My time in Cuba came to an end last weekend and I headed off to Mexico.
Never has any country evoked in me such extreme emotions as Cuba. I had a love/hate relationship with the place. I struggled to comprehend how Cubans could be so warm, friendly and generous when they led such bleak lives. There is no question that Havana is a wondrous city full of colourful colonial buildings which are being painstakingly restored by the government, yet this is a government which cannot afford to feed its people.
Havana is equally famous for its gleaming 1950s American cars, yet the reason why they are still in existence is that the importation of American cars has been banned since this time. Cars are wildly expensive, and beyond the reach of most. A 20 year old Merc with 200,000 miles on the clock sells for $100,000 dollars here. Highest paid job in Cuba? A taxi driver.
Queuing for rations seems to be the sole occupation for many Cubans. One morning I saw a poor women, who had been queuing for bread, finally reach the front of the queue just as the bakery announced it had run out. I watched with astonishment and anguish as the woman just totally lost it. She started to scream and took her clothes off in the middle of the street. As a passer-by I felt totally helpless to ease her pain. If I could have found a loaf for $50 on the Black Market I would have bought it for her.
The main problem here is that the ideals of Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1958 worked when the USSR was propping up this mini communist country, strategically situated only 90 miles from Florida. After the Berlin Wall came down, Cuba relied almost solely on tourism to generate income. Trump’s re-tightening of embargoes, and COVID, wiped out this income source, so the country has no hard currency to import anything from fuel to food and drugs. Inflation is raging, the Cuban Peso is worth nothing and people are struggling to survive, yet frightened to complain. There was a rare protest against the State in July, which was televised, many of the protestors have not been seen or heard of since …
The highlight of my stay, and in fact the reason for my stay, was daily Spanish lessons. These lessons passed very quickly as my teacher looked, and acted like, a young Eddie Murphy. As I was the oldest student he had ever seen, and British, he decided to call me ‘The Queen’, and he kissed my hand before every lesson. Tragically Our Queen died on Day 4 but he didn’t know, and I didn’t want to upset him, so I continued to act regally, whilst stumbling over basic Spanish, for the next 10 days.
The plan was that after 2 weeks my Spanish would be up to speed for me head to work in a Mexican dog rescue shelter. Did the plan work? Not really. After 14 days my Salsa was definitely better than my Spanish, and my desire to help Mexican dogs was temporarily replaced by a desire to go to Mexico and just eat. I knew that Mexico has the highest obesity rate in the world so getting a calorie-laden plate of tacos and a family size bar of chocolate wouldn’t be a problem there.