HAVANA

5 04 2011

 

As always, it was a pleasure to spend my last four nights in Cuba in the capital city of Havana. It was much warmer than when I had arrived there in December.

The last time that I had spent a few days in Havana was in July 2010. It was interesting to see what changes had occurred since then. Like in Santiago, there was a huge increase in the number of cafeterias selling food and snacks, mainly from the front of people’s houses. Similarly, a large number of new sellers of pirate CDs and DVDs. Interestingly, it’s not only foreign films and discs being pirated in this way, but Cuban ones as well. By licensing the sellers, the Cuban Government is effectively colluding in defrauding its own film and record producers.

There seemed to be a number of new casas particulares (private homes offering bed and breakfast); plus some new paladares (private restaurants), including a very smart looking one in the heart of Centro Habana, in San Rafael, named San Cristobal, which I shall try out on my next visit.

There seemed to be a big increase in the number of taxis – and the touts operating on their behalf; and an even bigger increase in the number of bici-taxis, who were keen to get tourist customers. This is different to before, as most of them were not licensed to take tourists. I made a couple of journeys using boteros (collective taxis). My understanding was that these too were not licensed to take tourists, but they did not ask to see my carnet, so for all they knew I was a tourist. This is a cheap and effective way to travel around the city – 10 CUP (less than £0.30) for journeys within the central zone; 20 CUP for outside.

It was interesting seeing the contrasts between the capital and the second city, Santiago. In Santiago we had been looking for an insect spray – one made in Cuba – for three months, but had been unable to find any. In Havana it was everywhere. In Santiago I spent much of my time unsuccessfully looking for cheese. Again, in Havana it was easy to locate.

However, to my dismay, the copelitas (small ice cream stands) selling 1CUP ice creams seemed to have disappeared. Two that I always previously frequented – one in Calle Obispo, the other in San Lazaro – have gone. I only saw one in four days – in San Rafael. My comment in my post of 22nd January that “Cubans must eat more ice cream per head than any other nation in the world” should be changed to “Santiaguerros must eat more ice cream than the citizens of any other city in the world”. There were houses selling cornets for 3CUP, but far fewer than in Santiago.

In my street in Santiago, between 6.15 and 7.45 each morning, there would be at least four people coming along selling bread (see my post of 8th January). In Havana there were none. This may explain why in our casa, on two days out of four, we were given stale bread for breakfast (Cuban bread, like a French loaf, lasts less than a day). Each day in Santiago we would also have a dozen or more carratilleros (guys pushing wheelbarrows or with a horse and cart) selling fruit and vegetables come by. We saw none in Havana, although the markets seemed to be well-stocked.

The two cities are very different, with different attitudes, different words and slang; and different economies. My advice to any traveler to Cuba would be to try and visit them both.

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One response

8 04 2011
Amanda Naesman

Wow that is supricing. When I was in Cuba my first time in 2003/2004 i lived on less than a US dollar every day eating maybe plenty of 1CUP ice creams a day, and a 7 CUP spaghetti or 5 CUP pizza. A bread and juice for 2-3 CUP in the morning and 1 CUP banana for a snack. Last time in Havana was the summer of 2009. Has it changed that much? Every time i come not too much has changed. The biggest change was when the camellos were taken out of traffic.

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