A road-side sign, seen along a highway just outside Cienfuegos, Cuba:
The caption translates to “Only socialism makes the impossible possible.” In case you don’t recognize the portrait, it’s of Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela — a major benefactor of Cuba early in the 21st century.
A quick slice-of-life shot; seen in Havana, Cuba; taken through a tour bus’ windows as we drove by:
This scene probably doesn’t look all that exceptional to you, but it’s got two interesting stories in it.
So, some pictures and a few words about another interesting thing we got to see a bit of on our trip to Cuba last autumn — the school system.
We were able to see a few schools, either outside or inside or both. But mostly, we saw schoolkids — note the uniforms, they’re color-coded. Continue reading
By far one of the biggest adjustments we had to contend with when visiting Cuba was food. Not the food we ate — not at all. Tourists get treated to food of a quality and in a quantity comparable to what you’d find in visiting many places across the globe.
But the locals don’t get off so easily.
This is a bodega, the Cuban version of a ration center. We visited in mid-month, when clients were few and the stock (as you can see from the shelves) thin. From what we were told, though, bodegas are very busy places on the first of the month — when Cuban citizens can come in with their ration books and collect (at relatively low price) their month’s stock of staple foods.
Of the many challenges of life in today’s Cuba, housing must rank among the greatest. There’s not enough of it, much of the available housing stock is in terrible shape, and the Cuban legal code makes it hard to legally transfer ownership — so moving households is a big challenge.
In this shot from above (courtesy of a hotel upper-floor window), you can see how some units were turned into small yards after their roofs collapsed. Continue reading
So given that only about 2% of Cubans own a car, and that there is no dedicated city-to-city transit system (a la Greyhound busses or Amtrak in the U.S.), how do Cubans get from place to place?
Well, basically, it’s not easy.
In rural areas, people can make do with more-traditional approaches — you’ll see a lot of semi-modern carriages drawn by horses out here. I’m guessing this works pretty well for trips into town from farms in the hinterlands. Continue reading
When people find out you’ve been to Cuba, they always seem to want to talk about the cars (at least in the U.S.).
So, just to get our footing, let’s start by talking about license plates. It didn’t used to be this simple, but relatively-modern Cuban license plates make it easy to tell whether a vehicle belongs to the government, or to a private citizen. Government vehicles have license plates with a blue strip on their left end:
Since most cars and trucks in Cuba are owned by the government, you’ll see a lot of license plates like the one above / left. I’m not sure what the “B” stands for, but it’s nearly the only letter you’ll see on Cuban government plates. One prominent exception is the “T” plate (above / right) — these are for government vehicles reserved for tourists, namely rental cars.
License plates for privately-owned vehicles lack the blue strip, and always start with a “P” for good measure:
A minor detail, perhaps, but you’ll see where this comes into play in subsequent posts.