Flight to Cuba: Havana

We may have snuck into Cuba just in time, as the Trump administration has announced US citizens will only be allowed into Cuba to visit family. That has caused some panic and lots of talk in Cuba because no timeline was mentioned in the announcement. The rumor in Cuba is that it is going to be May 2nd, although as it turns out that didn’t happen.  Even before this announcement there is no “tourism” allowed and officially we are here for cultural and educational reasons.  

We were advised that although we were not required to be a part of a tour group, we should go on some of the Havana tours to show we were not just on the beach as a tourist. What was mentioned to us was the Havana cigar factory tour and the rum museum. That’s not tourism?

A Russian made Lada and an old though not typical American car.

We do go on the cigar factory tour and a visit to the rum museum and those are cultural education at its finest, but the best is the Revolutionary Museum. It is very anti-American or at least anti-CIA, as the CIA is blamed for many of the accidents, diseases and general ills suffered by Cubans. However the CIA was caught red-handed on some of the accusations (e.g. Bay of Pigs invasion) so there is that.

We have a heck of a history with this country, starting during the 1920’s prohibition. Mark, Graeme and I go to the Tropicana cabaret show, which is a throwback to the days before the revolution when the USA rich and famous hung out in Havana. Somehow the show survived the revolution and was only dark the day Fidel died. When the revolution happened in 1959 almost all trade stopped and the US put an embargo on Cuba, thus they kept their old cars and really everything mechanical, and just fixed them up and kept them going. It’s truly a timewarp. I end up taking a lot of photos of old cars, and I’m not even an old car fan, and finally tell myself to just stop.

Mark

We spend a lot of time in Old Havana over our three days here. It is a bit touristy  (Europeans, not Americans), but it is colorful and vibrant with good Cuban street music pouring out of some of the cafes. We have a great time just walking around.  

Formally a private courtyard of a large Spanish colonial house, now small government owned apartments

The food is not very good, and we soon get tired of black beans and rice with roasted meat. There is a saying that “the first three victims of the revolution was breakfast, lunch and dinner”.  This appears to be true.

Most Cubans are provided a small apartment, often sectioned out from an older home seized during the revolution and are given a monthly ration of five eggs, rice, beans, some chicken, oil, sugar, etc. And a daily roll of bread. They “make” $14 to 25 dollars a month, but there is a massive black market trade and many barter to make ends meet. Indeed, many men are positively ripped with muscles and the women are not thin, so they don’t appear to be starving. There is a completely separate currency (CUCs) for tourism and the goal for many is to get their hands on CUCs if at all possible. For example, the Airbnb folks were getting $45 a night from us – obviously a substantial amount for them. Thus in Cuba the 1%s are those in the tourist trade that make CUCs (or high ranking government officials), and the rest work and are paid by the government in CUPs. There appears to be a wide gap, which apparently is a growing problem.

After three days in Havana we do some flight planning to head out tomorrow on a short flight to Cienfuegos, Cuba on the south coast. 

We want to experience Cuba outside of Havana and also thought it would be fun to do a flight within the country, so we head out to the Havana airport for a short 45 minute flight to Cienfuegos on the south coast of the Island.

There seems to be even more paperwork now than when we entered and Mark disappears for a while with our “handler” to go pay for fuel and lots of other stuff.  While waiting at the plane Graeme points out two small birds perched near the propeller, one with a few twigs in its mouth.  Oh oh, I think, that bird could be trying to build a nest in the plane somewhere. I uncowl the plane and sure enough (see photo) there is a large bird nest almost completely built sitting right on top of the engine.

Mark returns and at first refuses to believe I haven’t play a joke on him. Seems obvious to me that Havana is not an appropriate place for such a joke, but apparently I have a reputation for pranks that Mark can’t see past. I convince him a little bird did indeed build a complete nest in three days and he proceeds to relocate the nest to another plane nearby.  (Not really, there is no other plane nearby).

We take off and make an uneventful flight to Cienfuegos over the green Cuban countryside. I couldn’t locate an Airbnb that would take all of us, so we get two separate places. But at about $20 per night for each it isn’t bad. 

Tomorrow, Flight to Cienfuegos

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