On our second day in Cuba, we were just spending the morning in Havana before heading west to Vinales, as we had more time planned in Havana at the end of our trip. I really wanted to visit a local market and we also wanted to change our convertible pesos into national pesos. In the past, foreigners could only do this on the black market. Now, you can do it at the exchange bureaus around town, however the lines were all lengthy, and we didn’t really want to spend our time waiting in line to get $20 worth of national pesos. We had been told that you can usually change between the two currencies outside any of the markets, so this trip to the market could serve dual purposes.
I asked one of our hosts at our casa particular (homestay), and she recommended a market just south of the Capitolio. We set out on foot and walked through our neighborhood of Centro Habana and through El Barrio Chino. When we arrived at the market, it turned out that the resident money-changer was taking a break and nowhere to be seen.
We were distracted by all of the sights and sounds before we even entered the market. Since it was morning, the street was buzzing. Bici-taxis waited outside to cart people, others were making deliveries to the market, and locals were doing their daily shopping.
We entered the market and I loved all of the colors and displays. We saw several vegetables that we never ate on our entire trip and would later wonder who was buying them. I would venture to guess that some are unaffordable to the average Cuban, who makes a salary of only $15-25/month.
As we crossed the street, we heard a loud bang that sounded like a car backfiring and realized that a man’s bicycle tire had popped. I assume it is a common occurrence in Cuba, since almost no one can afford a car and many rely on bicycle to get around. Because, the next thing you know every man on the block is hooping, hollering, and laughing at this poor guy whose tire just blew, as if it were a celebration. He took it in jest and was sheepishly smiling as well. At least Cubans have a sense of humor!
Across the street, we watched as people used the public pay telephones (since, again, due to salary, many people do not have cell phones) and also saw a man whose job was to refill plastic Bic lighters.
Our morning at the market came to an end and we decided to head to a big cafeteria for lunch and to exchange money. Later, I would discover that my old client worked in this cafeteria… talk about the laughs he had upon seeing his old co-workers in our photos!