tip for everything. Toilet paper is a commodity so a $1.00 per trip to the Lou is pretty normal. Those smiling colorful people aren’t smiling for free. They are counting on your tips and believe me they notice as soon as a camera shifts in their direction. As much as we loved looking at them, they reciprocated and there was always someone watching the tourists from windows and doorways!
Dogs and Cats. Oh my goodness Cubans love their dogs! Little bowls of water and food are left out and it's a community effort to feed the many free roaming canines. It was explained that the dogs with little signs around their necks had been altered and were now considered ‘government’ property. There was no barking, and there was no fighting. The fate of the overpopulation of cats were another story. I seriously doubt that many of the little kittens would ever make it through the diseases to adulthood. As much as I love dogs and cats, I had to refrain from touching any of them.
What else I noticed was that everyone had their place. That included people and animals. Doorways and poles were always claimed.
Old cars were abundant! What a step back memory lane seeing the old Chevys and Buicks! The taxi services were a mixture of horse & buggy, old cars, newer taxis and the bus system. They all used the same stop lights and abided by the same ‘rules’.
The Architecture coupled with the color and a splash of graffiti here and there were impressive. For this trip as I really did not know what to expect so I brought the D500 and 18-200 Lens combination. Using a tripod was out of the question. What would have been more of a benefit is to engage the long lens to shoot but that would have entailed hauling it around.. From a photography viewpoint I have to say the ‘’living faces of Cuba were captivating! You see that school kids are school kids acting out just like at home. There is a place and a time for everything. There are so many layers to history and culture of Cuba and it would be well worth it to go back.
What I would do different? More time obviously, but lots of change. What we had was a brief taste of Cuba and not even that! We had an opportunity to talk to a woman whose daughter was in Cuba as a missionary and those stories are the true day to day struggles!