Affordable Vacations in Cuba / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 4 July 2016 — Mayara finished ninth grade with excellent
grades and the next school term she will start high school. She is
thinking about going to university and getting a degree in civil
engineering or architecture.
Until then, she is spending her holidays scrubbing dishes, cleaning
house and helping her mother wash fifteen pounds of dirty clothes twice
“I feel very bad for my daughter but I don’t have money for her to go a
discotheque or a party with her friends. I cannot even afford to send
her on a trip to the beach with some neighbors who have rented a bus.
She’ll have to settle once again for watching television and reading
books. I make 380 pesos a month (about 17 dollars) as a receptionist and
that isn’t even enough to feed ourselves adequately. And I can’t rely on
her father. He’s always drunk and months will pass before he gives his
daughter so much as a peso,” says Mayara’s mother.
The 2016 summer vacation season in Cuba is revealing new and growing
disparities. Daniel, a father of three, recalls that twenty years ago
“money went further. You could rent a house on the beach or occasionally
eat at a nice restaurant. There were other options that were affordable
for the average worker. But not now. An all-inclusive deal at a Varadero
hotel costs 300 convertible pesos for just one weekend,” notes.
“Even renting a spot at a campground has become a luxury,” he adds. “And
then there are the bad streets. I’m not saying there’s violence, but
young guys get bored and hang out on the corners, drinking alcohol and
smoking marijuana. If you go to a nightclub, you have to shell out
twenty or thirty convertible pesos. And with salaries so low, you can’t
win. At least the Copa America and the Euros are being broadcast on
television. And the Rio Olympics begin in August,” he adds.
Marilyn and her husband do have plans for the summer vacation season.
“At the end of the month we’re going with our daughter to a sushi
restaurant. We’ll also go two or three times to the pool at a tourist
resort. And we’ve already reserved six nights at a hotel in Cayo Coco,”
“Do you get remittances from overseas or own a small business,” I ask.
“Sort of,” Marilyn’s husband replies. “Four or five times a year I
travel to Ecuador, Mexico or Panama to buy cheap merchandise and spare
parts for cars and motorcycles. I spend part of the money I save on
school vacations for my daughter.”
Although almost a million Cubans a year take advantage of all-inclusive
package deals offered by the country’s four and five star hotels, most
Havana residents take their children to the beach, the zoo or the
Those who do not live in the capital often have fewer options, though
some provinces go to great lengths to organize special events during the
months of July and August.
“I live in Hoyos, in Santiago de Cuba province. People start drinking
there as soon as the sun comes up,” says Fermin, a Santeria follower
visiting the capital. “Everything is more complicated in the eastern
regions. There’s no money, potatoes and oranges are luxuries and
drinking water is delivered every eight or nine days. All there is to do
is watch television, drink, gossip with the neighbors and pray that an
earthquake or a powerful hurricane doesn’t come and wipe us off the map.”
Now that the school year has ended, Havana’s landscape includes children
and teenagers running through the streets late at night and groups of
youths talking loudly about football or sitting on neighborhood street
corners, making plans to emigrate.
Others prefer to set up a table of dominoes, take up a collection to buy
some cheap rum and stay up all night arguing over the game and listening
to reggaeton at full blast.
Far fewer can pay a cover charge of five to ten convertible pesos (CUC)
to get into a discotheque or 1.5 CUC for an imported beer and some
cheese balls at a privately owned air-conditioned bar.
There will always be cheaper options such as going to the theater, a
museum, the movies or the Malecon, where you can spend time sitting and
enjoying the nocturnal sea breezes with friends and an acoustic guitar.
But poor public transportation and unattractive cultural offerings
discourage many young people from pursuing safe and economical forms of
For a wide segment of the Cuban population, distractions are to be found
in insipid Brazilian soap operas, playing dominoes or drinking cheap
liquor. It is not what they want to be doing; it is that they have to
count their pennies.
Source: Affordable Vacations in Cuba / Iván García – Translating Cuba –