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.

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.

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

 

 

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

 

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 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!

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.

If exploring Havana on your own is not your thing, BajaBikes has an organised tour for you. With others or with a private guide if you want.

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!

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!

 

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.

Almendron
Almendron on water

People that know these secrets (klick)

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