Friday, November 25, 2011

Cuba Day #2 - The Money Exchange & Shopping Spree October 25, 2011

This is Day 2 in a memorable series of adventures in search of his ancestral "roots" as told by guest writer George Roqueni; to read the first parts of his story see the following links:

Dear Fellow Voyagers:

Bertha and I are carrying a lot of cash as American credit cards are not used in Cuba.  Bertha’s has cash and goods which are slated to be given, as a favor, to various people from their relatives in Miami.   I’m using a money belt for the first time in my life.  Today’s assignment is to convert my US dollars to Pesos Convertibles (CUC’s) and to find a safety deposit box for all this cash.  Bertha is very nervous that something will happen before we get to distribute all this cash to various people.

Since Pedro’s 1952 Chevrolet became inoperable over one year ago and with no money for repairs, he made arrangements to find transportation and at the same time, someone who would exchange US dollars to CUC’s at a more favorable 7% rate as compared to the bank’s 14% rate.  Enrique Lee (El Chino) appeared in his 1974 Moskvich Russian vehicle to take us to the location for the exchange.
You know how one reflexively reaches to affix the seat belt after sitting in the car. Well, here there are no seat belts on these old vehicles. I’m going to lose the seat belt reflex pretty soon.  Then, he drove us to the largest and most prestigious bank in Habana where I attempted to rent a safety deposit box.  Yes, at one time they had them, but the government abolished them a few years ago.  No, no other bank has them now.  Then I decided to go to some of the very large tourist hotels which until very recently, Cubans were forbidden to enter.  Yes they had them but only in each room so you had to be a registered guest.  Well, so much for a safety deposit box.  Bertha will have to continue sleeping with her money bag under her pillow.

Our next destination was their “super market” touted as one of the largest and most complete in Habana.  At this market you pay in CUC’s and is considered to be an expensive place to shop.  They have more products than the other markets run by the government where you pay in Pesos.  Before entering the market you had to check in your bags and pocketbooks at a service counter located outside the market.  You are only allowed to carry in a wallet, that’s it.  It was very strange not seeing any American products.  Everything was in scarce supply, empty shelves and the displays and counters were somewhat dog-eared.  I wanted to buy bacon, a rarity here, and the guy behind the counter solemnly shook his head from side-to-side indicating that they had bacon but “it was not good.”  There is no deli counter; such things are rarer than hen’s teeth here in Cuba.  When you check out at the cashier, there is a scanning device but no accumulated total displayed so that periodically the cashier will announce what amount you are up to and asks if you want to continue.  Apparently, many people stop when they find that they don’t have enough money. The security guards check your purchases as you exit, a la Costco.
No Waiting Here

After this shopping was done, I asked to be taken to a fancy-ass bakery and pastry shop.  I was taken to “one of the best” places, state owned, where you pay in Pesos.  I purchased four boxes filled with assorted pastries for $3.95 Pesos or what would be 50 cents in US money.  So much for my bakery shopping spree.

There’s a tropical storm brewing now in the Gulf of Mexico which may affect Cuba.  Everyone here is braced for some storm action. At this household there are plans afoot to buy food and supplies right away because as the storm approaches people will begin to panic and what little is available in the markets will completely disappear.

This building has a meat market, a vegetable market and 2 families live on the second floor.

Another element which helps to make every moment memorable.


Laughter is the music of the soul.

No comments: