Expect change. Every thing, every day. A tour guide told us that Cuba is the land of “No Hay Reglas” — loosely translated to “there are no rules”. Which doesn’t mean literally there are no rules, but that everything changes. During our almost month in Cuba, things changed regularly.
We first realized this was not like cruising most places when the guarda frontera knocked on our boat one afternoon after we’d been there a couple of days and asked for our flare gun and flares. What? They admitted they’ve not been quarantining flare guns for several months, but because President Obama was coming next week, they were going to quarantine them. Except they didn’t take everyones — just us and a couple other US flagged boats. But not every US flagged boat. Go figure.
While we were there, our Verizon cell phones suddenly started working. One day we saw “no service” and the next day “CubaCel” and received a text message from Verizon that it would be $2.99 a minute. Yikes! Needless to say we only used it once when we needed to call a Cuban friend, but it worked. Rumor has it that ATM’s will accept US Bank credit cards soon … but don’t count on getting money from an ATM – even if US cards work, the ATM may not.
Several cruisers were surprised when the immigration fee increased from $25CUC per person to $75CUC per person. One boat in particular with 10 people aboard was scrambling for cash to pay their checkout fees from Marina Hemingway.
We wanted to take Cuban coffee back as presents for friends, but when we went to buy the coffee we wanted, there was none. If you see something you might want, buy it when you see it.
And now there’s a rumor that soon the $CUC will be eliminated and replaced by the original $CUP. Economically that sounds impossible, but most stores are pricing in both currencies. Our retired Cuban economist friend told us the change can’t happen for years. But rumors are flying that it might be before the end of this year.
Things are changing so rapidly right now that no one knows what will happen next. Yesterday the first US cruise ship loaded with US passengers disembarked in Havana. Another step forward?
One tour agent told us all the tour agencies are overwhelmed with the influx. This was when she was apologizing for our Vinales (national park in western Cuba) tour bus forgetting to pick us up. We were at the hotel at 8 AM and no bus… Two hours later, no bus. We asked inside (there was no one at the tour desk which is not unusual). No one knew. We decided to wait another half hour and then go downtown and ask for a refund.
But during that half hour the bus appeared, empty. The tour guide told us he dropped off the other passengers at the first stop (a coffee shop/gift house outside Havana) and returned to pick us up along with another forgotten lady. Due to the late start, we assumed we might not get to see everything on the tour.
Instead, our tour guide took a vote (democracy in action). Everyone voted to do everything included – tobacco farm, tobacco factory, rum factory, the National Park at Vinales, the cave tour, the painted wall, we enjoyed it all. But the bus didn’t arrive back to Havana until 9:30 PM. Kudos to the bus driver and our tour guide. They made it right, even though driving after dark on the highway was a little unnerving – especially for the bus driver.
Typical of the Cuban people going out of their way to make your stay in their country delightful.
We loved Cuba, but the infrastructure has not needed to handle this level of tourism in the past. All the people involved in tourism are doing the best they can, but sometimes the resources they need simply aren’t available yet.
Please be patient. Enjoy Cuba and enjoy the fact that things are sometimes unique and different. I’m sure it won’t last forever and those of us that were lucky enough to be there during the state of flux will look back on our experiences with a smile. Hopefully all this change will result in a better living for the warm, hospitable Cuban people!
Please leave a comment and share your thoughts! Cheers! Jan