A 92-Year-Old Woman Comes To The Office For Follow-Up Hello from Cuba (2) – Rain in Vinales

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Hello from Cuba (2) – Rain in Vinales

So on Saturday I already planned to go to Vinales, a beautiful place in the province of Pinar del Rio, 190 kilometers west of Havana. I took the Viazul bus from Havana Station, a modern bus network more or less geared towards tourists, and the one-way ticket costs $12 (too expensive for locals, most of whom end up taking a local taxi or Cheaper taxis are reliable, more worn out Astro bus system).

A young Cuban man sat next to me at the bus terminal and tried to accommodate me at his private residence in Pinar del Río (a shadow economy centered on tourists).

After I told him I already had a place to stay, he started talking to me about life in Cuba and how hard it was and how difficult it was to survive financially. He told me that he worked for a national telecommunications company and made only $24 a month. He also said that recent transfers of funds from Cuban immigrants, especially from Miami, have been cut to $100, which is equivalent to CUC 92 (the Cuban convertible peso, which used to be 1:1 to the U.S. dollar), and soon the U.S. $100 It can even be reduced by 8%. He’s basically just unhappy with the state of the economy.

The journey to Vinales takes about 3.25 hours when it started to rain. Vinales is known for its beautiful limestone formations called “Mogotes”, box-shaped mountains that grow straight from flat valley floors, often with vertical walls and hundreds of limestone caves.

There are maybe 30 or 40 people waiting at the bus station in Vinales, all the owners of private B&Bs (or “casas particulares”) ready to pick up the tourists who will be staying with them. My hostess, Sandra, a beautiful young woman of 28, was also there with a sign that said “Susanne – Canada”. It’s a strange feeling to come to a strange country, a strange town, someone who doesn’t know anyone, and see your name emblazoned on a sign for the first time.

My hostess took me to their Casa Particular, a simple colonial style 2 bedroom house with a brand new bathroom for the guests and a run down bathroom for the owners (no sink or toilet seat ). My hostess had to work and I was tired and it was raining so I slept for a few hours until I received my home cooked dinner straight from my private residence.

In conversations with this young lady, I found out that she earns the equivalent of $13 a month ($20 for a simple pair of jeans!), so she supplements her income with a bed and breakfast (the other is one of the few private permitted types of business). It cost me $20.00 for the evening and $10.00 for dinner with drinks which included chicken, arroz congri (black beans and rice) and salad. The food is simple, not particularly spicy or tasty.

We had an interesting conversation, and I find that women today, despite the economic hardships, are much better off since the revolution. Cuba is a country traditionally full of machismo, and the revolution has done a lot for women. They now have access to education, access to education and jobs that were previously very difficult. Many educated women work in government departments or universities, and the standard of living is quite good.

I’ve received several explanations of Cuban relationships between men and women (e.g. modern educated women no longer accept the machismo attitudes of Cuban men, but there are still many traditional young women with no self-esteem or education who are more or less in their at the mercy of friends/husbands).

I also found out that private B&B owners are not allowed to hire maids (as they have been exploited in the past) but everyone does anyway since people have to work full time to make a living and have no time other than working outside the house Manage the daily chores of running a small hospitality establishment.

My hostess’ live-in boyfriend told me about the Cuban medical system that he had a benign tumor in his shin (after becoming a national rower and basketball player) and had implants in his legs made of coral from 2 of the most respected doctors in Cuba. His operation was performed according to the new surgical technology in the United States, and since the operation his life has almost returned to normal, walking is completely normal, except that he cannot run and play basketball.

All the Cubans I’ve met so far are very proud of what their country has achieved in terms of public medicine, public education, literacy, and opportunities for women and minorities (while some of them are very proud of all the economic hardship and other restrictions imposed by the Cuban government).

Definitely some interesting insights….

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