Havana: A Guide for Tourists / Ivan Garcia
Posted on March 12, 2014
Useful advice for tourists who visit the last Communist barricade of the
Cold War in the Caribbean
If you speak Spanish, it’s advisable to get to know Havana by taking
private taxis. In a rented car, air-conditioned and with a map of the
capital, it’s more pleasurable, but also more expensive, and you
wouldn’t be able to chat with the habaneros.
If you know the city only through the guided visits to museums or cigar
factories, organized by tourist agencies, you will have good photos when
you return to your country, but you will only have seen a postcard of
You can decide to drink mojitos, stroll on the Malecon, flirt with
prostitutes in a cafe where you need hard currency to listen to a duo
singing Compay Segundo’s Chan Chan at your table. Or you can discover
the other face of Havana, ignored by the official press. Then, first
hand, you will know the priorities of ordinary Cubans.
The capital of Cuba has in its favor the fact that it still is not as
dangerous as Caracas, Medellin or Michoacan. You can walk through rough
and poor neighborhoods without fear of being assaulted (I advise you to
go during the day).
Better than reserving a hotel is renting a room in some private home.
For your trips around the city, the ideal thing is to move around in the
old U.S. cars known as almendrones.
And talk to the passengers. There is no platform more authentic and
liberal in Cuba than the private taxis. As in any capital of the world,
the Havana taxi drivers possess a culture of speech and an acceptable
level of information.
You will find out that many of the Cuban taxi drivers are doctors,
engineers, retired military men or professionals who, after their work
day, sit at the steering wheel, trying to earn some extra pesos that
will permit them to complement their poor salaries.
The Havana taxi drivers seem to be dissidents when they speak, but
they’re not. They, like numerous people you find in the lines or in the
streets, openly criticize the government.
The list of complaints about the state of things on the island is
extensive. Traveling in a 1954 Ford, with a South Korean motor and a
Japanese gear box, you will know first-hand that people aren’t
applauding Raul Castro’s reforms with much enthusiasm now.
Be prepared to listen to a dissertation on the daily hardships. One
suggestion: before your trip around the city, in your backpack carry
deodorants, tubes of toothpaste or soap to offer to the people you talk
to. Right now, these articles are scarce in Cuba (see the Note at the end).
Havana taxis are a microphone open to different political opinions. And
in their interior there is more democracy than in the monotone national
parliament. In the almendrones there are usually people who think
differently. Each reveals his opinion. Loudly and gesticulating with his
hands, typical of Cubans.
Upon arriving at his destination, the passenger who supports the Regime
says goodbye amicably to the one who wants profound changes in his
country. Two details: the old Havana taxis don’t have air conditioning
and the drivers listen to reggaeton or salsa music at exaggerated volume.
If you get into a jeep, which can fit up to 10 people, the trip is
uncomfortable. But there is no better way to make people-to-people
contact than to travel in private taxis. And they are very cheap. For 50
cents or a dollar on longer journeys, you can get to know the other face
of Havana. It’s not recommended to take the urban omnibus: owing to the
bad service and overcrowding, what should be an exploration of the city
and a motive to make contact with its people can become a torture.
Note. In Cuba something is always lacking. Sometimes the scarcity is
most visible in the capital, but usually where you find a lack of most
products, food or hygiene, is in the interior of the country. After
writing this piece, independent journalists were reporting that “eggs
were missing.” I don’t know if eggs have reappeared, but now salt is
On March 5, Ernesto García Díaz wrote in Cubanet that salt was hard to
find in the grocery stores, markets and hard currency markets (TRD),
where a kilo nylon bag of Cuban salt with the stamp “Caribeña” cost 45
cents (10.80 Cuban pesos). In the Ultra TRD [the government-run “Hard
Currency Collection Store”], an employee told the journalist that “it’s
been some time since we’ve had Caribeña salt. We are selling a fine
Andalusian salt of the brand “Aucha” at the price of 1.65 CUC ($US 1.58)
In Cuba there are five saltworks that supposedly should guarantee the
distribution of salt for the ration book, at the rate of one kilo for a
nuclear family of up to 3 people, every three months. But because they
haven’t managed to extract more than 400 million tons annually, the
government has had to import salt, as occurred in 2008, when they bought
30 million tons of salt at a cost of 9 million dollars (Tania Quintero).
Translated by Regina Anavy
8 March 2014
Source: Havana: A Guide for Tourists / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba –