Friday, October 06, 2006

Cuba: The Truman Show, October 2005

How amazing would it be to go to a place that is stuck in time? In the 1950’s to be exact. A place where everyone was financially equal, where there is no crime and everyone’s life expectancy is the highest in the world, where people are highly educated and live on a beautiful island surrounded by crystal clear water?

Sounds like a fairy tale from a romantic book. It was a dream come true for me. The land that made the legendary Che Guevara, famous. I was going to see the last real communist country in the world. This was going to be a piece of history that I will tell generations to come about it, because most likely it will all be gone after the Comendante Fidel Castro is gone.

Fairy tales are fairy tales and this great propaganda came to a crashing end soon after I landed. It could be argued that that the American embargo made things deteriorate the way they have in Cuba, and I am sure there is truth to it but what I saw was a tragic piece of history.

Yes the country was safe, everyone was financially equally poor, the Cuban health and education system was advanced and the country is blessed with natural beauty, but I have never seen or imagined to see a whole nation without ambition or motivation! Imagine waking up everyday knowing that things can’t get better, nothing will change drastically no matter how hard you worked! You will get a cretin amount of fixed allowance, fixed amount of food, and live in the same beat up apartment for the rest of your life.

People live in old collapsing houses and everything in ‘stores’ and restaurants were super expensive. Cubans could not afford to buy anything more than the bare minimum to live on, but it must be said the government dose provide some bare essentials in the form of ‘rations’ to its people. Eating meat is a rare occasion for Cubans and to do so they need to save up for it. . The grocery stores had few items and people didn’t drive around because they couldn’t afford to so!

Havana looked like a living museum, an old beat up museum that needed to be restored badly. Seeing the old cars from the 1950’s cruising the streets was amazing but it was also sad to see people having to use them as an everyday car to earn extra money to survive. No one is allowed to own cars in Cuba, except people who owned cars before the 1950’s; all other cars are owned by the government.

I remember feeling as if I was in The Truman Show in Varadero, the top tourist resort attraction. Imagine stepping out on the street and not seeing any shops, street vendor, cars or people! Even the ‘perfect up to date’ hotels were weird. The clocks at the hotel receptions were all not working because no one was bothered to fill out the government forms to request for batteries. The place looked perfectly clean and neat but Cubans had no reason to come to the area since hotels were off limits to them unless they worked there!

Imagine seeing all these new ‘modern’ comfortable hotels being built everywhere while you live in a dump. Imagine seeing all your people serving tourist as if you were a higher species while you could not afford to go to a proper restaurants in your own country. Imagine not being able to buy bottled water!

The hotel packages, all inclusive were dirt cheap, but as soon as you asked for anything extra it was super expensive. I remember a small bottle of water costing around $3! I remember not seeing any form of advertisement for 10 days! I remember people hitchhiking all along the road and it was totally safe to pick them up along the way. I remember women not being obsessed with being skinny and wanting to look like Vogue models. I remember a country with 2 currencies, one for Cubans and one for tourist! A currency that could not be exchanged even in Cuba!

I will always remember how blessed I am for not living in Cuba and for having the opportunity to hope for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

South Africa

Its been quite messy trying arrange the trip to South Africa and Madagascar. We had to cancel Madagascar, because of the flight connections and the time constrains, we are even cutting our trip short 4 days because its proving too hard to arrange.

While is South Africa is quite developed, hotel prices are either extremely expensive and of great quality or absolutely cheap and of no quality. There seems to be hardly nothing in between!! Moreover, most hotels/lodges/ B&B do not have an internet payment system, making matters harder to arrange.

The plan is to go Cape Town for 3 days drive around the Garden Route 5 days and then head to Kruger National Park. Sun City was fully booked so we had to cross that out.

Now I am left 4 free days and I might return to work early.