Today S and H left early for Baracoa (I hesitated to go as well but finally decided to spend more time in the Pinar del Rio region where I’m heading next) so I woke up as well and had breakfast with them. I then went for a long walk around the city, before the sun was too hot. A saw a residential quartier called Tivoli, famous steps Escalier Padre Pico, and some everyday life of the inhabitants of Santiago. A big town chaos, shops opening, people going to school and work.
I walked up until the end of the old town and then back down. This city is a suite of plazas, smaller or bigger places where you can sit and take a rest. A Plaza always dedicated to someone and there is a statue or a museum. It is very Parisian like with benches and lampposts everywhere.
I also saw supermarkets but it is still so funny, all of them have a different selection: one with dairy, another with rice, pasta and beans, a third one with canned food, a fourth with cosmetics. It must take an eternity to complete a whole shopping list! I only wanted to buy something for the bus ride (I found bread, juice and finally also water) and I was desperately craving for chocolate (I finally found chocolate chip cookies, what a relief). I have also noticed that the shops here are a funny mix of things. In a clothing shop you can buy churros to eat and you can have a manicure while waiting for your shoes to be repaired. I don’t know if it is the same people who have two businesses or if they collaborate to get more clients, either way it seems quite convenient. I also saw an optician, some bookshops, and places where they sell mobile phones. It looks even more modern here than in Havana. Oh and I bought a pair of sandals, oops...
I talked with Senora Z from my casa about the never-ending topic, Cubans and money. Z, 55 years old, is a journalist but 8 years ago she decided to stop working and fully focus on the casa particular business. This way she makes more money, what she needs because she also has three children to support (at least one of them finished his studies already and works but still lives at home). It makes her sad that she can’t do what she is passionate about and what she studied for but she still encourages her children to get an education so that at least they have the choice. I asked what those do who don’t have big houses to rent. She said that Cubans are very creative and always come up with something: taxi, cafeteria, selling something on the street, anything to do with tourists so it brings money. She also sad that she knows many cases where tourists come to Cuba basically for sex. They have Cuban “boyfriends” or “girlfriends” and they pay everything for them. For Cubans it is of course a way to have someone pay for their living and in a way that is understandable because the average salary is 20 CUC per month so it really is not enough to live with. However, Z said she really hopes her children will never have to do that.
Buying things with CUCs is expensive for Cubans but in places where you pay with pesos you can find things for very low prices, even if tourists often have to pay more. Often tourists complain about that but we thought about this with S and to us it makes sense. We know that what we have saved for this trip is probably more than what the locals earn in their whole life and for us it is just absurd to get a slice of pizza for 20 cents or an ice cream for 10. Before tourists couldn’t exchange or pay in pesos, now it is possible. I didn’t exchange any but I have some because I got my change in pesos in the restaurant in Cayo Granma, and also Z gave me some. If I want a coffee or a snack I pay with pesos and it doesn’t cost anything but normally I use CUCs. Still, the prices in Santiago are correct, a meal is from 4 to 8 CUC, drinks 2 or 3.
Now I have started my loooong long bus ride back north, via Havana to Viñales. Next to me were sitting some men from Sweden but they just hopped off in Camaguay. I couldn’t hide because apparently I look “very Scandinavian”, so I had to speak Swedish with them. My brain will explode soon with all these languages. I’m afraid that soon I won’t know how to speak French anymore, I have to become friends with some French-speakers in Cartagena!
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I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!