Log Book: Puerto De Vita - Cuba - May 10, 2004
Black Market Tomatoes, Senor?
The next morning we explored de Vita, though there wasn't much to see: one road through the town lined with cement and palm huts and curious and friendly locals. We met, at Maciek's insistence (he was much more forward about meeting locals than I was, strangely, though it was my Spanish that was put to use once we were talking to them), a man named Pepe, who, when asked about getting some fresh fruit and vegetables, led us to a cucumber cart being led by a donkey just then going down the dirt road. When word got round that there was a couple of tourists in town who were after exchanging American dollars for pesos, friends came out of the woodwork and shyly came forward to help.
One man, Carlos, went off on a bike with our five dollars and returned some minutes later and gave us some couple of hundred pesos. Armed with local currency we set out to replenish our depleted supplies. We put an order in with our new friends to get us some cheese, fruits, veggies and fish for the next day, which he told us he could procure through someone who knows someone. Maciek smiled at me and said for the first of many times, "I know this system!"
Apparently communist Poland worked in the same way, where you needed to know someone who knew someone else in the right place to get the things that you needed. It's more a system of traded services, rather than purchasing goods, and as you "organize" things for someone, they will "organize" things for you. This was my first introduction into communist commerce and I was never more out of my depth. Maciek, on the other hand, was feeling tickled to bits at knowing more than me.
We spontaneously decided to hitch hike to the next town since there didn't seem to be anything to see that you couldn't cover in a five minute walk, so we went up to a cluster of people waiting at an unmarked bus stop and decided to go where they were going, which turned out to be the town of Guardalavaca. Once there (after a ride on the back of a covered pickup with 6 plastic chairs in the back - apparently they were in the habit of picking up the many travelers we were to see along the roadside and at every intersection in Cuba), we visited a tourist resort to make use of their Internet facilities and to reassure parental units back home that we were safe. We got our fill of amusement in observing scads of tubby English and Continental bodies in shades of pink and red, soaking up the rays between bouts of Cristal beer and pool calisthenics, blissfully insulated in the cocoon of all-inclusive package vacations. We had some lunch there for which we splurged $4.00US. I paid for it later in different currency as well, with a bout of Montezumaís revenge... I think it was the cheese.
When we attempted to get back to de Vita we found that tourists don't get picked up that easily as it is still illegal for Cubans to transport tourists in their vintage cars. We watched for over an hour as the Cubans flagged down cars and got in while we were passed by time after time, though Tobi (I swear it was at Maciek's shameless entrepreneurial insistence) tried her most winning smile and flashed her blue eyes in pitiful appeal. To no avail, hmph. Eventually we buckled down and got fleeced by an "unofficial" taxi driver in a '49 Chevy who gave us a ride for $5.00. Later on that night we decided to rent a car with Dave and Linda and their son Luke, the Canadians who had just come in the day before, and explore Santiago de Cuba.
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