Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
220Trip End Jun 17, 2009
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Where I stayed
Hi Everyone. We're having serious internet access problems here in Cuba. This is just to wish everyone, everywhere a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Harry and Norah.
An 0700 start and quick breakfast before a final pack. Taxi ride to the airport and an efficient check in. We already had Cuban visas but were asked to show these twice before we boarded the aircraft and were told that this was insisted on by Cuban immigration. An easy, one hour flight back towards Miami. As America has banned all flights from the USA to Cuba as part of their 40 year embargo on Cuba, we had to overfly to Mexico first. As we descended over Cuba we were greeted by the sight of a (very) green island
All tourists in Cuba must use a special currency, the Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC, as the American dollar is banned in Cuba. I exchange some travellers cheques and then a taxi controller calls a taxi for the fixed price, half hour ride into Old Havana city. We had chosen this location in order to see the historic part of the city and also to be part of the New Year celebrations there.
The city buildings and cars show serious financial neglect but there is no dangerous driving. We get our first views of the famous, 1950's cars and trucks, which are kept going without spares (the embargo again) by great ingenuity from the Cubans. After finally negotiating narrow, cobbled streets, the taxi reaches a pedestrianised area, which is blocked off by several, apparently ancient, cannons set vertically in the cobbles. We did discover later that these are modern reproductions but they sure beat yellow, plastic cones
A quick settling in and then we go out to explore in the late afternoon sun. The streets lead through deteriorating houses, which further highlights the 'luxury' of our hotel as we head towards the harbour nearby. We pass through a large square where the buildings are slightly better maintained, past a (now) not much used cruise terminal. Most cruise lines in this part of the world are American owned and they are not allowed to put into Havana (Cuba) - the embargo again. As we walk along the seafront there is a long stretch of seawater against the harbour wall which is covered by thick, black, choking crude oil. We find out later that there is a refinery at the far side of the harbour, where Cuba unloads its crude oil from Venezuela and this must be the result of an unloading spillage
Walking along the seafront we can see the refinery and a tall tower with a burn off flame. There is a pier with a restaurant/bar and we enter for a drink. They have an upper open deck where several Cuban groups are drinking and a quite accomplished guitar trio singing Cuban music. We 'turistas' are soon spotted and they come over to sing us songs for a couple of pesos (a CUC peso is worth about 66 pence). I am persuaded to buy a signed CD and they saunter off to their next venue. So we now have another CD to play on 'Happy", as we used up the last of our Mexican pesos at the airport on an Aztec CD. I enjoy my 'Bucanero', a can of strong (5.4%) beer as we watch the harbour where many small boats are about and an oil skimmer chugs round in circles attempting to clean up the spill, it's good to see that they are trying to keep the water clean. There is a friendly interchange with the Cuban staff, caused by the language differences, as we pay the bill before we return to the hotel along the harbour road and several abandoned, derelict buildings.
Deciding to go out for supper, we go a short distance from the hotel to where there is a gateway in a wall, entering into a small garden courtyard, 'Los Jardines del Oriente, sandwiched between two houses. Sitting at one of the half dozen tables, near a small fountain and next to a tiny shrubbery plot we peruse the very simple menu. I settle on 'stew with fried beef', which is two thin pieces of steak, some white rice and four corn fritters. Norah's 'espagetti neapolitana' is plain spaghetti with a tiny amount of a tomato sauce in the centre. We drink bottled water and have two tasty milk flans for dessert. With another two bottles of water to take away, the whole thing comes to just over 8 pesos - 5 pounds
We stroll back to the hotel and although there are only a few people about we do not feel threatened. A quiet start to our Cuban adventure.
The hotel is run by the government tourist agency, Habaguanex and is on a jewish theme with a jewish dinner menu, jewish paintings and artefacts around the hotel and the rooms named after jewish or biblical characters. Our room is 'Jose' - I'm still working that one out. The dining room serves a continental buffet breakfast with a surprising choice of meats, cheeses, savouries and cakes.
We were going out to look for a tour agency but there is a desk in the hotel lobby and a large selection of tours are shown to us. We opt for a city walking tour that afternoon and go out for a walk round the area. All the buildings are in bad repair, there are frequent flows of water in the streets (some from broken sewers and some from water thrown 'overboard' from the balconies above), most of the cars or motorcycles emit large amounts of, sometimes choking, exhaust from their worn out engines, which leaves a permanent smell of oil fumes, on top of the occasional sewer smell in the streets and there is a general run down feel
Back at the hotel we investigate the roof in the 30deg late morning sun. It is flat, with a central shaded canopy next to the coloured, glass ceiling
As we meet our guide at 2pm, we tell the tour agent that we want to go on an all day tour tomorrow. She struggles to contact someone and then tells us that she will arrange it all and see us when we return. Our 'walking tour' starts outside the hotel, with a taxi ride into the main city area, where we are shown the line of the original city wall before expansion. Two million people live in Havana, out of the total eleven million population in Cuba. We see magnificent buildings which were the old senate before the revolution and a theatre where the Cuban ballet is based. Here we are approached by an old woman who had been sat waiting on the steps. On to 'Revolution Square' where the President, Fidel Castro, gives his speeches from the base of the monument to Jose Marti, a great hero of the war for independence from Spain. All the government buildings are located round the square and on the side of one is a huge, wrought iron outline of the famous, charismatic picture of Che Guevara. We see parks, the town cemetery (which immigrants from the USA's deep south brought the tradition of burying the dead above ground and building large mausoleums around them, especially for the old, colonial rich class) and the area where the rich moved out of the city and built mansions, which are now used by foreign embassies. A visit to the 'Hotel Nacional', which was built by American businessmen and we see a wedding and a coming out party, held when Cuban girls reach the age of 15 and traditionally are introduced to Society (much like our deb's balls were). The whole thing costs a fortune but there is a lot of social status to the event. Driving along the waterfront we see, away from the refinery, people are fishing in the blue sea and relaxing along the sea wall in the afternoon sea breeze
Continuing through the narrow streets we discover more Habaguanex hotels which are themed. There is a 'Monk's" hotel where an old monastery has been renovated, a 'Spanish' hotel and an 'Arabic' hotel. As we enter into the large 'Plaza Vieja', it is explained that nearly all of the buildings have been renovated in the last three years and the final dilapidated building will have its residents moved out soon so it can be renovated too. This 'Old Square' was quite impressive in the way it looked, compared to the neglected buildings around it
The tour rep is not there but has left a message that if we pay one of the hotel staff for tomorrow's tour, she will leave the voucher later in the evening. This means we cannot book for the two day tour into the east of the country on Saturday/Sunday.
The hotel has a 'free' internet terminal and I ask at reception to use it. I am told that, although It is 'free', I need to buy a card giving me a password which will last for 30 minutes. The term 'free' seems to lose something in translation! Unfortunately they do not have any cards, so I cannot use it anyway. I ask about other Internet places and am told there is an "Internet Café' some 10 minutes away. I eventually find another Habaguanex hotel, which has the same terminal setup and I purchase a couple of 'free' internet cards. This started an epic saga in which I was able to log onto my user, compose a letter to HP support, to continue to try to solve 'Happy's' problems and then just manage to log off before the 30 minute timeout. Yes - one email takes 30 minutes!! I want to buy more cards to take back with me but the receptionist has no change. She points to a bank, which has a long line of people outside it, so I decide to return to our hotel. I pass a shop selling liquor and water, go inside and ask for 4 small bottles of water. '2', says the man. 'No, 4', knowing that my Spanish is not that bad. '2' is the reply, so I am only allowed to buy 2 bottles of water. Aha, I now have change, so I backtrack to the other hotel and buy my Internet cards for 3 CUC each (2 pounds for 30 minutes - still I've paid a lot more in other places). Pleased at my logistics expertise I feel I am now adapting to Cuban life
On the way out we pass a plaza where there is a fashion show being put on by teenagers, who we presume are from a local college. Some of the designs are imaginative but I'm not sure if Che would be seen in any of them. We go for supper to the "Plaza Vieja' and a taberna recommended by the Canadians. This has its own brewery, always a good start! We ask a 'Camara' (waitress) for a table and she abruptly points to one in the corner of the square, as most of the tables are outside in the warm night air. She then wanders off talking to the Cubans at other tables before coming back some fifteen minutes later. I ask for a dark beer and get a curt 'no' and she points to light or medium - OK medium. We struggle a bit with the menu and after a lack of help from her we settle for kebabs, which we can see cooking on a charcoal fire at the front of the restaurant. The beer arrives and it's tasty. Quite a while later the meal arrives and although it is good there is not much of it, some included items on the menu were missing, but the Camara is too busy at other tables. There was a good dessert list on the menu and when we ask, we are told there is only ice cream, although we can see different desserts being delivered to other tables. Declining we ask for the bill which arrives twenty minutes later. After sitting waiting for her for fifteen minutes I am fed up and go inside to the cashier
We return to the hotel and decide to have a coffee whilst I try my internet cards. They work and we skimpily update the blog to at least show where we are, thus blowing one card. We pay for the coffee with the coins we received as change at the taberna and the bar staff refuse to accept them. They are proper Cuban pesos, worth 10 times less than the CUC pesos we should have received in change and something that tourists cannot use anywhere! An interesting lesson huh?? Our tour rep has left the voucher for tomorrow, with no information except that we will be picked up at another hotel, 10 minutes away between 8 and 8-30. We go to bed tired after quite an interesting day !!!
A quick breakfast and we leave a letter to the tour rep saying that we definitely want to book the 2 day tour of 4 cities in the south east and that we will pay her when we see her
We drove to a modern village that had been built in the area and then to a hotel hidden in the trees, which was ecologically friendly, before going for lunch at a rustic, riverside 'restaurant', located amongst palms and bamboo. The salad, pork, chicken and rice was very well prepared by the friendly staff, somewhat of a contrast to last night's dining saga. We then walked down the river bank to where people where swimming in the deep river pools, something we could have done if our tour rep had bothered to tell us
As we had had a good lunch we weren't very hungry, so we changed and went out to the 'Ambos Mundos' hotel and restaurant for a drink. This was one of the places which Earnest Hemingway frequented and there used to be a life size bronze statue of him sat at the bar but it has since been removed. We drank beer, as we are conscious of water loss, at least that's my excuse. Deciding to have a chicken sandwich, we watched 3 of the (male) staff sat at the bar, enthralled by the Cuban version of 'Eastenders' on the TV. In the corner of the lounge was a large, shallow, tiled pool in which a dozen turtles were swimming round or lazing on the rocks. A 50 cm long fish, similar to the pike style 'Gar' we had seen in Florida, was also cruising round the pool and as one of the hotel staff was passing, he threw a piece of bread into the pool near the 'Gar'. It whipped round and snapped the bread down in one move, like some aquatic Rottweiler. An impressive party trick but just count your fingers afterwards. As we walked back to the hotel, there were suddenly footsteps behind us and before I could turn round we heard the sound of a guitar and then a young guy, who serenaded us most of the way back. This had been a good day.
Unimpressed with our hotel tour rep we explored further in town, stopping off to draw some money, which involved a 1 hour queue outside the 'cambio' in the hot sun and then an 11.5% commission charge!
We were near the seafront and visited a market next to the old fortresses. It was mostly local artists, some of which were (simplistically) quite good and many tourist stalls selling cotton clothes, jewellery, ornaments and musical instruments. We refused a horse and carriage ride, covering the same area that we had seen on the city tour and slowly meandered back to the hotel. In the evening we went to an Arabic restaurant, 'Al Medina', which is Arabic for 'The City', where our first trio were playing and we declined to buy their (same) CD again. The place was an old carpenter's shop, then a school and now a restaurant with a stone floor, a pair of parrot cages - who's occupants whistled and jabbered at each other and a couple of chickens, who stalked the floor cleaning up, before settling down for the night, roosting on the edge of a big plant pot in the centre of the room
In a further attempt to see more of Cuba, we went back to see our hotel tour rep, who we had christened 'Senora WOS' (standing for Waste of Space), waiting more than 30 minutes whilst she chatted to a friend. We booked for the 'dinner and spectacular show for fin de ano', which was to take place in Plaza de la Cathedral and cost us 120 CUC (80 pounds) each and then we asked about tours. Explaining that we were sad not to have gone on the Saturday 4 cities tour, when we had left her a letter, just fell on deaf ears and we got the same list as the other hotel but with one tour that went south to a village somewhere. Deciding that we had got as much explanation and description as we were going to get, we agreed to go, in a desire to see more, (any) of the island. They will only book a tour on the day before it is scheduled, when all the reps try to correlate if they have enough people going to be able to run it. Thus for Wednesday, giving us a day to recover from New Year's Eve on Tuesday, she asked us to return on Tuesday. Then she realized it was New Year's Day and she wasn't working, so she asked us to come back tomorrow. Are you getting all this, because it sure had us going round in circles? We did however find out where there was a bank that only charged 3.5% on withdrawals
We asked her, since this was an 'Anniversary' weekend, were there no parades to celebrate and she assured us that yes, there was a big parade on 'Calle 23 and Coppelia', that was going on all day from 10 am to 6pm. We walked to the port to catch a taxi and asked the taxi driver (and his 'controller') about the parade. They were very non committal but yes, there was a parade and they would take us. We arrived at the place and traffic was flowing normally with no parade in sight. I couldn't believe at how much was being 'lost in translation', especially as we had heard the other day that English is compulsory for all Cuban schoolchildren !!!!!!!! 'Coppelia' was a big, modern design, ice cream parlour, so we decided to cut our losses and have an ice cream. As we walked towards the 'parlour' we were stopped by a security person. 'Ice cream' he asked? We said yes and he pointed us to a little hut nearby. We asked about 'Coppelia' and he said 'No permiso' - tourists were not allowed to go to this Cuban establishment. As we moved away we were starting to get harassed by an old guy, so we took one of the alternative Cuban taxis. If you remember the spherical, 'mod' chairs of the 60's, that hung from a ceiling, it was like one of those. About half as big again, with 2 small plastic seats in the back, the driver sitting in the open front and steering with a motorcycle handlebar controlling a single wheel, whilst the single geared engine, driving 2 rear wheels reached a cruising speed of 30 mph by screaming its head off. No seat belts - but you hung on to a handle on the inside, whilst the Kamikaze trained driver wove this yellow, unstable, unaerodynamic missile through traffic. The only protection, apart from possibly being able to 'roll' away from a crash, was the car alarm he regularly switched on to warn other traffic of our presence. Our urge for excitement having been cured by this Cuban white knuckle ride, we abandoned our wish to see more Cuban culture for the day and started to walk in the easterly direction of the seafront, but it was so dilapidated that we turned in towards the city centre
During my Spanish lessons, we had covered the countries where Spanish is spoken and one of the cultural items that fascinated me was the 'Mojito', literally mosquito, in Cuba. This is a drink made from Cuban rum, mint leaves, lemon juice, tonic water and ice cubes. One of the tourist 'sights' is a tiny bar called 'La Bodeguita de Medio', where a guy in the 1950's decided to convert his store into a small bar for 'Bohemians', thus creating one of the world's first career development programmes. Hemingway also frequented here - this guy sure got around his bars - I am surprised he found time to write! This bar is renowned for the mojito and I had waited years to try one, even passing them up in other places in order to wait for the holy grail
For supper we returned to 'Plaza Vieja' and the 'Santo Angel'. We did not want to join the 'spectacular dinner and show' so we were shown to a table in the square, not far from the fountain. A reasonably limited menu and Norah settled for fish whilst I ordered the combined menu and 2 beers. There were a lot of tables under the large verandah and still a dining room inside, where we could hear a band playing. Beers and my bread arrived and we sat looking at the few stars (Orion particularly) and chatting. Then my bean (?) soup followed some while later by the main courses. Very tasty and good portions without being excessive. Nothing is excessive here - except the 'translations'. We finished eating and then a really long wait before a 'special Cuban dessert' arrived - chocolate mousse. It wasn't too bad as the excellent band had moved outside onto the verandah and both they and their singers were playing superb Cuban music which had people dancing in the Plaza and gave a wonderful atmosphere to the evening
Back at the hotel I used another 'Free' ticket and managed to use the blog to wish everyone a Happy New Year. As it was running slightly faster, I was also able to send a couple of emails to close family and friends before I was out of time again.
Another visit to our hotel tour rep to book the tour for Wednesday. She contacts someone to see if it's running and is told it is not - our last chance to see anything of Cuba, outside Havana, is gone. Oh well - frustrating or what? We decide to have a relaxing day in our room, especially as we have both not been sleeping well with the noise from the surrounding area and the hotel itself
We showered and changed ready for our 'Dinner and Spectacular' and walked to the 'Plaza de la Catedral'. The plaza was blocked off and there was just one entrance where joined the queue. As we entered the square we were greeted by an impressive sight of the whole plaza being covered in fully covered and decorated tables and chairs. The evening was being organised by Habaguanex and I whimsically hoped that we managed to achieve more than their tours. As we were escorted to or own table, maybe It would have been better to have shared, we were presented with a mojito. This time it was tasty and maybe they need to stand and develop a little before serving? As we sat and enjoyed the drink, we looked around at the impressive backdrop of the floodlit, old cathedral, which had a stage built out in front of it and the decorative lights festooned from the balconies all around the square. This square had also been (nearly) fully refurbished and it was a grand setting. The menu?
Salmon pate with an assortment of flavoured breads and crackers
Galantine of Turkey, stuffed with Serrano ham and piquillo peppers, served on a bed of tropical fruits with an apple and cava sauce
Veal sirloin with a red wine and mushroom sauce, potatoes roasted in olive oil and rosemary, sautéed vegetables, mixed salad with a Dijon sauce
Selection of Spanish Turron
Apples and the twelve 'lucky' grapes
The whole meal was well prepared, well served (I spotted waiters from several different restaurants, all recruited in for the evening and some of them even nearly smiled!) and delicious. A very competent (8 piece?) band played during dinner with music from Beatles to Glenn Miller to Cuban.
After dinner there was a very professionally staged show that included singers and dancers with an astonishingly varied content from (much) Cuban to 'Chicago', 'Phantom', 'Nessum Dorma' and lots more . Exceedingl well done. Their costumes and choreography were superb.
There were balloons, hats, masks, poppers, clackers, paper confetti and after the stroke of midnight a huge conga line before dancing, supposedly until 3am.
CONFESSION - Those of a nervous disposition should look away NOW!!!
Ahem. As well as planning my mojito, one of the things I wanted to do in Cuba was to smoke a real Cuban Cigar!!!!!
We danced until about 1-45 and returned to the hotel, wishing all others 'Feliz Ano Nuevo' - 'Happy New Year' before crashing out exhausted. A superb evening and for me, almost as good as the Millenium New year's Eve. During the evening's (few) quiet moments, I thought about family and friends back home; a Happy New Year to you all.
Tuesday 1st January 2008
A late start, 9am, as it was surprisingly quieter than normal around the area, maybe the locals had been celebrating late as well. Breakfast and then as neither of us fancied walking the city streets again, we spent a quiet day in our room, reading, checking travel plans, working on the log and cataloguing our photos on 'Happy'. In the afternoon we walked to 'the local shop', (which wasn't that local to us but in a run down area), for water and some paper tissues for a cold that Norah had started with. Water - yes, tissues - no. We noticed a policeman with a large Alsatian dog, standing on one corner, the first time we had seen a police dog. Although there were many 'neighbourhood wardens' in blue uniforms plus another team of beige dressed 'security wardens' (both my terminology) everywhere, we had seen only a few police and even army personnel on the streets
In the evening we weren't particularly hungry, possibly caused by last night's blow out, so we went for a walk to Ambos Mundos. I chose the 'Ambos Special Hamburger', which was pretty good and almost up to 'Wendy's' standard, whilst Norah persuaded the barman to make something special that was not on the 'carta', a tomato butty! We enjoyed both with our usual beer.
Up to now the weather had been sunny every day and the temperature around 30 deg (90 F?). There was a lot of cloud around and it felt a bit cooler in the evening air. During the night I turned off the air conditioning (cooling) as It felt cooler.
We awoke to the usual noise in the street (and from inside the hotel) and a very cloudy day. We saw that many Cubanos were wearing jackets and woollies and as we went out into the street we felt a severe drop in temperature, that was on the CNN news's weather section as 18 deg (66 F), a serious drop and we really felt the change, especially as I was now starting with a cold.
We went out in woollies and a sweatshirt, as we had decided to visit the old fortress, 'El Morro', which was across the narrow inlet to the large inner harbour of Havana
Disembarking through an equally rickety small shed, we cross a tramway, where the connections to the power cables are switched by a long piece of wood hanging from a power pole. Up some steps, where a few kids are playing baseball in a concrete square and we take the long and twisty road uphill towards the fortress, with an ever increasing vista of the old part of the city on the opposite shore. The fortress was started in 1589 and built on the highest part of the hill overlooking the city, so that it could protect the harbour and its stored gold awaiting shipment back to Spain, from pirates, the English, etc.. As we neared the top of the hill we passed the 'Christ of Havana', a 15m white marble statue that overlooks the harbour
We retraced our steps back to the ferry, passing the public park where a woman in a small kiosk was charging people to go and view the Christ. For an anti-capitalist society I have never seen a place where the tourist dollar is more energetically pursued. Most toilets have a 'minder' outside who expects a tip for, er, .. We reached the ferry 'shed' and sat on a wall nearby, waiting for the next boat, whilst we watched the oily waters along the shoreline splash a fresh coat of thick, black oil on the timbers of the pier and the black encrusted bottles that were bobbing around on the windy waters. It had tried to rain whilst we were on the fortress but now started to clear up.
We were back in 'Plaza San Francisco' by mid afternoon and went for a drink in a café, in what was once the old stock exchange and where we had not been before
As we returned to the hotel it was getting cooler so trying to have a hot shower failed, as we reckoned that the hot water came from solar power. There was never any hot in a morning and today it was at best lukewarm. I put the 'heating' on the 'air conditioning' but this also failed to produce any heat. We had tried to book supper at one of the home restaurants that the government had permitted to start up under a limited basis but the one I wanted to go to was fully booked. Cuban exclusivity, so we went back to the afternoon's café for steak and stew and a final night's bottle of wine, only the second wine we had had in Cuba, as our preference had been for a refreshing beer. A bottle of 'Castel del Diablo' merlot was 18 cuc (12 pounds). Grand finale was a Tia Maria (sound familiar?) and a Johhny Walker Black Label whisky at 6 cuc (4 pounds). I could have had the Blue Label for 25 cuc but no. As we looked outside into the windy street there were very few people about on this showery evening. Exclusive English whisky you can get but not tissues. As we looked outside into the windy street, there were very few people about on this showery evening. It was quite a cool night, with both of us suffering colds and a noise from the bar downstairs that just spread upwards in the open balcony area until gone 3am and then the hotel staff coming in around 6am. There must be no such word as 'whisper' in Cuban and we got up exhausted on our final morning.
We were glad to get up, try to have a wash in the cool water, breakfast and then pack. The day was cool, 18deg again and breezy. We had asked about a taxi for 12 noon and were told we must book it beforehand as it was necessary to be at the airport 2.5 hours before the flight. We spent the morning filing photographs on 'Happy' before going down to reception and checking out 15 minutes before 12. The security doormen, eager not to miss a trick, assured us that they would look for the taxi. At 12 we carried our bags to the door and stood waiting. This prompted one doorman to (we assume) ask his mate if he has seen a taxi yet. The reply was that the taxi had been given to a guest who had just walked out of the hotel and asked for one! Words were exchanged and a hasty rush to reception, after which we asked about the taxi. 'Here in a minute' was the reply and so it was - so much for having to order it 3 hours in advance!! We drove through the dismal, dirty streets and were happy to reach the airport. What a difference a week makes, from the optimistic arrival anticipating an adventure to the exhausted and disappointed departure. The airport check in girl was very friendly and helpfull, a refreshing contrast to the majority of the service industry staff we had encountered. We paid our 25 cuc departure tax, endured an unfriendly and overbearing emigration procedure, where our official never spoke a word but just glowered, a cursory security check and then to the departure area which was spacious, comfortable and modern. Obviously the priority is to put more importance on getting rid of people. We blew our last 9 cucs on a ham and cheese sandwich, a small tin of Pringles and a coffee before boarding the plane for Panama City.
Reflection - Cuba, mmm, yes - Cuba? It was my choice to come here as I wanted to 'discover' something different. I'd read up and knew of the hardships, the lack of infrastructure and luxuries and yet I believed that by coming here I could find the 'real' Cuba, away from press reports and (either) government propaganda and do some good by providing tourist 'dollars'. I have left disappointed by the inability / prevention to see as much as we could have done, the lack of effort by Cuban tourist staff of all disciplines to try to help us see more, by the (almost) complete coldness of restaurant and bar staff and by the apparent friendliness from the Cuban people, which was only a precursor to extracting money from us. I appreciate the poverty element but all Cubans were extremely well dressed in modern clothes and although we were told that all Cuban schools teach English, there was an easy get out in not understanding English when we asked awkward questions. The only people we found made any effort to help us were the tour guides, who obviously were working for the bonus of tips. This highlighted the fact even more that, without some element of reward for personal effort, there will be no improvement in general conditions in the future. Maybe the fact that Cuba has been invaded for hundreds of years by many other countries and the last brush with capitalism just enabled the rich to get richer, etc. and the forty plus years embargo from the USA, has created an ongoing siege mentality. I left sadder and not much wiser about Cuba.