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…

 

Read about my previous experiences in Cuba here.
Image by helenedancer via Flickr.

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  1. […] Read Cash Money in Havana  — Part One. The Malecón lines the northern shore of Havana, holding back the waters of the Florida Straits about as effectively as it holds back dreamers from taking to those waters in rickety vessels bound for the Sunshine State. Before night falls, families with children, elderly couples, and tourists stroll the promenade under the tropical sun. After dark, lovers—clandestine or otherwise—promise each other eternity or just one night in the shadows between each wave. […]

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