We visited Cuba this summer. It had been on the bucket list for a while, was booked for months and the time arrived two weeks after I broke my foot, simply walking downstairs on the Underground. It seemed a waste not to go (plus the insurance wouldn't have made up for the loss) so we got approval from the consultant, an air-cast boot and off we went, armed with crutches, an I-Walk and a wheelchair off eBay. Extra legroom was a penalty we paid and I still had to raise mine, so Mr C' had it on his lap for the duration. Arriving in Cuba we discovered that those with disabilities had priority at passport control, baggage collection and the bureau de change! Positive perks indeed.
The cab driver dropped us as near to our hotel as was possible. It was located in a pedestrianised location. Within 2 metres of loading up me and the luggage, the tyre came off my chair and the seatbelt got locked in the wheel. Welcome to the cobbled streets of Cuba, maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. Luckily Mr C' managed the repair.
Our hotel had no lift. Thankfully the I-walk enables you to climb stairs, unlike crutches, which demand the backwards bum-shuffle ascent. A disabled room was not on the horizon. Indeed, soap, shower gel and toilet rolls, as well as clean sheets, were often not on the horizon too and we quickly realised how different the lives of the Cubans are. The hotel staff quickly (that's an exaggeration, nothing happens quickly in Cuba) found me a metal chair to use in the shower and I just had to contend with getting in and out as well as up the step to the loo, using my crutches, on invariably slippy wet floor.
Issues of mobility aside, Havana was amazing. Everyone we made an effort to speak with was friendly and responsive and people were very helpful. We had little hassle in terms of people wanting money and we took gifts for those we wished to give to, which were received with intrigue. Colour and music were everywhere. Elderly folk would dance spontaneously in the street when a band piped up in a cafe or restaurant. Children demonstrated that dance was in their blood, and music came from streets, parks and beat-boxes alike (yes, huge 80's speakers on shoulders, strutting down the street). As we walked/rolled off the tourist beaten tracks, we discovered areas where housing was nothing short of dangerous, without roofs or walls, but respectable occupants emerged, clothed well, tidy and colourful.
As a tourist there was little to take away beyond photographs, and at times even they couldn't be taken. People were private and respectfully we had to ask if we wanted to snap them, sadly missing many wonderful opportunities for compositions and stories. Tourist 'tat' seemed mostly imported, with a vast mall selling booth upon booth of the same duplicated items. Cigars were plentiful and smelt wonderful and Panama hats were available at all price points.
Borrowing loos en-route always commanded a cuc (Cuban convertible peso) as a thank you, but most places were happy to accommodate, even if the wheelchair wasn't going to fit. Sinks were often present, but not plumbed in and in one case I had to ladle a bucket of water from a 4 ft barrel in order to flush.
The food choices were limited, the fayre similar to Jamaican and most meals came with rice and beans. Roadside booths were windows onto homes and served pizza, fruit juice and ice cream. These were superb, cheap, low-waste outlets, as pizza came on paper and juice in glasses, so you stood, drank and returned. Pudding was almost always baked custard! Museum staff, guides and tuc-tuc drivers alike, were all very happy to a receive a cucas a tip and we were advised that the equivalent of less than £30 or 39 Cuc a month was a reasonable salary, so anything helped. Although there are differing salary levels, which contradicts some reports, the distinction between incomes from different professions does not apparently make a considerable difference.
Due to my injury, week 2 of our itinerary was changed. We'd planned to stay with a family, but instead opted for Varadero, so Doug could get some rest after pushing me for a week. Still not weight-bearing, I was pretty mortified to find that a government run all-inclusive resort would screw shut and lock the disabled toilet doors. On the plus side, there were ramps and so I got quite adept at free-wheeling and finally manoeuvred myself with some independence. All-inclusive is not my thing. I couldn't swim (doctors orders) so was lifted in and out of the pool to sit and watch (mostly Canadians) drinking from their Bubba mugs, which saved at least some of the hundreds if not thousands of daily wasted plastic cups. The entertainment was however good and the bird-life dining in the restaurants entertaining, but I'll not be revisiting a resort again in a hurry!
Finally home, we were very fortunate and just missed the hurricanes. The rain in Havana airport was coming through the ceiling as we boarded. An eye-opener of an experience, which has bought great respect for those who manage with differing abilities. Do definitely visit Cuba, but never walk across someone freewheeling in a wheelchair, it's taken great energy to build up that momentum and it's pretty crushing to have to put the breaks on!
"By modifying and transforming everyday materials to jewellery, Jo Pond invests them with the power to enchant or fascinate us. At the same time, her works become the vehicles for narratives that reach out beyond the here and now. Her handling of transient objects imbues them with lasting value as art. And as wearers of this jewellery, she gives us a new means to express our attitudes and values." Jorunn Veiteberg.
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