‘Yumas’ In Cuba, “As If They Had Never Left” / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

'Yumas' in Havana. (14ymedio)
‘Yumas’ in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – He didn’t know that in Cuba he would be rebaptized yuma, but, within a few days of arriving he’s become accustomed to the word and his condition as a “hidden” tourist. Daniel, born in Oklahoma, is one of the thousands of travelers from the United States who have officially visited the island under one of the 12 categories authorized by Barack Obama’s administration.

They are everywhere and are distinguished by their accents, their generous tips and a fascination with everything they see.

“I came with a group of Protestant pastors, but in total we’ve only had one day of religious programming, the rest of the time we’ve visited bars, museums and come to know the country better,” he tells 14ymedio at an outdoor café at the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana.

Daniel arrived two weeks ago with a group organized by the Martin Luther King Cultural Center, founded by Raul Suarez, a religious man who enjoys official favor.

Under the terms of the relaxations, Americans are obliged to justify their trips to the island in great detail, and are at risk of the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposing a heavy fine if they don’t comply with the requirements of their visit.

However, since the opening of the island to tourism in the nineties, many of them have come to Cuba through third countries. The basic change in the last year and a half bas been the ability to set aside circumspection, and jet-set American have turned Havana’s streets into their latest fashion show.

In the first quarter of this year about 100,000 Americans arrived in Cuba, a figure that is double last year’s number.

“I went to Viñales, Maria La Gorda beach, and tomorrow I’m going to Holguin and Santiago de Cuba,” Daniel details. “Part of the agenda was prepared from there,” he added. His program was put together thanks to the increasing number of alternative agencies and private accommodations that offer ever expanded services.

“I’m staying in a private home near Neptune Street and the family has connected me with another to accommodate me in the East,” says Daniel. He prefers spending time “with the people, to get to know the country better,” but doesn’t rule out “enjoying the Hotel Nacional or the Riviera for the last two nights,” two of the great architectural obsessions of yumas who tour Havana.

“They come looking for anything that reminds them of the US presence in Cuba: Hemingway’s house, old cars, hotels that were erected with money from the mafia and, of course, they want to try a famous Cuba Libre,” explains Yamilé, a Havanan who runs a dance academy near the Prado and also offers city tours and “escapes to all sorts of places.”

“The yumas are now the preferred tourists, because they have money, they’re willing to pay for high quality, and they try to be nice,” explains one of the guides working with Yamilé. “We have people who rent rooms who will only accept Americans.”

Ivón rents two rooms on Compostela Street, in the historic center of the capital. “A few years ago having an American or an Israeli was a real pain,” he said. “We had to inform [the police] every time the tourist left the room, talked to someone, or if they had a really big suitcase,” but now “there are so many yumas” that the controls have eased up somewhat.

At Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, the immigration officials’ practice of stamping the visa on a separate piece of paper, rather than on one of the pages of the US passport, remains in place. This way the passport doesn’t record the trip to Cuba.

In legal respects, for the United States they are not tourists, but citizens who come to expand the “people to people” diplomacy pushed by Obama. But Cuban ingenuity has also adapted to this furtive way of entertainment and has created offerings that meet the requirements.

“We have a visit to the town of Regla to see the museum, which has very good explanations of Santeria in Cuba, and then the program includes a fiesta we they can dance and eat,” explains Yamilé. “When the activities are done, they are free to do whatever they want and go wherever they want.”

Yoga classes, visits to ecologically interesting places, visits to small industries, and even programs focused on helping Havana’s abandoned dogs, make up a part of the kaleidoscope of activities that have been developed since the easing of travel for yumas.

“They just need a justification and we give it to them, we adapt to what they need because we have people who know everything,” boasts Yamilé.

In a bar in Old Havana, dozens of Cuba Libres are waiting for thirsty yumas. “I see them and it’s like they never left, as if they had always been here,” says the waiter, while mixing Cuban and American flavors.