Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware indeed! Then again, shopping in Havana isn’t the same multi sensual experience it is as I’m walking around the Trafford Centre. It’s not even just as simple as going along to the, depleted, stores with your wallet. You need to make sure you have the correct currency for a tourist. That’s right, there are two currencies, one for locals and one for tourists.
Since Fidel Castro ruled out the US$ as a legal currency in Cuba in 2004, it was replaced with a “convertible peso”, CUC$. This is what we use. The locals meanwhile use the plain old peso.
So, armed with my CUC$ I headed to the nearest “supermarket” to buy some much needed sun cream. An easy task in most parts of the world. Not so in Havana. Where the big, 1950s style shops are emptier, of goods, than they are full. That said, I did find one bottle that looked suspiciously like sun cream, and it had a big red SPF4 on the front. Result. A high factor sun block to protect me as I wander around, exploring Habana Vieja.
Fast forward to lunchtime, sat in the café, inspecting my throbbing arms. They had come to resemble some of the sausages that suffered at one of my late dad’s (referring to his passing, not his tardiness) bbqs. The cream I had bought for the princely sum of approx. £1.20, was about as much use as a Starbucks loyalty card in a Cuban coffee shop.
I had more success in picking up some cheap sunglasses. Another packing failure. You might be wondering what I did pack, bearing in mind I was coming on a summer holiday, to gorgeous sunshine, with no sunglasses or sun cream. Live and learn is my motto.
So, off I went, to try and pick a pair up, armed with my new word of the day, gafas de sol – sunglasses. The first doorway with a cardboard stand holding sunglasses was presided over by a quite imposing looking lady. I pointed to the ones I wanted, so I’d resemble Mr Blonde from Reservoir Dogs, and asked, “Cuanto cuesta?”
Ten, she replied in Spanish. OK, time to bargain, and I countered with “cinco?”. Offering 5, I thought she would meet me half way. No. Ten, she growled back. I know which battles I’m destined to lose, and this was one of them. Undeterred, I went a couple of doorways down, met with a much more amenable stall holder, and bartered the exact same pair for 8CUC$. The best £5 I have spent for some time.
Let’s go to work.