Working on my 10th Cuban banana for breakfast. Bananas in Cuba never disappoint. Early departure at 8:30am for a bus trip to a tobacco plantation and a riverboat tour of the caves; (Cueva del Indio) but first a little history from our Cuban friend Raul.
Doctors and Lawyers make the least money; about $25 a month. Doormen, Security Guards, waiters, taxi drivers and musicians do better. They get their government stipend plus anything else they can earn in tips or on the ‘black market.’
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Passing by apartment buildings you see families piled in anywhere they can find a space. A hospital we passed didn’t look very well maintained. I hate to be glib but it appeared to be held together by band aids. It’s really a case of the have and have nots. It’s a bit of the wild wild west. Just go for it and see what happens. You can’t legally own your own home but informally you can if you have the money for lawyers and a do a little paperwork. There is also “trading” going on that’s equally confusing where one person can swap their home for someone else’s home in another part of the country. The government is now talking about letting people buy land and their own homes but again it will take some time for these changes to happen.
The Cubans are building new research centers but they can’t keep up with technology. Some of the wealthy neighborhoods we passed were nationalized by the government and are now the residences of many foreign ambassadors. According to our Cuban guide, with Fidel more or less out of the picture, Cuba is moving more toward a Chinese form of Socialism. With Cuba under Fidel, everyone was the same. The new government believes in more discipline and responsibility, so you see signs of capitalism creeping into the system. Individuals are now allowed to open small shops, pay taxes and improve their standard of living. Cubans will never depend again on one country providing an open checkbook ‘written in ice’. Cuba was left high and dry when the Soviets left town and based on discussions with Raul they see the folly in handing their country over to a benevolent dictator. They want investment but on their terms. The Chinese are dying to get in there but they want majority control and that’s not going to happen. Just recently in the New York Times, there was an article about Cuba negotiating with several countries to build 16 golf courses. Tourism will be crucial to rebuilding the country.
The tobacco tour was cool as we met Fidel’s favorite tobacco farmer. We went into one of the sheds and learned about fermentation and sun positioning through the roof of the sheds and the soil that makes Cuban cigars so desirable. I have no clue because I don’t smoke but my compatriots who were smoking up to five or six Cubans a day agreed this tobacco farmer knew what he was doing. I did learn the ‘bands’ around cigars were invented so Europeans who wore white gloves and smoked wouldn’t soil their gloves. I bought a pack of 25. No bands. No gloves. Just the 40 Bucks.
After a few road stops at the Cuban version of 7-11’s and road side stands we finally made it to the river and cave tour. This place was cool. They were squeezing sugar cane, adding a little rum and selling the drinks to the few tourists outside the caves. This was the first place we visited more suited for ‘mouse ears.’ In the boat I kept waiting for Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Goofy to pop out of a stalactite and light someone’s cigar.
On the way back to Havana we drove through a small town and stopped for a late lunch at a Restaurant La Cabana. These homes are all over Cuba and sanctioned by the Cuban government as restaurants and lodging. The place was fabulous. They had a special menu and large dinner table set up for us and a local singing group to perform.
Diner came late in Havana when we returned, followed by more nightclubs, terrific jazz and lots of fresh Cuban cigars and Havana Rum on ice.