Its just not normal ... nor cheap!

Havana Travel Blog

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Capitolio.


We spent more of our time in Old Havana today ... that’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 I’ve been to many weird and wonderful places, they’ve all been within my very broad acceptance of what is “normal”.  However, I have difficulty sneaking Cuba into “normal”. 

Why?  Even in a densely populated city like Havana, it is quite difficult to find a pack of biscuits and a juice easily if you’re hungry.  This lack of commerce is something that does really stick out.

Under the dome of the Capitolio.
 

There are two currencies in use in Cuba  ... basic necessities and primary produce are traded in Cuban Pesos (“pesos”).  Anything else is traded in Cuban Convertible Pesos (“convertibles” or CUC). 

  • You can spot peso shops from the queues out their half-closed doors and their mostly bare shelves through the windows.  There’s nothing much a visitor would want from these.  Sometimes you find ice-cream shops that trade in pesos but they’ll have a foreigner section charging in convertibles. 
  • Most non-essentials (even locally made soft drinks) are traded in convertibles.  They’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).
    Inside the Capitolio.
     
  • 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? 

You’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.

 

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Capitolio.
Capitolio.
Under the dome of the Capitolio.
Under the dome of the Capitolio.
Inside the Capitolio.
Inside the Capitolio.
The Opera House.
The Opera House.
Detail on the Opera House.
Detail on the Opera House.
Inglaterra Hotel.
Inglaterra Hotel.
Future prime real estate opposite …
Future prime real estate opposite…
Future prime real estate opposite …
Future prime real estate opposite…
Old cars near the Capitolio.
Old cars near the Capitolio.
Street scene.
Street scene.
Street scene.
Street scene.
Street scene.
Street scene.
Havana
photo by: mario26