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Aug 29

Ten things you will struggle to find (if ever) in Cuba.

Gotta love Ché. The famous Argentinian revolutionary´s face still appears everywhere in Cuba. These 3 peso notes are worth about $0.13 USD

When you first arrive in Cuba your senses will be immediately assaulted with what Cuba is renowned for: old 1950’s cars, old buildings held together by “dirt and depravation”, the smell of stale cigar smoke, people sitting out on their front doorstep drinking cheap rum, the odd bicycle taxi drifting by, a Cuban flag on every street, and Ché Guevara´s face staring out at you around every corner.  After a while though, you get used to these things and instead start to notice what is not there.  Here are ten things you won’t find very often (if ever) in Cuba.  Prepare yourself accordingly.

1. Toilet Seats

Cuban ingenuity has found the solution to the age-old domestic dispute of putting the toilet seat up/down.  They just got rid of the seat.

2. Fresh milk

Almost all milk in Cuba is made from powdered milk.

3. Plastic

Plastic cups, bowls, spoons, forks, bags, etc… are very rare in Cuba.  Street food is almost always served in/on glassware, or recycled slips of paper, with real metal cutlery.  Plastic bottles are prized possessions to be saved and reused for filling up with juice or beer bought on the street.  Hence the “cuban cup” is a rum box (like a juice box, but filled with rum) cut in half, the top of a plastic bottle cut off and flipped upside down, or an ice cream container that has been licked clean.

4. Spicy food

Street food in Cuba. Look for the menu boards in the windows.

Despite the most spicy natural chile in all the Americas being called the Habañero (the same name given to someone from La Habana), spicy food is completely non existent in the vast majority of Cuba (I´ve heard some spice can be found in Baracoa).  Occasionally buying food you might be asked “Picante?” Spicy? but I personally guarantee you that if you a person who appreciates a good head-sweat with your meal, then Cuban variety of “spicy” will not even register on your tongue.

5. Advertisements

Very very little advertising in Cuba of any type.  It’s hard to explain… but it’s kind of nice!

6.  Internet

Cuba does have an internet connection, but the typical cuban lives completely without it.  I had to explain to more than one Cuban that, yes, my e-mail address would work no matter what country I am in, that they are international.  To another, he didn’t really understand the concept of a website and that it too had an international address.  For the traveler in Cuba, most cities do not offer any access.  In La Habana, a city of over 2 million, I heard there were three places you could check your email.  It will cost you $6 for 30 minutes of a slow connection.  You are better off embracing the opportunity to unplug during your stay.

7. Computers

Computers are also very rare in Cuba.  In the home, most people can’t afford them (doctors in Cuba earn $18/month).  Without the internet, people have less use for them.  Outside of the home as well though, there are almost no computers.  For example, in the bus station at Trinidad you will be lucky enough to see a lever operated cash-register.  Needless to say, there isn’t much of a market for smart phones in Cuba either.

8. Foreign TV Channels or Newspapers

No internet, a tourist industry that does not exactly promote interaction between cubans and tourist, only 4 cuban TV channels, no foreign radio stations (legal ones anyways), and a state newspaper that makes Chinese state news look fair and balanced all mean that Cuba has been left as one of the most insulated countries in the world today.  Add to that that Cubans aren’t allowed to leave the island and that tourism has only been around since the fall of the Soviet Union and you begin to see why Cuba is as unique as it is.

9. McDonalds and Coca-Cola

Haters of McDonald’s rejoice!  The US embargo on Cuba and it’s communist government have saved this country from the evil of corporations and corporate fast food!  Perhaps this explains why Cubans tend to have extremely trim physiques and rippling abdominals?  Before you get too excited about the exile of the golden arches though, you need to be aware that it is impossible to find a decent hamburger in Cuba.  I don’t what they put into their hamburguesas, but it sure as hell isn’t beef!

10. A reasonably priced bicycle taxi ride.

In a country where most people earn less than $15/month, you might expect the bicycle taxi to be a dirt cheap mode of transport.  You would be wrong.  The bastards charge the same as an ordinary taxi despite the fact that their “business” does not incur the same costs or provide the same level of service as a car with an engine.  If you want to save yourself a 30 min walk, the bastards will ask you for $6.  You can talk them down to $4, but they won’t go below that.  They’d rather sit all day with the 6 other bicycle taxi drivers then earn a fair wage for a hard day’s work.  It’s like an union, just without the formality of being organised.  I recommend you instead use the motorcycle boys.  They’ll let you hop on the back for 40 cents.

 

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Also read:

On Cuba.

Traveling to Cuba as a US Citizen

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