Finding a fixer in Cuba

Everybody is a fixer in Cuba

This blog is about finding a fixer in Cuba. Sometimes a fixer is worth his weight in gold; others just cost their weight in gold. You have to make the difference.

Offers of fixers:

Cuban streets are full of people more than willing to help you out. In the tourist areas, they are all (yes, all) just after one thing: Becoming your fixer for an hour, day or week and getting as much money out of your pocket as possible. So streets are off limits if you want to find a fixer in Cuba.

How fixers work

Fixers have all kind of ways to earn money. The most used method is the commission system. A fixer will get commission where ever he takes you (and that commission is added to your bill). The more money you spent, the better for him… Guess what his primary objective will be? The Cuban commission system is everywhere and all Cubans respect it. You will not notice a thing but the fixer will collect 10 to 20% of your payments and that will be added to your bill.

You don’t need a fixer

But why would you need a fixer? You can fix everything yourself. Read our book to get up to speed on how to handle Cuba, and you will probably be a better fixer than anybody you will meet on the street!

Enjoy Cuba and fix it yourself!!! With our help it’s easy!  Let us be your fixer from a distance! Fixing stuff in Cuba is a piece of cake. Order our book HERE, and we’ll give you a tip that will save about two hours one in Cuba… We fixed a waiting line problem.

Because Cuba is very safe, you can fix your own stay. Only if you really want a fixer and want to pay top dollars you can send us a mail at [email protected] We will fix it. Or this guy can be your fixer app on your phone, in Havana.

Or you could read our book. It’s faster, cheaper and has more clues than the average fixer. 🙂

Don’t take a jinetero as your fixer. You will not buy his loyalty no matter what you pay.

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.

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

 

Cuba safety and dangers

Cuba is known for her safety and lack of dangers

Cuba is very, very safe. Incredible safety! We can be very short about that. If you don’t do idiotic things, you will be safe.

In Cuba, the police are very respected and not always visible (a lot of undercover agents keeping you safe.) Nobody will attack you, stick a knife up your tummy or wield a gun (there are no guns on the island other than police and army. That’s one of the advantages of a police state) Cars are too slow for drive-by shootings anyway.

Safety in Cuba

Harassing or robbing a tourist is considered a significant crime and very severely punished. The Cuban police have a reputation of always getting her man and cameras are everywhere and are believed to see everything. Don’t worry… Cuba is very very safe!

Real dangers in Cuba.

The only real danger is being scammed for a few bucks. It dents your ego and if you don’t learn fast it might even be dangerous for your wallet in the long run. But these are soft scams compared to the rest of the world. And they are more intelligent because in Cuba the social elite like a surgeon or a college professor scam tourists too… That makes the dangers in Cuba actually funny!

In the last ten years, only one (ONE!) tourist got killed by violence, and this Mexican was involved in a drug deal… Steer away from drugs, and you will be safe.

A few safety tips for the really stupid

Don’t walk at 3 o’clock in the morning alone in a bad neighbourhood with a 3000$ camera, bulging wallet and gold chains on your neck. Leave your Rolex at home (time is of no importance in Cuba). Don’t carry weapons and don’t do drugs.

Don’t kill anybody (Cuban or tourist) or get into physical fights.

Don’t get (too) drunk.

Don’t do anything sexual with underaged (18) boys or girls… Cuba takes her youth seriously and is fierce in protecting it. I agree with that policy.

That’s all there is to keep yourself safe in Cuba!

Dangerous:

The biggest danger for normal people are the holes in the pavement! No really… watch out where you put your feet! I see a lot of tourists that have done an unexpected excursion to the hospital because they broke a wrist or twisted an ankle… Watch your step. Don’t step in the holes or the dog shit… Dogs roam free in Cuba.

If you rent a car, don’t drink and drive.

Be safe!

And now let safety go and prepare to have fun in Cuba! On the ‘get the e-Book‘ page we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours in Cuba!

Recommended reading

You will run into the jineteros. (And if you don’t know who they are, you are not ready for Cuba.) Here’s how to handle them.

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.

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!

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!

14 things to do in Cuba

Here are 14 of the beaten track things to do in Cuba that make you come home with a different story than your friends:

1 Give people a lift

Your car rental company tells you not to, but this is very safe and fun. Don’t take two men or a man alone. Go for couples, students or women. Just make sure there is nothing in the back of the car you are not willing to lose.

2 Take your hitchhikers home

to do in Cuba
Take a hitchhiker home

They don’t live next to the road. Taking them to their homes will show you the real Cuba, and you will get the worst coffee in your life in return. But believe us, nothing compares to this coffee in human warmth. Enjoy the company of grateful friends and bring out tip # 8.

3 Go to a baseball game

Cubans go nuts about la pelota. Stadiums are packed, and the atmosphere is great. You will be probably the only foreigner in the whole stadium! Don’t take too much money (see the chapter about money, entrance will cost you one mn as will peanuts… bring your booze)… Make friends and enjoy (bring more booze)

4 Close the Lonely Planet to find things to do in Cuba.

Don’t throw it away, it might come in handy later but just don’t look at it. It is widely known among the seasoned Cuba travellers as one of the worst LPs… Ever… We wonder if the writers ever set foot on the island. They claim they did… 3 weeks!!!

The LP is responsible for herds of individual tourists piling on the same terrace to drink the same Mojito enjoying the same view… Just because it says so in the LP… I buy it every year, just to find out where NOT to go… All places mentioned are dumps within a few months. So take the LP if you are looking for 10 things not to do in Cuba…

Just close the damn thing and discover Cuba

5 Get off the beaten path.

Cuba of the beaten path
Of the beaten path

The beaten path in Cuba is easily recognised. It is full of tourists in ugly shorts and ditto sandals wearing stupid hats. I never understood the urge of people to dress badly on their holiday. If you leave the sandal street and take two streets to the right, you are in Cuba and not anymore in the Disneyficated tourist trap. A game to play in Old Havana… If you spot sandals… turn right or left… It will lead you to unexplored parts of town

6 Dress appropriately

You will never see a grown Cuban man in shorts. At least not the educated ones. If you dress appropriately, you will be better accepted when you’re off the path of #5. By not wearing your cargo pants you show respect for the Cuban culture, and thus they will accept you as a human being instead of treating you like an ATM. Know how to handle a jinetero.

7 Initiate contact

Once dressed normally and strolling off the beaten track, reach out to people. Anybody that initiates contact on the streets wants something from you… We devoted a whole chapter on all the tricks Cubans pull to separate you from your money. So start talking with people that don’t take the initiative… They make a much better company.

8 Rum (always carry a bottle in Cuba)

Always carry a (small) bottle of rum. Just get it out of your bag if you’re enjoying the company. Before you know it you have a party! And Cubans do know how to party!

9 Don’t be afraid

Cuba is safe, very safe. Nobody will harm you. The worst thing that can happen is a bit of intimidation but that never hurts. So feel safe because you are safe. If you feel safe you are open to new experiences. If a hustler whispers “Cohiba?” go with him. NOT to buy the cigars (they are fake and made from banana leaves or at least inferior) but for the adventure to be taken around town to find the cigars he promised… You will end up in a little room on the third floor of a run-down building, and that is the purpose. And you are safe so don’t worry.

10 Spot the ‘bad’ Cubans

It is easy. A Cuban you better not deal with looks like a Cuban you don’t want to deal with.  A lot of gold, new sneakers, a watch (working), tattoos, sunglasses and a cell phone should tip you off. How do you think he got all that? He’s ripping off dumb tourists… It’s your turn if you want! So just ignore him… No… really! Just spot them, keep them out of your life.

We always try to deliver more than expected… so instead of only 10 things to do in Cuba we give you three more… 🙂

11 Donate pens to a school.

students in Cuba
students in Cuba

Just walk in with a bundle of pens and make the teachers happy… They are always looking for writing material! This will make a great excursion just like tip number 12.

 

 

12 Fake an illness

Hospital Cuba
a hospital in Cuba

Or get yourself a blister. Walk into any hospital (outside of Havana) and ask for a consult with a medic. Enjoy this excursion into the Cuban Healthcare system. You will be amazed.

13 Read CubaConga

Our eBook is designed as a game and teaches you a lot about Cuba that you can’t find in other places. It is underground and fun. Read it plz… We’ll give you at least 50 other things to do in Cuba! This is not a thing to do in Cuba… you should do this before you go! As a bonus tip, we’ll save you a few hours upon arrival HERE.

14 Moneda Nacional Day

Declare a Moneda Nacional Day. Only spent MN. CUC’s are off limit. Live and spent like a Cuban. (Buy water the day before!). Understand the double currency hoax.

15 Don’t do a drug deal

Lots of people want to sell you cigars on the street. The wise thing to do is ignore them (when did you last bought a fridge from somebody that whispered in the street: ‘wanna buy a fridge?’. Well say ‘YES’ and go to an illegal drugs (cigars) house. Don’t buy them! It’s about the experience… don’t worry… you are safe!