Santiago de Cuba: Prostitutes, chess and chickens
Santiago de Cuba is probably the strangest place that I have ever been to. I don’t know if it was the heat (over 30 degrees at 11PM) or if there is something in the water, but I had a very surreal experience in the city. In some ways I feel like I am doing it a disservice as I was only there for 2 nights but it was the first night that was just downright bizarre…..
It all started with my taxi to the main square in the city. The taxi itself was an 80’s Lada with no seatbelts. The sound system was mighty impressive though. I couldn’t afford it in the UK, how can the taxi driver afford this in Cuba? Best not to dwell on that question too much. Within no time at all, I was in the centre of Santiago de Cuba ready to explore, or so I thought……
It felt like less than 10 seconds after getting out of the taxi, I was approached by taxi drivers looking to take me back to my hotel. If it wasn’t taxi drivers then it was people wanting me to eat in their restaurant or go to the best salsa club/bar in all of Cuba. There was also the man that proudly showed me the best looking ‘women friends’ on his phone. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! All I want to do is walk around and get a feel for the place without being harassed. Is that so difficult!?
Well yes it seems that it is. I was able to escape from the main square with Tony from Scotland and do some walking around the side streets. They were a little bit better, but I still got a couple of “Hola amore” from some women. We decided to walk back to the square and try to find somewhere to relax and listen to the band playing.
Chess and Prostitute
At the main square, Tony got approached by an older gentleman that claimed to be the third best chess player in Cuba and challenged him to a match. How could he refuse? The game was over very quickly indeed. Tony lost so maybe this guy is actually the third best chess player in Cuba. Apparently the man tried to convince Tony to buy some milk for his young twins, a chicken for himself and also to come back to his house so that his wife could cook him dinner. Hmmmmm…..
During the chess match, I had been approached by another prostitute, or jintera. Well I am assuming she was, as she was scantily dressed and was very interested in me and wanted to take me for a drink. She was a pleasant enough woman but the number of jintera in Cuba shows one of its biggest problems to me and that is the dual currency system.
Two Currencies – Which is better?
Cuba has two currencies – CUP and CUC. The CUP is used by locals and the CUC is for tourists and is equal in value to 1 USD. As a rough guide, there are 25 CUP in 1 CUC. Still with me? Good. The average salary in Cuba, as told to me by a Cuban from couchsurfing is around 300 CUP a month or about 12 USD. The approximate cost (based on Internet research) for an hour with a jintera is 50-60 CUC/USD. So basically, for one hour you can earn up to 6 months of your normal salary. Thankfully the Cuban government is looking at moving to just one currency so hopefully this situation doesn’t remain for much longer.
The bar that didn’t exist
After finding a small bar that served food and walking back to the main square, we bumped into the chess master again, who promptly bought us some peanuts from a woman selling them from a bucket. Again he tried to get us to go back to his house for dinner and when we declined he told us the location of the best bar in Santiago de Cuba. We had a little spare time so decided to check it out as it was only a 10 minute walk.
Nervously, we both became aware that the streets were getting quieter and darker and we both had the same thought – that the guy had given us directions to his house instead and could be following us for all we knew. We decided that enough was enough and made our way back to the main square to get another Lada taxi to the hotel and to put an end to this surreal evening.