Cuba As I See It, Days 11 & 12

Posted on
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 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.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9, and Day 10.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 11
Monday, Jan 2
Barracoa
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:

18-20: Perfect

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.
Day 12
Tuesday, Jan 3
Baracoa
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.
This is how they still have running 1950’s cars running on the roads. As I stated when writing Day 5 in Trinidad, most of them are not in a condition that would be considered classic. 
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.


Cuba As I See It, Day 10

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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.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8, and Day 9.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 10,
Sunday Jan 1,
Going to Baracoa, going near Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Today we had another long travel day. After about an hour and a half of travel we stopped for a bathroom break and a look at a map of the area we would be covering in the day. Included was the area around the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
This whole area is the Guantanamo province of Cuba. I have zoomed in on the area beneath the black word “GUANTANAMO” on the map.
This dotted area is the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. You can see that even in cartography (map making) in Cuba the political messages are strong. Even with very limited knowledge of Spanish, if I tell you that E.U.A is Spanish for U.S.A you can tell what the basic message behind “Territorio ocupado ilegalmente por E.U.A.” means.
Then we went to a beautiful area for whoever in our group wanted to swim. We saw this brick beachfront property for sale. “Se Vende Llama…” means “For Sale, Call….” The house needs a bit of work, but the view would be beautiful.
Homes are rarely for sale in Cuba as most are state-owned. A few, however, have started to be sold by private individuals. Another one we saw in Trinidad looked like this.
Housing is different in Cuba. If you are necessary to the government, you get a house. If you have the money and ability and can get the proper permits, you can build your own house. They provide homes for athletes as well. As of 1970 and going forward, they needed more houses, so professionals were allowed to give a year or two to the government to build houses, and then they get one of the houses that they have built.
It is strange that, unlike some developing countries we’ve been to, most of the buildings in Cuba are completely finished. That does not mean, though that they are in good shape. A lot of them are beautiful old structures with gorgeous ornamentation, but the roofs are bad, or they are in a general state of disrepair. Also, we’d be walking along a city street and 2 of the 10 structures on the street would be shells with old bricks or piled-up concrete pieces in them. And I’m not talking about areas that were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Other times we’d walk by a large building and the entire bottom floor would be empty except for a single desk.
You can see from the “beachfront property for sale” picture that the area is very dry. The villages in the area around Guantanamo sometimes go a year or more with no rainfall.
You have to obtain a permit to visit relatives or friends near Guantanamo because some people try to escape to the Naval Base there since it’s American soil. There is a (very small) Cuban army installation here to keep an eye on the base, and in most of the areas you are not allowed to take pictures. If you as a tourist do this, they’ll take you away, take your camera, end your visit right then, and kick you off the island. Our guide knew a nice spot, though, where we could see the base in the distance and take a few pictures. In the distance is Guantanamo Naval Base. One of the ladies on our trip had a nice camera and we could see the US flag when you zoomed in on her pictures.
Reportedly, they have to use desalination to supply water on the base because the Cuban government cut of their water supply, and as I said, the area is very dry.
After we ate lunch at a tiny home restaurant which had amazing fried taro root chips, we started our trek over the mountains. This road, La Farola Viaduct, is another of the 7 Wonders of Cuban Engineering like the little tunnel outside Havana mentioned on Day 2. Many times the government had promised this road, but only The Revolution actually built it. Batista’s regime had started it, but was finished in 1965, so The Revolution takes full credit for it. It is a two lane road going through the mountains, like many I have been on before. The only difference is that on this one the concrete-with-rebar-inside guardrails in spots were in disrepair or missing. These spots are suspiciously in curves where it would be easiest for a vehicle to misdirect and go over. I suspect some have tried these routes and taken the guardrails with them. Luckily our bus driver was very skilled and got us to Baracoa safely. The views were amazing, though. 
Baracoa is a rainy little town, mostly isolated from the rest of Cuba except for that mountain road and an airport. It was heavily hit by Hurricane Matthew in early October and is still being rebuilt. Many of the attractions were closed or wiped out because of the hurricane. It is an area of cacao farms (though Matthew must have liked cacao because he visited a lot of them and took the trees with him), black sand beaches, high mountains, and rain.
Baracoa is the oldest settlement in Cuba, founded in 1511, and Columbus visited here in November, 1492. They have a monument to him which we visited.
We checked in to our casa, and unexpectedly (since a hurricane recently came through) it was our nicest one yet. Everything was freshly painted, and though the beds were still not comfortable, the linens, etc, looked like they were less than 10 years old. You see, the owner’s brother lives in the U.S. He was a medical doctor in Cuba and traveled to many different countries as it is common for them to do. He defected while in Venezuela and then came to America. He is now a nurse practitioner in Miami. I imagine from the looks of the casa that he has brought some plastic-wrapped packages to his family here in Cuba on his visits back home. American citizens are now allowed to visit family in Cuba. We somehow missed getting pictures of our room in this casa. The shower-head-water-heater was the same as usual, though, and this one made a shocking impact on my husband when he reached up to adjust it, so he got a picture of it.
 
During our orientation walk Vince got sick and left his lunch in the street, and I got queasy. We suspect it was some food we ate at the tiny home restaurant. Maybe the octopus and fish? So we ended the day with Vince alternately visiting the bathroom and watching Steven and I eat cheap pizza.
Continue the journey to Days 11 & 12.

Cuba As I See It, Day 9

Posted on
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.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7 and Day 8.

Day 9

Saturday, Dec 31
Santiago
Cuba is a very racially diverse combination of Spanish descent, African descent, and native descent. In Cuba, according to their constitution, women have equal rights as men and all the different races have the same rights. This was not true until The Revolution. Then they passed laws and regulated racial diversity so people had to hire a certain quota of the different races. It seems on its face to have worked. However, at one of the casas when I tried to give my passport before Steve gave his the lady of the house said in Cuba the man’s name has to go first. Also, I have found some statistics online that say the racial equality in jobs is not as they claim it to be.
Political opposition is illegal and there is only one political party: The Communist Party. They do have elections and everyone is expected to vote. They can either vote yes or no. Anything else written in is disqualified. So the results always look like a resounding win for the person the Communist Party has put forth as their “candidate.”
Until a few years ago there was no privacy or freedom of speech. After The Revolution, the state security department listened in and you might go to prison and never come out just for one small statement like saying at the market “I don’t like to wait in these long lines.” Now they can speak freely, at least about some topics. There were a few things nobody wanted to discuss in public. In spite of more freedom of expression, there’s still no alternative or change. People have the choice to either be quiet or leave (if they can afford it or find a way).
15 yrs ago it was a crime for the Cubans to carry US dollars. The penalty for being caught with even $1 was 7 years or 11 years in prison. This is not the case now, but as I said, they still have a 10% tax US dollars at all the money exchange places.
Americans are allowed to visit Cuba under certain circumstances. One of the reasons we chose Cuba for Vince’s Spanish immersion trip is that we think that Cuba is going to either open up totally to America and be changed by it, or shut back down like it was between 1961 and very recently.
We rested much of the day, knowing it would be a late night since it was New Year’s Eve. In the late afternoon we went to the square to get some Wi-Fi.
The plaza was starting to fill with people bustling about, waiting to buy things in the shops that ring the plaza. There were workers setting up for the program to be presented that night. We walked through the beautiful Catholic church on the square (there’s always a Catholic church on the square).
We also “met” one of the Chugito mascots walking around greeting people.
Notice the 26 on their head bandanas. That is commemorating the (unsuccessful) attack on the Moncada Barracks I told about yesterday.
We had a beautiful New Years Eve dinner with our group.
Then they went salsa dancing and we went to pack and then headed back to the square aka the Parque Cespides to watch their midnight flag ceremony. They raise a large Cuban flag at midnight and their tradition says that if the flag catches the wind it will be a good year. If it just hangs there it will be a tough year. It reminds me a bit of Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day.
This being Santiago, the place Fidel called home and where he declared The Revolution won, they had a special program honoring him. All throughout the square were banners with pictures of Fidel to honor him.
 
He considered Santiago to be his hometown and they are quite proud of this. During the program, they had ballet, African style music, Caribbean music with a few dancing the salsa, opera music, speeches, and a video of Fidel speaking. At one point they did a very enthusiastic call and of response of “Viva la Revolution! Viva Fidel! Viva Raúl! Fatherland or Death!” The 2,000-3,000 people in attendance all knew what to expect and shouted along. This was very interesting to me. For some reason, I thought the Cubans would be less enthusiastic about their support for Fidel and his Revolution. However, if they are critical of what has happened or if they want something different, they keep those thoughts to themselves and yell their “Viva Fidel” along with everyone else. I will deal with this topic a bit more over the next few days.
At midnight they raised the flag and it hung still, but within a minute or so it caught the wind and the people cheered.

After greeting a few people with Feliz Año Nuevo we went to our casa to bed. Tomorrow was another day of travel.
Proceed to Day 10.


Cuba As I See It, Day 7, Sick in Camagüay

Posted on
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.
Click here for Day 2Day 3, Day 4Day 5, and Day 6.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It

Day 7
Thursday, Dec 29
Camagüay

After feeling sick for all day on Wednesday, I decided I needed to go to the doctor.

This was a day we could sleep in but in spite of that we awoke early to birds chirping in the courtyard and roosters having a crowing competition and we couldn’t get back to sleep. I gathered the necessary items and went to the nearest “square” to get Wi-Fi and download some past prescription details from my Walgreens account. I had no idea how Cuban medicine worked, but I had heard good things about it and knew I needed something or I would be quite sick in a few days.

After about 20 minutes of trying, I got about 5 minutes of decent Wi-Fi and took some screenshots of past prescriptions to help me know what to ask for at the pharmacy. Based on what my primary care doctor usually does, I decided to try to get some prednisone to calm down my asthma, and some penicillin to combat the sinus infection. When I arrived back at the casa I had to wait for the water delivery men who was using the front stairs to pour water from about 10 approximately 10 gallon jugs carried on the back of a cart into her 3 approximately 3 gallon jugs. I suspect this water is what they drink, but we only drank bottled water with intact caps.

I also still wanted to find a store to buy a skirt to replace mine that had disappeared in the laundry in Trinidad, but the lady who served us breakfast at our homestay offered to do some laundry for us, so I thought I might be okay without one if needed. The top priority now was getting me well.

After a bit of a walk and passing the pharmacy twice without knowing it (see, I told you it is a confusing town) a nice Cuban man walked us the 1/2 block to the “international pharmacy” (the Cubans use a different set of pharmacies). With Vince’s help I asked the nurse in white to buy some prednisone and penicillin. She looked at me with a puzzled look and asked if I had a prescription. When I said no she said I would need to see a Doctor to get one. I was trying to figure out what to do with that information when she asked where we were from. Upon hearing we were from the States she said with our travel insurance papers they could call a doctor to come to our casa or there at the pharmacy to consult and determine what I needed.

We decided that the pharmacy location would be best and Vince and I were taken to a back room and waited for the Dr to come while Steve went to the casa to get our insurance papers and my passport.

We talked with the nurse in whites (including the standard old-style nurses’ hat) until the female doctor came, about 5-10 minutes. She was also dressed in whites.

Nobody washed their hands; I don’t even think there was a sink. She listened to my chest with cheap stethoscope, looked in my ears with clean but reusable covers (a different cover for each ear) for the old otoscope which she plugged into the wall (she had to jiggle the connection because the wall socket was loose). The nurse took my temperature under my arm with a glass thermometer, and the doctor asked about my symptoms. Vince got to use a different set of words on this day, but he did fine. I sure was glad for his Spanish skills. I showed the doctor the list of meds and vitamins I take daily. I told her about my migraines, my hypothyroidism, and my asthma. She said I needed to get lab work and chest x-ray done. I was expecting a long travel and a longer wait for results but they both assured me it would be very quick. The doctor tore off a rectangle piece of dot matrix printer paper, stamped it, and hand wrote the order for lab test and x-ray. We then waited for about five minutes on Steve to get back with the insurance papers. While the doctor waited at the pharmacy, the nurse walked us 3 or 4 confusing and busy city blocks to the clinic where the blood test and X-ray would be taken. She gave the papers to the appropriate people and we waited. Within 5 minutes it was my turn at the lab.

We went into the lab room where the lab tech opened a fresh lancet which she used to prick my finger. Then she pipetted some blood from it and smeared some on 2 slides. There were sinks here, but still nobody washed their hands. No gloves had been used up to this point, and none were used now. There was also no sharps container anywhere to be seen, but there was a biohazard sign on the inside door.

After the labwork was drawn, the nurse walked us across a beautiful courtyard to the radiology department. There they told me to take off my bra but leave my shirt on as there was no robe, and they showed me the bathroom to do this in. The sticker for designating the right side of the X-ray (versus the left) was old and dirty. It had obviously been in use for a while. They used a clean and working but not at all new x-ray machine for one front-facing X-ray and I went back into the bathroom to change. The x-ray machine looked like it was old, probably from the 1980’s. Remember how I said in an earlier day’s blog that the USSR used to help out Cuba but that fell apart when the USSR fell apart? I got the distinct impression that their medical equipment was from this time period. I’m quite sure with the looks of the age of the machine that I received a larger-than-normal-by-modern-standards dose of radiation. I did notice there was no TP or TP holder in the bathroom, but it was clean with a clean sink and a bar of soap. Nobody had yet (to my knowledge at least) washed their hands, though, or used any hand sanitizer.

We waited in the courtyard for the X-ray print to dry. Nothing was digital. They gave me the print of the film and we crossed back to the lab. We heard the click-clack of typewriters (not a computer was seen anywhere the whole time) as we waited. After a short time the nurse got the lab results (also handwritten on a plain small piece of paper) and we went back to the pharmacy to see the Dr who was still waiting on us there. The Dr said according to the lab work I didn’t have a virus, and my bacterial numbers were within normal limits, but elevated somewhat. She explained that the lab work meant I wasn’t very sick yet but would get sicker. And the chest X-ray (she held it up to see in the sunlight) showed some spots from my asthma. She assured me several times that they had the medicine I needed, which made me think that often that’s a problem they deal with.

She prescribed a cough syrup, a substance similar to Vicks vapor rub, and amoxicillin tablets after asking about any drug allergies and checking the package insert to make sure the amoxicillin wouldn’t interact with my thyroid meds.

The nurse told me a couple of pressure points that were good for pulmonary problems, though the Dr didn’t seem to really think that was important. They gave me great instructions, checked to make sure I understood everything, and gave me a handwritten copy of the prescription and instructions. The doctor also gave us her card with a phone number should I need any more care for the rest of the trip until I went home. After all that, a well-dressed lady came and checked paperwork, forms, passport numbers, etc, and left.

I signed two papers and we were almost done. In all, for the consultation, lab work, and chest x-ray, it took about 2 hours, part of which was us talking about how medicine works in the US, and I’m sure she would have worked quicker had we been more quiet and less distracting. I walked out with an interesting experience and solutions found. The medical people were all competent and kind. They were not well-supplied, and they worked with old equipment. Everything smelled of disinfectant and was clean, though everything badly needed a fresh paint job. It would have made me feel better for me had they washed their hands or used sanitizer, and it would have made me feel better for them had they worn gloves and had an easily accessible sharps container.

The Cubans are quite impressed with their level of medical care. From what I understand, medical care is all free (though we all know nothing is ever really free) except prescriptions which are affordably priced. Each primary care doctor is responsible for the people on certain blocks, so there is no choice in who your doctor is, but Cuba doesn’t seem to care too much about providing its people with choices, so this is not surprising. They do have the highest numbers in the world of per capita number of doctors. These doctors are actually one of Cuba’s main exports, which sounds strange, but Cuba sends its doctors to other countries and the other countries pay Cuba for their services. Our doctor this day had spent some time in Ghana. A favorite destination of these doctors is Venezuela who (until recently at least) trades oil for them. They also have a good amount of “medical tourism” in which people from other countries travel to Cuba for cheap plastic surgeries and such. It was strange to have a doctor spend 2 hours on me, waiting for me while we did the lab work and x-ray.

Happy with the experience (me for getting help, Vince for his successful use of Spanish, and Steve because it all had all gone smoothly) we went back to our casa to rest and do Vince’s quizzing. I took my new meds, and we enjoyed the cool A/C and rested.

We did notice our laundry along with some others was in the “dryer” in the courtyard of the house.

At about 4:00 Vince was finished with his studying and it was starting to cool off, so we went to visit some art galleries and get dinner. We went back to the town square with the Martha Jimenez sculptures and behold, there was the man with the newspaper sitting next to his statue. His name is Norberto Subirat and he is now 83. He loves to talk and told us (through Vince interpreting) all about his son who lives in Rochester, NY. He is obviously a religious man and said God helps him to be strong enough to come meet people. He has visited his son in the States before and hopes to do so again. When Steve told him that he is a pastor the man jumped up and gave him a very warm hug and, looking a bit surprised, said he felt the Holy Spirit of God. He was very warm toward us, talking a lot about God. Steve slipped some money in his pocket and with a “Dios le bendiga” we left him there to greet other people and went to dinner.

After a dinner we wandered about looking for another artist’s shop that our guide had pointed out, but after much wandering of the confusing streets, we gave up and went to a square to get on the internet and check on the kids and emails.

Click here to continue the journey to Day 8.


Cuba As I See It, Day 6, Trinidad to Camagüay

Posted on
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.
Click here for Day 2Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5.
Day 6
Wednesday, Dec 28
Trinidad to Camagüay via Sancti Spiritus and Ciego De Avila
Just outside of Trinidad we visited a tower with a beautiful view.
This tower also had the obligatory market common to all tourist sites in Cuba.
Cuba is a beautiful country between (literally between) the mountains and the Caribbean.
On the way to Camugüey we visited the Sanctu Spiritus, another of the 7 oldest cities in Cuba. There we visited an open-air market where they were selling meat, beans, rice, and fresh veggies. Remember everything grown in Cuba is organic. There were many (organic, I guess) flies around, enjoying the foods, especially the meat. Vendors were counting money with the hands that they had just picked up the raw meat with and I’m sure they would soon pick up the meat again with all the germs on his hand from the money. There were no sinks visible anywhere in the market.
This market didn’t surprise me, as many places the world-over have similar open-air markets. It did surprise me in a nation that is so proud of its level of civilization (because of The Revolution, of course) and its self-proclaimed second-to-none health care system (also to be credited to The Revolution, of course). Cuba is a paradox of a nation. When traveling in Cuba we were inundated with their message (propaganda) that they are the healthiest and best-educated nation on earth. Then we’d run smack into something that looks exactly like what we have seen in Africa or rural Mexico.
The 1990’s were a period which Fidel and his government called the “Período Especial.” Basically, between the time of The Revolution and the fall of the USSR, Russia propped up the Cuban economy. When the USSR fell apart, their support of Cuba fell apart too. Fidel rallied the people by saying everyone should work together and expect hard times. This is what was called the “Special Period,” but it doesn’t sound very special to me, just really bad. Supplies were lacking, especially meat, but also soap, electricity, etc. With the drop of supplies, prices soared, and basic necessities were hard to obtain. Looking back on the dates, it was during this “Special Period” that I had a professor in college who was convinced and tried to convince us, his students, that Cuba was a great place to live. I didn’t believe him then, and I wouldn’t believe him now. They do not grow things that could be easily grown such as the carnations at Che’s burial site, various fruits, etc. Instead they import them at very expensive rates. China and Venezuela are now Cuba’s main allies and economic support now since the USSR came apart, but Venezuela has been having their own troubles, and Cuba is in a recession as a result.
After visiting the market, we took a quick 10 minute stroll through the heart of town. A block over from the open-air market we saw a sign for the Provincial Center of Hygiene, Epidemiology, and Microbiology. They would be well served to go inspect that market.
After lunch we also visited the Pauyet jewelry shop in Ciego de Ávila. There they make jewelry and other sculptures with silverware. I have never seen anything like their beautiful work. They are basically modern-day silversmiths. We saw where 4 of them were actively working.
When Steve found and bought a cross figurine for 30 CUC’s he took it back to the workshop and with Vince’s help asked who made it. We got to meet the artist and Steve got a picture with him. The cross now sits in his office.
 
They have national brands of water, cola, gas, and many many other things. We did see both Coke and Pepsi, but they were not actually made in the US.
However, there are obviously still good flowing in from the US. American brands of clothing were some of the most obvious. Also, our tour bus had a clear spot in the tinted windows so the driver could see the side mirror. This was in the shape of the Apple logo. When we asked our driver about it he said they just liked the shape. All those plastic-wrapped items at the airport eventually make their way into the homes and streets of Cuba.
 
Someone on the tour asked why sometimes Cuban people would be dancing or enjoying themselves and police officers would call them aside. As it turns out, they are checking people for a criminal record and if you have a record they make you leave. This is their way of keeping tourists safe and keeping shady characters away from them. I guess once you have been guilty of one thing it is assumed you’re always guilty (or will soon be) thereafter. Their way of preventing trouble, demonstrations, protests, etc, is to arrest people ahead of events they might object to.
After our long day of travel we checked into out homestay, which was very nice this time with an eating area, a fridge, a courtyard, etc.
After giving our passport info to the lady of the house, we took a bicycle rickshaw orientation tour seeing all the different “squares” which are not square at all.
The town of Camagüay was intentionally designed in 1528 to confuse foreign invaders, pirates, etc. Now it is equally successful in confusing tourists.
A symbol for this town is the tinajón. There is a legend that if you drink from one you will not leave Camagüay. In history these huge clay pots, some about 4 feet in diameter, were used to collect water for future use, similar to the function of our cisterns. Here is an example in the courtyard of our homestay.
 

During the orientation, our guide pointed out various restaurants, art galleries, bars, and other attractions that were either good, bad, or overpriced.

Outside the art gallery featuring the works of Martha Jimenez we saw some statues made by her that feature local people. One was a man pushing a cart full of tinajónes.
 
Another of the statues was 4 chairs, 3 of them filled by women gossiping and the empty one for someone else to join in. I try not to be a gossiper, but I joined their party on this occasion.
These people have all died, but the other one is of an old man who still lives and occasionally comes and sits next to the statue of him reading the local newspaper and he talks to people. According to our guide he has Parkinson’s Disease and doesn’t come meet people as much any more.
 
Camagüay is a beautiful clean town with a lot of artwork, cathedrals, shops, etc. Remember how awful Cuban TV is their expensive Wi-Fi is only available in the squares? Main Street USA may have died but the main streets downtown in Cuba are still vibrant and very much alive.  The shops, however, are not well-stocked. I only saw 1 store (with home goods) that was adequately stocked by American standards. Most had lots of empty floor space and sparsely-filled shelves.
By the time we ended our orientation tour it was about 7:30 and we were very hungry. On our guide’s suggestion, we ate Italian food at a place whose menu was in Spanish with a tiny bit of Italian but absolutely no English. We ordered two pizzas to share: one with only cheese, and one with what was supposed to be sausage but looked like hot dogs. We were very hungry, though, and it all tasted very good.
After eating we returned home. At this point I was getting sick, my asthma was kicking up, and I was starting to get what felt like a sinus infection.
Click on Day 7 to continue the journey.


Cuba As I See It, Day 5, Trinidad

Posted on
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.
Click here for Day 2Day 3, and Day 4.
Day 5,
Tuesday, Dec 27
Trinidad
We spent part of the day on a boat going to an island that was deserted except for about 40 friendly iguanas, countless hermit crabs, and a furry little animal whose name I’ve forgotten but he reminded me of a groundhog.
Our guide was not allowed to go on the boat with us. He didn’t have the proper license to go on a boat, as it seems the government is concerned that its citizens might hijack boats and head north with them and everyone on them. This actually happened in 2003 as reported here. Cuba normally doesn’t do capital punishment, but they made a special exception and suspended their moratorium on the death penalty for this case.
We took a 1952 Chevy taxi to the marina and back. The driver’s grandfather bought the car new and it has been in the family ever since. These classic cars are abundant but usually not in very good shape. They mostly need new paint jobs and the interiors are falling apart. The door handles and window cranks 1/2 the time don’t work. They are not what we think of as classic cars. They are more just old cars. And they spew this awful exhaust into the air.
 
There also is a lot of smoking in Cuba. I should not have been surprised by this in a country known for its cigars. So between the cars smoking and the people smoking, the air quality in Cuban cities quite literally stinks.
That night we went out to eat at a marvelous restaurant called San José. It was the best restaurant meal by far on the whole trip. Their $2.00 milkshake was amazing and their non-alcoholic piña colada was splendid. One of the ladies in our group was celebrating a birthday, so they brought out a cake with a sparkling firework on it. It was very nice.
After dinner we walked back down to the square to try to catch some Wi-Fi, and we noticed there were crowds and music everywhere. We figured it was just a busy night in a busy town. As I have said before, because of the lack of internet, horrible TV, and infrequent A/C, the town squares are quite lively places, and the music scene (though I tired of the same type of music over and over) was quite vibrant.
Then on the way to our homestay we saw a nice new Mercedes and soldiers on the street corner (who we did NOT take pictures of because we like our freedom and our cameras), so we figured there was a big shot in town, maybe someone from the national government. Like I said on another day, some things are common to all cultures. While we were on the sidewalk chatting with the girl sharing our casa, we heard and saw a police escort, lights and sirens and all, coming through the streets, then a bunch of people running a race through the streets followed by an ambulance. Vincent asked some of the other folks on the street what was going on, and they said it was the anniversary of the liberation of Trinidad on Dec 27, 1958 during The Revolution. So I guess that’s why it was such a bustling night.
To continue the journey, click Day 6.


Cuba As I See It, Day 4, Trinidad

Posted on
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.
Click here for Day 2 and Day 3.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 4,
Monday, Dec 26
Trinidad
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.