Family Visit to Cuba part 2 – Fidel died

“Se murio Fidel.” Fidel died. It was a simple statement, a fact expressed with little emotion. But it was definitely not what we imagined waking up to on our second day in Cuba. We went from vacation mode to wide awake in exactly 1.372 seconds. Would there be riots? Partying? Some bizarre North Korean mourning ritual?

Capitolio & Havana streetscape, Havana, Cuba. November 2016

Nine days of mourning for Fidel.  No drinking, no loud music, no partying. Even the kid that sells ice cream for 4 cents in the neighborhood couldn’t play the ice cream truck song that he rigged on his bicycle. He was worried about his business. The few state-sponsored TV channels only had Fidel.  Fidel’s life, Fidel’s speeches, Fidel’s accomplishments.  The old men watched intently. The women complained.  There is no Internet so the world revolved around Fidel.  Everybody is on a first-name basis with him.  It’s like he’s their best friend, or the neighbor across the street, except he’s not.

Typical home, Guanabacoa, Cuba. November 2016

What a lot of people don’t realize is that Cuba was already a mess before Fidel Castro. Not making any political statements here, just plain old history. It was not a tropical Utopia. And now, it is still a mess, just with different problems.

When the Spaniards almost ruled the world, they scattered forts throughout the Caribbean. They brought sugar to Cuba, and discovered tobacco.

El Morro, Havana, Cuba. November 2016

Then, the Americans came for the sugar and the tobacco. They brought cars and money, and partied hard. (Disclaimer: Previous link is an ad to a really good book: “Havana Nocturne – How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution”. Read it if you have a chance.) Havana was the beautiful, tropical playground of the rich & famous, a.k.a the Mob. The rest of the island was mired in poverty and illiteracy.

Classic car on the Malecon, Havana, Cuba. November 2016

Decaying building on the Malecon, Havana, Cuba. November 2016

And then, the Russians came. They came for the sugar and tobacco too. And they brought oil, and plenty of promises. 

Now, Cuba is a bizarrely beautiful, tropical, decaying throwback to Russia, with classic, decaying American cars, and a boatload of corruption and nostalgia. The Cubans and the Americans, and the Cuban-Americans, are all nostalgic.

Restored building in Old Havana, Cuba. November 2016

Havana Stock Market building, Havana, Cuba. November 2016

Cubans are completely unfazed by any disaster. They are used to it.  For example, those old cars run on Hyundai diesel engines, Lada transmissions, and Cuban ingenuity. I mean, we can keep stuff together pretty well with zip ties and duct tape, but imagine a world 30 years after all the duct tape runs out. That’s Cuba.
The second time we had a car break down it was a broken axle. Oddly, it was the rear wheel on the driver’s side, again. It just fell off in the middle of a busy street in Havana. We went to buy some cold water for everybody. It was our contribution to a hopeless situation on a hot day. In the meantime, the driver moved the car, on 3 wheels, off the road, up a curb, on to a sidewalk, and jacked it on a pile of blocks.

Classic cars in Old Havana, Cuba. November 2016

Classic car, Havana, Cuba. November 2016

What really got to us was the transportation, or lack thereof.  There is an odd shortage of vehicles on the road.  If you’re trying to get somewhere, you wait for the next bus, but if it doesn’t come, any old car, horse drawn carriage, tractor, dump truck, etc. will do.  Ride a little ways down the road, until you’re closer to your destination, and give the driver a small contribution for his courtesy. 2 or 3 CUP is plenty. 10 cents.  After Fidel died, all the buses in the country were sequestered for the week by the government.  We needed to get to Santa Clara…

“Cortico”, stray dog in Old Havana, 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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