Saturday, January 11, 2020

January 7, 2020 – Ricardo the Cuban Salvavida

For our final day in Cuba, we thought of doing something crazy like renting a hot air balloon, chartering an airplane to Havana, building a raft and trying to float to Key West, wrestling crocodiles in the marshes, or going to breakfast as a group completely naked, but that all sounded too tiring so instead we stuck with the regular routine and just tried to eat and drink as much as possible in Free Land before having to return to Pay For Everything Land tomorrow.

Magnus and Stella joined me for the final day of Walking Club and we infiltrated a different resort this time - the Playa Costa Verde, but it wasn’t nearly as nice as ours and was quite a bit smaller so it was scratched from the list of resorts for future consideration. The weather was cloudy, but still warm, and we had a very satisfying walk.

After breakfast we broke for the beach and scored premium chairs in a premium spot, surely because it was cloudy and raining, but we had a feeling it would burn off soon and let the heavenly rays shine through, which it did. Ana, the kids and I did another snorkeling trip on the paddleboat, then went hermit crab hunting on the beach and Stella found hundreds of little ones, so we build a sand stadium for a hermit crab race. Sadly, they either didn’t move at all or moved so slowly that a race was not possible.

During the afternoon we met a local fellow named Ricardo who worked as a lifeguard (or as it’s called in Spanish “salvavida” – a fun word I just never tire of saying) and we chatted with him for over an hour about his life, his family, his job, and the situation in Cuba. He was happy to discuss all these things, until I asked him if he thought there would ever be a revolt or wholesale change in the political system. Then he stopped talking, uncomfortable, and simply said “Quien sabe?” which means “Who knows?”

Cuba has been in the grips of an authoritarian, communist regime for over 60 years. Signs with propaganda slogans appear everywhere in the country:

“Socialismo or muerte!” 

“Hasta la victoria, siempre!”

“Patria o muerte!”

Cubans cannot freely leave the country. Police and military presence is everywhere. Cubans earn an average state salary of around $30 per month. There is little concept of private ownership, although this is slowly changing, as is the ability to start a small business. People have very few possessions and many live in primitive housing. On the other hand, Cuba has a literacy rate of 99.8%, universal healthcare, no homelessness, and is one of the safest countries in the world (as long as you’re not a journalist or political reformer). It is a country of contrast that endures constant struggle, largely of its own doing, and the ruling party has an iron grip on power.

Will this ever change? Will the people ever rise up and demand change? Or will there be just slow, incremental changes, or no changes, for decades to come? Nobody knows. In the meantime we will continue to visit Cuba, support their economy, enjoy the warm hospitality of the Cuban people, and consider ourselves fortunate to visit such an interesting and unique country.

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