To my surprise when I fired up my mobile phone after landing in Havana airport in Cuba it registered 5 bars of reception!
Wow.. after hearing about how backward the country was and in particular, that things like communications systems were at a very basic level I was pleasantly surprised to see my mobile phone registering a network. A few texts that had been sent while on the 10 hour flight started coming through.
I tested the service by sending a text message and I received an instant response! - Maybe Cuba, isn’t the backward country that we had heard it was after all?
The truth is the country is very backward , dilapidated and the seemingly happy natives are denied choice as part of the Castro communist regime.
In the next few days we see the locals queuing for their ration allowance of basic food stuffs, we constantly get harassed by men and women trying to sell black market cigars and looking for you to buy basic products such baby milk.
We see the locals packed into big classic American cars from the fifties and old Ladas, motoring on main roads with huge pot holes and carefully navigating the city centre roads and lane ways which are predominantly pot holes!
We see gorgeous buildings in the capital in ruins with no inhabitants and even the old Presidents palace, which is now the Revolution museum is in a very poor state despite being a major tourist attraction.
Along the streets of Havana you will see well appointed hotels, bars and restaurants as well as very basic offerings. Shopping is a total non event with city centre stores showcasing their wares with the most basic of window displays , which is no surprise as they have the bare minimum to sell.
Along the busy narrow streets you will see lots of people just hanging around, people living inside narrow doorways, sitting on doorsteps. The most unusual sight was huge queues of locals waiting for their turn to get a few minutes in one of the internet cafes to briefly connect to the outside world.
Credit cards work practically nowhere except for the very best of hotels – as the shopping is a non event this doesn’t matter too much but the restaurants and bars just take cash. By the way your regular ATM card won’t work in the bank machines.
Music is a big part of life here with musicians at every corner and even when you sit down at an empty bar, out of nowhere musicians will appear (and quickly disappear once you have bought a CD or tipped them!).
In Havana there even is an Irish influence with O’Reilly Street and yes there is a popular O’Reilly bar selling Mojitos but no Guinness! Even early in the afternoon a band appeared and a caricaturist.
After a few days we headed out of the city to a resort near a town called Varadero , heading past a few small villages on the way. You could see the poor condition of the homes and the other buildings and the very simple life that exists in the country.
I kept looking at my mobile phone on the journey into the country and was amazed to see that reception never dropped to less than 4 bars. Unfortunately I learnt from my son by text that Liverpool FC had fired the legendary manager Kenny Dalglish.
I am writing this blog post from the hotel room and my phone is registering 4 bars reception. Not once since I have been in Cuba has reception dropped, has a call dropped or a message not got through.
As well as sharing a little tale about a fascinating country I am leading to a question about the lousy phone coverage in Ireland. I was chatting to a really nice couple from Dublin and the subject of phone coverage came up – the couple live in Templeogue, a typical busy suburb and Tony was telling me that at best he gets 2 bars of coverage at his house and calls frequently drop.
How is it that in our “sophisticated” economy the phone coverage is so lousy? On the motorway from Dublin to Cork and on the other main routes there are regular black spots where coverage totally drops … I have swapped from O2 to Vodafone out of total frustration expecting that coverage issues would resolve but in truth one is pretty much as bad as the other.
If Fidel can do it surely we can – 5 bars please!