The Tripbase Best-Kept Travel Secrets Project

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Mexico & Colombia Photos: Francisco Collazo
Cuba Photo: Brayan Collazo
**

Back in December, Lola Akinmade invited me to participate in the Tripbase Best-Kept Travel Secrets Project. Time got away from me and I never followed through.

Earlier this week, Katie Erica, the writer who started the project, invited me to participate- again- so this time, I won’t let her down!

The idea behind the project is to crowd-source an epic list of travel writers’ favorite places, preferably places that are “secret.”

Now you can argue whether sharing “secret” places is a good idea, as the excellent writer David Page did in the article “Travelers’ Omerta: Is There No Place We Should Keep Secret?” It’s a valid question and one that leads to important reflections.

But the places where I travel aren’t really secret. They’re pretty much in plain view for everyone to see and visit… they simply choose not to.

So here are my three “best-kept travel secrets” and my defense of why you should visit each of them:

Mexico City, Mexico

If I could have any job other than the one I have, it would be a full-time evangelist for Mexico City.

Seriously, this is THE most exciting city on the planet, and if you know me or read my writing regularly, you know I don’t use words like “most” or “must-see” frequently.

I will spend my life trying to write a more persuasive, poignant description of Mexico City than David Lida, but until then, I’ll simply cite him with gratitude for articulating my exact feelings about “el DF”:

“I had been utterly seduced by the constant sensations of contrast, surprise, even tumult.”

“[I]t has absorbed and swallowed all the centuries of its history, yet most of them are still in evidence in some regurgitated form on the streets.”

“Mexico City is constantly improvising a new invention of itself.”

I could go on and on, but do yourself a favor and read Lida’s book, First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, The Capital of the 21st Century. Start reading his blog. And then, put Mexico City on the top of your travel list.

And once you’re there, make sure you witness the daily flag ceremony in the Zocalo. Go to a lecture at Casa Lamm and then visit their restaurant for an overpriced but totally worth it martini (try carambola). And throw yourself into a visit to Mercado San Juan like it’s the most important thing you’ll do all year. Just don’t forget your camera.

CUBA

First, understand this: Cuba is not closed.

It’s very much open for tourism and business and even if you’re an American you can go there.

I explain how in “How to Travel to Cuba and Why You Should Do It Now.”

I guarantee that you’ll come back from Cuba a changed person, one who has begun to understand what a complex nation it is, one that exists outside of all the polarized rhetoric about it. And if you don’t, well, I’ll take you out for dinner and we can talk about it.

What should you do while you’re there? I’ve written about some favorite Havana attractions for TravelMuse and favorite nightlife spots for Matador.

3. Mompox, Colombia

You’ve got to be determined to get to Mompox. You have to cross a river in a sketchy boat, then take a motorbike or sturdy vehicle to this UNESCO World Heritage site.

But if you do, it will be worth the effort, especially if you plan a visit of a week or longer.

Colombia’s legendary river, the Magdalena, runs right through the town, which is rumored to be the inspiration for novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s imaginary town of Macondo. There’s not a raucous nightlife here, or dozens of museums, but there are lots and lots of stories.

If you visit, book a bed at Matador contributor Richard McColl’s La Casa Amarilla, which Francisco and I tended for a month in 2008.

**
What are your favorite travel “secrets”? Share them–or not!–in the comments.
**
And be sure to check out the blogs of these writers, who I’m “tagging” to participate in the Tripbase project:

Hal Amen: WayWorded
Donna Arioldi: Prepare for Crosscheck
Megan Hill: See.Write.Live.
Reeti Roy: Clickety Click Click
Michelle Schusterman: MusicTravelWrite

Peace Without Borders Concert in Havana/Concierto Paz Sin Fronteras en La Habana

Photos: Brayan Collazo Alonso
Text Edited by: Julie Schwietert Collazo
[vease abajo para la version en español]

Colombian singer Juanes, along with Puerto Rican singer Olga Tanon and Spanish singer Miguel Bose, organized the Paz Sin Fronteras/Peace Without Borders concert that took place in Havana today.

For Cubans and for people around Latin America, the concert was of profound symbolic importance, regardless of one’s political persuasion.

Brayan Collazo was at the concert, held in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, and sent the following impressions afterward:

“These are my impressions from the concert.
I think that the Cuban public–lacking these types of events–isn’t totally prepared with respect to how they should act at a gathering like this one. Everyone wanted to move toward the stage and to do so, they trampled children and women, which is terrible, very bad. One felt like he was on a boat in bad weather. When I couldn’t move forward, I tried to find a calm area where I could take everything in, but it was impossible. People kept surging forward. But by the end of the concert, there was more calm….

The music, the sound, and the services were all very good.

But what was most memorable was the way everyone was moved by Juanes’s final words, and Juan Formel’s [leader of the Cuban group, Los Van Van] rendition of [the popular Cuban song] “Chan Chan” [which all of the performers and the crowd joined in to sing]. The tremendous expectations of Juanes, Olga Tanon, The Orishas [another Cuban group] and Los Van Van were all fulfilled. In the end, the goal of the concert was achieved… and everyone was crying. Please share these photos and explain what this concert meant to us….”

Havana wasn’t the only city where people were watching the concert with the same sense of emotion, though. People from around Latin America shared the experience on Twitter, making the following observations throughout the hours-long concert:

From @CarolaValdez, from Venezuela:
“Me retiro por un rato, las ganas de llorar me dieron dolorsito de cabeza, pero por la mejor de las causas, emocion pura!!! Dios los bendiga.”/ “I’m going offline for a bit; the desire to cry gave me a headache, but for the best reason- pure emotion. God bless.”

From @rodolfob, from Argentina: “Este es mi primer concierto virtual y es espectacular asistir al mismo, hasta siento el calor de la Plaza de la Revolucion Bravo #Cuba!!”/”This is my first virtual concert & it’s incredible- I even feel the heat in Revolution Plaza. Bravo, Cuba!!”

From e_vk, from Venezuela: “Cantidad de personas en #pazsinfronteras impresionante!”/”The number of people in #pazsinfronteras: impressive!”

**
El cantante colombiano, Juanes, junto con la cantante puertorriqueña, Olga Tañon, y el cantante español Miguel Bosé, organizaron el concierto Paz Sin Fronteras que tuvo lugar hoy en La Habana.

Para los cubanos y el pueblo latinoamericano, el concierto tuvo una importancia profundamente simbolica, a pesar de las opinions politicas de cada persona.

Brayan Collazo estuvo en la Plaza de la Revolución para el concierto y nos envió sus impresiones despues del mismo:

“Esta es mi impresión del concierto….

Creo que el pueblo cubano por la falta de estos eventos no está preparado del todo para recibir con disciplina lo mismo. Argumento esto por lo que pude sufrir en el concierto.
Todos querian ir hacia delante y para lograr esto se atropellaron a niños y mujeres–eso esta mal, muy mal. Parecía que estabas en un barco en mal tiempo. Yo, cuando no pude avanzar mas, trate de acomodarme en un sitio tranquilo pero me fue imposible; como yo muchos se marcharon. Al final de la tarde y del concierto se podía ver una mayor tranquilidad.

La música,el audio,los servicios estuvieron bien.

Una verdad muy grande es que la gente se impresionó con las palabras finales de Juanes y Juan Formel quien cerró el espectáculo a todo lo alto con su orquesta Los Van Van. Las grandes espectativas para el público cubano radicaba en Juanes, Olga Tañon, Orishas y Van Van…. El concierto a la larga logró su objetivo y todos lloraron al final.”

La Habana no era la única ciudad donde la gente veían el concierto con la misma emoción. Las personas de toda americalatina compartieron la experiencia y sus emociones a través de Twitter, haciendo las siguientes observaciones:

De @CarolaValdez, de Venezuela:
“Me retiro por un rato, las ganas de llorar me dieron dolorsito de cabeza, pero por la mejor de las causas, emocion pura!!! Dios los bendiga.”

De @rodolfob de Argentina: “Este es mi primer concierto virtual y es espectacular asistir al mismo, hasta siento el calor de la Plaza de la Revolucion Bravo #Cuba!!”

De e_vk, de Venezuela: “Cantidad de personas en #pazsinfronteras impresionante!”

London Ballet’s Visit to Havana/La Visita del Ballet de Londres a La Habana

Text: Brayan Collazo Alonso
Photos by Brayan Collazo Alonso unless otherwise noted
Translation: Julie Schwietert Collazo
[vease abajo para la version en espanol]
**
[Editor’s Note: The London Royal Ballet performed in Havana in July 2009]

Photo: Lyn Pernille Photography

The versatility of Havana’s Capitol was on display this summer. Far from serving its usual function as Cuba’s political center since the 1930s, it recently served as the stage for the presentation of the Royal Ballet of London’s first and only performance in Cuba, in collaboration with the Cuban National Ballet.

In the course of its history, Havana’s Capitol building has functioned as the Museum of Natural Sciences and, until recently, also served as home to the Ministry of Technological Sciences and the Environment.

Tickets for the performance were on sale beforehand, but the demand far outstripped the supply; the majority of those who hoped to see the performance were left without tickets. For this reason, organizers put a Plan B into action: People without tickets could gather around the Capitol to watch the ballet on giant outdoor projector screens.

Though not ideal, the plan served the occasion well. People could watch the ballet in real time, in the open air, and just a few steps away from the National Theatre, which was wear the screens were set up. Swells of people crowded into the area in anticipation, but the first night was a false alarm; everyone had to wait for the second day to see the much anticipated performance.

Demand wasn’t the only problem with the tickets, though. Price speculation prompted scalping, which, in turn, touched off an aggressive police operation intended to prevent the tickets from being resold for as much as 10 times what they’d been bought for. Tickets were being sold for astronomical prices, sums that were equivalent to an entire month’s wages: 200 pesos, or 9 US dollars.

Elbow-to-elbow people from Cuba and from abroad, from all different social classes, gathered together on the 45 steps of the Capitol building. Beyond the performance itself, it was interesting to see how Cuban daily life continued to unfold behind the transparent screen– a profound contrast between “real” life and the classical music and star-studded ballet being shown on the screens, the picturesque panorama of plies and pointes being executed these two great ballet companies.

The old city of Havana was in a partying mood on that warm Caribbean evening. It was high ballet, yes, but Cuban style: cameras flashing, shots of Havana Club rum passing hands, running commentaries and spontaneous applause as the dancers performed. And without a doubt, the high point of the evening was the intermission, when the dancers from both companies left the luxury of their stage to come outside and greet the crowd. “Bravo!” and greetings resounded, with affection and respect being shared by both sides.

Acclaimed Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta told the masses how special it was for him and for all Cubans to be part of such a historic moment, adding with obvious emotion in his voice, “Enjoy it! It’s for all of us!”

The other incredible gift was the performance offered by violinist Charlie Siem, who caressed the crowd with his smooth, precise, emotive notes. The applause was thunderous and the experience– well, it was memorable.

The night closed with the presentation of flowers and special recognition to the members of the Symphonic Orchestra of the Grand Theatre of Havana, directed by maestro Daniel Capps. The grand dame of Cuban ballet, Alicia Alonso, also honored us with her presence, in spite of her fragile health and physical condition.

Alicia Alonso; Photo: dalbera

It was through Alonso that so many Cubans learned about ballet, and because of her that those in attendance knew the dances and even their exact movements. During the height of her career in the 1970s, it was Alonso who brought us interpretations of Coppelia, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and an endless number of classic, universal pieces.

The visit of the London Ballet was a gift to add to the repertoire of our memories, guarding it like a relic for future generations.

**

Photo: ChrisGoldNY

La versatilidad del Capitolio de La Habana se ha puesto de manifiesto en este caluroso verano. Lejos de cumplir con su función original como centro político de la Cuba de los años 30s, recientemente sirvió de escenario al publico para la presentación del Ballet Real de Londres en su primera y única visita a Cuba conjuntamente con el Ballet Nacional Cubano.
En su historia el edificio del Capitolio de La Habana ha funcionado como Museo de Ciencias Naturales y hasta muy poco funcionó como sede para el Ministerio de Ciencia Tecnología y Medio Ambiente.
Las entradas para la presentación de la compañía inglesa se estaban vendiendo con antelación, pero era más la demanda que la oferta y como era de esperar muchas personas se quedaron sin poder adquirir los boletos de entrada. Por esa razón nació la idea de presentar la puesta en escena en pantalla gigante en el Capitolio, a un lado del Teatro Nacional. La idea, aunque no magnifica, fue ideal y practica para esta ocasión. Se pudo observar en tiempo real, al aire libre y a unos pasos del Teatro Nacional. Sin embargo, la primera noche fue una falsa alarma; la gente hubieran que esperar al segundo día donde si se hizo realidad el sueño.

La especulación con los precios provocó una fuerte operación policial para contrarrestar las altas sumas de dinero de costo para un boleto que vio su valor multiplicado 10 veces hasta llegar a la astronómica suma equivalente al salario mensual de un obrero cubano 200 pesos (9 dólares).

Photo: headlessmonk

En sus 45 primeros escalones del Capitolio, se ubicaron codo con codo nacionales y extranjeros de las mas diversas capas sociales. Resultaba interesante ver como en el trasfondo de las pantallas se percibía la cotidianidad de los cubanos que en su ir y venir contrastaban por detrás de las pantallas gigantes con la música clásica que acompañaba el ballet de las estrellas. Pintoresco panorama de saltos y pasos con una técnica maravillosa las actuaciones de estas dos grandes compañías de ballet que se movían desde la danza contemporánea hasta el mas clásico de los ballet.

La añeja ciudad de La Habana estaba de fiesta y se estremeció en su caribeño atardecer. Se respiro un aire de teatro al estilo habanero acompañado de cámaras con flash, tragos de ron Habana Club, y comentarios y aplausos como estruendo mientras bailaban. Sin duda alguna el momento cumbre del espectáculo fue en el intermedio, cuando de manera inesperada y sorpresiva los bailarines de ambas companias dejaron su lujoso salón de actuación para llegar hasta la multitud de espectadores que observaba desde las escalinatas del capitolio la actuación en vivo para saludarlos. Gritos de “Bravo!” y saludos estremecieron el lugar dándole a la escalera, al Capitolio, y a la Habana un toque exclusivo para la historia de los dos pueblos. Se respiraba afecto y respeto de ambas partes.

Carlos Acosta afamado bailarín cubano expreso ante la multitud presente lo especial que era para el y para todos los cubanos esta presentación tan especial y agrego con palabras muy emotivas- Disfrútenla que esta es para todos nosotros!- estas palabras fundieron al publico que consideró y disfrutó de su actuación momentos antes en la tarima.

El otro magnifico regalo fue la actuación del violinista Charlie Siem que con sus suaves y maravillosas notas estremeció al publico con su ejecución precisa y su sentimiento personal. Grandioso fue el aplauso y la experiencia inmemorable para decir poco.

Para cerrar la noche hubo flores y reconocimientos especiales para los integrantes de la orquesta sinfónica del Gran Teatro de La Habana dirigida por el maestro Daniel Capps. La gran bailarina Alicia Alonso también nos honro con su presencia apesar de su frágil salud y condición física.

Photo: rayparnova

La Habana conoció los temas y movimientos a ejecutar. Fue a través de Alicia Alonso que nos llenamos y aprendimos sobre el ballet. Ella nos regalo las interpretaciones de Coppelia, El Lago de los Cisnes, Romeo y Julieta y un sin fin de obras clásicas universales en su etapa mas productiva en el ballet cubano de los 70s.

Hoy una vez mas, recibimos el arte como regalo para agregarlo a nuestro repertorio de la memoria, y guardarlo como reliquia para generaciones venideras.

Museo de Chocolate de La Habana/Havana’s Chocolate Museum

Text: Martin Pei de la Paz
Photos: Brayan Collazo; Indrani Soemardjan
Translated by: Julie Schwietert Collazo
[vease abajo para la version en espanol]
*
Every day, millions of people around the world consume chocolate in some form. Chocolate can be found in candies, drinks, and toiletries; it’s even been used in clothing designs and in the manufacture of exotic objects. If you’re a chocolate aficcionado and you happen to be in Havana, be sure to stop by the Chocolate Museum.

With a name like “Chocolate Museum,” perhaps you imagine a museum like any other, full of items with historical value, rare objects, antiques, precious artifcats, and an extensive collection of books, photos, and documents on display.

This museum isn’t exactly like that. This museum is for the display of the ordinary and the common, not just from Cuba, but also from Spain, Belgium, and Mexico… but what is true is that all the items in this “collection” are somehow related to the culture of cacao and chocolate.

Master chocolate makers from Belgium came to Havana to train an elite group in artisanal chocolate-making so they could open a store in Havana where chocolate truffles, bon bons, and bars would be made in front of visitors.

Bears and tobacco leaves are some of the whimsical figures this new generation of Cuban chocolate artists is turning out. The chocolates also run the gamut with respect to the percentage of cacao and sugar each piece contains; there’s bitter, dark, milk, and white chocolate on display here.

The museum is climatized and well furnished, offering several tables from which guests can enjoy the museum’s collection and watch the chocolate makers at work.

And remember– the chocolate museum isn’t really a museum at all, but a cafe where you can enjoy this delicious aphrodisiac hot or cold.

Besides the candies, the Chocolate Museum has an extensive variety of tempting drinks, like the Aztec hot chocolate, mixed with black pepper and nutmeg. It really is a drink for the gods.

Ironically, the museum is located on “Bitter Street” (Calle Amargura), which gives it a special touch! It’s open to the public each day from 10 AM until 7:30 PM. Stop by for a visit– just be careful to keep your temptation and weight under control!

*
Millones de personas en el mundo consumen a diario chocolate o los derivados de el mismo. Este se encuentra en golosina, bebidas, lociones, e inclusive se ha utilizado para la construccion de piezas de vestir y en objetos exoticos. Si es usted uno de estos consumidores que esta en La Habana con confianza acérquese y visitelo.

Al escuchar Museo de Chocolate quizas su mente asocie e imagine un museo como cualquier otro, lleno de piezas de gran valor historico, objetos raros, colecciones antiguas y preciosas con extensa coleccion de libros, fotos, y documentos. Bueno, no exactamente. El museo del cual les hablo a decir verdad tiene piezas ordinarias y comunes, no solo de Cuba, sino tambien España, Bélgica y Mexico. Todos relacionados con la cultura del cacao y del chocolate.

Maestros chocolateros Belgas con mucha experiencia en el tema llegaron a La Habana para entrenar y formar un grupo de elite que tendría la tarea de encaminarse en el arte de la chocolatería y abrir en La Habana un lugar donde elaborar frente al cliente, bombones y tabletas de una manera diferente, artística y artesanal.

Desde un oso a un tabaco se mueven las caprichosas figuras que nos presentan los artistas de nueva generación de chocolateros cubanos. No solo se diferencian de la forma sino de la cantidad de cacao y azúcar en cada mezcla, dando lugar a los amargos, oscuros, con leche y blanco.

Climatizado y bien amueblado cuenta el museo con varias mesas desde donde se puede apreciar la colección del museo y a la vez a los chocolateros trabajando. De hecho el museo de chocolate no es un museo, sino una cafeteria donde se puede consumir este delicioso afrodiciaco frio o caliente.

Una gama de ofertas de bebidas que exhibe el museo es extensa y tentadora, como la taza de chocolate azteca mezclada con pimienta y nuez moscada es deleite para dioses para decir verdad.

Ironicamente este museo se encuentra hubicado en la calle “Amargura” la cual le da un toque especial! El mismo abre sus puertas al publico todos los días de 10:00 am a 7:30 pm. Y mi unica sugerencia es cuidado con las tentaciones y su peso.

Cambio Monetario en Cuba/Changing Money in Cuba

Text: Martin Pei de la Paz
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Brayan Collazo
[vease abajo para la version en espanol]

*
Traveling to another country presents a number of logistical challenges: finding accommodation, learning the local transportation system, making sure you’re safe, and learning local customs, to name just a few. Visiting Cuba presents even more challenges, such as exchanging money, and then, learning about the different types of currency, how items are priced, and forms of payment.

Cuba, with its CUC (shorthand for the “Cuban convertible”, as it’s called), turns money exchange into a science that’s not easy to decipher in one or two weeks. Figuring out the maze of transactions is a task that’s utterly Cuban–and tough, to boot.

Recently, some German friends of mine wanted to have the experience of buying fresh fruit and vegetables at a local market. A chalkboard indicated that guavas were 5 pesos a pound. They paid 10 CUC for two pounds of these delicious, aromatic fruit.

In reality, they paid $240 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of a Cuban’s monthly salary.

Every CUC is equivalent to 24 Cuban pesos. Every CUC is divisible into $0.25, $0.10 and $0.05 coins, facilitating small transactions, quite similar to the US dollar.

Although they were aware of the equivalency, my friends never thought that the national markets would charge in national currency (the peso) and not in CUC (the convertible).

The Cuban national currency (the peso) generates confusion among tourists, particularly as the coins look similar to those of the CUC. Complicating this scenario is the fact that we have a complex system of payment, which one can really only learn through his or her experiences of living in Cuba.

The peso is the currency used by the government to pay its workers. It’s also the currency that’s used to pay for daily expenses, such as transportation, as well as telephone and electric bills.

Oftentimes, tourists pay for services in CUC when they should be paying in Cuban pesos. Many Cubans take advantage of tourists’ lack of knowledge about the currency for motives of personal gain. It’s a common situation in markets that are designated for national consumption.

The system of money exchange gets more complicated and darker still, even for Cubans. For example, if you stop at a store designated for national consumption and you only have CUC, the exchange value of that CUC will only be 20 Cuban pesos instead of 24 Cuban pesos… complex, right? Yes, it is. Returning to our example of the German tourists buying guavas, having paid with one CUC, they would have only received 10 Cuban pesos, instead of 14, the official rate.

To get a better sense of this internal exchange rate, here’s a conversion table used by the Currency Exchange Bureaus in Cuba (CADECAs):

1 CUC= $24.00 Cuban Pesos
0.25= $6.00
0.10= $2.40
0.05= $1.20

The rate of exchange described in the market scenario, which I’ll refer to as an illicit exchange rate, are reflected in the following table:

1CUC= $20.00 Cuban Pesos
0.25= $5.00
0.10= $2.00
0.05= $1.00

Who knows what the reason is for this difference in the exchange rate in markets compared to the official exchange rate, but perhaps it can be explained by two possibilities: one, the ease with which this modified exchange rate facilitates transactions for vendors, who can work with round numbers instead of fractions: 1, 2, 5 and 20, for example, instead of 1.20, 2.40, etc. Perhaps the other reason is that this unofficial yet sanctioned exchange rate allows the vendors to earn a bit more. Nevertheless, I believe that once the embargo is lifted, the system of currency in Cuba will become more simplified.

The incentive for dishonesty and deception with respect to currency exchange is clear: just a few CUCs represent the monthly salary of an entire family. A good salary for a Cuban is 450 Cuban pesos– the equivalent of 19 CUC. It’s not hard to understand, then, why the driver of a private car for hire might take advantage of the ignorance of his passengers– and the perceived depth of their pockets–when charging them more for a trip from Point A to Point B than he’d charge from Point B to Point A when the distance is exactly the same.

The ideal place to change money is in banks or in authorized exchange bureaus, known in Cuba as CADECAS. CADECAs can be found throughout Havana and other provinces, as well as in hotels.

As incredible as it may seem, it’s not uncommon for tourists in Havana to be approached by a local who offers to change their money for them. I’d recommend, however, that you not take them up on the offer; money exchange outside of banks and CADECAs is not an authorized activity, and can end up causing you and the local problems. On more than one occasion, the tourist will receive one Cuban peso for every CUC he changes. In such cases, your money is lost and you’ll have no right or recourse to reclaim it. For this reason, I strongly suggest that you change your money in small denominations at CADECAs, being sure to ask for both currencies (CUC and Cuban pesos), as both are acceptable forms of payment throughout Cuba.

Although traveling in Cuba is safe compared to many other places in Latin America, it’s preferable if you travel with people you know or trusted friends until you’re confident enough to get around on your own.

Good luck!

*
Llegar de un pais a otro presenta un sin numero de problemas logisticos: acomodacion, transportacion, seguridad, costumbres, etc. Llegar a La Habana, Cuba especialmente envuelve algo mas que esto como por ejemplo, el cambio de monedas, precios, y formas de pago. Cuba, con su CUC (Cuba Unidad Convertible) como se le denomina por sus siglas o simplemente “convertibles,” envuelve una ciencia aparte no muy facil de decifrar en una semana o dos. Navegar por este laberinto de transaciones es de por si una tarea muy cubana y ardua a la vez.

Recientemente unos amigos mios Alemanes querian tener esa experiencia de viajeros primerisos de comprar en el mercado de frutas y vegetales frescos. En la pizarra aparecia “guayabas 5 pesos por libra.” Ellos compraron 2 libras de estas deliciosas y aromaticas frutas, pagando 10 CUC por este producto. En realidad pagaron $240 pesos cubanos, el equivalente a mas de un sueldo mensual para un Cubano.

Cada moneda de 1 CUC equivale a $24 pesos cubanos. Cada CUC se divide en monedas de $0.25, $0.10 y $0.05 para facilitar su cambio en transaciones pequenas, muy parecido al dolar en su unidad fraccionaria de cambio. Mis amigos aunque sabian su equivalencia en el cambio no se imaginaron nunca que en los mercados nacionales el pago es en moneda nacional (peso) y no en CUC (Moneda Convertible).

La moneda nacional Cubana (el peso) genera en sentido general confusión para los turistas ya que se parecen al CUC al cambiarse en monedas pequenas. Todo esto sin tomar en cuenta que tenemos un complicado sistema de pago que solo se aprenderá con la experiencia de vivir en Cuba. El peso es la moneda con la cual el gobierno paga a los trabajadores. Esta se utiliza para los pagos de actividades diarias: servicios telefónicos, eléctrico, transportes, etc.

Los turistas muchas veces pagan los servicios en CUC cuando deberían pagarlos en pesos cubanos. Muchos cubanos se aprovechan de este desconocimiento para sacar provecho. Esta situación se da mucho en los mercados para consumo nacional.

Este sistema de cambio en el mercado negro tiene otro valor, inclusive para los cubanos. Por ejemplo si te detienes a comprar en un establecimiento para el consumo nacional y solo tienes dinero CUC, el equivalente de este CUC sera de solo $20 pesos cubanos en vez de $24. Complejo verdad? Si, lo es. Ese mismo turista por ejemplo podria pagar por sus guayabas con 1 CUC y le devolverian $10 pesos cubano, en vez de $14 que es el cambio oficial.

Para una mejor idea de este cambio y su equivalencia, aqui esta la tabla de conversiones de CUC a peso cubano en casa de cambio oficia (CADECAS):

1 CUC= $24.00 pesos cubanos
0.25= $6.00
0.10= $2.40
0.05= $1.20

El mercado negro tiene una diferente tarifa de cambio en los mercados de frutas y vegetales. Estos se reflejan en la siguiente tabla de cambio de CUC a peso cubano:

1CUC= $20.00 pesos cubanos
0.25= $5.00
0.10= $2.00
0.05= $1.00

No se cual es la razona para esta diferencia en las tarifas en el mercado negro, pero quizas esta sea por dos razones especificas: una es la facilidad que esta presenta para los vendedores al trabajar con unidades de cambio completa: 1, 2, 5 y 20, en vez de: 1.20, 2.40, etc. Y la otras es por las ganancias que este cambio representa para ellos. Sin embargo creo que una vez las restricciones del bloqueo se levanten se podria simplificar este sistema monetario de cambio.

El incentivo para la deshonestidad van marcado por el hecho de que unos pocos convertibles representa el salario mensual de una familia. Un buen salario llegaria a $450 pesos Cubanos o $19 CUC. Muchas veces una misma carrera en un auto de alquiler privado te cuesta mas en la ida que en la venida, estimando el precio no por la distancia sino por la ignorancia de sus pasajeros y por la profundidad de tu bolsillo.

El lugar ideal para cambiar la moneda a CUC, pesos cubanos, o monedas extranjeras es en los bancos o en las casas de cambio, conocidas por sus siglas como “CADECAS.” Estas se encuentran en diferentes localidades en La Habana y en las provincias, pero mayormente dentro de hoteles.

Por insólito que parezca en La Habana es muy frecuente que alguna persona se le acerque con la intención de cambiarle la moneda. Le recomendaría no hacerlo ya que eso es una actividad delictiva que terminara perjudicandole. En mas de una ocasion el cambio que le harán será de un peso cubano por cada CUC que cambie, robandole de esa manera su dinero sin derecho a reclamo. Mi criterio es que cambie en la CADECA una pequeña cantidad de CUC a pesos cubanos de esa manera ya tienes las dos formas de pagos aceptables para Cuba.

Aunque viajar en Cuba es seguro comparado a otros lugares en latinoamerica, es preferible que lo hagan con personas conocidas o amigos de un amigo hasta que puedas navegar por si solo.

Buena suerte!