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 or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Monday, Jan 2
This was a day mainly spent in our casa recovering from illness and enjoying our room. As I said on Day 10, this casa was clean and freshly painted. The bathroom had good water pressure or hot water, but not both. And each bathroom had its own toilet bowl brush. Nowhere in Cuba can you flush paper down the toilet. Most places have a trash can in each stall to use for this purpose.
It was about this time that I decided to come up with the Comprehensive International Bathroom Rating Scale. The ladies in our group and I consulted on what was important, and they came up with a variation of it, but after much intense study and further, ahem, experience, I have settled on the following:
1 point if the bathroom doesn’t charge money
1 point if it’s clean
1 point if it smells nice
1 point if there is a toilet bowl
1 point if the toilet has a way to flush
1 point if the way to flush doesn’t involve a faucet and a bucket
1 point if there is a toilet seat
1 point if it has a door that closes and locks for privacy
1 point if there is paper available somewhere in the bathroom
1 point if the paper is free and accessible from the toilet
1 point if you are allowed to flush the paper
1 point if there is a trash bin
1 point if it flushes itself at the proper time with a motion detector
1 point if there is a working sink
1 point if the sink water works with a motion sensor
1 point if there is soap
1 point if soap dispenser is motion sensing
1 point for a way to dry your hands
1 point if dryer is motion sensing
1 point for handicap accessibility
So here is the breakdown of what all those numbers mean:
15-17: Near Perfect
12-14: : Excellent
9-11: : Good
6-8 ☹️: Not Ideal
3-5: Wipe everything with sanitizing wipes before you “go”
0-2: Hold your breath, don’t touch anything, and pray you don’t catch a disease
If we had a bathroom in the 9-11 range we were thrilled. We encountered more than one occurrence of bathrooms that were a 3 if you were generous in your counting. But when you gotta go, you gotta go. Using bathrooms like this are really the only time in life when I wish I were a man.
We did visit the Castillo Hotel, formerly the Castillo Seboruco built in the 1700’s. It has many steps that go up and up and up some more to a height of 40 meters (130 feet). At the top you’re rewarded with this beautiful view.
They also have free (if you buy a drink and have bought a card with login and password) wifi.
The yellow building in the foreground here is the Hotel Castillo.
Even though the Cuban government has tried to erase any positive influence by the US, if you look hard enough you can see evidence occasionally. Here is a sign on the hotel commemorating the reconstruction of the fort in 1900.
Here in Baracoa we also saw many of these kinds of signs.
You see how at the bottom it says CDR 3, ZONE 5. CDR stands for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. If Hitler’s SS and Neighborhood Watch had a baby, it would be something like the CDR. Basically, every block in Cuba has a CDR leader who is responsible for reporting on you to the government. If you want to change jobs or improve your house or a myriad of other things, you have to get approval from your CDR leader. They can also report you for having a bad attitude toward the government. They don’t need any proof or evidence, of course. You can imagine that this can be a very bad situation if your CDR leader is power-hungry or just doesn’t like you.
Tuesday, Jan 3
On this day we went back up the mountain near the Castillo Hotel we had visited the day before. We were looking for an item on our map called an “archaeological museum in a cave.” We occasionally would ask someone directions and they kept saying it was further on and further up. We accidentally (this time) had wandered into a part of Cuba that people don’t usually see. Basically the houses were shacks. Not sure if that’s “new construction” since the hurricane, but they were very bad conditions. Finally we reached a sign pointing us to the museum. A little boy led the way, and we gave him and his friend a tip for their help. It wasn’t much of museum or much of a cave.
Our enthusiastic guide enjoyed using his limited English skills as he shared his knowledge of the indigenous people Columbus “discovered” on his arrival but who had been living there for well over 500 years already. He told us about their religion, the way they used the caves, and some of their mythology.
He also told us about an area down by the beach where there were no trees, but black sand. He said not to go there because some spots are quicksand and people have been known to disappear. They are never quite sure if the missing people have been overtaken by quicksand or if they’ve gotten on a raft to go to America, but he said be careful. The girl from our group who was with us for our tour of the cave was a bit alarmed by this knowledge since she had walked that exact area of the beach the day before.
We came back down the mountain by a different route than we had gone up. We had experienced the natural alarm clocks (known as roosters) in just about every town we had visited. And it wasn’t just one rooster; there were always a bunch of them. I knew that we had eggs for breakfast every day, but those don’t come from roosters last time I checked. And we had seen only roosters, not hens. On the way back down the hill we saw a guy training his roster to attack another rooster and it all came together. Our guide had made a comment earlier when a guy crossed the road in front of us holding a rooster (at which point we asked why the rooster crossed the road). He said the guy was going to a cock fight. And it all clicked. THAT’s why so many roosters crowing every morning. They were meant for competition, but not to see who could crow the loudest. There is no gambling, at least in casinos in Cuba, but it seems there might be an exception.
At the bottom of the mountain we were hot and tired from our long upward trek, so we went back to the Hotel Castillo for cola and Wi-Fi. But it wasn’t until we were at the bottom of the mountain that we made this decisions, so back up we went, up all those steps. Not our brightest moment, I must say.
At the bottom of the hotel steps we encountered a man begging. He was the same man as the day before, asking for the same things: a pencil and shoes. Evidently if you have a pen or pencil you can trade it for something else so they usually don’t ask for money, they ask for a pencil or a pen.
After checking Wi-Fi we came back down the mountain. I felt like that old song about “The noble Duke of York, He had 10,000 men, He marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down again.” It was a hot day and after all our ups and downs we decided that chocolate ice cream sounded really good and we went to the Casa De Cacao.
We went into their air-conditioned show room that smelled absolutely amazing and saw their wonderful dark chocolate on display. They had bars of it as well as small little shapes, all covered by sheets of plastic. We tried one of the little shapes to make sure it was good. Sure enough, yep, it was great! We told waitress how many bars we wanted, and we watched her use her teeth to tear the plastic to get a piece to cover the chocolate in. I guess they didn’t have scissors or a knife. While she was busy with us, another woman came in and said something to her and showed her the middle ink-tube part of a cheap pen. We ordered some chocolate ice cream drink and sat down to wait. The waitress asked us if we had a pen they could have. This nice place of business with delicious chocolates only had one pen, and it was broken, so they were using the middle ink-tube part. Unfortunately, except for my iPad stylus which has a built-in pen, I only had 2 mechanical pencils. I offered her one, but I’m not even sure she knew what it was or how it worked, and she really wanted a pen. Their chocolate ice cream in chocolate drink was delicious, though.
This dearth of common objects was prevalent around Cuba. It’s not just that we saw no computers in use in businesses. Some places had adding machines with their receipt tape, but mostly it was just calculators in use. Restaurants generally had hand-written receipts that they gave us.
Many times we tried to break a 50 or even a 20 CUC bill, and they didn’t have change. Not just a little shops, but places like a hotel restaurant. There is just not enough cash or other resources for a business to keep money on hand that way.
Also, being in Cuba showed me how Americans see everything as disposable: cars, house furnishings, water jugs, etc. Things are used not until someone gets tired of them or when they start to look a bit worn. Things are used until they cannot be used any longer. Then if they can be repurposed as something else, they are. This is a theme I have recognized in all the developing countries I have visited.
They are just really old cars, beat up and run down. But they don’t get rid of them because it’s impossible to get a new or better one. So they just keep the old one running.
Click here to continue to Day 13.