Hangin’ With Fidel

By BobbyRica | December 9, 2011

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BobbyRica may be more lover than fighter. But in Cuba, he sure knows how to use a machine gun.

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Cockfighting In Cuba

By BobbyRica | December 8, 2011

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Cockfighting in Cuba may be vicious and gruesome, but it is largely tolerated. It has also became a very lucrative business, and we’re talking millions of pesos. Add that with the allure of a gambling road show and you have a spectator sport with a huge national following. Visiting a match between two roosters can be a colorful spectacle, despite it being very bloody. Though I personally do not condone having two animals fight it out till one dies, there is something very morbidly fascinating about cockfighting in Cuba. If you’re a first timer, expect the worst. Brawls are known to occur during and after matches.

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First off are the gamecocks being used to fight. They are an aggressive breed of fowl. Fighting birds are bred for strength and stamina in The Finca Alcona, at the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo. It is the largest breeder of fighting cocks in Cuba. Fowls are prepared, trained and selected before being exported. A candidate can go up to 4,000 pesos in value at the informal national market. These pugnacious birds have been trained to for long bloody drawn out affairs that can last for hours. The first thing one notices from these gamecocks is that their feathers are removed from their legs. The reason for the trim is to keep the bird from becoming over heated during a fight. According to an expert, the heat generated on the lower area of the bird can slow a bird down.

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The Spanish conquistadors introduced cockfighting during the 18th century and had stayed ever since. This has been the only form of organized gambling that exists today under the Castro revolution. And it is surprising how despite animal rights activists condemning the sport, the government has been supporting it for hundreds of years. Who can blame them? Tournaments can draw in at least 500 people and can generate 50,000 Cuban pesos ($2000). Gambling pesos that can be taxed. Cockfighting events are usually held in the rural province of Cuba’s unofficial cockfighting capital, Pinar del Rio. Once can see the carnival like atmosphere as tournaments occur from mid-morning till late evening. Either that or till a gamecock gets killed. Expect glasses of rum floating around the arena as the largely male audience show show how rousing a fight can be.

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Say It The Habano Way 4

By BobbyRica | December 6, 2011

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When you want to go downtown, all you do is whistle at the mid-afternoon traffic and a CHEBI (tseh-bi) will come to fetch you. Do note that it is the official state taxi. They are the safest and fastest ways to travel through Havana. The official taxis are modern comfortable cars with air conditioning. They are usually located in front of the state hotels or official buildings. The taxi companies are Transur, Panatax, Habanatax, and OK-Tax. They all have counters and charge 0.6 – 1 CUC/ kilometer.

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The Perils Of Shopping In Havana

By BobbyRica | December 5, 2011

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The day after that trip to the ice cream parlor, I had some time to myself before getting home. I decided to take a look around and see what I could find. Cuba’s streets will give you the feeling that you’ve been displaced in time and space after a while. Buildings are old, some decrepit, and somehow also beautiful. The few cars that roam the roads are also old, many reassembled from the chop shop and not guaranteed to work well. Instead, bicycles abound and if you’re up for it, you can just go walking around Havana.

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Of course, there are no huge sprawling shopping malls in a place like Cuba either. Instead, there are outdoor markets and outdoor plazas. You are sure to get a good deal on items like clothes, souvenirs, and some handicrafts. As you may imagine, there’s a population of Che Guevarra t-shirts to be found within, but you can also get the official state garment, the guayabera. Pleated, pocketed and to be worn untucked, it’s a comfortable piece of clothing that suits locals and tourists alike, especially in the local climate.

And, of course, they have pirated American movies as well. One thing that distinguishes Cuba from other countries is their open disregard for copyright standards. DVD and video game pirates proudly display their business licenses, and Cuba itself shows Hollywood movies for public viewing without permission or payment to the content owners. shopping This is Cuba’s revenge for the U.S. trade embargo, which has been hanging over the country’s head for decades. The law that makes this possible, Resolution No. 32/2010, flies in the face of the Berne Convention, of which Cuba became a signatory of before this law, in 1997. Still, it’s an unheard of situation which probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Speaking of the trade embargo, don’t expect to be able to bring any of your cigars back home if you live in America. If caught, customs will basically set all of them aside.

Before you go off to buy contraband, or legal good for that matter, you will need to get your money in order, and it can get complicated. In short, Cuba has two currencies (Convertible pesos and Cuban pesos) and it’s recommended to bring money from a non US bank (euros, Canadian dollars, etc). They will exchange US dollars but with a 10 % charge. Banks and establishments will accept Visa and MasterCard, but only accounts outside the US. Some places take euros but it’s best to trade to the local currency and spend it all before leaving.

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Cuba’s most famous export, of course, are its cigars. I was not going to get any of the famous cigars on this shopping day, as cigars off the street aren’t really of premium quality. For the good stuff, you would have to go to the factories themselves. There are specialty hotels and shops, but they charge a high premium. For the casual visitor, or one who doesn’t know their way around yet, it would be best to sign up for a tour that includes a cigar factory visit, but most of them do have public tours.

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So I found myself preoccupied going through the little stores, enjoying my new Che t-shirt and looking for trinkets to bring home when I get the call from my boss. A cigar and also a rum tour, later in the day. I’m a man of few vices, unless you count fantasy football. This day was working out just fine on its own. Now it’s about to get interesting. I’m not too fond of interesting.

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