Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
51Trip End Mar 01, 2007
Julie and the kids rest at an in-house cremeria for ice cream and beer while I track down lunch supplies -- 2 loafs of bread (one turns out to be orange in hue and totally stale, which I'm assured by our landlady is what pan Francaise is supposed to be), a can of tuna, some delicioso mango turnovers, a few tetra packs of juice and milk (no fresh milk) and water
Total bill is 6 CUCs, which stands for convertible pesos. These are tourist pesos, allegedly the same value as the US dollar, although with an exchange rate for CDN at 1.39, it feels like reliving the days of the 60 cent loonie. No guidebooks mention the extortionate markup rate, so all my budgeting is 10-15% off. This may be a problem, because Cuba is a cash society. The odd hotel that takes credit cards charges a 10-20% tariff on top of the already huge exchange rate, and even traveller┤s cheques are tough to cash. For this reason, we┤re carrying upwards of $3000 on our persons -- a fact that leaves me feeling like I┤m walking around with ĘSteal my moneybeltĘ printed on my shirt until I adjust.
Besides CUCs (pesos convertibles), Cuba has monedad nacional (pesos) which are worth 1/24th the value and are used by Cubans in a parallel economic system. Both kinds of cash are called pesos, so shopping can be occasionally bewildering. Is the street vendor┤s 3 peso bag of popcorn going to cost $4CDN or 15 cents? A favourite hustle is to offer to exchange foreigners' money, but give them pesos instead of convertibles. Another is to give change in pesos for items bought in convertibles, although this has yet to happen to us.
We┤ve accosted on our way home by a woman who wants our kids┤ clothes. Generally, the children provide a bit of a shield from the male hustlers (jinateros) who usually hawk cigars, bad money conversion or themselves, but I find over the next few days that jinateras are more creative with us, asking us to buy milk for their kids or, like this woman, asking for the clothes off our back. I fluctuate between being bemused and irritated by this angle.
Back at the casa, we manage to actually eat all the meal cooked by Eumelia. I asked her to only make one portion tonight, and this seems to provide enough to fill up Julie, Lucy and me. Cuba has a reputation for bland food, but our casa┤s nightly fare consists of a tasty seafood platter, a huge bowl of yummy chicken soup, rice, salad, and some snack dish such as fried bananas or potatoes. No complaints. We settle down for our best night┤s rest on the trip (not saying much!), the sound of dominoes cascading from the apartments around us.