Saturday, May 11, 2013

Welcome to Havana


Tenzin Choephel
Reporting from Havana

The first night out in Old Havana
 Nothing could have started out worse during this trip. We were supposed to land in Havana Friday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. However, our flight was delayed for a good six hours in Miami due to airplane maintenance and some other issues.
 This threw our schedule off a little bit and everyone decided to get a good night’s rest instead of indulging in the Cuban night life right after we touched down around 11:00 p.m. It was a great decision for me, because I was exhausted after a red eye flight from Portland to San Francisco and finally to Miami, where I met up with our group. But our first full day in Cuba on Saturday was great!

We started off touring the city and exchanging our money from Canadian to Cuban dollars; also known as CUC. There was a huge fee that you had to pay to exchange from U.S. dollars to Cuban so going with Canadian was much cheaper. After that, we grabbed lunch at a local restaurant. They served excellent pizza, pasta, and lasagna. And that was quite surprising because I was expecting some Latin food. What was even more surprising was the price of some of these items. Pizza cost between three to five CUC (Cuban dollars) and the pizzas were as big as a large sized thin crust Domino’s Pizza!

The best part of the day was attending a Cuban baseball game. Los Industriales, Cuba’s most popular team was in a playoff game and our tour guide Julio wouldn’t stop talking about them. He called them the “Yankees of Cuba, you either loved them or hate them”. This was my first opportunity to get a good look at sports in Cuba. While I was focusing my stories on futbol (soccer), Adam, one of the members of our group, was doing a piece on Cuban baseball, so I followed him around a bit to get some insight on Los Industriales. It seemed every Industriales fan raved about the teams hitting ability and criticized the pitching. And it was evident during the game. Industriales pitched horribly and lost the game. I asked a fan how much these players were paid, and I was told since Cubans are not allowed to be professional athletes, they weren’t paid. In fact the baseball players made as much as any other citizen of Cuba doing other work. You now have an understanding to why many Cuban baseball players defect the country to play in the United States. The freedom, money, and opportunities far out way what they could do in Cuba.

The most memorable part of the first day was our night out. We all had a few drinks at the hotel bar and then headed out in taxis to a club outside of Old Havana. It was nice to know that the taxi services in Cuba also pick you up at the time you ask them. So all of us decide that 1:30 a.m. was when we would call it a night. Inside the club, I was able to observe some interesting things. I don’t think I saw one Cuban get a drink. Most people at the club were sitting down talking or dancing, but it seemed they never had a drink in hand. I believe it is because most don’t have the money to spend on drinks. This made our group standout.  Soon some Cubans came up to us and started flirting with us. Everyone was smart enough to back off and politely decline any of their advances. That night we decided that going out to clubs in Cuba was not a good idea. I think we’ll stick to somewhere closer. Even Julio laughed the next morning when he heard where we went.

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