How do I describe Cuba? For us, it was the 40th country that we visited, and probably the most unforgettable experience for us both. Someone has rightly said that with Cuba, it is love at second sight. At first, you are just shocked, amazed and some might even feel like running away.
Let me start with a few interesting facts about Cuba:
1. The small supermarkets here have only the following things: coffee, sugar, tobacco, liquor, milk and ketchup (no bread, or eggs, or chips, or anything basic that you can imagine)
2. The mid-size super markets have only the following things: coffee, sugar, tobacco, liquor, milk and ketchup (no bread, or eggs, or chips, or anything basic that you can imagine)
3. The large supermarkets have only the following things: coffee, sugar, tobacco, liquor, milk and ketchup (no bread, or eggs, or chips, or anything basic that you can imagine). Well may be some nachos. There is no typo here. It’s true
4. There are two currencies used here. CUC for travellers and CUP for locals. As a tourist, you cannot pay anywhere in CUPs and 1 CUC = 1.13 USD (after 10% surcharge specifically for USD and 3% conversion charges)
5. A phone connection costs CUC 175 per month (at least for a tourist, so say good-bye to being connected)
6. You can use wi-fi though to stay connected. Well, that is if you can find yourself a wifi park. What’s a wifi park? Good question. It’s a public wifi zone where modems are installed but you can only access it using wifi cards which cost 1 CUC per hour if you stand in a queue outside the telephone company office for an hour to get that card, or you can buy one such card for 7 CUC per hour in the black market in these wifi parks. The speed in these parks is a whopping 16-64 Kbps.
After getting to know a little bit more about Cuba from our BnB hosts, we could understand the reasons behind the Cuban eccentricity a little better:
1. Every Cuban, irrespective of how much they earn, gets a ration card with which they can get the basic food supplies for dirt cheap. Based on the age of the person in the family, few things are provided at cheaper cost. For example, a 2 year old would get cheaper powdered milk while a 12 year old would get soy milk yogurt.
2. Every Cuban needs to be either studying or working. They cannot sit idle, else they are put in prison for 2-3 years.
3. Cubans who work for the government get a salary ranging from 10-150 CUCs a month (USD 10-150). There is no typo here, it is per month. However you get some benefits such as access to a cellphone, television, refrigerator etc. depending on your position. You also get pension post the age of 65.
4. No company is privately owned. All restaurants, hotels, utilities, even the film industry is owned by the government.
5. If you want to drive a private taxi, or let out your home on Airbnb, you pay a fixed commission to the government in the range of 60-1000 CUCs a month.
6. Because of the US trade embargo, there are just zero imports from the US although it is just an hour flight from here. Basic things are missing from this country.
There are just so many more surprising facts that I can go on and on.
We spent a good 14 days in Cuba, but they were not even close enough to explore the country. It doesn’t matter how much you read about it before coming, you will be startled for sure when you land is this wonderland. We spent 8 days in Havana, 4 in Trinidad, 2 in Cienfuegos and a day trip to Santa Clara. I have described my experiences in each city separately here.