Are the Cubans Poor?

If that’s your question, I have to ask you:

How Do You Define Poverty?


I think that will tell you a lot about whether you will enjoy Cuba.  I will admit, I did not know much about this intriguing country before I came.  Not near as much as I should have, at least.  I am notorious for wondering wide-eyed (and naive) into a new place, city, even country, without knowing very much about its history, geography, or customs, particularly when I know I will have Phillip alongside me every step of the way.  I hate to call it lazy but it is a divine way to travel as he likes to research, read up, plan and book our lodgings, outing and reservations and me?  I like to go!  Anywhere and everywhere and eat, see and experience it all.  Other than the very general parameters of staying moderately active and healthy in the process and partaking in the most ‘local’ experience possible, Phillip knows I am “up for” just about anything so, in this regard, we travel very well together.  This partnership, however, does occasionally leave me in a stupefied surprise when I stumble into an environment I did not expect.  Cuba did this to me.  In the best way possible.

I knew it was a socialist country and, while being educated, I will admit I did not quite understand the depth to which that singular political decision made these peoples’ lives so very different, as an American, from my own.  I saw socialism in my mind as ‘sameness.’  It reminds me of one of the very first books I remember actually reading, The Giver. Everyone in the society has virtually the same things.  They are provided with the same amenities, similar homes, cars, food and provisions so that their basic needs are theoretically taken care of and they do not covet their neighbor’s salary, home or social position.  In theory, it has its benefits.  There is no “competing with the Jones’,” there is no jealousy or vast discrepancy in land ownership or wealth.  In hope, there is no imbalanced wealth nor unfair poverty.

When you walk the dirty, crumbling streets of Jaminitas—the small neighborhood near the marina, where Phillip and I walked often for lunch or dinner and which quickly became our favorite venue while in Cuba—one word would likely immediately come to mind: poverty.  The age of their clothing (likely handed down and down and down and on its fifth year of daily wear), the holes in the curtains, the dinghy dogs roaming the streets, the threadbare sheets you can see on the cots in their living rooms which you can see from the street, you would probably immediately think they are poor.  And they are, compared to our standards.  Phillip and I learned a typical wage for Cubans who work as, say, auto mechanics, janitors, or construction workers is about 20 cucs a month.  That equates to about $24 a month.  Twenty-four.

But, you have to remember they do get rations every month—a generous portion of beans, rice, bread and meat every day.  They have free health care, free education, free housing and much more.  Are these the same houses that we can see all the way into from the street because they are only about three hundred square feet in size?  Yes.  But they don’t pay rent.  After factoring that in, and learning that a very filling, enjoyable meal for Phillip and I both including a bottle of wine at a nice family’s back patio cost us only 11 cuc, you start to think maybe they have what they truly need, at least as far as amenities, food and shelter goes and they don’t “want” as much as a typical American family does.  They don’t crave “things” as much.  At least I don’t believe they do.  What I did see as I walked what any typical American would call very poor streets, dodging dog shit, wafting away black clouds of car fumes and saying “pardon” left and right for the dozens of people that constantly passed by, was enjoyment.  The children were playing ball, pushing scooters and laughing.  The teenagers were incessantly flirting and cuddling in corners.  The adults were often arguing in jest but often laughing as much as the children and constantly talking and checking in on one another.  It seemed everyone’s lives were accessible to one another.  There was no shutting of yourself in a room with an iDevice and ignoring the outside world.  The “it takes a village” philosophy would definitely apply here as they all live their lives in the open and among one another.

What I did not feel was scared.  We walked some very dark seemingly seedy streets at night trying to find some of the little “back patio” restaurants new friends we had met had told us about.  We were often lost, wandering and passing by strangers in the night.  In many cities in the states, walking streets like that after dark, I would have been a little frightened, particularly in a neighborhood where Phillip and I would be such obvious standouts.  One of the things I hate about being in an area like that where my clothing or accent or skin color makes me an immediately recognizable ‘tourist’ there is the stare you often get from the locals.  They watch you walk by, following every step, daring you to make eye contact to start something.  Their glare makes you feel like you have something they want and they might just take it from you.  I never felt that in Cuba.

Phillip and I were often easily the whitest people on the street, with the cleanest clothes and pockets full of more cucs than many of the Cubans make in a year and they could care less.  Many didn’t even look at you.  They were too busy in conversation, laughter or buying some fruit to worry about a tourist walking by.  Those that did meet your eye would often say “Hola,” or “Buenas.”  The chance Canadian friend we made our first day in Cuba who lives in Jaimanitas three months out of the year and who served as an excellent tour guide for the area, told us “Cuba is the safest country to visit” because the very harsh punishments for crimes serves as an excellent deterrent.  While I haven’t visited enough countries to say whether that is true, I can easily say on the dark streets of Cuba, which easily look quite sinister, I felt safe.  It is a feeling you have as you walk by the locals that they are not sizing you up.  They are often not interested in you at all.  

By American standards, they likely easily qualify as “poor” but they don’t give you the feeling that they want for much, in the way of things that is.  This speaks nothing for the liberties they desire, the freedoms we Americans are so easily afforded and take for granted (such as the ability to travel, write, earn, etc.).  These liberties, however, are not something they can take from you or that you can provide, so it is not something they look to you for.  Rather, as you walk among them along what appears to be poverty-ridden streets, wearing, carrying or holding many things one would assume they do not have and would likely want, they simply smile or greet you as they pass by.  “Adios!  Buenos noches,” the children shout as you leave.

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Why We Travel

“There’s something magical about the Azores,” Phillip told me well before we stepped foot on Andanza to cross the Atlantic.


When the idea first started to flick like a candle flame in our minds that we might sail across an ocean this year, Phillip immediately started to overflow with what little he knew about the places we might see along the way: Bermuda, the Azores, Peter Sport Café.  Now, this was long before we knew Yannick did not plan to stop at any of these places.  Not a one.  But it didn’t matter.  While Phillip and I love to see new places and explore new shores, we also love the journey in between.  Simply crossing the ocean was enough for us, but Phillip and I are both so grateful that things worked out the way they did and we had the opportunity to spend nine colorful, captivating days in that magical place known as the Azores during our voyage across the ocean.

Discovering new places, people and cultures by venturing off the main thoroughfare down obscured alleyways, in rumbling rickshaws lead by locals who have walked those roads barefoot since they were a child is why we travel.  I expect to feel the same kind of wanderlust awe as we traverse Havana, watching old Chevies putter by, following puffs of smoke from women on a balcony, wandering around with my mouth hanging wide open because I’ve simply forgotten all about it in my wonderment.  That sounds a little Alice in Wonderland but that is how I feel when we step onto a new shore: exuberantly overwhelmed and proud to be just mad enough to have embarked on the journey I did to get there.

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”


Where do you want to wander to?

As Phillip and I spend these last days preparing for our voyage to Cuba, my mind for some reason keeps traveling back to the Azores.  Probably because it, too, was a place where I could have never imagined myself because I simply could not imagine it.  I couldn’t see the colors, the lushness, the curiosity of the birds that ate my bread crumbs until I had actually been there.  It was even more magical than Phillip could convey and I thought I would take a moment to share it with you as I believe the culture and untouched parts of Cuba will strike us the same way.

Azorians wake every day to the sight of the Atlantic Ocean.


The peak of the Pico, basked in pastel looks upon us on the island of Failal.


Each day began at this colorful café over coffee,


and often ended with wine at the same table.  I love the ever-changing view from my office.


Cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings scale the steep hillsides.


I stumbled upon this while walking the streets one afternoon alone, a local wedding, held in the back patio of a home.



The sea wall, with its many ship’s badges and boats, is a nautical museum.

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Yannick, chatting with a French family cruising on their Ultramar as the father added their emblem to the seawall.


There is a feeling of connection when you find badges from fellow sailors who have come before you, s/v Testarossa which won the ARC Europe 2016 race and the infamous Pam Wall’s Kandarik which came through in 2006.


I found beauty everywhere.

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Final resting place overlooking the vast Atlantic.  I don’t think I would mind ending up here.


En route to the farmer’s market where we brought fresh produce each Tuesday, fresh fish on Fridays and a fresh baguette every day.

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Every meal was a delicacy.


But don’t get me started on the cheese.  I could a do an entire post about cheese in the Azores.  It was all made locally from the very cows you see roaming the hillsides.  Each island made their own special breed and blend of cheese and cheese came to your table, no matter where you went, moments after you sat down.  Ahhh … the cheese.


Voted, hands down, our favorite meal in the Azores: Octopus Salad drizzled in lemon, oil and fresh cilantro.


The best way to spend your day?  Simply go for a walk.  Explore.  See.  Soak it all in.

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You see?  Magical.  I don’t know if I will ever find myself again, in a cloud.

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This was a moment that stuck with me.  We often stopped at this little cafe on Porto Pim and this man was there every time, nibbling on cheese and bread and just watching, everything, everyone, quietly.  He was such a fixture at the place, the birds would come up and eat out of his hand.

Peter Sport Café.  What can I say?


Peter Sport Café was a destination all its own.  There is an energy in that place that fills your lungs when you walk in the door.  You know you’re breathing the same air a thousand other sailors drew in before you having themselves just crossed an ocean to get there.  Respect—for each other and for the ocean—resonates with every man’s eyes you meet.  And when you and your crew come in to the Café for the first time, having just docked your boat on the historic seawall, pulling off hats, wiping salt from your brow, slapping each other’s shoulders, you make a bit of a scene because you’re energized by what you have just accomplished.  The folks who come there every afternoon for a beer or the folks who have been in the Azores for weeks, likely having work done on their boat, can spot you instantly: the crew that just made it in.  But, once you stay a few days and have a few beers there, you will start to blend into the regulars and you’ll smile when you see the next motley crew of sailors, walking in for the first, slapping shoulders and pulling off hats.  Congratulating your crossing with a drink at Peter Sport Café is a memorable experience.

I hope the first drink Phillip and I have in Havana brings me the same air of comradrerie with people there who have rich stories and experiences to share.