Apparently it is not as difficult gaining entry to Cuba as it has been over the past many decades. Our group departed from Tampa Bay Florida as did several others. There is also a daily flight from JFK. There is a lot of paper work including the need for visas but it can be done. Tourists are abundant. I was lucky enough to tag along on a trip with the board of Barnard College. I was a complete outlier on the trip.
We stayed at the Melia Cohiba that was built in 1995. One of the few newer buildings as Russia pulled the plug on Cuba in 1989 right after the Berlin Wall came down. The country refers to that period as the "special time". Not exactly sure what was special about it except that went from a country that was subsidized by Russia to a country that was left on its own that has slowly deteriorated from that moment onward.
The US dollar became legalized in 1993 and this allowed relatives living in the US to send dollars in to Cuba. The country is fascinating on so many levels. Cubans are the most entrepreneurial people. Everything is a bit of a mystery in Cuba and the laws continue to change and nobody is sure why. For instance, many people having built their own clothing businesses to sell directly to the people without Government intervention but this December that law states that people can no longer do that.
People live off their ration cards but they also figure out other ways to supplement their income. There is free education and healthcare. Peoples health is closely monitored. The Cubans appear to be very loyal to their country yet the reality is the country is almost bankrupt. There are two currencies, Cucs and pesos. Cucs are used by the tourists and the pesos are used by the locals.
The majority of their food is imported. For each dollar that a tourist brings in, it costs the Government 80 cents to feed them. Only recently has the Government let people build their own farms and actually sell their goods directly to hotels, people and restaurants. We went to a farm one day and I will blog about that later on this week.
You can see the beauty of the buildings, the land and the ocean but everything is in decay. Every single building has black mold growing outside of it and there has been zero maintenance to the majority of housing. They buildings are crumbling but none of them are empty. Many families live together in small living quarters. The cars and appliances are from the 50's yet there are some newer cars on the road that have come through China. It is a walk back in time. Like every country, there are the wealthy, the middle class and the poor. In a country that proclaims the mantra that it is all about equality, there is none. That is the irony of it all.
Artists and musicians are the elite and so is anyone in the Government. They have much better living quarters and access to travel. From someone who was the reason I came on this trip had been here three years before and she noticed that they are slowly moving towards some capitalism yet random laws change on occasion to grasp on to that last bit of Government power.
I am blogging all of this after I returned. The internet there is sketchy at best. It only worked in the hotel on on floor and it was as fast as I remember in the early 90's. It is probably better as there is a lot of reflect on.
The first night we had dinner at Le Chansonnier. Large expansive rooms with a chandelier made of empty water bottles that in many ways defines the Cuban people. Nothing goes to waste. They are creative and don't throw a thing out.
The meal is not worth discussing. Most of the food was sub-par at best. You end up eating more than necessary because you are never satsified. Unfortunate but true. Yet they always serve the classic Cuban rum drinks with loads of sugar and mint at every dinner we went to.