Cuban Jobs

Thanks to its unique political system and the wages paid for work Cubans developed a range of jobs that do not exist anywhere else.

You can’t live on a salary, even if you are a minister or director of a company. So everybody has a job next to his official designation.

A few examples:

We buy our rice at the supermarket and boil it. In Cuba rice is dried on the streets so it is dirty. This guy is letting the wind blow the dust out of the rice. Nest step: Looking at every grain to fish out the little stones (they will cost you a tooth) and bad grains. It’s a day’s job at every restaurant.

2 Receipt ripper.

At the door of every store, there is a man (always a man) that carefully checks if the items in your bag match the ones on the receipt. Once satisfied, he folds the receipt and carefully rips it. They all do this the same way. There must be a receipt ripper school!

3 Nail polish bottle recycler.

Nail polish man

This guy sells nail polish and pays his customers 1 Peso (4 cents) per returned bottle. He then cleans them, fills them up again with self-made nail polish and sells them for 10 Peso.

4 Bus money exchanger.

Bus money exchange

The bus costs 40 cents but if you pay with one Peso you will not get change. So this guy gives you 4 20 cent coins for a Peso. Two bus fares for 1!

5 Internet Dealer

Cuba’s Internet Provider is a monopolist. They provide internet access for 1 CUC per hour using a scratch card. This gave rise to two new jobs:

A: The Scratchcard salesmen buy the cards at the official Internet store for 1 and sell them for 2 in de WiFi parks. People pay that price because the shop always has huge lines and rarely has the cards as they are sold to the dealers for 1.25. (Dealer pays 1.25, salesperson pockets .25 and dealer makes .75 per card.)

B The Network dealer sets up his connection to the internet (paying 1 per hour) and sells off his connection via a private network for 50 cents. He’s making a profit as soon as more than 2 people are connected through his network.

6 Standing in line man

Waiting in line

This guy spends his days standing in line. All day, every day. Cuba has long lines. Everybody is waiting for something. The Colista stands in the longest line he can find and when it is almost his turn, he sells his place and goes to the back of the line.

7 The disposable lighter repairman.

Disposable lighter repairman

If your disposable lighter is empty or the flint went, this guy has a solution. He fills it up or repairs it for 3 Pesos. Most travel guides mention this guy and will tell you he uses insecticide to fill up the lighter. This illustrates the problem of those guides. They simply believe what they see or hear and Cuba has many layers. The truth is that these guys indeed use an insecticide bottle but fill it with lighter liquid. They use the insecticide bottles because they are easy to fill and to handle and last long because they are sturdy.

8 The Yellows

Guys in yellow uniforms play chicken with all government cars to stop them and fill them up with hitchikers.

The list goes on and on. Nothing to guard guard, Nothing to gard gard supervisor, Plastic bag salesman, always something for sale (that’s about everybody). Market prices inspector, the specialized repairman for everything… Cuba has a lot of extraordinary jobs.

There is a lot of confusion about Cuba because we just don’t understand the system. For instance, the double currency tale is just a tale…

Want to get deeper into Cuba than ‘most travel guides’? Read this blog and then order our book…

 

 

Racism in Cuba

No racism

According to the official channels racism does not exist in Cuba, but in daily life race is important. Looking at the number of expressions a language has to describe the subject can reveal the importance. Eskimos have 20 words for snow, and Cubans have twenty for race . Is that rasicm?

White

In ascending pigmentation Cubans distinguish the following shades of race. (If that order upsets you, you are not a Cuban (they don’t care) and you could also read it from the bottom to the top.)

Albino

Albino’s are pigment free. Also in Cuba

Rubio/Rubia

So white that he has blond hair and blue eyes. Mostly descendants of the Russians that spent some time in Cuba

Blanco/blanca

A white guy but he might have dark eyes and dark hair.

Trigeño/trigeña

One shade darker than Blanco. Mediterranean look.

Mulato adelantado//Mulata adelantada

Very light but mixed race.

Mulato blanconasso/Mulata blanconassa.

Same colour as adelantado but with black curls.

Java (yellow).

Blond, but not white

Mulato/Mulata

Clearly of mixed race. Considered the best contribution of the Spanish to the Cuban people.

Indio/india

Mixed blood with some Indian traits.

Chino/China

This is about the form of the eyes. Theoriginal inhabitants of Cuba had slit eyes. Colour does not matter.

MulaTICO/TICA

A little bit darker than a Mulato.

Metisso/Metissa

Another dose of pigment on top of the Mulatico

Moreno/Morena

Black with good hair (which means straight hair)

Negro/Negra

Black with afro hair (bad hair)

Negro telefono

Black as a phone

Black

 

Azul

Very black. Azul means blue and that is indeed very black!

Cubans are refreshingly political incorrect. They call each other by their race or other distinctive characteristics. A fat guy is called Fat, a skinny one Skinny. Someone with big ears is called Ears, and the guy with the big mouth is called Mouth. A black guy is called a Negro and a white one… etc etc…

In daily life

Now how does this whole race thing play out in daily life? I’ll give you an example.

I’m a white man, used to be blond, with blue eyes. I’m sitting on a crowded terrace with a good friend called Titanic. His real name is José but since he’s huge everybody calls him Titanic. He’s 130 kilos of muscle (and a pot belly). He’s a black man (Negro) and has a reputation for his sharp witt.

Just a beer

He gets up to go to the toilet and since he’ll be passing the bar I ask him to fetch another beer.

‘As always’ he says, a bit too loud, ‘the white man ordering the Negro to do the work.’

He imediatly has the attention of the whole terrace. How’s this tourist going to react?

‘Hey’ I reply a bit too loud. ‘It’s a simple task. You are smart for a Negro, you are able to do it.’ (He’s a very smart man by the way.)

All the guests, that were listening in, burst out laughing. All black men are told that they are smart ‘for a negro’ too. Titanic goes to the toilet, fetches two beers and says: ’To Blanco’s’. I return the compliment and say ‘to Negros.’ Racism in action in Cuba.

Official perspective

Race is very apparent in Cuba but not something to worry about. It’s just something you see right away (like big ears) and you can say what you see.

Off course there is racism in Cuba. Like everywhere else in the world there is a distinct reversed correlation between pigment and wealth. That I find colour irelevant does not change that fact.

Racism is considered anti-revolutionary and confronting someone for being a racist is considered an act against the revolution too. So it is very well hidden!

Recomended reading for you:

Things you do not see in Cuba

How to rent a car, but you might not want to…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double currency hoax

There is a lot of confusion about currency and money in Cuba.

A lot of people think, and a lot of websites claim that Tourists have to use CUC (Convertible Currency) and Cubans use MN Moneda Nacional). This is utter nonsense on a lot of levels!

Peso Cuba
Moneda Nacional MN

Some misinformation about currency

First of all: You can use MN as a tourist, and I recommend you do so, just to show that you understand money! Cubans use CUC all the time. You can exchange your CUC for MN in all Cadecas.

Secondly: The Convertible Currency is only Convertible in Cuba. Take it home, and it is worthless. Like Monopoly money is only money within the game. So it is only convertible in name.

3 CUC peso
this is CUC (double currency?)

Thirdly: People often ask me ‘how to spend their money without supporting the regime. Impossible! When you arrive you exchange your hard currency to Game Money. The hard currency is already in the government bank. You only spend Game Money (does not matter if you call it CUC or MN). If you do not want to support the ‘regime’, you should go elsewhere.

Fourthly: There is no double currency in Cuba! (I’ll explain below). Cubans pay 25 MN with a CUC and 3 CUC with 75 MN or with 2 CUC and 25 MN. Both are used simultaneously and are mixed up.

Difference between CUC and CUP bills:

Before I explain that there is no double currency, here’s how to distinguish CUC from CUC.

CUC bills have buidings and statues on them, CUP bills faces. That’s easy to remember because you need a lot of people (faces) to make a building.

Cuba is poor, and thus Cuba should be cheap. Both are untrue.

You might think that Cuba must be cheap because you’ve heard that a doctor earns 40 CUC a month.

Well, it’s not… (And a physician does not live on 40 CUC). Cuba is expensive. Nobody can live in Havana on 40 CUC a month. If you don’t want to go hungry, you need about a hundred. And if you want to buy clothes and wear shoes you need a hundred more and if you want to keep your house in a reasonable state that’s another hundred…

I believe that a Cuban needs about 200-300 CUC a month to live a decent life…

Because jobs don’t pay those salaries everybody is making money on the side. Or even worse, the salary people get is the pocket money you make on the side.

The average salary of 20 dollars is just a myth (we explain that in our book). So if somebody charges you 10 for half a day’s work, he’s not getting half a month’s salary, he’s just getting a decent pay.

Double currency

They say that Cuba has a double currency… Moneda Nacional and CUC. (both are called Pesos by the way).

That’s an artificial debate. The MN is pegged to the CUC and always has the same value 25/1 or (24/1 when you are buying). So if something costs 25 pesos, it costs 1 CUC. If something costs 100 Pesos, it costs 4 CUC and the other way around. (small print… not taking into considerations Cuban companies.)

Calculus for the ‘double currency.’

A simple trick to convert Pesos to CUC:

Take off two zeros and multiply by 4.

CUC to Pesos:

Add two zeros and divide by 4.

The idea of a double currency just makes things more complicated, but in reality, it’s just the same currency, expressed in different terms. You can pay something that costs 10 CUC with 250 MN or with 6 CUC and 100MN or 50 MN and 8 CUC. The conversion is always the same.

I think the debate is artificial because the US has a double currency too. Dollars and Dimes… There are always 10 Dimes to a Dollar so you can price stuff in Dollars and Dimes. If something costs 10 Dimes, you can pay a dollar!!! Really!!!

Back to the virtual double currency in Cuba: We recommend you use both because it shows the Cubans you understand the system. They are very surprised if a foreigner understands their money and it will bring down your budget and earn you respect.

We explain more about the so-called double currency system in our book… Even the Cubans believe there are two currencies!

Now that you understand the Currency get your budget under control

We do have an entirely different view on Cuba than the main stream Travel guides and websites. We live here and did not understand it all after the two or three weeks most travel writers spend researching Cuba.

Here’s how you handle the street hustlers…

Rent a Motorcycle in Cuba

rent a motorcycle
rent a motorcycle

 

Until recently people that wanted to rent a motorcycle could only rent 50cc scooters that were not fit to discover the whole island. And those are no real bikes!

Cuba is relaxing its laws slowly, and now you can rent a motorcycle! With some restrictions that is… It’s still Cuba!

You cannot just rent one (or two) hop on and discover the island. (Well, there is a way: find a foreigner that has temporary residency and a motor and is willing to rent it to you… I’ve done that a few times, and it is great although the motorcycle had some problems.) In practice this is just not possible as a tourist.

Brand new BMWs

To avoid those problems you can now rent a brand new BMW Enduro. That’s the perfect bike for the Cuban road conditions.

Profile organises motor tours all over Cuba with those BMW F700 GS.

motorcycle adventure
Motorcycle adventure

The advantage is that you and your group (individual subscriptions are welcome) always will have a guide and troubleshooter with you. Cuba is bound to give you some trouble at some time. The guide speaks English and is a motor fanatic, so you are in good company.

9-day motor tours

They organise three different tours, all nine days. See their website for details. They take care of everything (lodging, food and motorcycle) so you can concentrate on cruising.

The good thing about Profile is that they are very flexible. You can negotiate an individual motorcycle tour with them! (only company doing so).

I did a tour with them; it was a great adventure! Great company too. All bike enthusiasts like me. We had a ball, and the bikes were perfect. (One broke down and got replaced within 4 hours!) That’s a miracle in Cuba!

motorcycle rental
Waiting for a new bike

But

Before you rent a motorcycle, you should familiarise yourself with Cuba. It is a totally different culture, and nothing is what it seems to you. Here’s for instance how to save a few hours upon arrival.

Or read this to understand it is a different ballgame!

We realise that we see Cuba in a different light than the main stream travel stuff… here’s how we handle the Jineteros. (And you will run into them!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxi wars in Havana

Fixed route Taxi

Many people in Havana depend on the old American cars that drive around as fixed route taxi. It’s simple. You stick out your arm horizontally and shout or signal your destination at the driver. He stops, you get in and get out, paying 10 or 20 MN depending on the distance.      Worked fine!

But now there is a war going on.

What happened?

In December the government raised the price of illegal diesel by 300%. HuH?

Yes, all those beautiful American cars have modern diesel motors that run on diesel, and you will never see one of those Almendrones at the gas station. They all run on stolen diesel.

So how does de government raise the price of stolen goods? It’s simple. They doubled fines and the number of inspectors. The risk for the merchants went up, supply down, and prices exploded on the black market.

Taxi price

Drivers had to raise their prices.

The government forbids that right away.

Drivers started to make short rounds instead of the usual long hauls. I had to change taxi three times to get home (paying three times 10 Pesos) were before I just took one car, paying 20. So the drivers raised their prices by 50% without raising them. 10 pesos just went less distance.

The government counteracted by issuing an official price table. A very detailed description of rates for each trajectory. This, in fact, was lowering the prices people were paying.

Taxis on strike

Taxi drivers were responding by driving around empty, stating to the customers they were ‘taxi privado’ now and would only take the customers straight to their homes (at ten times the price they would normally have to pay.)

Taxi mess in Havana

This has been going on for a few weeks now (March 17) and a solution does not seem at hand. Some drivers make their normal routes, others the short rounds, others drive around empty, and most of them simply stay at home. Some charge the new official prices, others just keep charging the old prices and some stick to the ‘taxi privado’ principle.

Public transport in Havana is a mess at the moment and getting home sometimes a chore…  The government is bothered with this situation and is deploying extra buses.

Streets are full of people looking for transport and empty cars looking to make an extra buck.

As soon as the situation settles down, I will tell you the outcome of this conflict.

Update June 2017

Everything sort of back to normal. (normal is NOT a Cuban concept). Taxis are working again at the prices they used to ask before the whole conflict. The price of illegal diesel back down to about 20 cents per litre. So it’s safe to recommend them again.

Do take a fixed route taxi while in Havana!

Update December ’17

The dirvers counter by refusing longer distances and thus effectively raising the prices again.

Update Februari 2018

The government is fed up with this capitalistic game and trows in a lot of buses that take the fixed routes taxis take. Same distance for 1 Peso or 5 in an airco bus. No more people looking for rides. Taxis half empty. They are loosing the fight they started.

How to buy a fridge in Cuba?

I need a fridge.

Just a simple fridge. But I’m in Cuba, and nothing is simple here.

How do you buy a fridge in Cuba?

Fist you go to the store. Seems the obvious thing to do no? Then you get a heart attack when you see the prices. Here is a picture of the ‘soon to be mine’ fridge in the store. 793,95 CUC!!! That’s 800 US dollars! (and it is one of the cheaper ones).

In a country where the average salary is 20 CUC a month that means a Cuban has to work 40 months to buy a fridge. Still, everybody has one.

I’m not willing to spend 800 on a fridge and explain my need to a good friend. She takes me to the store and asks me which one I want. I point at my soon to be mine fridge. ‘400?’ She asks. That seems a good price, so I nod.

3 Weeks later she arrives with a bici-taxi with my fridge on it, and I pay 400 to my friend.

Here’s proof  😀

What happened?

My friend has a few foreign lovers. Yep, she is active! One of them, in this case, a Canadian, came over for a two weeks holiday. She moved her fridge to the neighbour’s house and took him home. Big problem! She had to sell her fridge to feed the children, but now the milk got stale!

The Canadian is a good man and the next day he takes her shopping. ‘Which one do you want dear?’ She’s in tears… Her boyfriend is going to buy her a fridge! What a hero! She’s going to make sure that he will never forget these two weeks with her.

He did not read our book, sometimes ignorance is bliss!

After two weeks the Canadian goes home with the warm feeling he saved a poor Cuban family from food poisoning. She moves her fridge back into her house and delivers mine. Everybody is happy. Her Canadian lover decided that this will not happen again and sends her some money every month. He has a great Cuban woman that is so grateful for his help, and he just saved the world. He’s a real hero.

My friend is happy because she just made 400 extra bucks, got an allowance and I’m happy because I’ve got a fridge at half price with a 3-year guarantee.

If I need an iPhone, Invicta watch, Tablet, TV or anything else, she has another Canadian, a German, a Swede and as of last week even an Italian and is happy to provide. She can’t wait until the Yanks arrive to bring the good stuff.

This is one of the many ways to buy a fridge in Cuba. I’ve been told that there are 23. Nobody buys a refrigerator in the store!

The whole of Cuba is full of Jineteros and this is how to handle that fact.

Drugs

Don’t do drugs in Cuba.

Don’t buy drugs,

Don’t bring drugs

Don’t use it, sell it or talk about it.

Don’t even think about it.

Cuban policy on drugs is very, very severe. Very…

Punishment

Your new friends
Your new friends

Punishment for drug offenders is severe if you are caught with drugs. You will spend a dozen years in a minus 5 star all-inclusive. And it’s not even in Varadero! You do not want these new friends.

On the bright side

The only drug that is allowed in Cuba is alcohol (yup that’s a hard drug too.) It’s even pushed by the government and for sale on every street corner, gas station, grocery store or supermarket. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t sell it at schools. Sometimes it’s the only thing for sale in the whole venue! A shot is sold for as little as 3 Moneda Nacional…, which is 12 cents.

While being drunk is a national hobby, every other form of drug use, even smoking a joint, is strictly forbidden!

So don’t. It’s not worth it.

If you can’t survive for two weeks without drugs, don’t go to Cuba, see a doctor.

Visa for Cuba

Yes, you do need a visa for Cuba.

Unless you live in one of the very special visa-free countries of the world… You probably don’t. But in case of doubt: Visa requirements Cuba

So how do you get a Cuban visa?

If your visa is included in your ticket, you have no problem whatsoever. Move on… Read about money or some crazy stories about Cuba… Or just order our book here right away!

How to get a visa for Cuba?

Authentic

You could go to the embassy or consulate in your country. This trip makes for an interesting excursion and will be your first impression of Cuban bureaucracy. (So don’t go there if you are in a hurry!)

A problem with this approach is that everybody in your party will have to be present, ticket and passport in hand. You can buy a visa for other people, but this costs 25 $ per person extra! Yes, that’s right, visas go for 20-25 dollars (depending on country) and buying one for your absent hubby costs 25 extra.

Unprepared and in a hurry

Probably somebody or some company sells Cuban visas at your airport of departure. This is your penultimate solution. Too expensive and not very sure.

Adventurous

If you manage to board your plane without a visa, you still need one to enter Cuba. Before customs, there is a table that sells visas. The problems here are: The person responsible might be on a break that break might take a few hours. You have to pay in CUC, which you don’t have yet and can not obtain before customs. So, in reality, this option is symbolic! Don’t leave home without a visa!

The problems here are: The person responsible might be on a break that break might take a few hours. You have to pay in CUC, which you don’t have yet and can not obtain before customs.

So, in reality, this option is symbolic! Don’t leave home without a visa!

Practical, fast and safe.

Just order it over the Internet. CubaVisa is reliable, fast and they even offer a ‘filled in visa’ service.

Don’t make any mistakes filling in your visa… One letter missing, striking out something or any other error makes it invalid.

Check their shipping destination list to make sure they ship to your country.

Cuba visa
This is a Cuban visa

An extra advantage of CubaVisa is that they sell the best Cuba roadmap and since rental cars don’t have a navigation system that might come in handy. They have a list of countries they ship to.

 

They even have the pink visas that you need if you are travelling via the USofA! A non-US resident also needs to comply with the US travel restrictions!

After you’ve got the visa problem out of the way, you might want to read our book to prepare for your trip. Cuba is a whole different ballgame, and you need to understand that! To compensate for your time, we’ll give you a tip on the ‘get the ebook’ page that will save you a few hours on the airport!

Don’t want to buy the book yet? Find out how the WiFi works in Cuba. It sounds simple but has some pitfalls (like everything in Cuba).

You will run into jineteros by the way (and if you don’t know what they are, you are not ready to go to Cuba yet… Here’s how you handle them!

 

Havana es Havana!

Havana: Nothing compares to it!

The capital of Cuba is the biggest city in the Caribbean. ‘Havana es Havana’ say the Cubans, and it is hip and happening. The Old Lady is bent and bruised but just got a new hip and dances through life!

Havana
Havana without makeup

Inhabitants

Havana has about 3 million inhabitants. (Officially it’s 2.1, but a lot of Cubans migrate to Havana illegally because in Cuba you can’t just move to another town.) They all come looking for work and fortune, and you just might be it! (See ‘how to handle jineteros.)

30%

Do spend more time in Havana than you initially planned. The city is much bigger and more interesting than just the Old Town and Vedado. If you want to get to know the town and look behind the mask, it puts up for tourists. My friends and I at TripUniq can give you a hand. We know the city like the back of our hands and will not only show you what most tourists miss, we’ll tell you where to eat well and cheap, reveal some secrets and be your virtual friend.

Some facts about Havana

Nine universities.

15 districts.

On average one building comes down per day.

The sewage systems date from 1911 and the much-needed renovation is sponsored by Kuwait.

Its nick is ‘city of Columns’ and was founded in 1519.

The whole of the Old town and the 9 kilometres of Malecon are Unesco World Heritage.

Fine beaches at 15 minutes drive by beach bus.

Shopping
Shopping

Havana is a metropolis, and you cannot ‘do’ it in two days. Don’t go to Havana to shop!

Virtual guide

Let this guy help you discover the hidden gems.

Biking

Do get yourself a bike to see the real Havana. Your local hero has some excellent bike trips through the outskirts.

Scam City

It’s is also the scam capital of the world. Everywhere in the world tourists are being scammed. Usually, lower class bums do that. In Havana however, the university professor and the dentist join the game because they too have to make a buck or two to get through the day. This makes life as a tourist just a bit more challenging… If you know how to handle them, jineteros are fun. If you don’t, you will get scammed a few times and from then on just ignore all Cubans. Which is a pity because Cubans are interesting, cultivated and fun!

Do prepare, please.

Prepare yourself for a different mentality, and you will have a better time in Cuba.

Talking about time: On the ‘get the eBook’ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours on the airport… You don’t have to buy the book, just get the tip.

Recommended reading:

Things you do not see in Cuba

Get your money straight

 

 

Drinking water in Cuba

Drink water!

You should be drinking water when in Cuba. It’s hot, and you probably are walking a lot more than usual.

Water shortage

Drinking water
Drinking water?

Cuba has a planned economy and as that term already implies the supply chains don’t cope well with things that are not in the scheme. Those plans are five years old and don’t account for the recent surge in tourism.

What does that have to do with water???

Well, tourists are convinced that they should drink bottled water for their health. And since there are more tourists and the water plan does not account for that there is a lack of bottled water… Simple. So it’s hard to find water and people go thirsty.

Where did you buy that water?

This is a question I get a lot in the streets. And my answer ‘from the tap’ is almost shocking.

Safe drinking water.

Most water in Cuba is safe to drink. It tastes a bit like a swimming pool (and that makes it safe) but is perfectly OK. So if you find yourself wandering the streets looking for water, just drink from the tap… It’s safe.

Get the taste out.

To get the bad taste out of the water is a simple trick which is in our book. Not reading it leaves a bitter aftertaste in more than one way :-). Your casa particular is most happy to do this for you.

Water Filters

add bacteria
add bacteria

A lot of Casas have a water filter. This eliminates the bad taste, but as replacing the filter costs money, most houses have been using the same filter since they bought the machine… This still takes the taste out but probably puts in some bacteria. So have it cooked after you have it filtered!

Silly advice

You might think this is a silly advice but believe me; you’ll feel different after searching for water for 3 hours on a hot afternoon!

Water from the plane.

Take a bottle of water (or two) from the aircraft. It will be a while before you can buy some… You have to stand in the different customs lines and change money. (For both lines we have a solution in our book by the way.)

Here’s a tip that makes you skip at least one line.