Report from Franklin Marquez about a Trip to Cuba by Non-Cuban Friends

[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]

Some friends who have never been to Cuba, do not live in Miami, and have no connection or past history with the country recently traveled to Havana as part of a museum trip. The trip was actually organized through a religious group.

I wanted to learn about their impressions, so I went and met with them. As I expected, they visited only tourist areas and did not see the parts of Havana that I did. But their impressions are interesting.

I saw all their photographs, which were much like those I took in the tourist areas. They had photos of El Morro, el Castillo de la Real Fuerza, La Floridita restaurant, Hemingway’s room in the Hotel Ambos Mundo, Plaza de Armas, where people sell books, magazines and propaganda, and there are posters of and books about Ché Guevara, Fidel, and Russian communists. My friends stayed at the Hotel Nacional, which I had only seen from the outside. It was elegant. I saw gardens, views of the ocean from their room, and a lot of sites more beautiful than I saw in my hotel.

They also went to La Playa, where the tourist hotels apparently line the beach, and saw Cojimar. Why didn’t I go there when I was in Havana? Because my guide was my cousin, who grew up in Havana under the current regime, and Cubans have always been forbidden, and are now at least discouraged, from going there. The beaches are across the inlet from Havana Vieja, via a tunnel. You have to pass through the tunnel to visit El Morro Castle.

Oswardo had shown me that Cubans swim in the rocky beach near the Morro. But he did not feel comfortable going beyond this area on the road to the beach hotels. Maybe next time I go, I will visit the area, but I imagine it’s not much like Cuba. It could be a resort beach anywhere.

My friends told me about eating in a beautiful paladar (private home that serves meals under a license), overlooking the ocean. They said the meal was delicious, and they had steak. Although I did have one decent meal in a small paladar in Havana, it certainly was not gourmet food and did not have a view.

They also told me when they were leaving the country they learned that it is illegal for a Cuban to eat beef, and they were surprised about the meal they had eaten. I confirmed that it was true. There is no beef for Cubans, and if they get their hands on some, they’d better be careful having it in their possession. And the aroma of meat cooking would certainly arouse the attention of the neighborhood spies of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. I was told that possessing beef could bring three years in prison.

My friends have two dogs in the U.S. of a breed called Havanese. They had told me in the past that the breed came from Havana, and that was where the name had come from. When I was there, I did keep my eyes open for one, just to take a photograph for my friends. I think I saw only about two dogs while in Cuba, and no other domestic animals. My friend said he asked the guide about a pet store, thinking he could walk in and see some of these dogs. The guide tried to be helpful, and finally told them where there might be a “pet store”. But it was in the inner city of El Centro, and my friend decide it was too frightening to walk in there. It’s a good thing he didn’t bother, because he would not have found a pet store like he was expecting. Maybe it would have some pet food, but I can’t imagine it would be much of a store. The Cuban people have a full-time job feeding themselves, and to think they would have domestic pets as a rule is unheard of.

He said somebody asked him why he wanted to go to Cuba. He said he wanted to see what it is like before the government changes and it becomes another Disney World.

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