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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Brian & Deya met in Vancouver Canada. After a few years together we were married and made choices. One was not to have children the other was not to take life for granted. The rest is yet to come.

February 10, 2012

Viva Cuba Libre – I still don’t know….

(Sorry no pictures until after we leave Cuba)

Deya wanted to stay at a nearby Campismo in Viñales, which is a campsite for tourists. The story is that people used to camp here but now it’s all buildings and restaurants. It was a pretty good deal at 15 CUC per night. We enjoyed the independence and not having to deflect sales pitches from the local houses. We were also able to reduce our costs by cooking ourselves which we rather enjoy anyways. To our good fortune we bumped into Steve from England who was sharing a tour with Alex from Germany. These two guys made a regular dinner party at our place for the nights we were there. For me, being able to have conversations in English with people who take you for who you are was a relief and made the days at the Campismo most enjoyable. Deya of course was on a mission to find beans and made friends with the local staffers by teaching them how to make crepes. Once the boss explained that crepes were not pies, cakes, pancakes or bread they were all excited. The staff even agreed they would enter the crepes into their next regional competition, every one was impressed and we now had a supply of fantastic beans!

During our stay we checked out another Casa Particular named Villa Noel. It was beautifully set back away from the road and alone. With a quiet country look and walking distance to the town Deya was keen on staying there. Fortunately the price was right and the folks who owned it were fantastic. We scheduled our stay once our time ran out at the Campismo; the Campismo was fully booked by 20+ people from Norway. It would have been fun to stay with that crowd but fate was taking us else where.

The Casa Particular was the best one we have stayed in around Cuba. The people are good, the food is great and the kind of guests that seem to be attracted to this sort of home fit our style of people. We were able to meet and spend some time with a German couple, then a Swedish couple and finally a couple from Switzerland. As luck would have it we would bump into the couples again and if fortune smiles on us we will see them again in the near future. It is these meetings I enjoy the best about our travels and while I’ve only given it one paragraph, the people we now know deserve volumes but those volumes are for us.

While in Viñales we discovered a small clothing factory; mostly denim, tops and bottoms. They had a matrix of about 105 styles and sizes, and like other places we checked out they measure productivity based on how many people show up for work. How many people show up for work is up to the people as it was expressed and so this determines the level of output on a daily level. Looking at the process one could see that the productivity level of the people that did show up for work was abysmal. When asked if this was a normal way for Cuban companies to operate we were told it was and in fact they have won awards for their high level of productivity! Ouch! This would confirm some of the other things we have been seeing.

We left Viñales having thought of it as a success. The road back to Havana was easy and we ended up staying at a friend’s suite in Havana. Our intention was to stay in Havana until we found a way off the island. Once we got here our host Julio turned things around for us, a real resource of information and a quiet place to relax; we felt as though we had been taken off the firing line of tourist under attack by Cuban money lifters. Most tourists complained about being hassled quite consistently by Cubans looking to get some money. In fact the owners of the Casa Particulares have the same problem but many don’t know it.

As it goes here, the ‘helpers’ approach you and offer to line up a house to stay at with one of their friends. It’s not a friend of course and what they are doing is extracting a fee, typically about 25% of the total stay and up to 50% of the total food purchased. These ‘helpers’ do nothing to earn this money other than harass tourists every few minutes yet the local home owners seem to think they won’t get any business without them? It drives away the tourists, increases the prices and pisses people off. Also these ‘helpers’ don’t pay taxes and the home owners have to pay quite a bit of taxes. This is bad business for Cuban tourism at any rate.

While in Havana we have been meeting people and getting to know the area around where we live. What’s disturbing is that the level of black market here is extremely high. Cubans trade in everything! If you go to the market and buy potatoes from the guy with the cart outside, it’s illegal. Potatoes! Of course you wouldn’t know it other than they are expensive and it seems retarded that it’s black market potatoes but if you want them that’s the only option. Potatoes aren’t the only thing, pretty much anything you can dream of is on the black market. It’s all so permeated that I think it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between right and wrong here and you probably buy stuff without even knowing you’ve contributed to a crime.

But why are potatoes a crime, for example? Well, like many things here, they are in thin supply and so things are imported or produced (remember the low productivity) at a high cost. There is then another cost added which some studies put at least 20:1 for non-perishables, that’s theft! That is to say that one dollar of stuff stolen costs about twenty dollars to replace the entire loss. And don’t think theft here is minor, from what we have seen and understand it’s rampant, unchecked and out of control. It would seem the only reason people even show up for their 15-20 CUC per month salary is to steal from the companies and government organizations. I really don’t believe I’m exaggerating!

So why don’t the Cuban steal from tourists? They do but what isn’t common is a violent mugging or what one Australian couple suffered after leaving the airport. The couple were told to put all their belongings, including purses, etc. in the back of the cab, when they got to the destination they took their luggage and the cab left. All their money from the lady’s purse was gone, over 500 bucks. It doesn’t happen a lot but it does happen.

So why doesn’t it happen much more than that? Well, there are rules here which makes me proud of the government, here they are: First, don’t mess with kids; Second, don’t mess with weapons; Third, don’t mess with drugs and Fourth, don’t mess with tourists. Having said that if you end up getting caught in one of those categories I understand that your whole life has just taken a major turn for the worst. Good job Cuba!

From Havana Deya and I took a day trip with our new friends Horst and Osly. Horst is a German fellow working for a company here in Havana and is a BMW rider and Osly makes about the best illegal potatoes that I’ve ever had! We headed to a place called Playa Giron. About six or seven years after Cubans won their freedom, the Rum Company Bacardi financed a military assault against Cuba and the landing took place at this particular beach. It was a failure of course but highlighted the plight of the Cuban people against the powerful US companies that created the incongruity in social-racial and economic class that caused a revolution in the first place. As you know those companies and wealthy families still want their island back, of course sovereignty and freedom are not given the same value outside of the United States. When we look at the history of this conflict there is only one way to describe it, “Old, tired and stupid”. Everybody is holding on to something that changed a long time ago.

As a special note on this day trip that ended up as a night trip and slightly epic was my 4th, 5th and 6th tyre puncture. What a pain, we have made about 55,000 kilometres through the Americas without a flat and now that we are in Cuba I can’t make it 500 kilometres without a laceration or two. Hmph. Going to go search for tyre patch kits tomorrow, thank goodness I have a spare tube because there are none for my bike on this island.

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