NOW CUBA IS OPEN TO THE U.S., WHERE TO STAY IN HAVANA…TRY A BED AND BREAKFAST, LIVE DOWNTOWN AND PARTY WITH THE LOCALS !
OBAMA! He did it again! Cuba was about to collapse and OBAMA saved the REDS proclaims the grey-haired conservative across the aisle at my morning breakfast place loud enough for everyone to hear. In Southern Florida’s Cubano District folks stood on street corners and argued into the night, the line was split down generational lines, according to all reports the youth of today have said enough. Let the Cuba People’s Blockade end, lift the yoke off the backs of our neighbors living a short 45 minute flight from U.S. shores.
Open our economy to their starved demand for parts, imports and allow their citizens to come and go from the Island paradise first found by Christopher Columbus, who established Havana, where the Portuguese explorers “relics” are rumored to be hidden in Viejo Havana…
Lines have been drawn in the sand about Cuba! Between democrats and republicans, young and old, yes-but I believe specifically between people who have been to Cuba and those who haven’t! ANYONE, who has visited Cuba and have lived amongst the Cubanos knows they are the salt of the earth. They love the U.S., they have waited patiently, hopefully and now they dared not to wish for too much — they have been disappointed in the past.
But secretly they know their lives are on track to be better, and the new U.S. Embassy, will signal a new era.
Media coverage of Barack Obama’s historic olive branch to Cuba, pointing out the pros and cons of the blockade being lifted have seized upon the fact there will not be enough hotel rooms to handle the sudden influx of American Tourists.
I visited Havana for two weeks spending nine days in a hotel and then moved in with the wonderful family of Senora Raudelina Rodriquez leyva who lived almost in the shadow of the Cuba’s Capitol Building and within walking distance of Old Havana and the Park Central Hotel, where you can trade money and check your email and stay in touch. It was not until I moved in with “Grandma” did I really feel I had been to Cuba. Many Cubanos open their homes and rent rooms or others create their own restaurants and bring the public into their dining rooms. The food cooked in Cuban homes was the best I had. Much better than the high-end “National Hotel”, the high water mark in Cuban social circles, with exclusive menus featuring meat.Havana Cuba is anything but a sleepy tropical community, it’s a huge city built next to the Atlantic Ocean over the past 498 years ago when construction began and continues today. There is a huge natural harbor on leeward side of the island which was the logical place to begin the city and as it grew across the flat plains it finally hit the river which is now the City Park and itself newly restored from the once toxic dump to the serene focus of this riparian district. Havana itself, is constantly being renovated, Plaza Viejo and its surrounding communities,in the 1980-1990’s were in ruin and no place for smart people to hang out. Today Plaza Viejo, is the crown jewel of the Tourism community, nice restaurants, planetarium, microbrewery with beer bongs, live bands, primary school and the renovation spreads out from the square, you can see the reconstruction cross the street and move down the street. Cuba is literally rebuilding the entire city. In a Police State or Communistic community it easier, no one owns anything–so you just move folks to transitory housing–and as new renovations come available move people in to accommodate their needs.
Havana Cuba is a cool place. Americans tourist will be captivated by the “Yank Tanks” as they ebb and flow through traffic all around you, they will never disappear for Cubans they are a way of life, a social watermark. This time warp in this Caribbean city began when America pulled out and left this communist leaning community behind and off limits. “Trading with the Enemy” or Cuba was not allowed and no one was excused not even the world famous “Pappa Hemingway, who was forced to leave his beloved Cuba, boat and Cadillac behind. Cuba had a wonderful rail line-which the Italians had installed for transportation all over the island, particularly in the cities. When the Americans arrived the first time, Ford, Chevy, GMC all made the Island “smoking good deals” for buses, large trucks and cars. The population who had been served well by rail, but changed to automobiles, buses and trucks and as rail service diminished and when it became run down, it was sidelined, then discarded.
While American cars, buses and trucks filled the local needs until spare parts became scarce because of the U.S. boycott after that, innovation and genius was required to keep all these cars on the road. Many have been “cherried out” and still have original parts, many more have been crossed with spare parts from the Russian Lada’s or whatever might fit or work. Some Cuba lovers fear opening the Island up to the Americans again-will ruin it! Folks fear car buyers will arrive and buy up all the old treasures, all the color, and material culture, like yesterday when the U.S. left leaving behind the worn out and tired, stealing again, the island’s life blood and reason for others to come. Still there will be plenty of demand for replacement parts for the vintage U.S. autos still cruising Havana’s roadways.
The huge walls of the City of Havana soak up the Caribbean Sun while the narrow passageways create a cool shaded walkway which makes life much more comfortable escaping the tropical heat. Within that maze of walls, plazas, all of its inhabitants have developed a strategy to survive. Everyone gets a taste, but if you snooze you lose, you have to be ready. There is the Cuban economy or marketplace and the Cuban Black Market both work together to provide all the goods Cubans require but supply is limited and long absences are frequent, like light bulbs, just because you have the lamp, the electricity, doesn’t get you light without the bulb. The U.S. 50 year Embargo on CUBA has placed real hardships on the people of CUBA, but the Cubans don’t hate us, they don’t feel sorry for themselves, they laugh at their plight and look to President Obama with great anticipation.They have been disappointed before and have learned to live with the realities of their country. Recent news of a new era of cooperation with the United States means those days may be behind the Cubans as they get ready for the “Best Tourist” or the Americans to arrive. Things will happen slow at first but as the new American Embassy gets into place, more and more flights will arrive from the United States. Presently ten airports provide direct flights to Havana and more will be on the way, as Cubans begin to return to their homeland to reconnect their relatives left behind a half a century ago.
Our Cuban tour guide says “the government pretends to pay us and we pretend to work” In one small elevator, sat a women sitting in a chair, pushing the up and down button for pesos tips. Folks young and old will approach, rub their belly and hold out their hand. Our guide suggested you might give these folks, your small coins, the centavos which bring us to the Cuban Pesos and how there are special stores where this currency is exchanged, and others, for CUC$ is where tourists shop. Locals can go to the movies for 80 cents, but tourists can’t. The Presidente Hotel, probably a 3-4 star stay, charges $85 a night, the tour was charged $65 a night for the same room and breakfast. Living with families in Havana, breakfast is often included and two people can share a room for $25 or less a night. Likewise many homes are open as restaurants and bars where frequently the woman of the house is the owner/operator and her children, waiters and kitchen help. This entrepreneurial spirit is what Cuba hopes will produce more home licenses as the renovation of the old buildings of Havana continues In Cuba, you are given a place to live. If you need a bigger home, you find someone who wants to swap and if their home is bigger or better, then you pass some cash under the table and everyone is happy. One local writer’s poem explores the return to a previous home and how the hummingbird plate of many years ago still lived in that space and still held so many memories for her. I was standing on a street corner and when a fella and his #3girlfriend stopped on their way to hear Amereto Fernandes, once a staple at the Buena Vista Social Club and stayed to chat and invited me along, when we arrived down the street at a local bar, this fella and his girl felt I should buy them both a drink, Amereto was glad to pose for photos, if I bought his CD and of course, the Bar was happy with me taking photos as long as I too, had a drink. Total around $25-happened so fast I never saw it coming and that is how it is done…click.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THE CUBAN PESOS ? WHICH PESO ? THE PESOS USED BY THE LOCALS OR THE ONE USED BY THE TOURISTS ? Visiters to Cuba buy $CUCs, which trades even with the Canadian dollar but stands above the US Dollar, $1.20 to $1, so walking thru customs costs the US visitor an extra 20% which goes straight to Fidel, and then there’s the state’s Health Insurance which is factored into the cost of our Tour, about $400 for the week. The convertible peso (CUC$), is one of two official currencies in Cuba, the other being the peso. It has been in limited use since 1994, when it was treated as equivalent to the U.S. dollar. In 2004, the U.S. dollar ceased to be accepted in Cuban retail outlets leaving the convertible peso as the only currency in circulation.
Just recently for the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cubans have the right to buy new and used vehicles from the state without government permission, taking one more step toward economic freedom on the island. The newly en-acted reform allows Cubans to buy and sell used cars from each other, but must request authorization from the government to purchase a new vehicle or second-hand one, usually a relatively modern rental car, from State retailers. The newspaper GRANDMA said, “the retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up.” Newer car models are largely in state hands and sold used at a relatively low price to select individuals, for example, Cuban diplomats and doctors who serve abroad, then often resell them at four or five times the price.The Cuban state maintains a monopoly on the retail sale of cars. The liberalizing of car sales was one of more than 300 reforms put forth by President Raul Castro, who took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, and approved in 2011 at a congress of the Communist Party, Cuba’s only legal political party.
The changes put a greater emphasis on private initiative, which was largely stifled under Cuba’s Soviet-style system, and less government control over sales and purchases of personal property like homes and cars.
Meanwhile real Cubans scam tourists for pesos, smuggle rum or cigars, run illegal taxi’s, or beg in the streets. Talents like drawing, turns into quick tourists sketches signed by the artist, colorfully dressed Cuban women swarm foreigners to be photographed and then charge $5 pesos or CUC. Cubans with huge cigars, grab tourists in the plaza for a photo, then charge a peso for their image, nearby a local band performs with cigar box open for donations. As you walks the streets of Havana, folks constantly ask where you’re from and each has his own come-on which begins as soon as you answer. Elsewhere, pirated CDs and DVDs, are sold on the streets and large crowds appear to shop and buy. My favorite of them all, were the three dachshund puppies, from left Canela, 6, the mom, Azuear age 3, the baby and Cachito age 8, the dad.
Here is my guy in Havana, Grandma’s oldest son, Tony Fernandez-Rodriguez Amistad No.302 esq.a San Rafael St.-phone number 011-53-7-862-6181 e.mail email@example.com
GrandMa has an entire building, she gives you three keys, one for the room, one to the upstairs floor door and one for the street door. My friend and I split a room for $25, we got breakfast and refrig space, we ate out mostly, the bath was better than the El Presidente, water was hot, bathroom clean, updated towels. It’s address is 302 Admistad, right next to the San Rafael walkway five minutes from the Park Central Hotel, where you can check email, drink a beer off the roof at the night or change money. There is a cop on every corner, they never seem to be looking but I believe they see everything. GrandMa is a real straight shooter, she likes her novelia, but you’ll see her out on the street, her son Tony of Cuba speaks English and is your contact-862-6181 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The building is right on the street and on the weekends it can be noisy.
We meet another sweet women who took us into her home when we couldn’t find the address of our B&B, she had a nice place on San Rafael which is closed to traffic but folks meet there and party, so could be noisy San Rafael #402-(537) 867-8902 email@example.com, this spot is listed in a tour book, web address: lacasadecandida.com–they were helpful. Our guy, Tony and his daughter, came to get us, walked us over to their place which is three story, they always had someone in the property for security which never seemed an issue to me. My friend and fellow photographer, Clarence Tabb of Detroit who turned me onto Tony and his mom, the last time he brought his laptop and left it behind in the room which seems quite do-able to me. At the Park Central Hotel it is cheap to buy an one hour wifi card, than get onto one of their computers. I liked Senora Raudelina, she was very sweet and her son Tony is an real operator–he can find you anything.
While walking around Plaza Viejo down one street off a narrow nondescript street we peer into an open door and see a beautiful courtyard and then we noticed that they rent out rooms and a guy noticed us and we asked to see them, but they were occupied… It was a beautiful level ground space…Luis Batista Betancourt, Casa Colonial Aro 1717 Alto Valor Cultural Amargura No. 255, e/. corner of Habana y Compostele 863-3622, looked very nice and as I understand $25 a night is the limit for two sharing one room this too may be changing like lots of other things.
FOR MORE CUBA PHOTOS VISIT SOUTHWESTPHOTOBANK CUBA COLLECTION…CLICK HERE
A VIDEO OF STILLS FROM HAVANA….CLICK HERE
CUBAN SANTERIA CEREMONY….CLICK HERE
‘TRADING WITH THE ENEMY”, A YANKEE TRAVEL THROUGH CASTRO’S CUBA
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