Summer Vacations, Always Looking to the Sea / Iván García

Gerardo, a 52-year-old economist, does not think himself as either a bore or a zombie. However, his wife thinks he is a first-class lunatic. “He has spent his vacation months with a pair of binoculars looking out to Havana bay while taking note of all the ships that enter through this area on his notebook,” his wife says in a very calm voice.

The economist has his reasons for spending his summer vacations this way. “People can’t imagine how difficult our economic situation is. Fidel with his head stuck on the war in Iran keeps the news about the released prisoners behind the scenes, he forms a smoke screen, more oxygen for the regime. The reality is that the country is nearly in ruins, an example of this is the lack of merchant ships that enter the island. Between June 22 and July 22 I have only counted one,” the economist underlines in his notebook.

Of course, this is an unorthodox way of spending his vacation. Near the green building in which he lives, right in the center of the Havana malecon (seawall), dozens of kids, mostly black or mulatto, bathe in the blue and still waters without any shoes and behind their parents backs.

Despite the fact that the authorities prohibit people from bathing in the waters of the malecon, kids and adults do not pay attention to such a law. Adrian, 13 years of age, spends all day in the water. His parents have no money to take him to the beach or to a recreational center.

“It’s always the same, I spend my vacations swimming along the malecon and playing baseball on the street”, the kid says. Besides bathing in the sea, he also asks for money and gum from tourists.

Many kids play in dangerous areas of Havana without any parental care. In the old part of the city, a group of kids pass the time by swimming in the contaminated waters of an abandoned (due to threat of collapse) building’s tank.

People here seem to not care about the risks they are taking. Near to this scene, a police guard with a black hat and a German Shepard seems oblivious to any dangers that may threaten the youths.

During these vacations the ones who are most bored are young people. Not all, though. Some parents who are able to obtain hard currency can provide other sorts of entertainment for their kids. Rogelio, a 42-year-old gastronomist, takes his kids to theme parks or pools of hotels on the weekends.

“This is very expensive. To go in to a hotel’s pool it costs 5 pesos and 10 convertible pesos (7 & 12 dollars). Theme parks are just a little bit less expensive, yet, during these vacations my wife and I have already spent more than 160 convertible pesos (200 dollars)”, Rogelio explains.

Summer months are a headache for many families with kids. They have to make lunch and snacks. And if something is scarce in Cuba, it is food, which equals the price of gold.

It is normal to just give them powdered kool-aid-type drinks and a tortilla sandwich with mayonnaise for lunch, while they watch children’s shows on tv. It’s the cheapest activity. However, a nutritionist states that the powdered drinks prove to be harmful for the health of young ones due to its high amount of carcinogenic sodium.

Nearly always illegally, some bus drivers from state companies rent out their cars to groups of people who wish to travel to the beaches East of Havana on the weekends for 30 pesos (a little more than a dollar) per capita. They leave at 8 in the morning and come back at 5 in the afternoon.

For the parents with fewer resources there are other options. There are also buses for 10 convertible pesos per traveler to go to Varadero or to some tourist center in nearby provinces.

Those who have higher incomes, or hold government positions, have the luxury of being able to spend a few summer days in a 5 star hotel. But those are rare.

The majority of Cuban families spend their vacations in front of their tv screens. Or they go out to the movies, the beach, or the theatre. Perhaps one day or another they drink from a rum bottle or from cold beer cans, while they chop off slices of smoked pork.

People are fixated on the idea of enjoying their vacation in the best possible way. They spend their mornings fishing along the malecon, or like Adrian, throwing themselves head first from the seawall towards the deep coastal waters.

We can say that Gerardo holds the most boring title in all of the city. To be seated on a chair for one straight month, looking out for ships with binoculars, seems like something someone who is nuts would do. Despite whatever their reason is for doing it.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: surfcrest, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.

August 2, 2010