When Worlds Collide

By petepunk

"No es facil"

Life in Cuba after the revolution was and still is tough. It's biggest market, the USA, was closed to it after the missile crisis and Bay of Pigs debacles in the early 60s, and Castro had to make friends where he could. But the country has been under the heel of an American trade embargo for more more than 50 years and has one of the best health services and highest literacy rates in the world despite this.

As they say, life in Cuba 'no es facil' - it's not easy - and people have to get by as best they can. My first daylight excursion is with the wee man that hovers outside my hotel flagging taxis for guests or showing them around for tips. His English is as limited as my Spanish, but he takes me on a little tour where I buy postcards and enjoy the sights.

The quiet desperation of life in Havana is brought home when I return from a trip to the bano (toilet) and the wee man is having a roll-up. "You smoke," I remark. He drops his roll-up in the gutter and stamps on it. "Sorry, sorry," he says, "I won't smoke again".

I'm gobsmacked: "You can smoke if you like," I say. Some tourists don't like smoking but, as I'm his meal ticket for the day, he's not taking any chances.

Strolling down Obispo, despite its narrowness one of the old town's busiest streets, we come across this old dear parked in a doorway. Done up to the nines, she's there for one reason and one reason only - to milk the tourists - but I've got to have a photo. "One CUC," the wee man tells me it's going to cost (about 75p) and though (with the benefit of hindsight) this is a bit steep, I take two pictures and get my money's worth. I'm fae Aiberdeen, mind. But she's lovely, and it must take a bit of effort turning up this clean and white to sit on a dusty step all day.

The wee man eventually gets 10 CUCs out of me for a phone card (that I never see him buy), and I realise later he has to squeeze the tourists for as much as he can on the first day before they wise up.

To put this in perspective, later in the trip I lodge with a doctor whose salary is 20 CUCs a month.

image and words: pete thomson

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