The best way to experience the real Cuba is living in casa particulares (private houses). I did this, legal and illegal. By doing that I got to know the Cubans thoughts and meaning about the country’s political system; Communism. Do they support Castro? Are they happy with the socialist way of living? Was some of my thoughts before arriving to Cuba…
Before traveling to Cuba, I was thinking that the best way to get an answer to this, was staying at “casa particulares”. On the other hand, I was not sure about how much these local families that rent out rooms were controlled related to express their own political meanings and thoughts. Before I left I also had read in a travelling book that you should not ask about politics. However, I did. And I was surprised how open they were regarding this topic.
Most of them were telling me how hard the situation is for them. That they struggle economically. About inspectors that are watching what they do and say. However, it was mostly the economical part that made them open up the house to tourists and strangers. Though they get to keep the money they earn from having tourists in their house, after paying a set sum to the government every month. It is a risk, due to that if you do not get enough customers you will go in minus. You also need to pay a pretty big one time sum for getting the permission to have visitors. However, the little extra money they can earn of opening up their houses as casa particulares, makes many wanting to do so. All approved homes, have a blue sign outside their door.
I stayed illegal with one family that did not have the permission to have visitors. They did not yet have the money for start, but having some illegal guest some nights helped them on the way to pay the first sum. So how did I get up in this? I stayed with one family in Trinidad, which recommended a friend’s house in Viñales. When I arrived they had already rented out the small room they had. They therefore put me with the neighbour, illegal. Asking me strictly to not go out of the apartment before telling them, for them to see if there was inspectors first. Because, if this was discovered by the authorities, this would bring this family in great problems. Even when they are going to have sleep over guests that are Cubans this have to be reported first.
From the outside and the perspective of tourists, the local people in Cuba may look very happy! But are they really? The reality is that most people struggle. They have little money and freedom. This would maybe not be so easy to notice without staying with local families during my stay in Cuba, and asking these personal questions.