Oh, Cuba. The Caribbean island holds a certain amount of allure and excitement, and thanks to the opening up of cheap flights in 2016 it’s never been more accessible! Blogger Georgina Lawton – who shares her honest travel stories, tips and tricks on her blog Girl Unfurled – shares 7 crazy things which, believe it or not, still happen in Cuba right now!
Georgina Lawton – Girl Unfurled
Currently traveling around Nicaruaga and the Caribbean, Georgina is originally from London and writes about her travel adventures online and for a number of publications. With an honest and witty style, she’s also visited countries such as Vietnam and Costa Rica and lists fried plantain, lip balm and listening to bachata as her current addictions. Over the next few weeks, she’ll be sharing her travel experiences with liligo.com.
“Close your eyes and just imagine it.
You’ve bought a flight to Cuba and now you’re walking the streets of Old Havana, peering through the many open doors and windows of crumbling casas where pastel paint flakes from the exterior, like dry skin. You see a rainbow of Cubans inside; friends, neighbours, family. They grant you a snapshot of their daily lives as they spill onto the street, smiling, shouting, swearing in Spanish.
There’s the abuelo sinking into a couch softer than marshmallows, the teenagers side-stepping to the city’s infectious salsa-beat in the street, the shirtless children playing ball in the crumbling stair-wells and the senoritas holding hands with sultry boys in the shadows.
Carts loaded with tropical fruit snake around piles of dusty rubble in the street. Tobacco, pork and sweat tease your nostrils. Retro cars play tricks on your mind; did you just catch a glimpse of a pink 1950s chevrolet?
This is Cuba – so yes, you did.
Fascinating, eclectic and at times, ridiculously frustrating, a trip to Cuba is full of eye-popping surprises. Here are 7 of the craziest things that still happen in Cuba right now…
1. Until 2011, Cubans Couldn’t Sell Their Property
When the Cuban revolution brought the Communist leader Fidel Castro to power in 1959, all properties fell under the ownership of the State. Cubans were allowed to pass on their houses to relatives or swap with friends, but owning private property was prohibited until an unbelievable 2011! Today, Cubans are limited to owning a maximum of two properties each and they don’t have mortgages. However, it’s still illegal for foreign investors to buy houses there.
2. Hitch-hiking Is Normal Due To The Shortage Of Cars
Thanks to the US trade embargo, Cuban roads are quiet. To give you an idea of just how quiet: Cuba has less traffic on the roads than 1940’s Britain, and the national shortage of cars (both modern and retro) means that any moving vehicle is a potential taxi for locals. Hitchhiking is entrenched in Cuban culture; it’s common to spot scores of people next to roads and motorways, trying to catch a lift with thumbs out and bags at their feet. But if police catch tourists in unlicensed Cuban cars, locals can be fined or imprisoned….
3. Wi-Fi Isn’t Widely Available Everywhere
In 2015, over 100 public Wi-Fi spots were set up in Cuba, all of which require the purchase a Wi-Fi card for access (a minimum of $1.50 for one hour). Recently however, the government has been trialling internet access in Cuban homes and it’s thought that in 2017 more Cuban families will be able to login from their casas.
4. Cuba Has Two Currencies
Cuba has two currencies but contrary to urban legend, both of them can be used by tourists.The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is pinned to the dollar and is used for most tourist activities such as club entry, restaurant food and hotel prices. Moneda nacional (CUP) is known as the local currency and is used mainly used for street food, local buses and Cuban-priced items and 25 CUP is worth 1 CUC, or 1 US dollar.
5. The Sale Of Coca-Cola Is Prohibited In Cuba
Ordering a popular rum and coke (Cuba Libre) is easy throughout the country but the drink ingredients aren’t produced in-house anymore…Cuba was one of the first countries to start selling bottled Coca-Cola outside the US in 1906, but when Fidel Castro’s government began seizing private enterprise in the 1960’s, Coca-Cola moved out of the country and never returned. Bacardi rum was originally produced in Cuba too, but later moved to Puerto Rico.
6. Cuba Has A Delayed Case Of Beatles-Mania
Castro famously banned music by the Beatles in 1964, believing them to be a product of consumerism, but he famously had a change of heart years later and elected a statue of John Lennon in Havana in 2000. Today, several Beatles-themed cafes and restaurants can be spotted all over the country.
7. The Average Monthly Cuban Wage Is Just $25
Doctors, receptionists, politicians… the Cuban communist state dictates that anyone in a public sector role makes $25 a month. Those working in private enterprise make a lot more, but it’s important to remember that the low salaries are offset by the free healthcare, free education and the 100% home ownership rate.