What are US-Cuban relations like overall? Pretty icy as of the Trump presidency. What have my relations with Cuban been like? ¿Acere, que bola? Bienvenido a la Habana!
Here’s a day in the life of an American in Cuba, and some of our learnings.
7:00AM: Log into Wi-Fi in the hotel. Wi-Fi is extremely difficult to get in Cuba because the state restricts it to public hotspots where you must bring a pre-paid card with a code on it to log in. You know where a hotspot is because you will see many people sitting on their cell phones. We are lucky enough to have hotel Wi-Fi, and the only time many of the group accessed it was in the morning and evening when at the hotel.
8:00AM: Eat breakfast at the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana. The hotel is operated by Spanish company Melia and owned by the Cuban government.
9:00AM: Meet with Cuba Emprende, a Catholic Church sponsored organization that educates and supports private small business entrepreneurs. We spoke with several students of the program. These entrepreneurs usually have outside remittances or family support to start businesses. A paladar, or a Cuban restaurant, can be as costly as $200K CUC (roughly $200K USD) to start.
11:00AM: Visit small private business, Clandestina. The founders are two very impressive and scrappy women, one Spanish and one Cuban, who own the only major retail/clothing brand in Cuba. They bring materials from the US themselves, and hand paint or stamp designs on their cheeky t-shirts. Their most famous shirt design says, “Actually, I’m in Havana” – an ode to the fact that internet is extremely difficult to connect to, and you would tell a friend when you finally do connect that “Actually, I’m in Havana [and have limited internet]”.
Noon: Eat lunch on the rooftop patio of La Makina Gastro Bar. We had the option of fish, chicken or lamb at most restaurants, and most automatically served a mojito with every meal. The meals we had on our trip were the best of the best Cuban cuisine, and it is important to note, we saw no Cuban sandwiches on any menus! Our tour guide, Rossi, warned us that Cuba is not known for its food given the difficulties of importing supplies and the lack of production in the country (as the highly educated population is not incentivized to work in agriculture).
1:00PM: After the meal a brand ambassador of Havana Club, a JV with French company Pernod Ricard, spoke with us about how to taste Cuban rum, and how the Cuban and French companies work together quite well to sell over $40M in Havana Club in Cuba alone each year. It is not available in the US due to the Embargo.
3PM: Meet with the EU embassy. The diplomats we spoke to from the embassy were relatively new to the office and spoke about their thoughts on Cuban-EU and Cuban-US relations. They were notably, very diplomatic in their responses!
6PM: Dinner at La Guarida, an old dilapidated mansion whose top floor was renovated and turned into a restaurant and rooftop bar. The cuisine was excellent by Cuban standards and the atmosphere was absolutely charming.
9PM: Enjoy a daiquiri at Floridita, a bar Ernest Hemingway frequented during his extradition in Cuba. Afterwards, head home to connect to Wi-Fi and recharge prior to a trip to the historic colonial city of Trinidad, a 5 hour bus ride from Havana.
-Jill Wang ’18