A Travellerspoint blog

Havana Again

It was amazing how comforting it was to be back in the Hotel Plaza. We had only spent two days there, but when I entered, I felt that rush of the familiar. Havana might not be that familiar, but it was closer than Trinidad or Santa Clara had been when we first arrived (or even when we left. That multi-hour walking tour had been good for something.)

We'd long known that we'd come back to Havana for a few days before we left. Consequently, I think everybody had the idea in their minds that the last few days in Havana were for doing everything they'd been putting off. Buying gifts for people quickly before they left. Exchanging CUC for CUP. Using up the rest of the CUC that weren't the 25 we needed to leave the country. Getting our last taste of Cuban food. (The last one is a lie, actually.)

The biggest adventure was in trying to convert to CUP. CUP (the national peso) are essentially useless to tourists. Because Cuba is on the U.S. List of state sponsors of terrorism, neither can be traded on the international market, so neither of them are technically worth anything. But the CUC can get a tourist food, lodging, books, art, etc. A national peso might get a tourist a cheaper price for food (CUP:CUC is a ratio of about 24:1), assuming that the shop owners don't look at you and go “Ha ha ha. Why do you even have national currency?”

There are really only two reasons to convert to CUP on the last day of the trip. The first is that Cuba is in the (hopefully gentle) process of converting to one currency, the CUP, and has also promised CUC in the bank will not lose their value, so you hope that the CUP experiences rather strong deflation. The other, more practical, reason is that you see it as a collector's item, and want either a huge variety, or as many bills with Che Guevara on them as possible.

Che Guevara appears on the 3 peso coin and bill. When you go to a bank and ask them to convert from CUC to CUP (if they can do it) they will give you 10s, 20s, and maybe a few coins. From there it's a fun process convincing Cubans to trade you for smaller currencies. The best case scenario in Havana was getting some fives. The worst case was ending up with 60 CUP in coins.

In any case, it was an adventure, and something to do. Other, less exciting adventures included finding food (least interesting: “look, we're standing in front of a restaurant. Let's eat there.” Most interesting: trying to walk up the stairs to a restaurant that wasn't yet open, being stopped and then led several blocks to a restaurant owned I believe by the person's parents. The food was expensive, but there was a beautiful view, and the chairs were elegantly clothed in black and white.) walking back from the restaurant we'd eaten with on the last night (it wasn't too far from the hotel, and the tour guide asked us if we wanted to take the bus back or walk back. My table said “walk,” and we only found out we'd been the only ones when everyone else left.) and looking for small items to use up money (I ended up caving and buying something in the store at the hotel, a doll for 2 CUC. Interestingly enough, that was the only one of her kind I'd seen, while the things I'd considered in actual stores in Miami were sold everywhere. If she survives the flight, it will be one of the more unique items I bought, despite the location.)

Before we left our tour guide, we gave her gifts. Beyond tip, many girls had hair and make-up products that were half empty and that they didn't need in the states that they could donate, and we had some official Carthage regalia to donate. One of them was a traveling coffee cup, and she marveled over the size of it. (Most of the coffee in Cuba are served in espresso cups.) Another was a pen, though that couldn't compete with the pen she'd shown earlier that day. Another tour group had given her a pen that you uncap by twisting, but when her mother had used it, she'd tried to take off the top. The pen had split to reveal a USB drive. (I saw that and thought “that would have been fun to have had while visiting the Interests section.) Then we hugged her goodbye and promised to visit her as soon as we could again.

And then we entered the airport.

Posted by Soseki 09:24

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint