A Travellerspoint blog

You Get the People and the Government

This morning we got up around 7:30 and went to breakfast about an hour later. Breakfast was on the

rooftop, though we couldn't sit outside because it was too crowded.

At O'Hare, I'd gotten into a conversation with several other people in which we'd tried to figure out

what kind of things would probably be served at a Cuban breakfast. We'd settled on it probably being

simple and starchy, a lot like the breakfast we had had in Miami (muffin, waffles, limited fruit

selection... your average continental breakfast at a decently cheap hotel.) So the breakfast at Havana

was kind of surprising.

Essentially, parts of three walls were lined with food, plus there was a table in the middle. The first

thing I noticed when I came in was a long line. After kind of standing in it for a little bit, I realized that

line was for juice and coffee. (Later when I stood in it for juice I realized that the majority of the line

was actually for coffee.)

The first table didn't seem like breakfast food. There were a lot of vegetables like I think cabbage

(unlabeled) and pumpkin (labeled pumpky.)

The next table seemed familiar as American breakfast. There were “hot cakes”, potatoes, eggs, etc.

Most of them had spoons that were too hot to hold.

After that there were a selection of meats and cheeses. I heard other people discussing and saying they

were basically all Italian-style meats. There was a line that I was gladly able to skip to get to the next


The next time had fruit. Papaya, pineapple, oranges, and grapefruit. The grapefruit was a bit sour, but

the rest of it was pretty good. Apparently I was the only person at my table of four who had tasted

papaya before, because the rest of my table was in consensus that it was disappointing compared to

papaya juice.

The table after that, as well as the table in the middle, had bread. I'm pretty sure some of the rolls were

purely decorative, because they were too colorful for me to want to eat them. Some of them were plain

bread, others were sweeter, like covered in sugar or cinnamon rolls.

There were four (but really three) different juice flavors. Orange that was out of order, apple, pineapple,

mixed fruit, and also water. Halfway across the room was papaya juice, fresh, that I didn't notice until it

was empty.

The coffee machine had four options. Regular, cafe con leche, chocolate (presumably hot chocolate)

and something else I forget that wasn't actually coffee. The cafe con leche had a lot of milk. It looked

like it was at least half milk, but it tasted like it might it Italy. (For dinner the first night, they offered

coffee, and I took mine black. It was the coffee equivalent of 85% dark chocolate.)

Then we went down to the lobby, waited around until 9:00, and all got into the bus to visit an economic

building. We had a meeting with someone who we later found out had recently switched jobs to be

advisor to Raul Castro. He talked about GDP, imports, exports, problems with those, efforts to raise

profits, other macroeconomic concerns,

Some parts of the presentation were really interesting, other parts were much more boring.. Probably

the best part was the very last question, asked by one of our professors. “I've lived in the Soviet Union

and Russia. I was there when they were trying economic reforms, and it was a mess. What makes you

think Cuba will be any better?”

There wee essentially two reasons. First, the person we were talking with was optimistic about their

changes. Second, Cuba is much closer to the US then the Soviet Union was. Even with the blockade

and the restrictions on travel, Cuba has American music and movies and pizza. “We know very well the

occidental world and how to live in it. And that makes us different from the Soviet Union.”

At one point, our speaker admitted he didn't have a crystal ball, and he was only making predictions.

It's also not entirely under Cuban control. US actions like the Embargo and keeping Cuba on the list of

state sponsors or terrorism have consequences,and other US policies could have new and unpredictable

effects on Cuba. So it will be interesting to see what Cuba looks like in the next five, ten, and twenty


After that, we drove to lunch. 15 CUC got two people either a meat and lobster or seafood meal. (There

were other options, but most people went with one of those two.) I split the meat and lobster with one

other person, but probably could have comfortably split it with 3. Each of us got a plate of rice with

black beans and what appeared to some kind of vegetable stuffing. We also got a platter that had one

lobster tail, a chicken leg with plenty of extra meet, two pieces of thin steak, two pieces of pork, and

two pieces of what I think were fish. I ate my plate, one of the pieces of steak, and half the lobster and

was done..

We'd been told to wear comfortable shoes because we were going to be doing a lot of walking. In the

room that morning, I'd debated whether my sandals counted as comfortable. Obviously my tennis shoes

were more comfortable than sandals, but they were also much warmer, which makes them less

comfortable. I was debating, and Allie, one of my roommates, (I'm in a triple) had suggested I bring

both. My bag was big enough, and I could leave it on the bus. That backfired when the tour guide

announced “we're going on a walking tour. Bring your bags because we're not coming back to the bus.”

At least if my feet started to hurt mid-walk I could change...

The walking tour was a mixture of the historic with the more modern. We saw everything from the

outside of the place in which the iconic woman who appears on bottles of rum and in statues in Cuba

lived to a clinic where woman who were having issues during pregnancy could stay. Women stay there

until they're better and can go home . The clinic includes everything that women need , like meals and


Along the way, we got stories. Such as: “Every November, as part of a holiday, woman would come

here one day and circle around the tree three times depositing a coin, and they would wish for a

husband. As you can see, husbands were cheap at that time: about one coin. Now, there are still long

lines, and people come to make a wish, but we have better things to wish for then husbands.”

Or, about the woman who afore mentioned iconic woman: “Her husband was a governor, so she lived

here. One day, he needed to leave, but he promised to be back soon.. every day the woman would go up

to that tower and look for him, but her husband never came back. Eventually , she died of a broken

heart. Nowadays, women would wait 3, 4 month. Maybe 5 if she really love husband. No more than

six before she remarry.” I hope that's not a genuine time estimate...

“Look down at the street. What is this street made out of?” We looked down, then, cautiously, as if

afraid it were a trick question, “wood?” That was the correct answer, but the trick is why any street

would be made of wood. “There was a governor's wife who lived in that room. In those days, there

weren't cars. So vehicles on the cobblestone made a lot of noise, and disturbed the rest of the governor's

wife. So she ask her husband 'can you replace all of the cobblestone with wood?' He try, but it was very

expensive. So he only replace this one street so she can rest.” I believe that happened in the early 20th

century. That street is still in phenomenal condition.

It was a nice, informative, beautiful tour, and the weather could not have been more perfect, but it was

long. Pretty much everyone started getting tired and wanting to be done with the tour about fifteen

minutes before it was over. Finally it was done and the professors gathered us together to tell us that we

were free to go off, as long as we stayed with at least one other person and exercised common sense.

(It's a problem for several people, which is why groups were good.) We should meet tomorrow in the

lobby at noon with our rooms cleared out ready to leave.

Since we'd taken a rather roundabout tour, the tour guide led us back to the hotel at least those who

wanted to, which was pretty much everyone. We wanted to go out again, but we wanted to drink water,

change our shoes, change our clothing, drop off our bags, etc. first. When we were within sight of the

hotel, the tour guide looked around, realized there were only fourteen of us, and went back a little bit

to see if she could find the missing people.

The rest of us looked around and considered who we were missing. The trip has 13 college students, 5

adults auditing the class, and 2 teachers. Every single college student was in the group standing near

the hotel, as was the adult who was the father of one of the kids on the trip. Basically, no one was

missing their roommate. This was enough to lead us to assume that the people who weren't there were

very deliberately not there, so we went to tell our tour guide “When the teachers dismissed us, what

they meant was 'we don't want to see you until noon tomorrow..' The others will find their own way

back, so we're going to go to the hotel.

After a break that felt much shorter than it was, we were all out and about. All 14 of us. Personally, I

would have liked a group half that size. I've had too much practice making sure we didn't lose anyone

from a group that I'm constantly looking around counting people. With 8 or less people I don't even

notice how often I do it. With 14 I'm constantly making a very conscious effort.

Besides which, 14 people is a pain for dinner. Especially when you consider how many restaurants in

Cuba are paladares, operated out of one's home. Before going up to dinner, we did ask if they could

seat 14, and they said they could. It filled the entire restaurant, and made food take so much longer.

(Around halfway through the time I'd been waiting for my food, the waitress went up to someone and

said they were out of bread, so he needed to choose something other than a sandwich. He ordered a

pizza.' it arrived at about the same time mine did.

Dinner did contain a small Spanish triumph for me, though. The waitress had fairly bad English, so I

was asking someone at my table who had studied Spanish how to say “without.” (I was considering

ordering a pineapple pizza.) I decided it would be easier to just go off the menu, but when I ordered a

Margarita pizza, they were out. So I switched back to the Spanish side of the menu to check

vocabulary, then ordered a “Pizza Hawainne sin jamon.” The waitress took note of it without

commenting again, and I had no way of knowing if I had done that right until our food was finally

ready, and I got my pineapple pizza.

It was really good. Both the bread and sauce were different than what I'm used to. The pizza was a bit

sweet, but overall good. So it was a fine restaurant, even if it wasn't quite equipped for all 14 of us.

Posted by Soseki 13:55

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