Cuba: Stories from the Casas

Between sadness and joy: the best way to get to know Cuba is to visit the locals themselves.

Ramon already traveled abroad a few times. He already worked as a veterinarian in the Netherlands as well as in Venezuela. But he always returned home. Ramon feels comfortable in Viñales, even he earns less than abroad. He smiles a lot and loves the silence. Today he works only part time as a veterinarian. He is a proud owner of two horses since several years and nowadays he rides through the countryside with tourists.

Business is working good. “Me and my horses can rest twice a week”, he says. Often Ramon meets his clients not only on the horse, but while drinking coffee with his parents or during a ride with his uncle. As Ramon’s family owns a Casa Particular in Viñales, in the province of Pinar del Rio.

450.000 Cubans work on their own account
Since 2010 the Cubans are officially allowed to own a private company, such as renting out rooms. A white-blue sticker, that looks like an anchor – collocated on the main door, indicates that the rooms are rented out to tourists. Casas, like the one of Ramon’s family, you can find all over the island. Today, there are about 450.000 Cubans are working on their own account. They drive taxis, cut hair or rent out rooms. Cubans are very inventive when it comes to create a new private company. They are called “cuentapropistas”.

Families like Ramon’s have an important role on the ilsand: they stimulate the economy and help it grow. However, tourists coming or not, the Casa owners have to pay very high taxes to the state. For Ramon’s family it is about 200 CUC per month. One night at the Casa Particular for two people costs 20 CUC.  Tourists usually only stay one or two nights. Therefore families make their living with washing clothes (every piece is billed very exactly) or with cooking for their foreign guests.

If you are looking for a Casa in one of the lively cities of Santa Clara, Trinidad or Havanna you will see many people sitting in front of their houses. For hours they sit there waiting the time to pass and at the same time guarding their belongings behind the fragile wooden door. With huts on their heads and cigars in their mouth, they love to pose for photos.

"The university is waiting!"
Iris, the daughter at our Casa particular in Trinidad, pops out of the darkness of the courtyard. “The university is waiting” she says, swinging the room key. Between an old tobacco machine and the imported fridge, she talks to us in a fast Spanish, presents city maps and offers fruits. Iris’ family is perfectly organized as well. The grandmother is cooking, the mother washes and the father drives a taxi. But always there is always space for a friend of neighbor, trying to save up his money for the next chicken. “The chicken are out pets until we eat them”, Iris says and grins.

If there is some time left in addition to the work at the Casa, Ramon and Iris are masters in craft and inventing. They emphasize their broken homes with colors, repair old timers, fold figures and huts for children out of dried palms. And they support their friends on other ideas and their implementation: like for example goat vans, so the children can make their rounds on the city square.

Source: www.salzburg.com , Written by: Eva Pittertschatscher | 16.02.2015