How to get around Havana?

This post explains the different ways to get from A to B in Havana.

Havana is huge. A lot bigger than you think and walking is only an option if you want to limit yourself to the Old Town, Centro and Vedado. 

Here’s some more info about Havana, this post is about getting from A to B (and back).

You can use a multitude of public transport and different types of Taxi’s.

Let’s just take an example to illustrate cost, speed and comfort. Vedado to Old Town.

I’m on 23 right now, also known as ‘La Rampa’ and I want to go to Old Havana, which the Cubans call ‘Havana’. These are the different ways to get there:

Rip off

The most expensive way is to say ‘yes’ to a guy that walks here all day and every day asking if you want a ‘Taxi Barato’. ‘Barato’ means cheap and saying yes to this guy will cost you about 5 CUC more than just finding a taxi yourself.

Comfort ***    Price ***** Speed **

Different taxi’s

Official ‘modern’ Taxi’s

Taxi’s are negotiable

You can take an official (yellow) taxi that is waiting in front of a hotel. They typically start at 20 but can be talked down to 10. If you just get in without making a deal first it will cost you 20 to 25! Hassle first! 

Taking an official taxi anywhere else will save you 2 to 5 CUC. In Vedado there are a lot of Taxi’s! 

Comfort * to *** Price **** Speed ****

Official Vintage taxi’s are normally not used as A to B taxi but for ‘tourist drive around for a lot of money’ 

Conclusion: The most expensive way to get from Vedado to Havana Veilla is a taxi.

The hop on hop of tourist bus is a great way to get to know Havana but also not a ‘how do I get from Vedado to the Old Town’ solution.

Moto Taxi

Moto taxi

Be a passenger on a bike. Only one person per bike! Same as with taxi’s you should negotiate! It can be done for 1 CUC, I can do it for 2 and you should be able to get the distance for 3.

Comfort * Price** Speed ****

Fixed route taxi’s

The next best option (and I would take one if I were you, just for the experience) is the fixed route taxi. Almost all the old American cars that drive down 23rdstreet are going to Havana (that’s how Cubans call the Old Town). Just stick you arm out horizontally and shout ‘Havana’ or point to the right (from the drivers perspective). Cost 10 MN but give the guy a CUC.

Comfort ** Price ** Speed ***

Taxi rutero

Next up on the still cheaper ladder: Taxi ruteros. Yellow minivans and small busses will take you to Parque Curita, which is just behind the Capitolio for 5 Pesos per person. 

Comfort *** Price * Speed **

Wanna realy cheap it? Take the bus. One of my favourites, because of it’s regularity, is bus 222. Most buses that drive down 23 however go to or trough the Old Town. Just ask the driver to be sure. ‘Havana?’

GuaGua (bus)

Bus to Old Town

1 Peso! (Actually 40 cents but you will not get change from a Peso. See post Cuban Jobs on how to make two trips on one Peso.

Comfort none if the bus is full (beware of pick pockets) Price: How do I rate 1 Peso… That is actually for free. Cheaper than wear and tear of your shoes walking the distance!

Havana es Havana!

Havana: Nothing compares to it!

Last update 12/2018

Some fun facts about Havana and a few must-sees just of the beaten track.

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.

Here you can unlock ‘Tino’s Havana’ a 4 day guide to the highlights of this amazing city by foot and on a bike…

Havana, just a few steps of the beaten track.

Every tourist guide book (and live guides too) send everybody to see the same stuff. It’s not hard to find Capitolio, Prado, Plaza Veilla or Parque Central.

Most people leave it to that but just a few steps of the beaten track are some gems you should incorporate into your visit:

Clandestina

Clandestina Havana
Clandestina

This shop was a landmark of creativity almost before it was legal. They have Cuban designers working for them, and print their own products in shop. Original T-shirts, bags and other textiles. Fun creative and if you want a souvenir this is the place to buy an original one

Villegas 492 between Muralla and Brasil, Old Havana.

Stock exchange

Since the socialist system has no need for a stock exchange the impressive Havana stock market was transformed into a restaurant for workers. Very cheap, bad food and not for you but worth a visit because of the impressive setting and the contrast of the building with the furniture and the patrons. Just push the door open!

Obrapia 257, Between Cuba and Aguilar

Ministry of infrastructure.

OK… this is a joke but I find it’s symbolical value very amusing. The ministry moved out in the 80’s leaving a building for which it is responsible in total decay. Cuba’s infrastructure is suffering and this ministry shows it. Don’t go in. Bricks might fall.

Corner Sol and Aguillar

Temporary housing

While the monumental villas on Plaza Veilla were renovated (thanks to Unesco) the abundant inhabitants were moved into these houses. After renovations some people (the lucky ones) were allowed to move back but the majority got an apartment in Alamar. The residents of the last villa renovated still live here.

Muralla betwee Calle Cuba and Plaza Veilla.

Carlos III

Carlos III

This shopping mall shows that the myth of 20 CUC salaries is just that, a myth… It’s a shopping mall for Cubans that are here to shop. See what they buy and what things cost. Gone is your compassion with the poor Cubans.

Salchipizza

Ever had some bread made by a Michelin star chef? Salchipizza is just that. Alberto bakes his bread in a small shop and it’s culinary!

SalchiPizza

Have a sandwich here… it’s culinary. Or a complete lunch.

Alberto is a Michelin chef and a local celeb. He spoke at TEDx Havana in 2017, travels the world (and brings back his ingredients). Owns a Beach club in Italy and came back to Cuba to bake bread for personal reasons and to live these historic times.

Intersection Zanja and Infanta

The Copyshop

The biggest copy shop in Havana (and the oldest by the way) is directly opposite the Havana Libre Hotel. Take some time to find it (you have to enter it trough the souvenir shop… follow the students…

Look at the ingenious way they provide the printers with ink.

These are the hip guys!

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

Hurricane season in Cuba

Officially the Cuban hurricane season starts at the first of June and ends the 30thof November.  That’s 6 months.

That does not mean you have hurricanes for 6 months a year but that there is a probability of a hurricane during those months. It’s not like the tulip season in Holland where you are sure to see some tulips! Hence the confusion there is about, and the fear for the hurricane season.

Hurricane Irma approaching Cuba in Sept ’17

Hurricane probability

On average Cuba gets hit by a hurricane once every 4 years. (That’s a rough estimate). So the word ‘season’ is a bit misleading. On the other hand: hurricanes never hit Cuba outside this period.

When a hurricane hits Cuba it does not hit the whole of the island. It’s only partial as most move from south to north across part of Cuba.

So the probability of you, spending two or three weeks in Cuba, being hit by a hurricane is very, very low!

My wife (48) lived through 5 hurricanes in her life. It’s scary as hell she tells me but she survived :-). (Obviously)

Response to hurricanes

Even if the area you are in gets hit, you will be kept safe. Tourists are very secure in Cuba and they are prepared. About 10 before the hurricane hits a hurricane warning is issued and preparations start almost like in the rest of the world.

Two days before the damn thing arrives meteorologists are able to identify the region it will hit.

Evacuate

In the West the news will tell people to evacuate and everybody loads up his car and winds up in a enormous traffic jam. It’s hard to get out of the endangered zone. Cuba sends the army and busses to evacuate first the tourists and then the population. This is all well coordinated and works like clockwork. Hurricane discipline is great in Cuba and you will be taken to a hotel away from the dangerous zones!

Sitting it out.

During the hurricane you might want to cut room service some slack. You will probably sit in the dark because the current is out. It might be a boring day (or even two) but you will live and will have a great story to tell. You might want to stock up on water as the showers might be out.

Afterwards.

Hurricane
After hurricane Irma Cuba got cleaned op very fast. 

I arrived in Cuba 10 days after Irma hit the island. Irma was huge and very devastating and hit most of Cuba, passing from east to west instead of the normal south-north path.

10 days later everything was up and running again. No signs of Irma passing except some trees that fell down in the countryside and some damaged houses at the shoreline.

The current was up and running within 5 days! Compare that to Puerto Rico (US soil) where it took over a year to get that done. Water was flowing out of the tap; streets were clean, damage repaired.

Cuba deployed the army and all of his citizens to clean up the mess. There was a mandatory ‘clean-up-day’ for everybody. Within a week life was back to normal for 99% of the people.

Not one tourist got hurt! Not one!

Conclusion.

If you just go a few weeks, the probability of Cuba getting hit by a hurricane during that time is very low. I’ve spent about 6 years in Cuba and never witnessed one. Once went trough a tropical depression though, and that was a lot of wind and rain! Scary! I’m not looking forward to a hurricane at all but considering the probabilities I keep taking the risk.

Cuba is well prepared to handle the situation, throws the needed resources in and will keep you safe.

Now we have that out of the way: Cuba is different! You might want to understand the money before you go.

Rent a bike in Havana

Rent a bike forbidden

Until recently, renting a bike was impossible in Cuba because Cubans were not allowed to rent their bikes. (Something with dirty profit and thus capitalism.) So now, with some pride and we like the guy so to promote him, we announce:

Rent a Bike in Havana

bike in Havana
rent a bike with driver

Ovidio (an old-timer of 73) has found a way around this problem. He took out a license of  ‘operador de equipo recreativo’ and on that license, he is allowed to rent bikes to foreigners.

He flew in about 20 bikes from Panama and is renting them out for 14 CUC’s per day.

That means 7*14=98 per week and 30 or 31*14=420 a month…

The per year price: Special offer! 365*14=5110 CUC. No, there is no advantage in renting long-term… it’s 14 per day! That’s Cuban buisiness for you.

Friendly Italian

The company is financed by a nice Italian (never thought I would say this, I don’t care much for the Italians that frequent Cuba). The two of them are chatting on the curb all day. Their bikes are terrible, so their place is worth a visit but don’t rent a bike if you want to live.

Good Bikes

And zen came the Germans.

Good bikes

Olvidio’s bikes are made in China, bought in Panama and not very good to say it friendly. But until February 2017 they were the only bikes for rent in Havana.

Profile (a German travel agency)  changed that. They designed bikes, especially for the Cuban roads and climate. Made in Germany. These bikes are just perfect to make a tour, even for the whole of Cuba if you want! They deliver the bikes at your doorstep and pick them up again. It’s German organisation: quality, and efficiency.

You can book your bike online. They deliver the bikes at your home!

Or you can pick them up at their central location in Vedado… You should book beforehand though… Parque Mariana de las Grajales, Calle D and 23, in front of restaurant Irani Topoli, VEDADO. Save 10 per bike!

Profile also has bikes for rent in Holguin and Santiago.

Do rent a bike

Enjoy your bike ride in Havana! Go out to Miramar and take the ferry across the bay to Casa Blanca. If you want, this guy can give you some bike itineraries via TripUnique.

Biking is the perfect way to discover the non-touristy parts of Havana. If you spent more that three days in Havana (and I would recommend that) rent a bike!

For the lazy people… electric bikes: Cubyke

When in Havana, look around… Find the things I did not see in Cuba (yet).

Before you go to Cuba however, you should read our book!

Cuba Embargo

The Cuba embargo

The US, officially, still have an embargo on Cuba. And most of the time they apply pressure to other countries to avoid dealing with Cuba. No people, capital or goods are allowed to move between the two countries.  Of course, this is the official U.S.  policy, and the real world is different. Half of the chickens eaten in Cuba come from the states and a lot of rice is imported from the same country. Very different indeed.

Still, the blockade frustrates Cuba. It is illegal according to the U.N., immoral from a humanitarian point of view and a big scapegoat for the Cuban regime.

Update April 2016 (a month after Obama went to Cuba): I have to rethink the paragraph above. Somebody ordered my book and mentioned ‘Cuba’ in the comments… Two days later my PayPal account got restricted, and I received the following message from PayPal:

blockade Cuba
Blockade still very active

In the banking world ‘Cuba’ raises a lot of red flags. Obama is sweet talking but the fines handed out for doing business with Cuba never were higher!

Update October 2016: The embargo is still in full swing. A lot of people ask me if things have changed in Cuba since the embargo was lifted… It’s not lifted at all.

Update July 2017.

Since the embargo was not lifted under Obama, Trump’s decision to reinforce it again does not change much. Obama made is easier for tourists to roam the streets of Havana individually (which too manny Americans did too loudly.) Trump is returning to the old policy. This will cause less individual tourists but apart from that, does not change much.

Update August 2019

I was wrong about Trump and not changing much two years ago. Trump is putting more and more pressure on US and international companies. The activation of the Hellm’s Burton act is aggressively hurting the Cuban people Trump claim’s to help. It’s bullying at international level. This inhumane treatment of a neighbour country should be stopped.

Complicated indeed

To make things even more complicated: The European commission issued a guideline that forbids European companies to abide to the US embargo…

Thus banks that are unwilling to break US regulations but can’t do so without breaking European guidelines… ‘That is technically impossible” say some… “Of course, we can” say others… Or ‘if you send 100 Euro, the recipient will receive minus 5 CUC on his or her account.’

The blockade as a scapegoat

El Boqueo’ is the Spanish word for this embargo, and everything that goes wrong in Cuba is its due to the blockade.  The economy would be a lot better without it.  Cubans would live the good life without it.  Without ‘El Bloqueo’ words like ‘no Hay’, ‘S’Acabo’ and ‘Se Rompio’ would not be in the Cuban dictionary.  (for detailed analysis of the real meaning of these words we refer to CubaConga.) Without the blockade, every Cuban would be on time, water from the tap would taste fine, trains would run on time, roads would be perfect, and every Cuban would have a shiny new Mercedes or BMW. (Funny, these are German cars… Germany does not impose the blockade).

Cuban arrogance

In Africa, if something is screwed up, they throw their arms in the air and say with a big smile ‘This is Africa man!”.  In Cuba, they do not have to blame themselves… They throw their arms in the air and blame it on ‘El Bloqueo’. It’s never Cuba’s fault!

Status quo

The Cuba blockade is imposed by the US conservatives, and with this blockade, they effectively conserve the situation in Cuba. We don’t do politics nor do we understand them but this is one of those policies that accomplish exactly the opposite of their official goal. I always wonder what the real goal is when policies systematically put a blockade on the results they are after, but leave you to ponder that thought.

The Cuba embargo… It’s not what it seems. Like Cuba is not what it seems…

Everything you think about Cuba is dead wrong (OK, it is an Island). If you want to see the real Cuba, please read more on this site and download our book. No good, money back (and we’re not Cubans, we stick to what we say…)

On the ‘order now’ page we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Recommended reading:

Here is the Wi-Fi Manual

And here the Wi-Fi is free!

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!

Personal opinion:

Judging people by their race is for the lazy and the stupid that are not willing or able to look beyond the 0,5 millimeter that determines our skin tone.

Recomended reading for you:

Things you do not see in Cuba

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba Propaganda

propaganda

Propaganda… We have it too!

“Always Coca Cola”, “Mc Donald’s, I’m loving it!” We have our kind of propaganda in our capitalist society. Our propaganda aims to make us consume particular products and services. If you are aware of this or not, it works…

Ministry of Propaganda

I do not want to get into the fake news discussion. There is a lot of fake news about Cuba and even the US government is in on that. Cuba has a ministry of propaganda and they at least call it that way. We have add agencies that violate the truth much more!

Cuba has Propaganda too, but different

Cuba has a different kind of propaganda because there is no commercial competition. They do not have to distinguish between almost similar products because everything is state produced, state distributed and state owned. So Cuban propaganda is aimed at politics and ideology. Coke and McDo are replaced by socialism and communism, and those ideologies are “sold” to the people by hollow slogans as “Father land or death” or “Nature and revolution”.  There is a whole ministry dedicated to producing those empty slogans, just like we have an industry, producing the same empty slogans (add agencies), with the difference that in Cuba they sell an ideology and in the west they sell stuff.

Father land or death

Truth is in the eye of the beholder

In Cuba, propaganda goes deeper. It is part of the school system too. Look around; you don’t see children cry in Cuba! (Some might argue that consumerism is part of our education system too…)

propaganda
Even freedom is in the eye of the beholder

An example of school propaganda: We picked up two students that were hitchhiking, and they just had a class in philosophy. So I asked which philosophers they talked about. “Marx and Lenin” was their answer. Slightly amused I asked what kind of philosopher Lenin was, and their answer was that Lenin was a “Very Practical Philosopher”.

If you don’t see the joke in that answer, you might not want to read our book…

Because of ‘our’ propaganda ‘our’ perception of Cuba is wrong just as the Cuban’s perception of the capitalist world is wrong.

‘We’re always wrong in Cuba. Let us help you out with an entirely different perspective…

Perspective is everything
Perspective is everything

CubaConga is an alternative travel guide to Cuba, that skips the propaganda and shows you life like it is, the pitfalls you should avoid and will not only save you about 200$ per week, it will greatly enhance your fun and insight, as well as reduce your budget.

If it does not… we will refund you. No questions asked.

You probably understand that this is propaganda for our book :-). Get it here and up your game. It goes deeper than this blog. At the ‘Order, the book now please‘ page we’ll give you a bonus tip that will save you at least 2 hours in Cuba. Just to refund the time you’ve spent on our blog…

Recommended reading:

Drinking water... A different story that will quench your thirst.

How to book an authentic Casa Particular

 

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.

9 Mosquito Hunters

Dressed in a khaki uniform these guys hunt mosquitos all day from door to door.

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…

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.

Jineteros and Jineteras

How to handle Jineteros and Jineteras

Don’t avoid the Jineteros and Jineteras: they are fun, and you can’t avoid them anyway.

jinetero
As soon as he covertly makes money… he’s a jinetero

Bad advice

The whole Internet and all travel guides are full of warnings: Avoid the Jineteros and Jineteras because they are trouble! Beware! Warning! Run away!

As you might have noticed, my opinions differ from the mainstream point of view. That’s because I’m a resident in Cuba and have more experience with Cuba than the average blogger/journalist/travel guide writer/tourist that spends three weeks here.

What is a Jinetera?

Short history of Jineterismo

First came the Jinetera (feminine). It all started with Fidel proclaiming in a speech that Cubans did not need to earn extra money by getting involved with tourists. The state took care of everything, so the women that were getting involved with foreign men did so for their pleasure. They rode the foreigner just for fun. Hence the term Jinetera which translates in jockey in English. In the same speech, he proclaimed that Cuba has no prostitution, but if there were prostitutes in Cuba it would be the best-educated prostitutes in the world!

He was right and wrong at the same time. Yes, prostitution does exist in Cuba and yes they are well educated for the most. The Jinetera was born.

Soon after that followed her male companion:

Jinetero
This is a jinetertero

 

The Jinetero

You can spot jineteros by their golden chains!

And tooth!

Broader definition.

This couple evolved. The definition of a Jinetera was ‘a prostitute’. Now a Jinetera is somebody that somehow makes money with tourists. And since making money in Cuba is almost always illegal… And we believe that people that do illegal stuff are bad, Jineteros are bad. On top of that, we think that our way of doing things is good. Most people now define a Jinetero as a street hustler. But he is much more than that! The ones on the street annoying tourists are just the top of the iceberg.

Let me put this in perspective by comparing the things that are blamed on Jineteros with our Western world:

  • ‘Jineteros make money taking you to a Casa Particular or restaurant.’

  • Those bastards! Well, do you think booking.com does not earn money? Airbnb is a super Jinetero! They not only charge a 15% commission but in Cuba also employ Jineteros that find the houses for them (and get a fee for that). On top of that, that 15 % never make it to Cuba. It disappears into the pockets of a multinational.
  • Jineteros act friendly but just want to make money.

  • Did you ever meet an unfriendly car salesman? Did a waitress ever show her real feelings to you? Isn’t it standard practice in the West to act friendly to make money?
  • Jineteros covertly make their money. They don’t tell you it’s about the money!’

  • Well, what’s your job? How do you make money? Does a nurse tell a patient that she’s only helping him because of the money? (She is… If the hospital stopped paying her, she would find another job.) Does the friendly car salesman tell you about his commission? Our book is also for sale at Amazon, do they tell you they pocket 50%? We consider making money as normal, but when a Cuban does it, it’s suddenly wrong.

    Jinetero
    Or is this a Jinetero?
  • They mislead you lie and are manipulative.

  • Will not even go there… We have whole industries devoted to that.
  • They drive up prices.

  • So do your supermarket, real estate broker and even the nurse. Everything would be cheaper without them. Everybody with a paycheck drives up the price.
  • They just want to marry you to get out of the country.

  • Yep, gold diggers only exist in Cuba. Getting married to somebody just to better your life does not happen elsewhere… Talking about love, we would recommend reading Romance in Cuba before you fall into it…
  • The United States department of state defines them as “Street “jockeys,” who specialize in swindling tourists. Most jineteros speak English and go out of their way to appear friendly, by offering to serve as tour guides or to facilitate the purchase of cheap cigars, for example. However many are in fact professional criminals who will not hesitate to use violence in their efforts to acquire tourists’ money and other valuables.”

I would use the word propaganda here if that were not a communist monopoly. What a Bullsh**. Yes, sometimes street hustlers can become aggressive (verbally) but almost never (as in very, very rarely) violent. Very rarely! Cuba is incredibly safe!

The Internet and travel guides also offer advice on how to handle them:

  • Don’t let a Jinetero find you a place to stay, ask the owner of your casa particular to book in the next town.’ As if he does not get a commission for that. He’s just a Jinetero with a Casa Particular. They now pay each other by topping up their phones after a reservation.
  • Tell them to go away. Avoid them!’ It’s simple: You can’t. Everybody is making money on the side of his real salary (why and how in our book). So you would have to avoid everybody.
  • Don’t dress as a tourist so they will leave you alone.’ Cubans can spot a tourist from a mile away. It does not matter how you dress; they will spot you!
  • Don’t go to the tourist areas.’ ??? HUH? Better not go to Cuba if you don’t want to see it.

Forget about all that crap.

Jineteros are no criminals! They are people like you and me, trying to make ends meet. Often they are intelligent and I have my best friends among them. We are jineteros too… We lure you in with a website full of usefull information and then want to sell you a book with even more usefull information! Aren’t we bad!

How to handle Jineteros and Jineteras CubaConga style?

Relax & respond.

Feel at home and behave like you’ve been in town for a few weeks. Learn some answers that will convince them right away that you are not a stupid tourist. It’s easy. You will notice right away that their attitude changes. They will tell you that ‘you are a Cuban now.’ Respect you and suddenly it’s about the fun, not the money.

‘Hi my frien, where you from?’ Some good answers: Marianao or La Lisa (both respected rough neighborhoods in Havana.) La luna (the moon)… indicating that you know the game and want no part of it.

‘How are you my frien?’ The answer to that and some other opening lines used in the street are in our book. (We are jineteros also… we sell a book to keep this blog alive and inform you on a deeper level.)

So relax! You’ve read our book you know the tricks; nobody can ‘get’ you… Relax and enjoy!

Feel and act as if at home

Acting as if you belong means that you don’t do things you would not do at home either. If you walk to your local shopping mall and somebody whispers: ‘he man… Want to buy a car?’ or ‘Need some dope?’ or ‘Buy me a drink friend.’ What do you do? I suggest you do the same in Cuba.

Know the game, understand the tricks…

You can even relax more if you’ve read our book… You know the tricks and master the game… so enjoy!

We have lots of tips in our book how to avoid the real scams and how to have fun with the Jineteros… Get it here, and we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours at the airport. Just to make sure you want to read it we throw in the review of PBS’s Karen Muller 🙂

Enjoy Cuba and don’t worry about the Jineteros!

Want to rent a car? Maybe think again, there is a better option.