We spent several hours in this fascinating museum, most exhibits were described in English and Spanish – many were photos and newspaper clippings, you could spend days reading them all.
Also housed there is the “Granma”, the motorboat that Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and 81 fellow “revolutionaries” sailed from Mexico to Cuba on in 1956, to start the revolution to remove President Batisca from power and return Cuba to the people. The landing and arrival went badly, soldiers discovered them and less than 20 men managed to escape into the surrounding sugar cane fields.
The revolution was off to a very shaky start. During 1957 Fidel Castro and associates slowly regrouped, recruited and reinforced their revolutionary army, meanwhile Cuba was being transformed into what was described as a military style police state.
- nearly all business is state owned and operated, however Government controls are weakening
- all income is fixed and to the best of our knowledge everyone is paid the same monthly wage whatever their profession. We understand that income is somewhere between the equivalent of US$25 to US$50 – monthly! Nobody really wanted to discuss it but that sure doesn’t seem like much money
- coupon books are provided for some food items, we do not know the quantities. Most produce we saw was of quite poor quality but very cheap, we didn’t see anyone that looked like they were starving
- there are only state operated TV channels, very few people have mobile phones and certainly not smartphones, internet is quite restricted and available mainly to the tourist sector. Wifi was only available in a couple of 5 star hotels, internet cafes are very rare and are intended only for tourists
- free education including university level is provided for everyone and Cuba is proud to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world
- free health care is also provided for everyone and is said to be very good. Qualified Medical Staff are encouraged to go and work offshore for 2 years. If they stay away longer it is made almost impossible for them to return, even on holiday
- we did not see any visible signs of any homeless and housing is provided but we understand rent is payable
No Money to Spend ~ So No Shops???
There were some “label stores” in Havana, selling items at prices you would pay anywhere else in the world. But outside the tourist areas there were very few shops, you don’t – as a rule – see a street with what we might call regular shops - clothes, shoes, appliances, books, chemist, food etc. But as you walk down residential streets many houses have their front doors open and if you peer inside you might see a box of toothbrushes for sale in one, 6 pairs of shoes in another, some freshly baked cakes next door. All quite bizarre really but we had the overwhelming impression that everyone was doing ok, getting everything they needed and seemed happy enough with their lives.
We saw no signs of any drug use or abuse, rum and beer are freely available and quite cheap but we saw no one drunk, we never felt unsafe yet saw very few police (just one from memory). Crime levels are said to be very low and possibly this stems from the fact that everyone has the same so there is nothing to be gained ~ interesting thought!
We accept that we have just touched the surface of this totally intriguing country and those that have spent much more time here will possibly disagree or debate what we have said. Some friends that have travelled there thought Cuba was a mess - the food rationing was inadequate, the inability to go and buy just what you want was suffocating, the state controlled enterprises in these times archaic, no freedom of press and controlled access to World News and no access to the internet appalling.
And yes, if you compare all of this to the 1st World countries we are so lucky to have been born in then the Cubans have it tough. However if you look at what the Cubans have compared with what some of their Caribbean and Central American neighbours have then they are doing great.
We imagine many Haitians who live only miles away in famine and disease stricken neighbouring Haiti, might actually think Cuba was paradise. If they had a home with electricity and water, food, clothing, education and health care provided would they be worried they couldn’t check their emails, watch CNN news or that it was beans ‘n rice for dinner again ???
Havana is an amazing city and you could spend many days here exploring all its central districts before even scratching the surface of the outlying areas. We did the Double Decker Bus Tour (bargain at $5) to view the cities periphery ~ we passed the cemetery which encompasses 15 blocks, circled the Plaza de la Revolucion with the biggest monument to Che Guevara we saw, toured the Embassy Quarter, and cruised along the waterfront Malecón, in a continual state of renovation.
We did all the suggested walking tours and then just got lost, ambling down side street after side street, investigating bursts of live music wherever we heard them, peeking our noses into dark doorways and walking down dodgy looking alleys and happening upon lovely plazas and churches, schools and small markets .
There are museums everywhere, big and small, good and bad. The buildings, architecture, plazas and most of all the cars held more than enough of our attention, maybe Cuba deserves another visit.
Havana is a city full of soul. Cuba is a country that has touched us like no other we have visited. Amazing, Interesting, Intriguing, Cultural, Colourful, Classic – there are not enough words to describe it.