Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cuba Update

Cuba seemed more suited for partygoers too unaware of their immediate surroundings than it was for me. Needless to say, I didn't have much fun. Even looking past the terrible food (i.e. steak's approved for consumption as long as it's cooked after the point of digestion, smothered in brown sauce, and served with equally mouth-tearing rice), alternative venues of entertainment were limited to activities that needed not sobriety to apply.

You must've realized by now that I am, indeed, a travel snob. (Yes, one of those. Though to be fair, the Cuban people were very friendly and approachable - I easily got by with my preliminary Spanish.)

I suppose I should have expected this from my parents. Those lovers of Las Vegas and veterans of cheese. Resorts placate their palate for uncomplicated living. So seeing how I would've spent the week switching between oceanic baths, watching Showtime en espagnol, and following MTV's The Hills like a roach on toast (omg, like, Heidi totally dropped out of fashion school to pursue her dream as a publicist, only to, like, end up licking envelopes, and her cowboy boots were atrocious!), they decided to rent a car and take me to see the "real Cuba."

Readerdroid had warned me about what laid beyond the artifice and facade (though admittedly she didn't much care to venture outside her vacation compound when she was there last Christmas with her zygot donors). "Don't even bother, Lily," she practically yawned. "There's nothing. You can't even find food." I, of course, thought she was exaggerating, as she's wont to do.

And she was. But not by much. We drove from Varadero to Havana and then to Cienfuegos the following day. Cuba makes deterioration look like an artform. The crumbling remains of candy-coloured villas peppered the streets overrun with the poor. One wrong step, and sometimes you'd be stepping in raw sewage. Yet, around the corner, there would be stately hotels done up like Moroccan harems. (Sidenote: My family and I patronized one because it seemed like a safer bet than street vendor food. In retrospect, the hotel's menu was exquisite ... but it cost my mom around $130 CDN, and made her yearn for The Keg: she doesn't consider anything else passable Caucasian cuisine.)

The wealth discrepancy is disheartening. My parents remarked that the use of CUC versus the local peso is like China 50 years ago. (0.83 Canadian Dollar = 1 Cuban Convertible Peso = 24 Cuban Pesos.) We asked a fast-food attendant how much he earned a month, and he said somewhere between 150 to 250 pesos. And here we were, tipping at two dollars a pop, 10 dollars per maid. And there they were, making do with their shitty transportation system and hitchhiking everywhere. There were people waving bills by the side of the road in bumblefuck nowhere, expecting a ride from the next available vehicle, horse, or wagon. It's ... fascinating. And the blatant propaganda. Sure, there were the frequent La Revolucion posters featuring Che Guevara, but it was the anti-Bush sentiments plastered on most highways (*cough* dirt roads) that caught my eye. One featured Dubya's photo with Hitler's moustache and "Fascismo" written beside it. On TV, Bush is drawn as a cartoon Nero-type, bullying seniors into working the fields, enforced by a beefy sergeant. It's quite funny actually.

I'll post a selection of photos I took in my next entry. For a more authentic experience, they are best viewed with a gas canister positioned under both nostrils.

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