In the absence of tourist offices where a Cuban citizen can arrange – in Cuban pesos – an excursion in his own country, private resourcefulness has addressed this “market niche.” During July and August it’s common to find posters advertisting a trip to the Bellamar Caves, Varadero, or the Zapata Swamp. The organizers rent a bus from a workplace and sell places for a price that varies between 50 and 120 Cuban pesos. They leave early in the morning, to avoid the controls and the hot sun on the highway, and return before nightfall.
Even though this is an illegal economic activity, the police turn a blind eye to it; in a pot where the pressure accumulates it’s good to leave a few small slits open. Because of this, there are people who have earned their living for several years by organizing tourist excursions in this alternative way. The most daring have started to advertise their trips on the internet or by email. Others improve their offers by including a snack in the price or even lunch at a local paladar restaurant.
This weekend I went to Soroa on a trip coordinated by one of these emerging “tour operators.” With three decades under my belt there are still landscapes in my own country that I have never seen, thanks to the chaotic transportation system and the restrictions on accessing them. Only twice in my life have I visited this mountainous area and its attractions; the first time was in the idealized 1980s when Cubans could travel as tourists in the money in which they paid us. The second, this weekend, was thanks to the ingenuity of citizens and their spontaneous tourism networks.
A big cheer for private initiatives that clearly reveal the ineptitude of the State when it wants to organize everything.
• Below are some pictures I took during the trip.
A paladar is a small, legal restaurant in a private home, with many restrictions on its operations. The term “paladar,” which means “palate,” comes from a Brazilian soap opera that was popular in Cuba during the early 1990s.
Soroa is in Pinar del Rio province, about 70 km west of Havana.
Cuba has a dual monetary system. Cuban pesos, or moneda nacional (national money), is the currency in which people are paid their wages. The “Cuban Convertible Peso,” (CUC), is the money sold to tourists. Many products are sold, even to Cubans, only in CUCs. The exchange rate between moneda nacional and CUCs is about 24-to-1, with one CUC equal to about $1.10 to $1.15 in Canadian or U.S. dollars (today’s exchange rate), and one Cuban peso is worth about a nickel.