Travelling within the restrictions

Travelling in Cuba was very different from travelling in any other country I’ve visited. There are a lot of rules when it comes to tourists. How much of it all is true and how much is legend I still don’t really know. Tourists have separate transportation and you were not allowed to travel with the Cubans, although in some places it is possible. To get an ice cream you have to join the tourist line, where the ice cream is fancier and more expensive. Cuba makes it hard to get a local experience. From what I heard, it is even forbidden to talk to tourists unless you work in the tourist industry.

One day I was walking around Santiago de Cuba with my travel buddy. At the waterfront a man started talking to us. The first thought popping into my head was ‘not another person who wants something from us’. But this man kept on talking. His English was good and we started a conversation. A bit weary about where this was leading I let it go on. He kept saying how my travel buddy and I should be a couple and picked a flower my friend was meant to give me. The idea of a boy and girl just travelling together is a foreign concept in Cuba. Eventually he gave me the flower himself. Then he started looking around. “We can talk about politics. There are no cameras here.”

The man showed us a CD he’d bought for his daughter. Every time he came to the city he would buy her one. CD’s here look like homemade copies with badly printed covers and they are sold in tiny shops that are full of them. It’s like the CD’s we made when pc’s got CD-burners in them. “I like you. It’s nice to talk to you. Where are you going? I have nothing to do.” Ok. My alarm bells started ringing, but somehow this man joined us on our walk. We walked through the Tivoli area and he showed us a cool jazz house where locals hang out at night. We ended our walk in the community chess hall. You could rent a mat with pieces and my friend was challenged for a game.

Our ‘host’ wasn’t just anyone, he claimed to be one of the top 5 chess players in Cuba and champion of this region. I know nothing about chess, so I couldn’t tell you if he was lying. He easily won the game though, moving pieces without even thinking. When the game was over the catch came. It wasn’t huge, but he asked my travel buddy to buy him some oil. I know there are some scams about buying milk for babies. Was this a new one? Instead of oil the man got some money so he could buy the oil himself. The man also tried to invite himself to dinner. “Where are you going? I can meet you?” I was over it by this time and said I wasn’t sure because I didn’t feel too well, which wasn’t even a lie. Talking to tourists might be forbidden, but for money some people will tell you anything.

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