Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cuba - The Bad Stuff

2011 03 26
Vero Beach, FL

Everyone knows we love Cuba.  The people, the country, the fresh markets, the cigars, the rum, the unbelievably low prices.

So rather than beat that drum let us tell you first about the things that did not go as well as had hoped they might:

The Damning Superiority of the Ruling Bureaucrats

Not intending to visit Cuba we had not brought any Canadian currency.  Fortunately we were in possession of some Euros which had been lying around the boat depreciating with every new upheaval in the EU.  To convert the Euros to Convertible Cuban Pesos it was necessary to taxi from Puerta Vita, where we cleared into the country, to Guardalavaca where the bank was.  This required a taxi ride.

Enroute our driver stopped, with our permission, to buy some plantains from a cart bringing a big load of such things from field to market.  He was denied.  

Visibly upset he climbed back into our taxi.  Continuing our drive he explained that the produce was  not for sale.  A moment's quiet wait on our part and he could hold back no longer.  The plantains were not for sale to ordinary Cubans it turned out.  They were for government officials and too good for the likes of him.   It was an uncomfortable drive to the bank.

After changing money we took the driver to the local fresh market and allowed him to direct us from stall to stall, ensuring we got "good deals" from all the vendors.  His mood was visibly improved as he managed our purchases and his reputation amongst the vendors who would, we assumed, ensure he received due compensation for his part in their sales.

It was tough to bargain hard when tomatoes were selling for 12 cents a kilo and onions for a buck for a two foot braid of the largest sweetest onions we had seen since our last visit to this garden paradise.

Economics In a Planned Economy
Connie was having our laundry done by hand for $3 a bag, $2 if she provided the detergent.  Everything came back spot free and ironed, even the underwear.  It sounds as if we were taking advantage but some care is needed in dealing with a developing economy.

In a country where the epidemiolist is paid $25 a month, a princely sum,  imagine the lure of being a laundress at $3 a bag?  The mechanic at the marina was a mechanical engineer but he made more money in tips from the marina guests in a week than he ever made in six months practicing his profession.

No Communications

It is not permitted for Cubans to have unsupervised contact with the outside world.  The phone system will not call outside the country.  Internet is unbelievably expensive and slow, not entirely the fault of the Cuban government, as the logical service providers are American and so not permitted to provide service to this lovely country.

All Hand Held Radios and GPS Devices Travel in Bond Only

This was true last year as well.  Arriving at Vita our customs man, Jose Vila Danger, inventoried all hand held radios, cell phones and GPSs and then sealed them in a drawer marked with official customs tape.  They were not released until we departed Hemingway Marina.

We believe this is to prevent our selling such devices to the local population.  But in a country with this much government nothing has to make sense - it is so because some guy in a white shirt says so.  

Flares Confiscated and Proof of Health Insurance Now Required At Hemingway Marina

Flares Confiscated

A private regulation relating to Hemingway Marina only requires that all flares be confiscated by the harbour master on a ship's entering the marina.  These are inventoried, painstakingly, and returned on departure.

Proof of Health Insurance Needed at Hemingway Only

On entering Hemingway Marina this year we had to provide proof of health insurance.  Luckily we had our OHIP cards handy or goodness knows what we would have done.  This is hardly a disaster but for Canadians visiting Hemingway make sure you have something on hand. 

Bus Downtown Has Been Cancelled

Last year mariners at Hemingway could ride a handy bus which carried us from the marina to the Plaza de la Revolucion in downtown Havana, a distance of 12 to 15 miles.  This year the bus was cancelled which left you depending on a $12 cab ride ($24) return if you wanted to visit the city.  

This was disappointing but not being unresourceful the Budget Committee and I snuck into the adjoining hotel and onto the bus that that resort provides, free of charge, to its guests.  Same bus but free and it delivers you to a better destination in the city.  We tipped the driver generously.

I cannot honestly think of another thing to complain about.

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