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Buckle up babies. We’re going for a ride deep into the Cuban psyche – that dark place in the collective conscious where centuries of financial boom-bust and political reindeer games have festered age-old habits, neuroses, and desires. What you’ll read here, I’m fairly certain, you’ll read nowhere else (see note 1).
For those of you just hitting on Here is Havana, the types of vignettes herein have been gathered over several years working as a journalist based in Havana. In this post, I dissect pacotilla – a practice and reality recate cubano that technically means ‘second rate, cheap, or shoddy’ but which in Cuban translates as buying as much shit as possible at every given opportunity.
It matters not whether you’re a doctor or nurse, ballerina or agronomist: if you’re a traveling Cuban, neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers expect treats when you return from your foreign adventures. A new pair of stockings (fishnets preferred; see note 2); a feather-festooned headband; or a trashy one title magazine like Us or Hola! – it doesn’t really matter what is proffered but rather that something, anything makes the long journey to these shores.
It’s a danzón of mutual expectations. The traveler feels morally obligated to shop for those in need back home, while the island-bound (silently, discreetly) hold their passport-wielding compañeros to their tacit obligation to bring back shiny pretty (sometimes useful) things. Plus, Cubans LOVE to shop.
I’ve seen this all in action, up close and personally. I’ve watched my husband dart frantically around Duty Free shops looking for the cheap chocolates his co-workers adore. Every Cuban itinerary includes last minute trips to sprawling outdoor markets in search of bras/underwear/soccer jerseys, with me more often than not, as guide. I’ve waded through enough shoes, sneakers, and sandals to shod a small Guatemalan village. These shopping forays are exhausting. Especially the shoe store shuffle. Have you ever tried to buy a pair of shoes for someone else, miles and oceans away, with only a vague description of what they want and the outline of their foot on and old piece of newspaper for sizing? (see note 3). Soul sucking.
So I wasn’t surprised when Olguita and Lizette – two docents I struck up conversation with recently at one of Havana’s most historic sites – launched into their own tale of pacotilla.
Lizette had recently been to Mexico City for some sort of tourism training. Given that this was her first trip out of Cuba and she hails from Guanabacoa, that working class ‘hood across the bay, expectations were high for the goodies she’d bring back. Particularly on the part of Olguita (see note 4) her jovial and dark as night colleague.
“I shopped like crazy. Socks for my husband and his father, the tiara for Yenly’s quinceñera, bras for Xenia who is such a tetona they don’t have her size here, and on and on!” Lizette tells me.
“Don’t look at me m’jita!” Olguita says with a girlish grin. “I only asked you for one thing. I asked only for my hair,” she says with a dramatic toss of her faux fall that looks surprisingly like real hair at first blush but is oh-so-synthetic upon closer inspection.
“But where I had to go to get it! An area mala, mala, mala. I feared for my safety!” (see note 5).
There have been a bunch of articles recently about Cuban doctors working abroad. Many focus on the why and most are off the mark. Having specialized in Cuban health and medical internationalism for half a dozen years, I can tell you most have got the facts wrong or distort them, and the analysis – when it exists – makes it obvious that most reporters have never seen Cuban medical teams in action. Which is ironic. Would you buy a guidebook written by someone who had never been to the destination in question? Then why do readers believe reporters who have never witnessed these medical missions?
Here’s my take:
Cuban doctors want to help. First and foremost they want to help the people in the country where they’re posted, but they want to help themselves and their families as well. With the extra money they earn (usually $50-150 a month, plus their regular Cuban salary), they buy fishnet stockings, socks, and watches. Sometimes they buy in bulk for resale back home. Those who would begrudge them this – and believe me, they’re out there – are at best out of touch and at worst, cruel.
But Cuban shopping mania can get complicated. Especially on relief missions involving large numbers of personnel in far away lands.
When I was covering Cuba’s medical team in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake there, I offered to take letters back to the families of the ‘disaster docs.’ I was given several letters to shuttle back to the island, along with life-sized dolls, remote control cars, sneakers, lipsticks, and enough nail polish to start a salon. To be honest, I left Islamabad with more gifts than baggage. That team nearly 2000-strong was in place for 6 months and the shopping those health professionals did in that time necessitated a weight limit policy upon their return – the plane just couldn’t handle all that pacotilla.
In Haiti where I was posted for a month recently, I saw every stage of the process, from shopping to shipping. Every day, vendors set up on the edge of our camp peddling belts, boots, watches, cell phones, clothes, and sandals. Once a week (always at night), ‘the señora’ would come with a well-fingered catalog of electronics and appliances which the Cubans pored over like a treasure map, placing orders for everything from meat grinders to MP3 players, washing machines to Wiis. Those health professionals cycling out of Haiti after completing their 2-year tour are allowed to import into Cuba (free shipping, no taxes) three big boxes about the size of your typical US oven. This is one of the major perks of doctors posted abroad and while the size allowance differs depending on the country (see note 6), folks volunteering abroad go into it knowing they’ll have the opportunity to buy that washing machine or TV they’ve always wanted once they complete two years in-country.
Which is precisely how I found myself in toe-curling agony one middle of the night. Sleep was elusive enough in post-quake Port-au-Prince, what with the images of the daily tragedies crowding out all soporific tendencies; the 100 degree heat didn’t help any. When it came, sleep was narcotic, a dark, blank territory free of burning garbage and humanity’s rot, those sights and smells that get branded on your senses during such disasters. There were no sweet but sick children in this dreamless sleep, no little orphaned girls with no place to live caring for thirsty, hungry younger siblings.
It was about 1 am this particular Sunday. I had just dropped off to sleep, despite the gunshots, in spite of the heat.
A big belly laugh more appropriate to a bar than a terrible disaster rousted me from my slumber.
Wrack-a-ta! Wrack-a-ta!! Wrack-a-ta!!!
Wrack-a-ta! Wrack-a-ta!! WRACK.
More loud voices. Heartier laughter.
These doctors were going home. It was 1 am in central Port-au-Prince, but they were already supping on yuca con mojo and strolling along the Malecón.
WRACK! Wrack-a-ta! WRACK!!
They were wrapping their huge, oven-sized boxes in packing tape right outside my tent. I had seen them packing earlier in the day. A brand new washing machine was loaded with sneakers, sheet and towel sets; ovens were stuffed full of bedazzled tank tops (“Sexy”) and camouflage camisoles, flip flops, jeans, and bras. After the short sea voyage between these two besieged nations, the appliances would take up residence in rural homes from Guantánamo to Guanahacabibes. The packing tape condom was necessary: a few boxes had recently suffered water damage – naturally no one was taking any chances.
Wrack-a-ta! Wrack-a-ta!! WRACK.
The racket was awful and interminable. I squeezed my eyes shut. I waited with curled toes, willing it to stop. I could tolerate the laughter, but not the nerve-grating, sleep-robbing tape wrap.
WRACK! Wrack-a-ta! WRACK!!
I was on my elbows now, the cot’s metal springs pushing through the lousy foam cushion. Surely they’ve woken the whole camp. Surely they’re robbing us all of sleep. But no one said a word. Least of all me – I knew how hard they’d worked for this day, the time away from their family, the ache for Cuba, coping with the illness of Haiti, and to top it off, the quake. Besides, keeping mum is the Cuban way. They suck it up. They withstand.
And then, a voice from the wilderness of tents around me…
“Would you quit it with the damned tape already?!”
Thank you vecina mía! Thank you and bless you!! Bless you for piping up to shut them up. Surely they’ll listen to you, to one of their own, to someone who has to rouse herself in a few hours to face all the post-quake disease and destruction Haiti can dish out.
“Oh! You want us to be quiet? And what happens when it’s YOUR turn to ship home?”
A heavy silence followed.
“All right! But hurry up!!”
Wrack-a-ta! Wrack-a-ta!! WRACK.
My favorite doctor pacotilla story comes from Venezuela. As you may know, Cuba, Venezuela and other regional partners have been pursuing all sorts of cooperation since Chavéz was elected. This includes large numbers of Cuban medical personnel (to the tune of 30,000+ at one point) working in Venezuela. These folks, too, have the option of shipping home their purchases for free.
My optometrist friend had the best approach. She bought a top of the line, full-sized fridge, packed it top to bottom tight with Polar beer, boxed it, wrapped it, and shipped it home. When it arrived on her Vedado doorstep, she unpacked it, plugged it in, waited for the beer to chill, and threw ‘la casa por la ventana’– a huge party.
Gotta love those Cubans!
And I do…when they’re not in their pacotilla.
1. And when I say Cubans are asi or asado – like this or like that – I mean generally, most of them, much of the time. Not each and every one of them, hot day in and sweltering day out.
If I seem a little defensive lately, dear readers, it’s because my detractors are on the attack. My little non-monetized, not-for-the-hyperbole-dependent-masses blog and my slow selling app are garnering scrutiny and a bit of cyber sabotage. Coño.
2. Have you ever taken a gander at the gams of Havana’s immigration officers? Their intricate fishnets would make Frederick’s of Hollywood proud.
3. On the whole, Cubans are brand whores and their logo fury has made the shoe chase easier. Nowadays, all anyone wants are Converse and Crocs.
4. I love how they so liberally use the diminutive in Cuba – even for 200 pound mamacitas!
5. I have seen this from Guatemala City to NYC and from Pakistan to Port-au-Prince: Cubans making sure they visit the cheapest markets, which are invariably in the shadiest part of town. Their knack for ferreting out these places is legendary. When I was in Haiti, a Haitian friend asked me to help financially with his sister’s burial. When I asked around about local funeral costs, a Haitian doctor with the Cuban medical team there told me: ‘well, the coffin alone will run at least $500 but the Cubans know where to get them cheaper…’ Even coffins they know where to get cheaper!! That’s talent.
6. I speak here only of doctors leaving Haiti after completing their 2-year stints; there has been a bit of chisme floating around that the policy might be changed (or already has – you know how reliable Cuban gossip can be!) in some countries but I have no idea what the current situation is elsewhere.
30 responses to “Tales of Pacotilla”
“She bought a top of the line, full-sized fridge, packed it top to bottom tight with Polar beer, boxed it, wrapped it, and shipped it home. When it arrived on her Vedado doorstep, she unpacked it, plugged it in, waited for the beer to chill, and threw ‘la casa por la ventana’- a huge party.”
THAT is real STYLE! A lovely image.
Yes, Cubans know how to party, eh?!
Well. Conner you have done it again. Your adroit finger once again on the Cuban pulse. The mania for Things is such a Cuban trait, caused no doubt by the unavailability of so many consumer goods in the country, but carried to the extreme in this instance.
My personal best, after years of muling every type of thing you can imagine to Cuba, was 11 supersize duffel bags on one flight. And come to think of it I think I gave one of the Immigration ladies a pair of fishnet stockings as a gift to ease my flow that trip. Things have gotten a lot more difficult these days-they weigh all your luggage and start charging outrageous duty once you exceed a certain weight. My last trip was 8 bags and $2100 CUC customs charges. Plus a ton of airline overweight fees(X two).
From Guantanamo to Guanacahabibes- that about covers the Island, and is a wonderful turn of phrase which I will shamelessly plagiarize from now on.
I would like to hear more detail about the suspected sabotage of your blog. I can’t imagine who would be offended by your words except those who are unwilling to read one word praising the current situation in Cuba. Small thinkers who did Nothing except further their own interests 52 years ago when they were at bat.
Please tell us the latest Chisme about importation, and don’t you Dare leave it out next time!
A very satisfying post, mi Amiguita, and a long one this time. Please keep it up. Saludos a Usted y la Familia.
Yup, the scarcity and unreliability (will there be TP? Cheese? Nail polish? next week in the stores) of consumer products definitely exacerbates the tendency. What’s interesting to me too, is that so many Cubans transfer these tendencies to Miami (or wherever a fuera). Ive seen TVs stacked three tall in Tampa living rooms, closets and closets full of shoes in Kendall and then there’s the binge eating – doesn’t dade county have like one of the highest child obesity rates in the country?
$2100 CUC (thats close to 3K USD!) is incredible. Have you ever investigated the online shopping and delivery service available here? They’ve got TONS of stuff and surely it would come out cheaper!
On the cyber-sabo: some people have been buttering their bread with Cuban manteca for a loooong time. Seems my small, fitful efforts at earning a few fulas doing the same isn’t taken to kindly……
(PS getting ready to pitch the book!!)
What a fascinating post! I didn’t want it to end.
Thanks Andi!! Unfortunately, I can’t access your site from my dial up. Ill give it a look when I can!!
Beautiful photo at the top. Taken from the old Cubalse shopping center across the Rio Almendares it appears.
I have tried the various online shopping sites with not much success-they are expensive and offer only what is generally available , which certainly would never do! It must be a little exotic and from la Yuma to gain any kind of points.
The binging is a sad thing, for sure, knowing what deprivation motivates it. Deep scars that don’t just disappear when you emigrate. I have found a general thought pattern that goes something like this: Here is a Big bottle of shampoo-it says use x amount, so xx would be better, and xxx must surely be the way to go. Besides, if I don’t use it up somebody else will, so here goes. Hence a bottle of shampoo se acabo in a week.
And you would think with the difficulty of obtaining anything nice in Cuba la gente would treat stuff with extra special care, but I have found just the opposite to be true, and it has pissed me off royally more than once.
And like they say, los pobres necesitan comprar rico- if not it just wears out rapidissimo from day one and you are buying the same shoddy pair of sandals every month. I take Reef sandals and have found that not even the Cubanos can break them.
Thanks for the reply. Sorry to see you have encountered a bit of envidia about your blog. Please try to perservere. And sign me up for the first copy of your book.
ps-are my comments too long? I don’t want to hog the replys, but your thoughtful posts just strike such a cord I want to reply to every point. Avisame si es una molestia. Ciao.
Hahaha Ole. probably on any other blog, your long comments could be considered “una molestia” but your longer (ahem) contributions are just so Cuban! We have a saying here about how Cubans like to begin a story, ANY story, with ‘el mono bajo del arbol’ – or, ‘well, it all began when the first monkeys came down from the trees.’ I see so much of this in my health journalism work and have read heaps of professional scientific papers about a vaccine or new medical technique/technology which start with human evolution and the dawn of time.
Bet your friends and family LOVE those Reef sandals (I forgot to mention in my post that Hawaianas, along with Converse and Crocs are ALL the rage). Have you brought down the ones with the bottle opener embedded in the sole? That impressed me!
Oops, forgot to mention that the photo was taken from BellaVista casa particular, a fabulous place to stay and with this view (actually it’s closer to 360 and from the wrap around balcony you get the sunrise AND sunset). From $25/night. Check it out on the Havana Good Time iapp! available here
(thanks for tolerating the shameless plug!)
I thoroughly enjoyed your post and loved your warm and insightful assessment of the Cuban character. I have never been to Cuba, but I have lived in poor countries for decades.
In the nineties I lived in Ghana and on returning there after leave or vacation I would stand at the check in counter in Amsterdam (and other places) and be gobsmacked by the heaps of boxes and bags that Ghanaians were taking home with them. Some were for themselves, but most were for the rest of the family. Every last distant cousin got a present.
With the enormous fees now charged for extra luggage you don’t see it quite as much now.
Thanks for your wonderful post, which was a treat to read and I learned something new about another country!
Interesting how certain experiences cross geographical and cultural lines. There are still no luggage fees for intl travel from US (as far as I know) and Cuba has always had a special arrangement due to US embargo – you have to pay (out the nose) for overage but that’s it. Unfortunately, on the charter flights from Miami that journalists and other ‘legal’ travelers can take, the weight limit is 45 pounds. not much when you need olive oil, granola, laundry detergent, bathroom fixtures, and on and on!
El Palenque is da Kine. Gran Chef Juan-HaHaHa! It was the first place I ate a meal in Cuba. A couple blocks west on the other side of Quinta are the best Burgers in town. They have a round boat fender hanging in a tree out front. Ask for Fatima. She’s the Best, and her hubby is a cool , seasoned Senor.
Maybe I have to learn to twitter, Huh?
Hmmmm. Good burgers made by Fatima? Sounds like a modern Havana miracle!! When was the last time you were there Ole? I admit I don’t get out to this part of Havana too often, but am always looking for the ‘ono grinds (which brings me to my next question: ‘da kine?’ Do you have some sort of Hawaii connection or has this entered common vernacular? I ask bc I write Hawaii for Lonely Planet and will be going there soon).
La Yuma Jamaliche
Discovered your website months ago and now find myself constantly checking for new entrys. They don’t come often enough to suit me. Didn’t even know about your app. JUST got it. Can’t wait to delve into it. Plug it, girl. Consider that you’re doing a service. Keep up the great, fun, insightful writing. I’ve been to Cuba 4 times and crave returning soon to see my Cuban friends. Fabulous people. I’ll look you up and bring you some fishnets!
Hola Laraine and thanks for dropping by my lil’ corner of cyberspace. Your words are inspiring! I wish I had more time to write this stuff. Problem is it don’t pay da bills!! What can, might, has the possibility to put some plantains on our table and “fula” in our pocket is the app. MIL gracias for ponying up for it. Im working on the subsequent version (which for you and other early adopters is free!) which is going to be just off the charts….
If you like what you see, won’t you write a nice line or two on the review page (seems people pay attention to this stuff!). Available here:
Hope you get back to Havana soon and skip the fishnets: bring nuts!!
Hey Conner- My girlfriend for 11 years en mi juventud was Hawaiiana(Japonesa) so I have spent considerable time there and knew you had as well, thus the vernacular.
My last trip to Cuba was about a year ago and Fatima was still churning out the burgers then. I would imagine she still is, and it is worth the trip, fer sure. Tell me about this app that I can buy to put some Chavitos in your bolsa-I will do it .Do you have a Canadian money card that I can use to send $ to you? I used this company called Antillas Express for many years until Obama sh!tcanned the remesa restrictions. They issued a card called Caribbean Transfers that I used. That card can be obtained at an office on Avenida 3 and calle 11 or thereabouts in Miramar.
Let me know.
Will definitely be checking out the burgers (and reporting back!)
Yeah, yeah. Those funny money cards. Seems like we were always living too hand to mouth or the math just didn’t jive. anyway, we never got it together.
The app! Thanks for asking! you can click on the link on my home page or go right to it here
I live in Japan, and I thought the tradition here of omiyage (souvenir shopping for family and colleagues) was bad. While Cubans buy intimates and shoes, Japanese go for intricately wrapped boxes of confections and $60 mangos!
interesting blog btw. will spend much time reading your insights…
Konichiwa (sp?) Mary. Thanks for reminding me of the Japanese custom! That’s how one of my heroes (Chuck Feeney; subject of the book The Billionaire Who Wasn’t) made his billions. Not surprising when mangoes go for $60 – here you can buy a whole tree for that!
Thanks for reading and commenting. Im header over to World Curious Traveler now…
I already bookmarked your page. I can see you are a lovely person. The way you talk about us is really impressive, if you see the way the must bloggers talk about the Cubans from the Island. At least you know, that not everything done there is bad. Doctors go everywhere to help other people, and logically, they take the chance to resolve their own problems. And you are right, that’s how we are. I’m a Cuban-American living in Hialeah, Florida, but I love my country of born. I lived there for 40 years, in Cienfuegos (I don’t know if you have been there, it’s beautiful, we call it La Perla del Sur)and I’d wish I could go there more often.Thanks to Tracey Eaton for let me know about your blog. Saludos.
Hola Tomás el Cienfueguero de Hialeah!! Thanks so much for reading and joining the conversation. Your opinion is very important to me: when Cubans write in telling me Ive got it (or some of it!) and foreigners write in saying they’ve learned something about Cuba that they didn’t know/imagine, it makes the blog worth it.
You are right: Cienfuegos is beautiful!! We spent part of our august vacation camping on the south coast between 100fuegos and Trinidad and we’ve been camping around Rancho Luna a couple of times. When was the last time you were in Cienfuegos, I wonder? There are a lot of new things and the city looks better than ever. Also, the provincial hospital there is one of the best run, cleanest, and most welcoming in Cuba!
For those of you who don’t know Cienfuegos – I recd a visit as soon as you can swing it. Rent a private seaside room in Punta Gorda and stay a few days.
PD – Thanks to Tracey and Tomás: feel free to tell YOUR friends about Here is Havana.
Now I think you know Cuba better than me. At least you visited more places. BTW, I saw your photos of Rancho Luna, and let me tell you that I’ll be there in May next year, I think to get 2 rooms in Club Amigo Rancho Luna to take my father (he lives in Cienfuegos) and his wife there, as well as my wife and grandson. Can you tell me something about the hotel? Did you see the dolphins show in the Delfinario? I heard is a good show.Last time I visited Cienfuegos was in July 2007, but I had no time to visit almost nothing. We also planed to visit Marea del Portillo in Granma (my wife family live in Media Luna, near the place Fidel arrived to start the war against Batista) That place is beautiful too. Saludos.
Hi Tomás. I have never stayed in the hotel (we just pitch our tent and ‘resolver’!) and I don’t have the $$ or the inclincation to see the dolphin show, so I Im sorry Im not much help
HAHA!! What a coincidence – my husband’s family is ALSO from Media Luna….stay tuned readers!
LOVE your blog. LOVE your writing style. Hurry up and get your book published, I want a copy! Also – would you consider being a ‘tour guide’ for first-timer in Havana?
Well hellooooooo Nicole! Thanks so much for the encouragement. It means a lot (and I hope prospective agents/publishers read blog comments!)
It’s funny – Ive had a bunch of requests like yours. Some folks have even asked to sleep on my couch! That’s a great tip o the hat Id say (or maybe HIH readers are just really poor….) What I find interesting about these type of requests is that the LP guide I wrote to Cuba has never generated the comradery this blog does. Keep it coming!!
Anyway, part of the reason I built the Havana Good Time iapp was so that folks could have me as a “tour guide” for Havana without me having to actually venture into Habana Vieja with them (dont get me wrong: HV rocks! and what Eusebio Leal has been able to do there is unique and unprecedented, but the attack of the jineteros is too much! It gets very boring having to explain all day long that “where Im from” is here, now, I guess.) So that’s about the best I can do.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Well I’m not sure about the rest of your readers, but as a fourth year university student, I consider myself “poor” as least by Western standards, and even a plane ticket south is out of reach right now, but I’d be willing to push my limits if I knew I could stay somewhere virtually ‘free’. Funny you should mention the couch-surfing requests – I made a similar one in an e-mail to you through your other website, which you may have received by now. I understand your point though. Any recommendations on possible homestay options in Cuba?
Thanks for responding!
Pacotilla, mmmmm. How familiar and close to any Cuban’s heart (and most of foreigners’ who have Cuban relatives). I am one of them. I spend fortune on sales here buying bargains: blumers, calsoncillos, medias, puloveres, ajustadores, gangarria of all kind, pitusas, zapatos of any size (if it’s a bargain for 2 euro or less I cannot miss it and it will fit someone there anyway, or they can sell it). It’s not even a hobby, more like a desease. I keep all the precious pacotilla in my attic until the day comes to visit la numerosa familia. It can take you 2 years before you go there, so imagine the amount of cosas accumulated in your attic. Before packing las maletas you get everything out and just realize that you need to buy more maletas. And then you are stressed weighing everything to make sure you don’t have to pay for extra luggage. Thanks god it’s 3 of you that are going and AirFrance allows 2 maletas per person 23 kg each plus hand luggage. OK, las maletas are sorted out (full of presents, and just one or two pieces of your own clothes), now the hand luggage. We pack las mochilas with chorizo, cheese, butter, sausages, ham, more cheese and chorizo. Some of chorizo we use to bribe immigration officers at Havana airport (they need to feed their families too and there is nothing better than a nice potaje with Spanish chorizo). The rest is for the family. Every time we come back home I give myself a word not to do bargain hunting anymore and keep my attic clear from pacotilla. And every time I fail. This year things are tight here in Europe (crisis, etc), so I actually managed to keep this promise (only few bits and pieces here and there, nothing major). But it feels so nice to be a Santi who brings all these nice pacotilla que resuelve a lot for your gente.
so you know what Im talking about!! On charter flights from Miami, the limit is 44 pounds!! each pound over cost $1 and they weigh carry ons too. Butter seems to be going a bit overboard amiga – how do you keep it from melting?! The butter supply has been pretty consistent here in Havana at least over the past several years. Also, have you seen the new aduana regs??? Each tube of toothpaste, bottle of olive oil and cake of soap is going to be taxed. I’ll be writing about that in my next post: the capitalist changes afoot here. Good luck controlling the pacotilla!
Keep us informed, muchacha. I know they change regs. very often. Last time we visited Cuba was in August 2009 (almost 2 years ago). Butter (well, spreadable one) comes in a plastic box. My suegra cannot afford to buy it, it’s a luxury for her. The immigration guys are very strict with passengers coming from Miami and more lenient with European tourists. Unless they changed it. That’s why every time we go to Cuba I get so nervous until we actually passed all the controls (and gave little presents to whoever asked us for). So your next post will come handy. I am looking forward to read it!
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