These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Monday, Dec 26
Today was our first full day in Trinidad.
We wandered the streets of the non-touristy part of town where the locals eyed us with suspicion. (We did this in several smaller cites that we visited. We never felt really unsafe, just not quite welcome.) Then we went to the public square and stood in line at the ETECSA (telecommunications) shop to buy Wi-Fi cards.
During the time of Fidel’s rule there were no computers allowed in the homes or smart phones. There is really no good answer to the question of “Why Not?” The only answer given was, “Just because.” This is still a common response and still common question that applies to many situations. There are a few older computers in the private homes now (probably checked as luggage in those plastic-wrapped boxes I mentioned on Day 1), but still no internet access in the homes. The only computer I saw in use in a casa was being used as a giant MP3 player. There are also not computers in schools. If they need to write a research paper they use the printed encyclopedias at the library or they can go to the telecommunications office (where we bought the Wi-Fi cards) and use their computers for a fee.
Some jobs require smart phones, so a few people have those now, too. The only internet available to private citizens is the Wi-Fi in hotels and public parks, and they have to buy access to that. It costs them 1/2 a CUC an hour, which sounds really cheap until you realize that the average Cuban has a take-home pay of 10-30 CUC’s per month. As non-Cubans, we paid 2 CUC’s per hour.
After waiting in line for an hour and 15 minutes in the hot Cuban sun, we were each allowed to buy 3 of the 5-hour cards.
Not wanting to wait in the long hot line again during our trip, both Steven and I bought 15 hours each. We had to show our passport, or at least a copy of it. Also, at every homestay site we had to show our passports and sign their book. Our hosts then only had a few days to report we had been there so they could be taxed the appropriate amount. Every time I pulled out my passport here was a definite feel of Big Brother watching.
After we got the Wi-Fi cards we checked our emails and texted our kids. We tried to FaceTime, but the Wi-Fi wasn’t up to it. In fact, the Wi-Fi was really awful. It was very unpredictable. Sometimes it would let us on, but about half the time it would give us an error message. That is, if we could get it to even bring up the login page it would give us an error message. Then, if we did manage to finally get on, it would intermittently and randomly kick us off, so we’d have to start the whole frustrating process again. We did manage to check emails and text the kids an average of every-other-day or so throughout the trip, though, and Steven even managed to do a Facebook Live video once or twice on the trip. In my opinion, this is a very purposeful decision by the Cuban government. The average Cuban cannot afford to spend time fact-checking what the government says, and the infrastructure is much too unreliable to coordinate any uprisings or share much information. Social media is a totally untapped resource.
While we were trying to take care of some email business, Vince played a game at the local chess club. This was my idea as he does enjoy chess, and I thought it would be a good chance to try out his language skills. Then we realized that people don’t talk during chess games. Though he lost he said it was a good game.
While sitting in the town square we met Enzo, a 1 yr old boy, who liked to put leaves in Steven’s hat. Some things are common across cultures, and child development is one of them. His mother and father were very nice and gave us directions to a few places in town.
Next we visited some local shops and markets where we bought some percussion musical instruments (a güiro, and some maracas) and a wooden crocodile to add to Vincent’s collection of wooden animals from the places he visits. Unfortunately, a flight attendant on the Cuban Air flight on the way home managed to crush the musical instruments while they were in the overhead bin.
I thought about buying some artwork, but 99% of the subject matter was either classic cars, provocative women, or Afro-Cuban people, some quite offensive to my American sensibilities. I was not interested in any of these, so we bought no artwork.
Then we got a soda and sat outside the Casa De Musica, listening to a band play music.
They had a trumpet as well as the requisite guitar, and Latin percussion instruments (such as bongos, güiro, claves, maracas, cowbell, etc.) The beat of the rhythm was 1, 2&, 3, 4&, or 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8&. Cubans are quite proud of their music, but after a while all the bands and songs sound alike. There is not much variety.
To continue the journey, click here for Day 5.