Cuba Will Never Be The Same Again ….
By Linda Buckthorpe
I had the opportunity of visiting Cuba in April ’16 to find that it was the right moment to visit, before the sleeping giant awoke. I was part of a group of 70 who went on a Cultural Exchange Program with Los Cantantes del Lago. Timothy G.R. Welch, Musical Director of our community choir, went to Cuba the year before in June’15 to work with the Director of Culture and a designated Tour Guide. He said at that time Havana was very quiet, but the day we arrived on April 11th, ’16, the city was buzzing with jack hammers going full bore, renovations and construction taking place everywhere. There were five huge holes in the ground for new hotels about to rise and to my delight, many renovations now taking place in the Centro Historico.
The Centro Historico was magnificent at one time. Decay over the years of these neglected buildings still show the beauty of its architecture which is most elaborate. Renovations are taking place on many of these historical buildings. Teatro Habana, the theatre for Cuba took four years to renovate and was completed a few weeks before President Obama arrived to visit. Los Cantantes del Lago was the first to perform in one of its Salas, quite an honor for our community choir.
The American Embassy opened its door approximately six months before our arrival but the arrival of Air Force One with a full plane load of businessmen from the USA, along with President Obama has changed Cuba forever.
Fidel Castro made his last speech to his countrymen the day of our departure back to Mexico, April 20th. The first Cruise Ship arrived a week later. Today there are 120 flights a week heading to Cuba from the USA.
Do understand that in Cuba, every person receives $10 CUC equivalent to $10 USD per month, whether you are a doctor or a dishwasher. Even a doctor who wishes to earn additional income takes out another job, such as driving a taxi. Their housing is taken care of, their medical/dental and their education, plus two meal coupons per day. To me it leaves one with no incentive to do more than is necessary. This I have witnessed in China in the ‘80’s. But Capitalism is raising its head. You see Cubans selling home-cooked goods, home-made ice cream and handicrafts. Their art is colorful and fabulous along with their music, and the people are easy-going and very friendly.
I witnessed the birth of tourism and that is where the tourist must become aware. You can set your price for a taxi ride or pedi-cab, but you better have small bills on hand, as no one ever seems to have change! Their tipping ethics leave a lot to be desired, as well, leaving one with large bills and the staff or cashier unable to avail themselves of any smaller denominations for tipping.
I hope Cuba keeps its charm, beauty and riot of colors to eyes and ears and doesn’t lose itself as it becomes engulfed by masses of tourists by sea and air.
I’d like to return in five years time to enjoy the newly renovated architecture of the Centro Historico, but I know it will not be the Cuba I visited this year.