I just finished reading a 600-page book on Cuba and I have several questions-not all of which are directly related. Some are politically-oriented (the first-half). Some are tourist-oriented (the second-half). Please respond to whatever questions you can:
1. I read in my book that “the hotels are the backbone of Havana’s social scene?” I don’t understand this. I thought Havana is more about the authenticity, meaning roaming colonial streets and chatting with locals who are sitting outside their colonial homes. What so special about hotels in Havana? What gives them ‘life’? Is it that they host live music and this is where locals go for entertainment?
2. I know that Castro’s regime has, in recent times, freed up the economy a little. However, back in the 60s, before any significant privatization was allowed, was everyone basically making approximately the same amount of money or did it depend on province, profession, skill, etc.? What about now? Are all nationwide state-employed Cubans making approximately the same wage or again, does it depend significantly on province and profession? If so, then what stopped everyone from simply migrating to the country’s ‘highest-paying’ province?
3. In contemporary times, are private sector workers (like tour guides, homeowners who house tourists, private taxi drivers, etc.) allowed to keep most of their earnings? If so, then why would a taxi driver prefer to work in the public sector as opposed to the private? After all, the public sector taxi presumably keeps a much smaller portion of the net profit. Would a Cuban cab driver prefer the state sector because of wage security (receiving a consistent wage every month regardless of how many people he has picked up, how much business he has done successfully)?
4. Since the government ‘appoints’ citizens to their homes, how is it determined how many people will live in that home? How is it determined who gets the most desirable locations (e.g. Havana Vieja versus the far outskirts of the city)? Also, what if someone wants to relocate from, let’s say, Santiago to, let’s say, Havana? Is such freedom of movement allowed and if so, then who determines where this person will live and with whom he will live (let’s say he is single and relocating alone)?
5. Is it common, acceptable and safe to discuss politics in Cuba with locals? If so, then to what extent?
6. How common is it for women in Cuba to get harassed-locals and tourists alike?
7. It seems like the US granted some kind of quasi-independence to Cuba following the Spanish-American war due to local wariness of US support and local desire for independence. Why wasn’t Puerto Rico initially granted a similar status as Cuba?
8. Being a communist country, what is the state’s position and locals’ point-of-view on religion and church? Are Cubans a religious bunch or they more secularist like their Soviet-era comrade counterparts? Can you wear crosses and the like in Cuba without fear of harassment? I know Castro cannot be likened to Stalin, but has he-generally or ever-closed down church institutions and converted the buildings into functional shops of some sort (like Russia did)?
9. Did jewelry and other forms of material wealth appear in Cuba before the ‘Special Period (early 1990s)? If so, then how could have Cubans themselves ever afforded such a commodity?
10. For all visitors to Cuba, cans tourists pay for almost everything in US dollars? In other words, can one could simply bring to Cuba numerous $1s, $5s, $10s and $20s bills and roam the streets with no other currency in pocket-without needing to exchange currency in Cuba? If so, then in what currency does one receive change?
11. What’s a good guidebook for someone who wants to see all the important sights in Cuba? I am referring to a guidebook that, perhaps, breaks the city into sections and helps you do self-guided walking tours or at least a guidebook that breaks the city into sections, numerically lists all the important sights within each section and then shows you on a clear map where each important sight is located?
12. To see all the important sights and attractions in Havana, how many days do you think a visitor needs? I know that one could stay for weeks to soak in the culture and ambiance, but for pure sightseeing and perhaps a little nightlife, how much time do you think would be just about enough?
13. What exactly is the Buena Vista Social Club? Is there a specific place to visit in Havana to hear this music or band?
14. At the Playas del Este, are the beaches tropical and clean? Are they lively with drinks and music?
15. How much does a tourist card (Visa) to Cuba cost?
16. Can you recommend any affordable, cute and clean hostel in Havana Viejo? What is a typical colonial mansion-style ‘hosteles’ room cost in the Old Town (for one person)?
17. Have you been to ‘Casas de la Trova’ in Havana and if so, then were you impressed? What’s it like?
Cuba: Various Interesting Questions (Non-Polemical)
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