My Airbnb host said that his friend, a surgeon, earns CUC50 (~PHP2,350), and I wondered how do you survive with that amount of money for four weeks. But then again, locals transact in CUP, which makes their expenses considerably cheaper. And then I told him that the Cuban government must be cracking down on Airbnb. If he was earning CUC15 a day (x30 days), that means he must be getting an equivalent of USD450 (~PHP21,150) a month if his place is fully booked. But he said that Airbnb is legit in Havana.
I just find it weird because Airbnb is capitalism to the core. Isn’t that against the very Marxist values that that Cuban state espouses? If a local like him can earn 10 times that of a surgeon, what’s to prevent the surgeon from leaving his job and just leasing his room through Airbnb? Hey, 10x his monthly salary! But running an Airbnb business in Cuba is kind of complicated. Given the limited internet access that they have, the guy managing his Airbnb page and finances acts as a middle man between him and his dealings.
Speaking no English at all, he proudly showed me the apps he had on his Samsung phone, which in itself was a gift from a friend from abroad, according to him. He has a translator on it too, which he said he uses for guests who no habla español. He even had a certain app said to be popular among Cubans, a type of VPN sharing system which allows them to pass programs from phone to phone instead of getting them directly from the internet. He then showed me a map and asked me where I wanted to go.
I was interested in finding Chinatown because I yearned too much for fried rice. Fortunately, it was just a few blocks north of where we were. The area would be dismissed as a ghetto if Americans are to be asked based on their standards. For me, though, it felt a little bit like the setup of houses in Tondo. Streets are narrow and there are shirtless men of all shapes and sizes everywhere, except that they hang around their houses’ doors playing Chess instead of Tong-Its. If anything, the area was a colorful Spanish version.
What I liked most about Havana is that the general OOTD of just about everyone else is that of sleeveless shirts and very short shorts. Foreigners are quick to comply to the norm because the capital’s 34C weather will grill you alive if you don’t. As such, I felt like I really belonged. If not for my Havaianas calling it quits last week, I would have easily fit in. Or maybe not. Asians are still rare on this side of the Caribbean, and those who dared guess what I was were quick to say “Chino.” At least one hesitated and asked, “Corea?”
An interesting thing to note is the diversity in the country. If Guatemala is really, really homogeneous, Cuba is a good mix of white, black, and mulatto in comparison. One taxi driver, for example, looked Caucasian, and I thought he was Canadian or American (‘MERICA!). But then he laughed out loud and told me in his undeniably Cuban accent that he was local. His sidekick was mulatto and spoke with the same twang. They are also used to seeing tourists, as Havana remains a tourist hotspot in spite of the embargo.
With my flight leaving at around 7PM, I had to be at the airport by 5PM. That meant I had to go back to the house at around 4PM. My Airbnb host then gave me a hug and said, “Ay, mi chinito...” I really learned a lot talking to him about life in Cuba in general, and I think he also enjoyed listening to my travel anecdotes. He then asked his friend to find me a taxi heading to the airport, one of those old Ladas that ask for CUP20 (~CUC1), which is a far cry from the CUC25 government taxis ask for.
Halfway across the ride, a police officer and his little daughter joined me at the back, and I honestly thought that I would have the bragging rights weeks later that I went to Cuban prison for illegally riding an old Lada taxi. In my head I had to convince myself: Your mom is a Cuban chinita. Your dad is Filipino, hence, the passport. You haven’t been back in Havana for more than 20 years, so you decided to visit Mami now who lives in Lealtad. Now practice eating your final S sounds without making a noise!
But he didn’t mind me at all. I did keep the Cuban accent when I asked him to let me through because we just reached the gate of terminal 2. He then asked the driver to stop at the curb so they could let the “tourist” out. And then he smiled at me as the old Lada drove off to Boyeros. So I guess they are not that strict with tourists at all. Me, on the other hand, remained in character until I landed back in Mexico City, which I found really, really hilarious. Me and my fake Cuban accent!
Oh, I forgot to talk about the tourist attractions that I saw! But wouldn’t these photos you’ve seen so far suffice to tell you all about it? After all, I think I just gave a you a pretty good impression of life in Havana with all these anecdotes that I’ve shared until now. I don’t think you’ll get all that from Google, but the images, yeah you will. Overall, I did not like Havana that much, but I am willing to go back for Varadero anytime. To each his own, eh?
[HAVANA] Too Hot in Cuba