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!
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.
‘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…