Its just not normal ... nor cheap!
Havana Travel Blog› entry 45 of 82 › view all entries
We spent more of our time in Old Havana today ... thatâ€™s the newer area next to Historic Havana. Kim needed to check his email ... and internet cafes were nearly non-existent. We settled for an outlet inside the Capitolio (former State Capitol) for about USD6 per hour. Ouch!
Even though Iâ€™ve been to many weird and wonderful places, theyâ€™ve all been within my very broad acceptance of what is â€śnormalâ€ť. However, I have difficulty sneaking Cuba into â€śnormalâ€ť.
Why? Even in a densely populated city like Havana, it is quite difficult to find a pack of biscuits and a juice easily if youâ€™re hungry. This lack of commerce is something that does really stick out.
There are two currencies in use in Cuba ... basic necessities and primary produce are traded in Cuban Pesos (â€śpesosâ€ť). Anything else is traded in Cuban Convertible Pesos (â€śconvertiblesâ€ť or CUC).
- You can spot peso shops from the queues out their half-closed doors and their mostly bare shelves through the windows. Thereâ€™s nothing much a visitor would want from these. Sometimes you find ice-cream shops that trade in pesos but theyâ€™ll have a foreigner section charging in convertibles.
- Most non-essentials (even locally made soft drinks) are traded in convertibles. Theyâ€™re not cheap either at prices approaching New Zealand prices ... many items are pricier than in other developing countries (or even developed countries like Singapore or Hong Kong).
- The convertible used to be on par with the USD but it is now 10% stronger. Plus a 10% foreign exchange tax, it is effectively 20% stronger. For a foreigner everything is now 20% more expensive than it was.
While I moan about the prices, we should spare a thought for locals ... our guesthouse owner who is a cardio-thoracic surgeon earns CUC35 (about USD40) per month from his day-job.
How does anyone survive?
Youâ€™d expect rampant theft and violent crime in such an environment. There is a heavy police presence in Havana. Many people work as hustlers ... they help you find restaurants or sights for a commission, chat you up for a drink, meal, gifts or more. The police are quick to stop any local talking to a foreigner.