There Isn’t Enough Beer For So Many ‘Yumas’ / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
Posted on February 6, 2016
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales and Havana, 6 February 2016 – First they
ran out of water bottles, then packaged juices became scarce, and now it
is difficult to find fresh fruit. This is how a hostess of tourist rooms
in Viñales describes the situation there with the significant increase
of tourism in Cuba and the problems of supplies.
During 2015, 3,524,779 foreign visitors arrived on the island, according
to the latest official figures, an increase of some 17.4% over the prior
year. However, the number of hotel rooms and private homes offering
accommodation has not grown just as quickly. Other services, such as
airports, food services and transportation, have also appeared to be
overwhelmed by the flood.
The beautiful valley of Viñales, with its attractive mogotes and range
of nature tourism, has experienced months of great demand. “Now we have
more tourists here than locals,” exaggerates Paco, an 81-year-old who
owns a house near the well-known Indian Cave. From his doorway he can
see the incessant caravan of buses that brings visitors to the beautiful
“Before I sat down here,” he notes from his wooden armchair, “I saw at
least ten To one side of his house, a family that owns a private
restaurant reinforces Paco’s view. “We are struggling to maintain our
menu, because between the shortages and the number of tourists that are
coming it’s getting very difficult,” says Zoila, the restaurant’s cook.
The market stalls show the effects of the increased demand. Every day
5,000 tourists visit Viñales, slightly more than one-sixth of the number
of residents. They come looking for products like fresh fruit, lobster,
shrimp, rum, beer and, of course, the local tobacco. “Sometimes we have
to go to other towns to find papayas and oranges for breakfast,” says a
woman who rents rooms to tourists.
She acknowledges, however, that she is “happy” with the surge of
visitors. “Bring more, we’re profiting,” she repeats a very popular
phrase exuding optimism, although she would like to improve the town’s
infrastructure, “to solve these bottlenecks.”
There are 60 private sector restaurants in the Viñales valley with a
high demand for vegetables, fruits and meats. A good share of them are
supplied by the illegal market and buy directly from the farmers. “We
only have imported beer,” says a sign outside one private restaurant.
The local beers, Cristal and Bucanero “are not available because the
‘yumas’ [foreigners] arrive very thirsty,” a waiter comments jokingly.
A few yards away, a young man offers horseback rides through the valley
for five convertible pesos for twenty minutes. “All my animals are busy
now,” he tells some Canadians want a little cross country trot. “I’m
full up, you’ll have to wait for the ones making the tour now to
return.” The man started with four horses, and now has nine and is
expecting to have fifteen this year.
In Havana, Obispo Street is buzzing at two on a Saturday afternoon. Some
pedestrians choose parallel streets such as O’Reilly or Obrapia to avoid
the crowds. Tour groups walk slowly with their guides, stopping to take
pictures and marveling at an old woman smoking an enormous cigar or a
woman dressed up in colonial-era clothing.
The whole place seems like a great Tower of Babel with the different
languages heard. Among the millions of visitors who came to the island
last year were some 125,000 Canadians, 36,000 Germans, 35,000 French,
32,000 British, 30,000 Spaniards and 26,000 Italians, among other
With the beginning of Air China flights, there are also a lot of Chinese
tourists beginning to arrive. “I can’t complain,” says Lucia, who rents
two rooms near Plaza Vieja in the historic center. “Last year my rooms
were occupied almost the whole time. I have spent a long time in this
arena and have never seen anything like it,” she said.
The problem, points out the self-employed woman, has been that “the
supplies in the stores and the markets haven’t kept up.” Her family has
had to search everywhere to buy toilet paper, milk, soap and alcoholic
or sweetened drinks, these latter to fill “the minibars in the rooms,”
“Sometimes we have to go out at the crack of dawn to guarantee that
there is bread for breakfast,” details Lucia. “This neighborhood has
collapsed, there is no way we can maintain quality service if we don’t
have an improvement in supplies,” she points out. A simple stroll
through the most important stores in the area, among them the centrally
located Harris Brothers, confirms her words.
“No, we haven’t had small bottles of water for weeks,” says a clerk on
the ground floor when asked about that product. “They are bought by the
boxful by the people who rent rooms,” she adds. The same thing happens
with “beer, large bottles of Cola, and toilet paper,” she emphasizes.
Old Havana still has its chronic problems of water supply, and with the
flood of customers in state and private accommodations, the prices
charged by the water trucks have also risen. “There are days when even
20 CUC isn’t enough to get my water tank filled,” comments Lucia.
For Maria del Pilar Macias Rutes, general director of Quality and
Operations of the Ministry of Tourism, there is “a challenge to continue
to improve quality systems in order to meet the demands of the boom in
tourism,” she declared this week on national television. Among them, are
“programs to improve the situation in food and beverages, entertainment
and shopping,” she explained.
“Havana can’t take any more,” jokes the keeper of a private restaurant
near Havana Bay when asked about the volume of foreign visitors who come
to his place. “We have already renovated three floors in the place and
we still can’t cope,” the man comments proudly, dressed like a gentleman
of the eighteenth century to attract more tourists.
The increase in visitors is also noticeable in the availability of
transport. A couple of years ago there were few people waiting at the
Havana Bus Tour stops, but now the lines are almost like those “for the
buses to go to work,” laughs the driver of one of these double-deck
buses. For five convertible pesos, the route provides a two-hour tour of
the main tourist sites in the city.
The country currently has just over 60,000 rooms, of which 66.5% are in
four- and five-star hotels. By 2020 there are expected to be 85,500
rooms with international standards, according to the Minister of
Tourism, Manuel Marrero, but the signs are that the growth will have to
be faster than programmed. For 2016 barely 3,700 tourist rooms will be
added, and 5,600 will be renovated or improved, particularly in Havana,
Varadero and Northern Keys.
In the private sector, there is a total of 28,634 licensed housing
units, rooms and spaces, but some of them are intended for Cubans or are
premises rented for services.
Nor do the airport terminals escape the congestion and saturation of
passengers. In the Havana airport, travelers can expect to wait between
an hour-and-a-half to two hours from the time their plane lands until
they get out the door with their suitcases. The lines at the passport
checkpoints “at times are so long they almost stretch to the steps of
the plane” says a customs worker.
Customers complain about the stifling heat while waiting at the baggage
claim because the air conditioning in Terminal Three, the most modern in
the country, barely cools the room. “There is no toilet paper in the
bathrooms, and no place to even buy a bottle of water here,” a recently
arrived Argentine tourist complained this weekend.
The situation could worsen throughout the year, during which the number
of visitors is expected to exceed 3.7 million, according to Deputy
Minister of Tourism Mayra Garcia Alvarez; this would be 175,200 more
tourists than last year.
Just outside the Havana airport the taxi drivers no longer fight for
customers, it is the latter who have to try to get to one of the
Panataxis as they are approaching the terminal from the street. Two men
were arguing over a cart to carry their luggage. “I saw it first,”
protested one, with a French accent. Finally he managed to hang on to
it, but it had a broken wheel.
Night falls and tourists are pouring out of the airport to visit a
country that cannot cope with meeting their expectations.
Source: There Isn’t Enough Beer For So Many ‘Yumas’ / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mata | Translating Cuba –