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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Just back from Cuba

That's me in an old car serving as a taxi in Havana.  
A week without cell phone,  internet, or credit cards in Cuba underscores the profound impact those things have on our lives here in America. They've so fully permeated our existence we barely realize it until time is spent without them.

Cubans in downtown Havana wait in line to inquire about getting cell phone service.

It's not that they aren't allowed there, but the Cuban infrastructure doesn't support them very well.

The biggest crowd I saw in Havana was not at a soccer game but outside the cell phone company. Despite the fact that a Cuban young person's greatest expense is for cell phone and internet, many people want both.

I expected a Communist police state, abject poverty,  rundown buildings and lots of old cars. I found a socialist society in which every Cuban gets free health care, free education through college, lifetime housing, a guaranteed job and a monthly allotment of food. I found music everywhere, gorgeous well kept architecture, and a happy exuberant populace proud of their land and eager to share it.  Workers in Cuba earn about $15 a monthly and more than 90% of them work for the state. But almost everyone has a side job in which tips from visitors boost their income. That sheds a new light on poverty.

Many of the old cars dating from the 1950s serve as taxis for visitors, and many are beautifully restored. But there also are plenty of cars just like the 10-year old Toyota I drive along with several types of Russian-made vehicles

Since the U.S. embargo, which began in 1960, American have not been permitted to go there and to spend U.S. dollars. In recent years that prohibition has been relaxed and we can go to Cuba legally on person-to-person visits. I'm just back from such a trip framed around culinary Cuba. US citizens also go there illegally, traveling through Toronto, Jamaica or another country for which Cuba travel is not prohibited. Canadians have been taking winter vacations there for years, and whether they come legally or illegally, Americans are the second greatest number of visitors. Although on the surface the prohibition doesn't seem to be strictly enforced, the penalties can be severe, both in terms of fines  and jail time.
I'll be writing lots more about Cuba and what I discovered there so I hope you will follow this blog and my travel sections, which run the second Sunday of each month.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really love your posts about Cuba! Makes me want to go now more than ever. The music, the people, the food, the color. Sounds like an adventurers paradise. Rob

June 20, 2014 at 11:01 AM 

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