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Written by: MD

12 January 2001

Cuba, what an interesting place??!! My arrival into Havana wasn’t the best, being faced with corrupt customs and police trying to set me up with a drug import charge only to ask me to bribe them out of it so they could score a few very valuable US dollars. Their plan failed thanks to me verbally abusing them loudly so the whole airport could hear me. They realised that they had a “live one” and thought the whole scam wasn’t worth it and let me go! After gaining my composure in the taxi on the way to my hotel, I found out they had no rooms left and ended up sleeping in the lounge. “Welcome to Cuba” I thought.

Bearing in mind all the govt and police are corrupt, you cannot be touched as a tourist. Cuba i found is very poor and lacks a decent/modern infrastructure. Despite this the people are highly educated , friendly, but very desperate for US dollars - to pay for modern imported goods. The average doctor’s salary is only US 20.00 per month! police get almost double- plus additional benefits …bribe money. Local Cubans have no freedom of speech and if caught talking or hanging out with tourists without police approval, they can be arrested on the spot - as happened with a local who drove me and some friends between Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus just to get US dollars, only to be caught and redirected to the police station to be arrested. We as tourists were let off Scott free. One girl i met in the main square during a rave (no not a hooker!) was reluctant to show me how to Salsa due to her being afraid of being arrested by the cops as a prostitute (and no she wasn’t just using it as an excuse to get away from me!).

Enough negativity for now, the one thing that keeps you going is the live bands playing everywhere - rumba, salsa, jazz, Afro Cuban, etc. I didn’t hear one poor band. The other bonus is the cheap RUM, Rum, Rum -did I say the Rum was cheap. I must stop that! RUM, RUM, RUM, - salsa, legs, hips, breasts…stop that! Toking on cigars goes with the territory and can be used as foreplay, not as Clinton used them though..only to smoothen out the shots of Neat RUM. To top it off… Cuban Baseball -it’s arguably the best in the world. These guys have got it right over herer…gorgeous women (who dance like they’re always horney!), baseball every weekend, and cheap rum and cigars. Shame they haven’t git enough money to house themselves properly or food for the family. That is the whole irony of the revolution. Prior, there was a corrupt govt used as a pawn for the US govt, but at least if you worked hard, you made money and if you didn’t you staved! Immediately after the revolution of the 1960s, there was a period of equal prosperity and happiness. But as Castro went doen the road of socialism towards communism, along came the police state and corruption and more poverty (not helped of course by the US Trade Embargo).

Only now is the Cuban govt earning hard currency by blatantly ripping off the tourist and heavily subsidising locals. To give you an example one US dollar = 20 Cuban pesos. Locals pay 2 pesos while tourists pay USD 2.00. 20 times more and the quality is piss poor. It’s only when you get to the beach resorts or the top hotels where you get what you pay for (although at astronomical rates) and they don’t allow any local Cubans into these areas unless they work there. A type of segregation you could say. Besides they couldn’t afford to stay. Racism is running rife in that black negros are considered bottom of the pile followed by the Moletos (mixed races). Top is of course those of Spanish decent.

Those thinking of travelling independently are in for a tough time. The only feasible way of affording a night’s accomodation on a backpackers’ budget is in a “casa particular” (private room) in locals homes. These houses are registered and there is no problem with theft, because if there was the house would automatically lose there licence and the culprit would lose their hand! Rather barbaric but effective.

Of the places I reccommend… Trinidad… is a very pretty colonial town and backs intl the Play Ancon (nice white sanded Caribbean beach and excellent for scuba). Vinales… has a beautiful backdrop of smoothfaced limestone mountains to contrast the bright orange soils and green and brown tobacco leaves Havana….check out the old town (slowly being renovated), have a ride in one of the many 1950s chevy taxis (that’s only if you like smell of petrol fumes), exclusive Mirimar (the equivalent of Beverley Hills in the 1950s with huge mansions), Hemmingway History…and of course the “Tropicana” caberet. Santiago de Cuba…learn all about the home of Ron (RUM) from the Bacardi family museum, visit many secluded uncrowded beaches, the castillo (castle) del Morro (famous site of battles between the US and Spanish in thelate 1800s), Gran Piedro (majestic views of Santiago and surrounding areas) and the Sierra Maestro mountain range (great hiking and significant history where the revolution began with the landing of Castro and his men from Mexico.

All in all, if you want to get a lot out of Cuba, you must escape the comfort of your packaged tour, 4-5 star hotels and guided tours. Plus bring plenty of US dollars - for both legal and illegal ripoffs!

Let’s finish this on a positove note….bring on the Cohibas, ron, basball, live music, salsa dancing, sun, beaches, historic buildings, 1950s chevies, mojitas, cuba libres, cheap prostitutes …did I say that…whoops.. only the Italians and French partake in that kind of activity!!