We’re on the third (and last) blog about Christina’s fascinating tour of Cuba. Now we’re going to take an up-close and personal look at the local citizens of this fascinating island country.
Arriving at the Jose Marti Havana International Airport
DID YOU LOOK AT MUSEUMS AND CHURCHES?
We did a walking tour of downtown Havana and saw important squares such as the Plaza de Armas (Square of Arms) that is Havana’s oldest square – as well as the Plaza Viega (Old Square) with its restaurants and cafes.
We did not see many museums. The Catholic church that we went into was beautiful, but it was not like the ones I saw in Europe.
The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception
WHAT SPOTS DID YOU GO TO AT NIGHT?
We visited a number of bars but two, in particular, were historically interesting. According to island lore, both of these places were favorites of Hemingway. He said he went to one, named El Floridita for daiquiris and to another, called La Bodeguita del Medio for mojitos.
Old sign for a restaurant / bar in downtown Havana
DID YOU SEE ANY SUPERMARKETS IN HAVANA?
I saw one large supermarket that looked like an “old school pharmacy”. There was someone at a desk and then, behind this person, were many shelves for merchandise. Unfortunately, most of the shelves were bare. I believe this is where most Cubans shop – they get their food rations there.
WHAT’S A FOOD RATION?
In the US we call them food stamps. It’s a 20-page ration booklet or “la libreta” that’s given to every person in Cuba regardless of income. It’s a subsidy for all of Cuban’s 11 million people and entitles them to rice, bread, eggs and more.
DOES THE GOVERNMENT HANDLE MEDICAL COSTS?
Yes, all of the medical treatments are free. And, the Cubans we spoke to seemed to appreciate their medical care. It seems there are many qualified doctors and nurses in this country.
AND EDUCATION (INCLUDING COLLEGE) IS FREE?
You can go right through college at no cost to you. But I think many people are wary of this because the government pays a set wage. For example, a doctor or lawyer makes the same salary as a gas station attendant.
One of our tour guides, who boards with a Cuban family, told us that the father was a mechanical engineer, but he worked as a gas station attendant because he made more money that way. In the US, 16-year-olds in high school work as gas station attendants for extra money.
Currently, the younger generation in Cuba is not interested in education or becoming a doctor because of the low salaries. Ambition is stifled.
OVERALL WHAT DO YOU THINK? WOULD YOU RETURN?
Of course, but Cuba is an island of contradictions. We drove out to the countryside one day to visit a tobacco farm and to see how Cuban cigars are made. It was a two-hour trip each way on a three-lane highway. We were in a modern van with Yank Tanks passing us and then, unbelievably, we saw a farmer and his horse-drawn cart on this busy, major highway.
On a road just off the highway near Pinar del Rio
IS THE UNDERGROUND ECONOMY THRIVING?
Yes. Young people are drawn to the tourism industry because that’s where the foreign money comes in. Everyone supplements their government income with tips from tourists.
MAY WE SUGGEST…
No matter when, where or how you travel one thing remains the same: you will always be dealing with varying temperatures. Our layering tops to the rescue! Take a look.
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