Family Visit to Cuba part 1 – A Day in Varadero

When you arrive to Cuba, before the world famous beaches, or the friendly people, or the decaying buildings in Havana, there are the cars.  The country is littered with them, everywhere you look.  Beautiful old American classics. The Cubans think we’re strange, with our fascination for those old cars. One kid asked us, Don’t they have cars like that, in La Yuma?

 

Classic car, Guanabacoa, Havana, Cuba. December 2016

Classic car, Guanabacoa, Havana, Cuba. November 2016

Drawbridge & Classic Car, Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. December 2016

Drawbridge & Classic Car, Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

There are a few different versions of the story, but the consensus on the Internet is that an old Western, “3:10 to Yuma”, was one of the few American films available in Cuba back in the day. Over time, La Yuma became synonymous with America, as in: Don’t they have cars like that in La Yuma?  American people are also known as “yuma”, as in: Wake up dude, those two yuma need a taxi, or They barely made it to Mexico but they’re already acting all yuma.

Street art, Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. December 2016

Street art, Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Paintings for sale, Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. December 2016

Paintings for sale, Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016





Everything is complicated in Cuba.  The first day, we took a local bus in Varadero.  We already knew it should cost 10 CUP.  But the driver looked us over and said it would be 5 CUC.  25 CUP = 1 CUC, and 1 CUC= $1 USD.  But the US Dollar is taxed at 10%, plus a 3% currency exchange fee.  So $1 is really 0.87 CUC. And $100 = 87 CUC.  Some people in the money exchange line at the airport were really upset about that.  The lady attending to them just stuck a piece of cardboard in her window and said she needed to use the bathroom.  The bus driver wasn’t thrilled with us either.  We paid him 10 CUP.
Bus in Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. December 2016

Bus in Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

The beach is safe for tourists.  It isn’t closed off to local Cubans either.  It is so beautiful that no picture would accurately describe it.  The police patrol constantly, walking up and down the beach.  He didn’t pay much attention to the ones laying in full sun, half naked, shiny with sunscreen.  He passed by us, sitting in half sun, half shade.  We half belong there, but he barely glanced at us.  We were too soft, too white, too… yuma.  It was the guy in full shade, smoking a cigarette and minding his own business more that the beach, that got his attention.  The cop asked for identification, took out an old beat up clipboard and wrote something down.  He called on the radio, any suspicious activity on this person?  It seemed like an eternity until he returned the man’s identification with no apology or explanation.  The cop just kept walking down the beach.  It’s easy to tell them apart.  The tourists lay in full sun.  The Cubans sit in the shadows.

Varadero Beach, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Varadero Beach, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Varadero Beach, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Varadero Beach, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

It was almost uncanny, the way that guy was waiting for us at the crossroads.  He asked if we were going snorkeling, or to the caves? To the caves, we replied.  I’ll show you, he said.  Thanks, it’s straight down this road on the left.  He walked with us anyway.  He talked about La Yuma, how he had an uncle there that he had never met, but he would visit someday; maybe he could stay in La Yuma.  He pulled a branch off a palm tree and turned it into a beautiful flower.  Maybe we would like a picture at the two of us, at the entrance to the caves? Or maybe a picture while we were in the water?  Here, borrow my snorkel, he said.   He was just a friendly kid looking for a tip.   On the way back a man in a horse-drawn buggy offered us a ride back to the crossroads for $1.  We climbed in.  The kid stayed behind.

Airport Road, Carbonera, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Airport Road, Carbonera, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Saturn Caves, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Saturn Cave, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Saturn Caves, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Saturn Cave, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016





The cars break down constantly. The first time it was the leaf spring in the rear wheel on the driver’s side. Fidel hadn’t died yet. We hired a guy to drive us from Varadero to Havana. It should cost $50 but he charged us $90. When we got upset he raised the price. $100 for a 90 minute trip. We were almost in Havana when the spring cracked. It was loud. We knew it had to be bad. He asked a neighbor for a baseball bat, for leverage. The neighbor gave him an old 2×4. He tried to raise the hulking metal beast on his skinny shoulders. We were tempted to tell him about karma, but it was dark and he was far from home. We paid him his $100 and walked the rest of the way. We don’t believe in karma anyway. It’s just life.

Taxis in Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016

Taxis in Varadero, Matanzas, Cuba. November 2016



Travel details:

Raleigh-Varadero on Southwest Airlines

  • Raleigh-Fort Lauderdale-Varadero on Southwest Airlines
  • Spent 7,848 Rapid Rewards points 
  • Paid $5.60 in taxes

Santa Clara-Fort Lauderdale on Silver Airways

  • Paid ticket $75

Fort Lauderdale-Raleigh on Southwest Airlines

  • Spent 8,866 Rapid Rewards points 
  • Paid $5.60 in taxes

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