Humans crawl through the ashes of a forgotten world, living in the ruins and going about their business as if nothing had even happened. What did happen anyway? Who knows? Who built the original structures, magnificent and pretentious at one and the same time, the stuff of dreams and the stuff of nightmares? Official government history says it was an evil empire, bent on domination. They sucked human blood for sustenance and reduced the populace to slavery to sustain their extravagant lifestyles. Other legends say no, that it was a time of plenty and opportunity was open to all, only limited by your time and imagination… and faith. If you believe in an expanding universe, then that universe will expand, and so will the economy, getting bigger and better continually. Belief is crucial. Once you stop believing, then the castles crumble. Sound like science fiction? Welcome to
If you’ve never been to a Communist country, you should go. But hurry; they’re a dying breed. There’s nothing like it, the cold gray architecture, the suspicious glances, and the general lack of… anything. The hard part is timing. You want to see the “real thing”, i.e. real Soviet/Bolshevik-style communism, but you don’t want to suffer (too much) from lack of facilities. You want to see them on the cusp of their coming out. Frankly I was surprised- even shocked- to see
When I check the Lonely Planet web site before visiting a place, then actually go there, sometimes I wonder if we’re talking about the same place. Maybe their local experts have little experience elsewhere so are without a point of reference. Regardless, LP talks about the ‘increasing congestion’ of
And then there are the underlying economics for me as a traveler. You have to book a hotel first for them to even let you in, so that’s not so expensive, but hardly indicative. When I first walked the streets looking at prices for street grub, I was shocked. Then I realized those were prices in local currency (mn), not the convertible currency (cuc) I was holding. Judging by price differentials for similar items I figured one cuc must be worth about six or seven mn. It’s actually twenty-four. At first I thought they might not sell the local stuff to me, but no problem. Shit’s dirt cheap here, at least street food. How about a glass of fresh fruit or sugar cane juice for… better sit down… a nickel? I haven’t seen prices like this since the late seventies. You remember that kid making smoothies for a quarter down on the strip in Puerto Escondido, right? He’s probably the president of Jumex now, what with his experience and all.
How about a sandwich here for a quarter, or maybe your own personal pizza? Sound good? The pizza is no great shakes of course. Nobody in
Still there can be money problems for the independent traveler. For one thing, your ATM card won’t work, or at least mine won’t, though a European one might. My Thai card doesn’t work either. European credit cards are supposed to work, but that’s good only if you can find places that accept them, not likely budget accommodation, certainly not private houses. If I stay the full three weeks I booked this could be problematic. I think I have enough Euros, but it could be tight. I better change an AmEx traveler’s cheque just to make sure I’m covered. Cambios won’t take them but a bank should. They don’t, but send me to some place that should. They don’t, but gave me a list of locations of the bank that does. Being my first day in town, none of these locations looks familiar, so I decide to put it on hold, being something I shouldn’t really need anyway. This is not a problem limited to
I decide to take a long walk to find the bus station and accidentally find one of the bank branches I’m looking for. With minimum hassle they indeed cash me one, so that little spot of bother should be mitigated. There’s only one problem remaining- Internet (sound of needle scratching long and hard against an old vinyl LP). The hotel I’m staying in has no wi-fi and charges $6-7 PER HOUR to use the rental box downstairs. They all do. This apparently is the standard, and gringos queue up for the privilege. It’s barbaric, not a cyber café to be had on the streets. What do the locals do? I’m moving to a casa particular to save a few bucks, but it looks like any savings will quickly get squandered in Internet charges, if I stay, that is. I doubt that Cubana de Aviacion will let me change the date of my return will such a cheap flight, but that doesn’t mean I can’t buy another one-way. I can hardly travel without Internet now, booking for the next stop a few days in advance. Otherwise I might get stuck with no place to stay or only at an outrageous price, with no useable credit card even. Usually I don’t worry about such things. In the high season in the
I don’t mind paying a few bucks extra for a place with Internet, but that’s per day, not per hour!
Everything is weighed and measured here, from bread to espresso, or at least advertised as such, one of the lasting legacies of communism apparently. I saw the same thing in