Local Havana Hero

Finally, I did it! I’m a HERO

A local one, that’s true, but I am a Hero 🙂 (just a local one).

What happened?

TripUniq a website that specialises in unique trips (the name gives it away) is expanding to Havana, and they asked me to be one of their Local Heros… Their website is very user-friendly. You go there, fill in what you like (f.e. shopping… in that case don’t go to Havana). Good Food (yes! In Havana), culture, music or art (all plentiful in Havana). Type a short text about your wishes and pay up (in my case 7 Euro per day).

In the background, they have a convenient system, which I (your local hero) will use to put your individual trip advice in an app that will guide you.

An offline digital friend

The app works fine offline. You will get your tailor made trip advice and just follow the steps it outlines to get a unique Havana experience. I’ll throw in a few facts and absurdities to make it more fun.

I, as a local hero, specialise in the real Havana. So I (local hero) will show you the must-sees in the old town, but we will soon go underground to make your experience unique and local.

No more hours of planning, no more doubts about what to do and you will not miss out on the good stuff!

Tino in TripUniqu, Your local Havana Hero

Now before you book me (or another local hero), please get to know my perspective.

Some people want to keep living the illusion of rum and salsa. That’s fine by me, but don’t read my book if you want to be delusional…

Prepare and read our book plz.

You can get it here, and I’ll give you a small practical tip on the order page that will save you a few hours waiting time in Cuba…

Recommended reading:

Things you do not see in Cuba

Cuba’s absurdities

 

Missing in Cuba

Things you don’t see in Cuba

Of the things you don’t see, half might be there but out of sight.

A friend of mine told me that you should never believe what you hear in Cuba and only believe half of what you see.

Whining kids

Walking through town, you will see a lot of kids. They don’t whine! Yes, sometimes they cry if they fall hard or are in pain, but they don’t whine. And if you see a whining kid, it is probably at least half ‘owned’ by a Yuma (foreigner). Somehow the way Cubans treat their children makes them responsible, small adults.

Boats on the sea

noboatsFrom the Malecon in Havana, but everywhere else too, you will see the only Caribbean sea without any ships. Once a week a cruise ship will sail into the Havana harbour and sometimes a freighter, but there just aren’t any other ships or boats to be seen.

It is awe-inspiring at night; you are staring into a black void! Enjoy

Nips and tucks

There is no plastic enhancement in Cuba. Everything you will see is real! (Some Italians smuggled implants for their girlfriends, and they paid top CUCs to get them implanted (illegally), but you will not see them, they live in expensive discotheques).

Not a Cuban girl
Not a Cubana

Snow and advertising

Neither Snow nor advertising is legal in tropical socialism. No billboards exist except the ones shouting out political statements. Snow is such a nightmare for Cubans that although it has not snowed since Columbus, Cuba bought four snow shovels a few years ago. Better safe than sorry!

Gum on the streets

If a Cuban buys gum (or gets it some other way) he will chew it all day, put it on his nightstand and chew on the next day. The average gum lasts for a week or so.

This does not mean you don’t have to watch your step. There is dog shit everywhere. Dogs roam free and have no masters running after them with a plastic poop bag.

Supermarkets that cater to all of your needs

The concept of a supermarket is almost non-existent in Cuba. Almost because there is one supermarket that caters to foreigners and rich Cubans: Palco in Miramar, a rich suburb in Havana. Nor wil you find outlet stores, shopping malls or fastfood chains.

Decision stress…

In Cuba you either buy the deodorant or not. There are only two brands: available or not available. So if you need a deodorant I would recommend the first brand.

Tourists that are not being ripped off.

You will find that out for yourself when you get there… Here are some tips and tricks.

Traffic Jams

Just not enough cars to make Jam…

Old American cars at the gass station.

The almendrons run on water! You will never see them fill up their tank in a gass station… The truth is that all the old cars that serve as a fixed route taxi have a modern diesel engine. They buy their diesel on the black market and not a gass station. See Taxi wars in Havana

Almendron
Almendron on water

People that know these secrets (click)

What you do see are jineteros. Here’s how to handle those street hustlers.

Time in Cuba

What time is it in Cuba?

Officially the time in Cuba is GMT – 5. But since Cuba also applies daylight saving and is not very good in synchronizing its systems nor at communicating, in March and November time is an, even more, fluid concept than normal.

Automatic time setting in Cuba:

Time in Cuba
Time in Cuba

I’m the proud owner of two smartphones. One with a Cuban SIM and the other SIM is international. Both synchronize with the network. And since there’s only one network that’s the same network… Just look at how well this worked this year:

Airlines and Time in Cuba

From a well-informed source (let’s call him a passenger) I got the following quote from a pilot: “Welcome to Havana. Our stop over will be 1.5 hours or 2.5 we don’t know. Does anybody have the right time in Havana?”

So if the airlines don’t know… Why would I? Two days later the network got it right or at least agreed on the right time.

time in Cuba
Another Time in Cuba

Cuba is the perfect place of letting go of the time.

Nacional Time and Convertible Time

If you don’t get this joke read Cuba and Money
Time is an artificial construct we humans created to add some stress to our lives. In Cuba, the sun goes down and then up again, and they call the time between those two events ‘Noche’. The other half of the time is more detailed: Madrugada, dia, medio dia, tarde and noche and you make appointments accordingly. It’s useless to make an appointment at 10.15. Nobody gets that concept!

Let go of time

The only solution for a visitor (and that is what we are) is letting go of the way we think about time. It just does not fit Cuba and sticking to our construct makes life very very complicated.

The big challenge for every non-Cuban is figuring out how things work in Cuba. I can tell you from personal experience that things don’t work the way we think they should. Live with that!

Take off your watch

If you take off your watch, Cubans will have no pretext to ask you what time it is. This question is by definition a excuse because no Cuban cares about time! They are at least an hour late…

Those Cubans that ask you for the time are jineteros. Here’s how to handle those street hustlers.

To help you get more insight into the weird world, we call Cuba we wrote a book… Do yourself a favor… We’ll give you a tip that saves you a few hours on the order page.

Last update: somewhere in July this year (and for me that is 2018)

Recommended Article.

Things we’re used to but you do not see in Cuba

 

Cuba Peso

Two Peso in Cuba

The currency in Cuba is called Peso. Both of them are called Peso. So if people say Peso, then they are talking about CUC or Moneda Nacional (MN). Up to you to figure it out.

CUC Peso

The CUC is the Cuban ‘hard currency’, pegged roughly 1-1, to the US dollar. ‘Hard’ has a very relative meaning here since the CUC is only valid in Cuba itself like Monopoly money only serves on the board. Try buying a real house or a candy bar with it, and you will see. Most tourists think that the CUC is the only money they can use. Not true. The CUC is also called Dollar.

pesocuc

MN Peso

You can also use the Peso (MN)! This Peso is pegged to the CUC at 1-24/25. You buy 24 MN with one CUC, and 25 MN will buy you 1 CUC.

If your coffee costs one CUC, that would be 24 MN. Not knowing the difference and paying in the wrong currency ups the price 24 fold! Don’t worry it will not be the other way around since the Cubans know the difference very well…

Pesomn

Double currency

They say that Cuba has a double currency… Moneda Nacional and CUC.

That’s an artificial debate. The MN is pegged to the CUC and always has the same value 25/1. So if something costs 25 pesos, it costs 1 CUC. If something costs 100 Pesos, it costs 4 CUC. A simple trick to convert Pesos to CUC: take off 2 zeros and multiply by 4. The idea of a double currency just makes things more complicated, but in reality, it’s just the same money, expressed in different terms.

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

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

Know the difference

CUC or Peso?

Since both currencies are called the Peso, the Cuban government figured out a smart way to make the distinction. The Peso CUC is indicated with a dollar sign with one vertical bar, and the Peso MN is indicated with a dollar sign with two vertical bars. Smart!
The problem is that about half of the Cubans know this, about a quarter of the vertical bars is correctly put.

Cuba peso
Peso or CUC?

Money in Cuba: quite complicated

Thanks to this dual currency system the economy is opaque at least. To complicate matters, some state companies are allowed a different exchange rate varying from 1-24 via 1-12 to 1-1. But that’s just nice to know; it does not concern the foreign traveller.

To get money.

Let’s start with the basis. Where do you get CUC and MN? You cannot exchange CUC outside of Cuba.
CUC can be changed at any (almost any) bank, the CADECA (official exchange office) and if you are fortunate enough that your credit card works at the teller machines, they will spit out CUC for you. (Only for non-US bank related Visa Cards…)

Don’t buy them on the street! There is no loophole to get better rates on the street like there were in the former communist countries… Just don’t buy in the street.

The CUC thus acquired can be changed in any CADECA (except the airport and hotels) into MN. Change 20 CUC into MN, and you will be good for a week at least.

When to pay with CUC and when with MN?

As a rule of thumb: If it seems cheap it’s CUC, and if it seems rather expensive it’s MN.

So:
–    A Pineapple for 10 is… MN
–    A taxi for 4 is…  CUC,
–    Coffee for 1 depends… You can have a coffee for 1 MN or 1 CUC…
–    A pizza for 10 is… MN unless you are in a restaurant.

We have a whole list in our book on what you pay with MN and when to pay in CUC. The price of our book is not in MN nor CUC; it’s in Euro by the way☺. Seems expensive but it’s cheap! Knowledge is priceless in a country like Cuba where the “no clue tax” is very hefty! Get wise here!

Practical calculus

In practice, the MN and CUC are coupled in a fixed rate. So a 10 MN bill is just a 40 cents CUC coin. To be able to ‘talk’ MN (which makes a great impact on how Cubans perceive you) a simple trick does it:

Conversion MN->CUC: Take off two zeros and multiply by 4 (hence 100 MN becomes 4 CUC).

Conversion CUC-> MN: add two zeros and divide by 4 (hence 200 MN becomes 8 CUC.

The end of the CUC?

In July 2015, July 2016 and May 2017 the government announced they were going to abolish the CUC… A lot of shops are accepting MN to pay for imported goods (including ‘local import’). The CUC still exists today… The explanation of ‘local import’ is in our book 🙂

Now if this post contained information you did not know yet you might want to read this post about things you should know before you go to Cuba too!

Or you might want to read how to deal with the legions of street hustlers…

 

Cuban Cigars

How to buy Cuban Cigars?

Lots of people return from Cuba with one or a few boxes of Cuban Cigars and want to sell them for a profit because they bought great cigars at a very low price. Let me pop that dream for you: If you know nothing about cigars and don’t understand Cuba, chances that you made a good deal are close to zero.

Cuba has a very high ‘no clue’ tax on everything. So if you have no clue about how to test a cigar and rely on the story of the guy selling them you pay that fee.

“Buy Cohiba sir?”

You will never buy a real Cohiba following the guys that whisper this in your ear in the street. Never! They will look like Cohiba, they will be packed in a very nice box and have all the seals, but the cigars are NO Cohibas! Buying them for 10% of the official price in your home country is NOT a good deal. Trying to sell them once back will only get you laughter and no profit.

Straight from the factory!

Stories like: ‘my aunt works in the plant’, ‘my husband is the manager’, ‘you must have read in the paper about the cooperativas making cigars’ are all just BS. Those stories are as good as the boxes they sell look, and both are fake…

There’s a whole underground industry which ends with a salesman selling you fake cigars in a little room. Before that tobacco is stolen from the factory floor, cigar bands are falsified (or bought in the cigar band factory), boxes are made in an attic and seals are stolen.

All this cumulates into the moment that you buy real Cuban cigars… Not…

Only two reasons to buy Cuban cigars in Cuba.

Cuban Cigars

1 They look good on your coffee table and make for a good story. Say ‘yes’ to the cigar peddler, have him take you to an illegal ‘shop’, drive a hard bargain (you should be able to get to about 25 a box, they will start at 125) and buy yourself a conversational piece.

2 It makes for a fascinating excursion! Just say ‘yes’ to a cigar peddler and follow him to a back room in a dump… Don’ buy the cigars!

Where to buy Cuban Cigars?

If you want to buy Cuban cigars, use Google and find yourself a cigar shop with an excellent reputation in your town. Or buy them at the airport or other official shop. Real Cuban cigars are expensive but great.

How to enjoy a real good one?

If you want to smoke a great cigar, taste excellent rum and have an expert explain the whole thing. This Alamesa experience would be a good thing for you. Experts pair a great cigar with 3 excellent rums in one of the best restaurants in Havana. Don’t worry, these cigars are the real thing. And you even get a discount using this code  tino-whyn

 ‘No clue tax’ evasion

The ‘no clue tax’ doesn’t only apply to Cuban cigars. It applies to everything in Cuba. You could consider our book good tax advice :-). We have the tax heaven route figured out for you! Buy it now and save on taxes and time.

In Cuba, you buy cigars from a jinetero. If you do not know what that is, you should not even go to Cuba. Here’s how to handle those street hustlers!

Free Wifi in Havana

Yes, read that again: Free WiFi in Havana!

The internet in Cuba

Cuba has slowly opened up the Internet. First, there was the problem that all Internet communication should go via satellite and that made it slow and costly. Consequently, Internet access was slow and expensive.

Fiber optics

Then, in 2011 the optic fibre cable connecting Cuba with Venezuela stirred hope, but nothing much happened. Stories about sharks eating the cable and some government official buying the wrong cable explained nothing. Internet stayed slow and prices high. 1 CUC per hour in a country where average wages are about 30 times that amount (per month) means that an average Cuban paid 3% of his monthly income for 1 (ONE) hour of internet. (That all of this is plain bulsh#t must be clear… we explain it in our book)

In June 2015 Etecsa, the Cuban telecom monopoly opened up WiFi zones in every city. Prices went down to 1.5 CUC an hour in 2017 and to 1,- in 2018 if you could buy a scratch card. These cards are always sold out but can be bought on the streets for 2 CUC. The mechanism of this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this article, but some people are making big bucks here.

Free WiFi

‘Tomorrow I’ll take you to a free WiFi spot” whispered a friend of mine…

He sparked my interest… Free WiFi? WTF!!! In Cuba?!?

The next day we were on our way. First the bus, then an almendron and a short walk. After an hour we arrived at the studios of KCHO. And even outside the wall, there were many, many people surfing on their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Kcho opened up his Internet connection and on the wall (on the outside) he explains the few simple steps to connect to his network. And it is Free!

No Free WiFi for you

Before you run off to Kcho to update your FB status, I have to advise you not to. The abundance of young Cuban intellectuals all sharing this connection makes it slow. Very slow. You as a tourist are more than able to buy a scratch card and use the paid link. Don’t take away the bandwidth for people that cannot afford to buy it! But if you want an enjoyable excursion here’s Kcho studios (located on the corner of 7A and 120.

Password: abajoelbloqueo(down with the embargo)

Free WiFi Kcho and Google
Free WiFi in Havana

Update April 2016:

Kcho now works together with Google… They opened the first Google centre in Cuba. 15 Chromebooks offer free internet! And it is broadband! On a critical note, the WiFi is free as in money but not free as in ‘do whatever you want.’ KHCO was a personal friend of Fidel and is monitoring content…

Update Feb 2018

Poof… Gone is Google and gone is the free WiFi… Good ETECSA (paid) connection though… Must have something to do with Trump and Cuban politics or the fact that KHCO was caught with a joint.

Sometimes the WiFi acces is free at ‘La Seguera’ the park at the intersection of 31 and 41. Must be an error but it works! Sometimes…

Want some more hidden information on Cuba? Keep reading our blog or buy our Book (and no, the book is not a collection of blog posts) 🙂

On the ‘get the book’ page we’ll give you a practical tip that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Recommended reading:

How to survive the jineteros.

Tips and Tricks for WiFi connection

10 do’s and don’ts for Americans in Cuba

Americans in Cuba

Yes… I know this page is full of prejudice :-)… It’s fun to write with a bias for a change!

Until 3 or 4 years ago I was very impressed with the Americans I met in Cuba. They were civilized, spoke some Spanish (or even very good), adapted to local culture and customs and were well prepared to the specificities of Cuba. That slowly changed so I decided to write this post for all Americans that want to visit the ‘working man’s paradise’.

Apart for people that yell ‘Muerica!!!’ that should not go to Cuba or anywhere else in the world, here are 10 do’s and don’ts for Americans in Cuba:

1 Do learn some Spanish.

Very few Cubans speak English well enough to communicate even about the basic things. Without communication, Cuba is a lot less interesting. Fortunately, you know a lot more Spanish than you know… I’ll show you in the book how much! Don’t expect everybody to speak English, they don’t… So don’t expect them to and do not get angry if they can’t tell you where the nearest ATM is (It’s in Key West)…

2 Don’t over tip.

Americans are great at tipping but over tipping makes people feel inferior. Imagine you earn 10.000 dollars a month (just as an example) and somebody tips you 1800 dollar for 10 minutes of your time. Does not feel right does it… It immediately changes your relationship with your customer. You like the money he just gave you but do you like him? Is a normal relationship with this guy still possible? Stick to 5-10%, even if the bill is just 10 dollars.

3 Get your money straight

Do learn the difference between CUC (also called the dollar or Peso) and Moneda Nacional (also called the Peso) and use both currencies. A lot of interesting things are sold in Moneda Nacional and tourist crap is always sold in CUC. Money is a hassle in Cuba so learn the tricks. This will not only save you a lot of money but also opens the door to a whole new Cuba for you.

ATMs do exist… they don’t work for you… No restaurant accepts credit cards… Please do get your money straight! (The nearest ATM in Havana is in Key West…)

Peso Cuba
Moneda Nacional MN
3 CUC peso
this is a CUC Peso

4 Don’t be loud.

I’ve already seen some Americans venture into Cuba being way too loud… You’re a guest; blend in to enhance the Cuba experience. Wear long pants if you are a man over 30. Some Americans think that their conversation is so interesting the whole restaurant needs to hear it… It’s not… Blend in, please!

5 Do realize you are always wrong.

The Cuban reference frame just does not fit your’s… So your assessment of a situation is wrong… Nothing is what it seems to western eyes. See being wrong as a game or it might destroy your ego… Especially Americans are very misinformed about Cuba. Propaganda exists on both sides of Florida straights and you’ve been told a lot of lies.

6 Talking about lies. Don’t believe too much

Don’t believe what the Cubans tell you…This is an easy one. 50% of what Cubans tell tourists I can prove to be a lie… the other half I’m just not able to prove it! Cubans tell you what they believe will help them to get into your pockets. The truth is a very vague concept in Cuba.

7 Do pack everything you need.

Wallmart does not exist in Cuba and finding simple things like deodorant or sunscreen can take a day (or more). Most modern consumption items are just not available. Take some hot salsa because the food in Cuba tends to be a bit ‘flat’.

8 Don’t stay in an all-inclusive…

Go travel and discover the country. Anyway, if you are de all-inclusive resort kind of tourist, our book is of very limited use for you. Get out there… Subtract one or even two stars from your resort to get to western levels. So if you stay in a resort…: Don’t complain.

9 Do feel safe.

Cuba is a very safe country! Crime rates are incredibly low. As long as you don’t venture out into dark neighborhoods at 3 at night with a big bundle of money and an iPhone in your pocket you’ll be fine!

10 Don’t go looking for a MacDonnald’s, Starbuck’s or ATM

There is only one on the Island and that’s in Guantanamo Bay… Guessing you don’t want to eat there! ATMs do exist but will not work for you. Blame Potus who raised the fines handed out to banks doing business in Cuba. The nearest ATM from Havana for a US citizen is in Key West.

11 Lower your expectations about everything.

Do's and don'ts for Americans in Cuba
Ask for a receipt!

Or even better, put them on hold. Service is substandard by any standard. Food is regular at best. Airco’s make noise but no cool air. Cars break down. Waitresses are not smiling and coffee is cold. Etc Etc…

Do ask for a receipt… they want you to! Translations are enigmatic.

12 Do Bring Cash

Credit Cards a nowhere to be accepted and ATMs just laugh at you. Don’t blame the Cubans, it’s the embargo!

13 Don’t give racism a second thought.

14 Do prepare yourself.

Read some books (dump the Lonely Planet, they spent 15 days in Cuba and listened to what the Cubans told them (50% is dead wrong)) and realize that Cuba is a totally different cup of tea. A good start would be this site and our book… Please read it and ask your money back if you don’t like it! It will enhance your comprehension of a very weird country and improve your stay in ‘The working man’s Paradise’!

15 Don’t even access your PayPal or Bank account.

Just don’t. They will see you’re in Cuba and block your account for a few months at best. Just leave your Finances alone! So Do Not order our book while in Cuba plz. While we’re PayPal bashing: Please don’t put the word ‘CUBA’ in the comment section when ordering our book… Por Favor! Trump is bashing Cuba and causes a lot of problems. Make as less institutions as possible aware of you stay in Cuba. It can have dramatic effects! If you have to, use a VPN!

On the ‘get the book‘ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you about two hours in Cuba. Just circumvent procedures in a legal way!

These do’s and don’ts will not enable you to encounter situations like this

Bonus: Don’t avoid the jineteros but know how to handle them!

Cuban absurdities

Just a few short stories to show that Cuba does not fit our reference frame:

Rum on an AA terrace.

Driving around with a friend we spot a beautiful terrace and decide we want to have a rum there. That’s just something we do. We stop and sit down. 4 waitresses are chatting with two barmen but none of them comes out. That’s just something they do…

So I walk in and ask for two rum. There is no rum for sale in this place they tell me. Normally that would be the end of the story but not in Cuba!

I ask for two glasses with some ice. They give it to me, I think they must be aware that we intend to drink rum. I walk out with the glasses and my friend fetches a bottle of rum from the car and we pour ourselves a glass. Content!
10 seconds later the four waitresses storm out and explain to us that we can’t drink alcohol on their terrace because it is a youth club that does not serve alcohol and therefore alcohol is forbidden…

But if we want we can drink our rum on the terrace upstairs. We get up to and walk towards the stairs. But we get stopped, we can’t take our glasses upstairs because they belong to the bar downstairs. Even my guarantee that I will return the glasses does not change that.

So now we have a problem. The rum can go upstairs but the glasses cannot, and we can’t drink rum downstairs. My friend proposes to hide the bottle and puts a napkin around his glass. The waitresses are in awe about so much inventively! That is the solution! Now we can drink our rum on their terrace! We drink our rum, chatting with our four new friends.
We decide to have another one, this time upstairs. However, that terrace is closed, and the bar inside is cleaning up after a private party. We ask for two glasses and ice again and get two plastic cups… No ice available upstairs… We sit ourselves down on the ‘closed’ terrace and one of the downstairs waitresses walks by to sign off on her shift. We call her over and ask her to fetch a glass for herself and some ice for us. Instead of fetching a glass with ice, she insists on taking our cups downstairs and comes back within minutes with a glass for herself and our cups filled to the brim with ice. (We always ask for just ONE bloque de llelo!). Suddenly glasses are permitted…
The 3 of us drink our rum in contentment on a closed terrace two plastic cups and one glass!

Now picture this story in any western country. You walk in an AA bar, ask for two glasses, pour your own rum… End of story… Here is another one you might like… The Internet is a difficult story in Cuba… but I found Free WiFi!!!

If you think this is funny… you should read our book… It’s full of things that are just different in Cuba!

Empty Hotels

Things that will not happen to you…

Now if you think that mastering the game of CubaConga reduces the frustration let me tell you the following story:

In Nicaro, a little town between Holguin and Moa on the north coast, they have abandoned a nickel factory. 4000 people used to work there and closing the plant was a local drama. The economy is down and out.

When the factory was still operational the high brass slept in ‘Casa de Visita’ a lovely 50s hotel with eight rooms and a suite.

It’s been empty ever since they closed the factory. But the staff is still fully present (can’t use the word operational here). Together with some friends, I’m having dinner in the restaurant of Casa de Visita, and I love the place. Furniture from the 50s in pristine condition, a view over the bay that takes your breath away and the food is not all that bad.
Planning on coming back (my kid lives around the corner) I ask if I can book a room. ‘No way! You are a foreigner!’
I show them my ‘Carnet’ (I have a residency, which gives me the same rights as a Cuban) and that proofs to be magic (as it has proofed before). Off course, I can sleep there!
A few weeks later I sent my girlfriend to the Casa de Visita to book a room and to verify that indeed we can rent a room. ‘No way! He’s a foreigner!’ She explains that I have a residency and magic happens again… But she can’t make a reservation… Booking and paying go hand in hand.

So two weeks later I arrive with a simple plan in mind. We’re going to have dinner and sleep in the lovely ‘Casa de Visita’.
The plot thickens as a woman storms out to tell me that I cannot stay there and by the looks of the dark dining room there is no food either. The lady, somewhere in her 40’s told me that the kitchen is closed because of a short circuit and that foreigners are not allowed to rent a room. I show her my carnet but no magic this time… I cannot stay. And since the kitchen is closed, we can’t eat of course.
But she offers to call Miramar, a hotel nearby that offers ‘the same services’ as Casa de Visita. I think to myself that I hope they offer more service than no food and no bed… She returns from the public phone and assures me that we can eat at Miramar. About sleeping I will have to convince the reception desk myself.

So I change plans. I call a friend that we will call ‘Taxi’ from now on. I call my girlfriend and explain the change of plans. Taxi and girlfriend need some time to prepare so I prepare myself for a long wait while the sun slowly sets over the bay… I ask the manager for a drink but there is nothing to drink. So I ask for a glass (when in Cuba, always carry some rum). But she has no glass as the kitchen is closed… So I sit and wait.

Shift change. One lady of undefined age leaves and another appears. All Cuban hotels seem to be managed by slightly overweight 40 something ladies with cone-shaped legs in net stockings that are tired of years of doing nothing. This one is no exception. She’s surprised to find me in the lobby so I explain my story. ‘Show me your carnet’ she says and since that sounds more like an order than a question I comply. Her conclusion is that there is no problem. I can stay at de Casa de Visita. But there is no food since the kitchen is closed…

I change plans: I love the Casa de Visita and have seen their suite (which is nothing more than a bigger room, but it is nice and was very modern half a century ago. So we are going to eat in Miramar and sleep in Casa de Visita. I call Taxi and girlfriend to inform them of the change in plans. When I hang up my new friend arrives with a sad face. She called her boss and I have to leave… I cannot spend the night in Casa de Visita.

Taxi arrives and I call girlfriend that we are on our way to pick her up (she lives 3 miles away). She’s not ready so Taxi and I decide we go to Miramar to see if we can sleep there (girlfriend and I that means).

We arrive at Miramar what ‘see the sea’ means and it’s located at a magnificent location. About 20 above the sea on a cliff with a view that matches or even surpasses the view from Casa de Visita! That is, as long as you stay outside the hotel. The architect didn’t think it necessary to put windows on the seaside. This is a post-revolution hotel and views are not important to socialists. Life is stern.

We are welcomed by a 40something lady and I had to look carefully otherwise I would think this was the woman that sent me away the first time from the Casa de Visita. She was not but starts right away telling me that ‘yes you can eat’, pointing at a set table but ‘no you cannot stay here.’ I show my carnet and say that I’m a resident. Nope, that changes nothing…

I’m tired, hungry and frustrated by this food and bed hunt and lose my cool. Words like xenophobia, bureaucracy, fear and discrimination are mixed into my tirade. The last one attracts the attention of a big black guy in a corner, that has been listening in. He simply nods to the receptionist and everything changes. We are welcome to sleep!

So I ask Taxi to fetch my girlfriend while the receptionist and I plow through the administration. They arrive 15 minutes later and we are still filling out forms. She takes us to our room. It has a romantic Fluorescent tube, the bed is terrible and the tiles on the bathroom floor are slippery, very slippery because they are not floor tiles. There’s no water except for a bucket in the shower, no soap and of course no toilet paper. Only one worn towel and a hole in the sheets.

We have dinner in an otherwise empty hotel while the staff (3 undefined women and the cook) watches a soap in the lobby. Asking for another beer sparks a fight about who’s going to fetch it. Working ethic is different in Cuba.

We ask for a bucket of water to be heated in the kitchen and retire to our room…

The surprising end of this story is in our book ☺.

Don’t worry, this will not happen to you… Here are some things that will happen to you!

Sitting on a terrace, I ask for water.

‘Still or bubling?’ asks the waiter.

‘Still please.’

‘No hay’… (the definition of ‘No Hay’ is more subtle than we’re out of it. For explanation get our book plz.

Cuba is surrealistic. Here’s how to buy a fridge…

Gifts for Cubans

What are appreciated gifts for Cubans?

Update August ’18

Why gifts and for whom?

If you want to take some gifts for Cubans with you to thank them or just to make them happy, you should consider a few things:

  • Who do you want to make happy?

    • The owners of you casa particular is not a needy person. They have access to hard currency (via you) and can buy most of the stuff they need. The same goes for the barkeeper in your hotel and all other Cubans that come into direct contact with tourists. They are the rich people in Cuba.
    • The average Cuban does not have access to hard currency and has different needs.
  • What to give Cubans?

    • The first group mentioned above often sell the gifts you give them to the second. Thus giving a gift to the owner of your casa particular makes the divide between the haves and have-nots in Cuba bigger. They ‘need’ an iPhone, iPad, Nina Ricci perfume or a laptop. So if your goal is to make them happy, be prepared to bring big gifts to Cuba.
    • The second group, the ‘regular’ Cubans have entirely different needs. You make them happy with clothes (not the worn ones with holes and stains, Cubans have their pride too!), sewing machine needles, fishing gear and all kinds of things people need for daily survival.

Soap and shampoo… NO!

  • Some websites advocate bringing things like soap and shampoo. It is a shame to load up your luggage with those products as they are for sale at the local stores. So if you want to give a bar of soap to somebody, just buy one! (And soap is cheaper in Cuba.)
  • You should bring stuff that they can use, and that is not for sale in Cuba. Bring a bundle of pens and walk into a school to donate them. This makes for an excellent excursion, and the teachers will gladly show you the school. Bring medicine and donate it to a local clinic. This too will make for a great excursion where you can see behind the scenes of Cuba’s famous health care system.

Why give?

Now prepare for some introspection. What does it mean that you want to give stuff away? You might consider yourself a good Samaritan but it implies that you feel that the Cubans are poor and helpless. They are not! (Which does not mean that there are no poor and helpless Cubans, but you have the same poor and helpless people in your home town. Better to be poor in Cuba! )

Do you hand out soap to the homes in your country?

So far a few tips on gifts for Cubans. Before you go, however, give yourself a present. Buy our book (100% money back guarantee if you don’t learn a lot) and go to Cuba well prepared! You’ll at least save a few hours of your precious time!

Children

And please don’t give to begging children. They should be in school!!! We should not learn the young Cubans that tourists are the easy way to get stuff. There is a lot of talk about de Jineteros that are pestering people. We the tourists are to blame for their behavior! We taught them that we are the easy prey that provides everything and more…

Another absurd story? How to buy a fridge in Cuba

Or: Do you think Cuba has two currencies?

Enjoy Cuba!

Wi-Fi in Cuba

wifi cuba
wifi Cuba

I published this post in 2014

It’s history now… for the latest on Wi-Fi and the Internet in Cuba click on the link.

Internet and Wi-Fi in Cuba.

Cuba is slowly opening up to the Internet. Penetration in the Cuban homes is about 0,5%, and most of those connections are illegal, very slow and expensive. If you have an online life style and cannot do without being constantly connected to your Facebook, just skip Cuba.

Cuba and the Internet

Getting on the Internet is a hassle. The telephone company Etecsa opened up some Internet access points. But cues are sometimes long, and it is expensive. You can buy scratch cards for 2 CUC per hour. The connexion is not very fast, that is an understatement, and sometimes it is just closed for no apparent reason.

Most 4-5 star hotels offer Internet access as well. Some of them even with a lobby wide Wi-Fi. Forget about wifi in your room. Which of course is slightly more expensive than the Internet access via Etecsa. Wifi access in a hotel will cost between 6 and 8 CUC per hour. You will have to log in with your device and don’t forget to log off after you’re done!

The public WiFi network

(updated June 2015)

There’s public WiFi now in all towns. It might take you some time to switch off all security settings on your phone or tablet, but you can connect. (Tips about security settings that you need to circumvent in our book :-). Ok, let us give you one… Set the time on your device by hand… Cuban systems and TIME are a tricky combination.

All cities now have WiFi in the streets! You have to buy an access card in an Etecsa shop, and they are always sold out. So it’s a lot easier to buy one on the street (price in store 2 CUC/hour, price on street 3). Somebody is making money :-).  More on this system in our book.

The WiFi zones are easy to find. It’s full of Cubans with smart phones, tablets and laptops surfing the net.

(updated December 2015)

In December the squares were full of people connected to Facebook or video chatting with relatives abroad. A whole new industry built around the WiFi squares.

Business and WiFi

People rent out their chairs, toilets, electricity. Vendors have drinks and food. The WiFi zones have become a social hub for the hip and happening. Even if you don’t want to go on the internet, get out your smart phone, start surfing and make some new friends.

Soon smart guys appeared with laptops with little WiFi antennas that extended the range of the zone. They sold access to the Internet for 1 dollar per hour, which made the net even more accessible for Cubans.

And then, one day, 90% of the people disappeared. The government found out that the smart guys with the laptops were making a profit… Poof: in one sweep all the young internet entrepreneurs disappeared and with them 90% of the users…

(update January 2016)

And then the prosecution of the private ‘Internet Providers’ stopped and the squares were full again. They are installing new WiFi zones and access to the world is getting bigger and faster!

The window to the world is opening for Cuba and what do people do? Like everywhere in the world… they like kitten videos on FaceBook…

For the internet junks: there is even Free WiFi in Havana!

Do yourself a favour, read some more posts on this blog and If you like what you read, buy our book. It comes with a 100% money back guarantee and will upgrade your stay!

We’ll give you a tip on the Get the eBook page that will save you a few hours in Cuba.