Santiago de Cuba, or: No worries!

Before I move on with my travels to my next destination, Baracoa, just a little piece of advice for future Cuba travellers who are planning on visiting Santiago de Cuba. If the heat gets too rough and you feel like you need to escape and have some peace and silence, go to the cementerio Santa Ifigenia (graveyard). All graves are in white, it is a really relaxing atmosphere, there is a ceremony every thirty minutes and you can have a nice chat with the security personnel. Grab a Bici Taxi and go there, it is amazing.
Although it is a bit far away from the city centre, it is totally worth it as you cross the poorer neighbourhoods of Santiago. My Bici taxi driver was20141228_104442 amazing. His Bici was broken and fixed with a beer can (haha, AWESOME. I will use this next time when my bike is broken) and we talked a lot. He stopped at one point to say hi to one of his friends, and that’s where I got the Cuba experience in one picture: Imagine the following.
A completely fucked up neighbourhood. The street is not paved, houses about to collapse.
And then there is a man standing in his tiny garden of his house. Loud music, he doesn’t wear a shirt although it might be wise (He has a gigantic beer belly) and he is holding a bottle of rum in his hands and dancing enthusiastically to the sexy reggaeton music. He smiles at me and waves with his hands, signalling that I should join him. I just cheer at him and smile. That’s Cuba.

(The car you can see on the picture by the way is a Tourist rental car. The number plate is red and it starts with ”T”- for Tourist. Every number plate starts with a letter which means something:

A white government ministers, provincial officials, and other important state persons
light brown authorised government and official persons of lower rank
D / E / F / G / H yellow private vehicles
K yellow vehicles and motorcycles owned by foreign natural persons
light brown vehicles and motorcycles owned by foreign and mixed companies, foreign journalists, religious institutions
R yellow private motorcycles and “cocotaxis”
S / T / U / V / W blue state owned vehicles
Y / Z state owned motorcycles

source: Wikipedia (I know, I know. Horrible source, but in this case it is reliable)

Cubans don’t have anything. They live a very simple life and have to be creative in order to make a decent living. But still, they somehow manage to be happy. It does not make them depressed or anything.
But what about those people who apparently have everything?
-South Korea, a booming state with a fantastic economy: Highest suicide rate in the world
-In 2009, about twenty employees of the French company France telecom commit suicide because of stress caused by re-structuring of the management and policies.
-skyrocketting cases of burnout
-depression

Is it the weather that makes them happy and satisfied? What are they doing right? And what are we doing wrong?
I have my theory about that, but just think about it yourself. Are you happy? Do you think that you are satisfied with your life? What can you do differently in order not to fall into one of the mentioned categories?
I hope that I don’t sound like a strange psychologist at the moment, but I believe that every person should be aware of the most important aspect of their lives: Happiness.
Do not let ”them” (The system, your employer/company, parents, those who critizise you, or whoever it might be in your case) take that away from you.

Santiago de Cuba: How critical are Cubans?

The heat was killing me. It was quite early and I was sitting in the sun and the sun burned on my skin. I was sitting in a park and two drunk men were energetically dancing around, one was playing the violin (horribly, probably because of the alcohol) and they were singing and dancing around and trying to engage with people.
In the morning I had already done a little excursion to the Viazul in order to buy the ticket to my next destination: Baracoa. The trip to the bus station with the bici taxi was really interesting. It was 28 December and it seemed like the whole city had already started the preparations for New Year’s eve. This means that Santiago was like a butcher shop. We crossed a little poorer neighbourhood and there was meat everywhere. Whole pigs laying around on the streets and people cut them into pieces, I saw two men on bikes both holding a stick- with a dead pig hanging on the stick. Although I don’t eat meat I don’t mind watching dead animals, I found it quite funny.
Anyways, the heat. Oh Santiago. I ended up in a cafe again, and this time it was really interesting.
Some people on the table next to mine started talking to me- I had black coffee without milk or sugar and they asked me how I could drink that.
Cubans throw tons of sugar in everything- juice, coffee, ice cream, sweets, EVERYTHING. But I don’t really like it.
Anyways, we started talking, and of course, the voice inside of me pushed the conversation in a political direction again.
And they started! Lively, completely critical, and it was like as if they couldn’t stop!
The most active guy said the following

”I don’t believe in change. Cuba cannot and it will not change. Ever. A normal Cuban makes about $10 US per month, the minimum wage is $9US. There is extreme poverty in Cuba. You might not be able to see it, and actually also we don’t see it, but we know that it’s there. An extremely poor person in Mexico for example has to live on the streets, whereas an extremely poor Cuba might not live on the streets, but they live with their family. Cubans have a different understanding of family values as we do. If your brother is poor then it is normal to have him and your family live with you in your house. No biggie. And yes, people seem happy. Rum, music, dancing,… but this is just a little fairy tale that people create in order to hide their problems. ‘’
Three of his friends joined the conversation and also complained about the lousy economic situation. And they also talked about ‘inventar’, a thing which I had heard that often. People in Cuba have to be creative and think of solutions in order to make a living. Somehow everyone is trying to make some extra income, by being a taxi or ripping off tourists.
The only thing which they seemed to value was that there is no violence in Cuba and that the country is absolutely safe. ‘’Cuba is not like Colombia or Mexico’’

And then all of them started talking about Varadero. Tourists who are planning on travelling to Cuba always have a hard choice to make. Varadero or not? You could buy the whole package. 10 days Varadero, beach, happiness, sun and cocktails. But Varadero is not Cuba. It is a hotel paradise which attracts large numbers of Europeans and Canadians every year.
It is relatively ok price-wise.
The other option then is to see the actual country. To travel. It is harder. It is more expensive. But it is real Cuba.
But the guys in the café were absolutely positive about Varadero. It seems to be the dream of every Cuban to spend their holidays there. And those guys wouldn’t mind if the whole country would turn into Varadero.

But how funny again. I thought it would be hard to have a critical conversation with Cubans. But no, they are absolutely critical and they are not afraid to speak out. Even the waiters joined in to our conversation and it was really nice. But maybe they also knew each other well and were sure that no one of them would report them to their local CDR (Comite de la defensia de la revolucion).
Those guys in this bar though were about 30 years old. A new generation of Cubans.

Day 14:Santiago de Cuba, or: Not again, Cubans!!

Of course, I got annoyed by some random guys again. There was this man that just started following me on the streets. He did not leave, he just continued walking next to me and following me everywhere I went- even though I told him to leave. So I thought that ignoring him was fine. He then turned out to be quite nice, he bought me beers and told me that he had a child and that he was separated from the mom. Wow, surprise (note sarcasm). Don’t they have anything to do? No work? No household duties? Hobbies? Strange.

I then told him that I wanted to go to the rum mu20141227_111851seum- and guess what. He continued following me. I thought that the museum entrance would stop him- No it didn’t. He paid entrance (at least he did not make me pay stuff) and continued following me and talking to me. I got angry and told him to stop talking since I needed to concentrate for my museum tour. Pff.
I enjoyed a nice rum tasting- OMG, Santiago de Cuba 7 year rum! It tastes like heaven. You can drink it pure and it tastes really soft in your throat.

The guy didn’t even leave after the museum tour and then I told him that I needed to talk to my boyfriend ALONE, ON MY OWN. He first wanted to come with me as well but then I got super angry. He told me that he would look for me in the evening again at the Parque Cespedes- the most central point in Santiago. Great oO

I had a ridiculously short talk with my boyfriend and a guy who was talking on the phone next to mine even started flirting with me while I was on the phone! I yelled at him that he should shut up and that I was talking to my boyfriend and if he didn’t have any respect and decency. FUCKER.

In such moments, I just hated being a woman there travelling by myself. People often report that Santiago is rough, that people try to rip you off, that it is dangerous, etc. I did not feel that way. The only thing that annoyed me horribly were the guys that kept annoying (molestar) me.

It even got worse that day. Another guy who talked to me while I was sitting in a park and writing asked me if he could invite me for a Mojito. He was really nice and interesting and I told him right at the beginning that if a) He was looking for someone to fuck or have a fake relationship then he was talking to the wrong tourist and b) He wanted my money he should go away since I would not buy anything for him or give him money. He said t20141226_092048hat he was just interested in getting to know my culture since as Cubans they did not have the opportunity to travel. Alright. We had a drink and I even told him about the awful people who constantly try to rip off tourists and how awful the mentality of some people had got. He couldn’t believe it and said that it was horrible and shameful and that he was different. He asked me if I wanted to go out tonight after the drinks but I declined.
Then I wanted to leave. I put the money for my Mojito on the table and got up to leave. The guy got up as well, but he did not make any gestures to pay. I didn’t care and was about to open the door when the bartender came and said that there was only money for one drink although we had two. We both looked at the guy and I said
‘’Don’t you want to pay for your drink??”
Guy: ‘’But.. I don’t have any money with me’’
Me: “WHAT? Are you kidding me?? And you wanted to go out afterwards without ANY MONEY? You are leaving your house, INVITING a girl for a drink, getting drinks and then expecting me to pay for the both of us?? How RUDE are you? Don’t you have any RESPECT? In my country, it is not normal to ask people to pay for everything, we share or invite the other one for drinks, and if we don’t have money, then we don’t have drinks!’’
Guy: ‘’sorry’’.
So, I threw the three CUCs on the table and went home. I refused to let him walk me home and when he asked me if we could see each other again then I just laughed.

The next day, of course, when I was sitting in a Café (Café Ven) and the guy showed up. (HOW is that even possible? They have absolutely nothing to do and just hang out in Cafes and parks the whole day) and he said hi and grabbed a seat to join my table. I told him that I didn’t want his company and that he should leave. He smiled and ordered a coffee. I asked him if he had money with him and that I would definitely not pay for him again. He laughed (what an asshole) and said that he would pay for it himself. I just ignored him and kept writing.  He then asked me if I would talk to him and I said ‘’no’’. He finally then got up and said ‘’Yo me voy.’’ I ignored it.

I was soooooooooooo done.

Santiago de Cuba,or: Lucky Castros

That day, it was my active day. I was fresh after my long sleep the day before and I was highly motivated to see some culture. I got up and took a cheap cab (just some random guy) to the Cuartel Moncada, the place where the revolution actually had started. On 26 July 1953, Fidel, Raul and some 60 friends stormed this military fort in the centre of Santiago de Cuba. Only one person of them knew the city, and so on their way there they a20141227_100608lready got lost. It was horribly organized and almost all of them got killed. (well, duh.) It was a complete disaster and Fidel, Raul and some other lucky ones who survived got imprisoned. In prison, they killed again some of the survivors and of course both Castro’s survived (although the media falsely reported Fidel’s death). The handsome and charismatic Fidel had at that time already large public support and therefore did not get killed- in court he declared ‘’La historia me absolvera!’’ (History will release me- which we all know then happened in the end). Lucky Castros! If they had been killed, the whole action would have been regarded as a funny and sad coup d’etat attempt which failed. But now, we see it as the beginning of something which shaped history significantly. This action showed the military regime that Cuba was mobilizing and that the days of the regime were about to end.

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Like every Cuban museum, the building mainly consists of quotes, pictures and items (clothes, weapons, etc) that were used during the coup attempt. So not really a big thing. If you are not in to history then just going there and looking at the building (they left it exactly the way it was on the 26 July- you can still see the holes of the shooting in the walls).
But then you know what all those ‘graffitis’ are about in Cuba which mention the 26 de Julio- it refers to that day where the revolutionary movement started.

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Santiago de Cuba,or: Que calor!

Wow. Not even half of my travel time was done and I already arrived in Santiago de Cuba. With a lot of luck, I got the last seat in the Viazul Bus from Santa Clara to Santiago- I was already scared that I would either have to spend the night at the bus station or that I would have to take the train (which is not really an option. My friend called at the train station and asked if there was a train going to Santiago and the answer was ”maybe. Just wait at the station and see if the train stops or drives through.” GREAT) The bus ride was horrible, it took the whole night and it was super cold as the aircondition was turned on like crazy. At 7.30 I arrived in Santiago at the casa that my Santa Clara casa had already organized. The casa was wonderful: Great dinner for $6CUC, breakfast included, clean…. I can only recommend it:

Casa Laudelina y Niurka
Calle Cornelio Robert No. 115
entre 10 de Octubre y Escudero, Santiago de Cuba
(53-22) 653042
They are also in tripadvisor

I walked a bit through the city, which tu20141226_090800rned out to be beautiful. There are lots of nice parks, cute buildings and I found the pollution better than in Havana. The only thing that I found a bit strange was that there were not many cafes where one could sit outside. And also there were not many tourists.
But the heat was killing me, and so I escaped in an internet cafe (Etecsa) and then I took a looooong nap.