Undercover American Tourists in Cuba
Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 23 January 2017 — Miami Airport is almost a city. And the
American Airlines’ departures area is a labyrinth, with dozens of
corridors and passages. That’s why Noahn, an American living in
Michigan, arrived five hours before his flight’s scheduled departure
time to Varadero.
He was travelling with his wife, his eight-month-old son carried in an
arm-sling, and a dog with long floppy ears. In his luggage, professional
diving equipment and an electric skateboard. The couple speak in
carefully enunciated Spanish, with a hint of a Colombian accent. “It’s
because I worked for an American company in Bogotá,” explains Noahn.
To everyone who wants to listen to him, he describes his experiences as
a tourist in Cuba. He knows the Coco and Santa Maria Keys, located to
the north of Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara and Maria La Gorda, in the
western province of Pinar del Rio.
“But I was enchanted by Varadero. It’s the third time in two years I’ve
been there since the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the
United States. Neither Miami Beach nor Malibu can compare with Varadero,
with its fine white sandy beach. The water is warm and there are hardly
any waves. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Copacabana in Rio de
Janeiro and The Bahamas may have just as good or better natural
conditions,” he adds, while his wife gives the child some milk in a bottle.
Despite the prohibitions on tourism in Cuba, Americans such as Noahn
travelled to the island by way of a third country. “Before December 17,
2014, I travelled to Cuba via Mexico. After that date it’s been easier.
There are twelve quite flexible categories, which they call the twelve
lies. You declare whichever pretext, and travel in a group or
individually. “In theory you can’t go as a tourist, but I bet that’s
what half of the American travellers are doing.”
Out of more than 200 passengers on the flight heading to Varadero, only
six were Cubans going back to their country permanently or to visit
relatives on the island.
Judith, a biologist living in Georgia, is going to Cuba for the second
time this year. Why? “Half for professional experience, half tourism.”
I’m interested in gathering information on the varieties of Cuban
vegetation. Once I finish my research, I’m going to stay a week in a
hotel full-board in Camaguey or in Holguin.”
Asked if she felt any harassment or if any federal institution has
opened a file on her for violating the country’s regulations, she
replies: “Not at all. Seems to me the wisest thing to do would be to
openly permit tourism in Cuba, because that’s what in reality people are
After the re-establishment of relations between two countries that were
living in a cold war climate, many more Americans are travelling to the
Greater Antilles. In January 11, 2016, Josefina Vidal, an official
working in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, and responsible for relations
with the United States, reported on Twitter that, in 2016, the island
received a total of 614,433 visitors from United States (Americans and
Cuban Americans), 34% more than in 2015.
Although on paper the Americans arriving are recorded as being part of a
religious or journalistic or a people-to-people exchange, it isn’t
difficult to spot well-built blonds or redheads downing quantities of
mojitos in a bar in Old Havana or enjoying the warm autumn sun on a
When at 8:30 in the evening, the American Airlines plane landed at the
Juan Gualberto Gómez international airport in Varadero, after a quick
check, half a dozen air-conditioned buses were waiting for the
“undercover” tourists to take them to four and five star hotels along
the Hicacos Peninsula coast.
“Yes, the Americans are tourists.” Many of them go to Havana, others
pass the time in Varadero. They prefer to stay in hotels. About 400 or
500 come every week. And many more are expected at New Year’s,” said an
official of the Gaviota chain, balancing on the stairway of a bus.
Private taxi drivers and those who lease vehicles from the state hang
around the terminal. “There are gringos who come as individual tourists.
I charge them the equivalent of $40 for the trip to Varadero, about 20
kilometers from the airport. Almost all give good tips. Unlike the
Spaniards and Mexicans, who are complete tightwads,” says Joan, a
private taxi driver.
The majority of Cubans are convinced that Americans are rich. And have
more money than they know what to do with. They try to milk them as if
they were cows.
At the currency exchange outside the airport, they exchange dollars for
86 centavos, less than the official rate of 87. “The rate goes down at
weekends,” he says.
An employee in the terminal, says “Here everyone is doing business. “The
lavatory cleaner charges, the café sells stuff on the side, and the
customs people get things off the passengers.”
Tourism in Cuba is like a harvest. Everyone wants to squeeze the sugar
cane. And you can extract plenty of juice from the sneaky tourists
Translated by GH
Source: Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García – Translating