Friday, 2 March 2012


In any other country you take it for granted that going out for dinner at a restaurant is a promising idea when visiting family & friends.  After spending most nights, a slave to the kitchen, cooking not only for her family but also for the many tourists that are welcomed into the family home, who wouldn’t want to take a break and spend a rare evening out at a restaurant.

Off course as with everything in Cuba, it’s complicated.  How can eating out be so complicated?  Well, most restaurants in Trinidad are in hard currency, prices are in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC); most families in Cuba cannot afford these prices. 
Hitching a ride in Cuba
The couple of restaurants that do accept Cuban Pesos (CUP) are out of town, so you need a car to get there or hitch-hike.  Luckily for us my family have a tiny green limozini, which is like a tardis; we have managed to squeeze the whole family into the back seat many a time, sometimes getting amazed looks from other tourists. 

But travelling with the family in their car is complicated in itself and risky, as they do not have permission to have me in their car.  But I’m family now, well we consider each other as family, but officially I’m still a tourist, I’m not Cuban.  For me this is a hard pill to swallow, in my eyes I’m no longer a tourist.  Over the last few years I have probably spent more time visiting my family in Cuba than my family in London.  I feel as close to my Cuban family as I do with my family in London.  In fact, when I’m in Cuba I feel like I belong, maybe I was Cuban in another life!  Doesn’t that count?  Why can’t I go to a restaurant with my Cuban family without it being risky or complicated?  ‘Eso es Cuba’ or ‘This is Cuba’, is the only reply I get.

Then there’s the fear that the waiters will spot me a mile off as being a tourist, any excuse to charge us in CUC prices instead of CUP.  Paying in CUC, for the family, would be an absolute horror, and they would die in shame if I offered to pay for them.  So the first time we ventured out to a Peso restaurant, I was ordered to remain silent.  My accent was not quite Cuban yet (and I’m afraid to say, still isn’t). 

Since then we have become semi-regulars at another Peso restaurant out of town.  My friend’s husband knows the waiter there; it’s always good to know the right people in Cuba.  Always the joker, he walks into the restaurant, and instead of making our entrance as conspicuous as possible, he announces for everyone to hear that I’m his cousin from Sancti SpĂ­ritus, ‘ella es bandolera....loca’.  He loves to claim that I’m some crazy delinquent from another city in Cuba, which explains for my strange Spanish accent.  He is well known in Trinidad, everyone knows he’s a prankster and even though they know full well that I’m not from Cuba, they usually allow us to dine in peace without the fear of paying in CUC.

In fact, I often run into the waiter in town when I’m in Cuba.  The family say he has a soft spot for me, but then in Cuba I am irresistible!  He always asks me ‘When are you coming to the restaurant?’ or ‘When are we going to go out dancing?’.  So you can imagine our disappointment when the last time we decided to eat out at the restaurant, they decided that I had to pay in CUC.  We were a larger group this time with 2 other ‘tourists’ with us, 1 of which was married to a Cuban.  Maybe we were pushing our luck that time.  They insisted that ‘we’, meaning the ‘tourists’ pay in CUC.   I was just glad that the family could pay in CUP, but they felt bad for me and vowed never to return again!  That can’t be easy, 1 less affordable option for them.

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