Once, I ran out of money in Cuba. It was 2009, and I had returned to Havana after two previous trips with the purpose of experiencing the place before Fidel Castro officially kicked the bucket and KFC brought in theirs. Alas, I had miscalculated my finances, as friends and family can attest that I am wont to do, but decided to go on the trip anyway, as I am also wont to do.
Five days into my eleven-day sojourn in Cuba’s crumbling, captivating capital city, I found myself with less than $10 and no way to borrow money from the U.S., with the embargo and all. I had paid up for the next few nights at my casa particular, so I at least had lodging for a couple of days, and my Cuban friends would make sure I was properly fed and had some floor space somewhere, should it come down to that. I knew that, in Cuba of all places, I’d be all right. But I would still need cash.
I went to the Cubana office to talk with a ticket agent about taking an earlier flight back to Bogotá, where I was living at the time. The agent said it would cost me $60: a $50 change fee and a $10 typing fee. I was not mad at her hustle in the least; in fact, I appreciated her directness.
The task, then, was to figure out how I could earn the money. Previously, I’d brought basic goods—tube socks, deodorant, toothpaste, cans of chunk light tuna, packets of hair weave—to barter in exchange for Cuban souvenirs. This time, I only had the clothes I brought with me to wear, a clunky digital camera, my early-model laptop, and zero interest in or need for specially carved maracas or a linen guayabera.
I only had two places to find cash money in Havana: the souvenir market near the cruise ship terminal during the day, and the seafront promenade called the Malecón at night.
To be continued…