Thursday, April 2, 2009

Scary scary Havana

Casa particular
- is a private accommodation in Cuba, very similar to bed & breakfast. The term is often shortened to simply casa. A casa can be a full apartment or a house, butmost of the time it's a room inside somebody's private home (often with separate entrance).

Homes that offer casa particular accommodation have a sign like that on their doors. Don't judge by the house's facade, inside can be quite different.


When my Havana casa particular's landlady Anita saw that i'm a "blond and blue-eyed girl" all alone in Cuba, she got very serious. She pretty much sat me down and gave me a long illustrated lesson where i'm allowed to go, how i should behave, how to take care of my belongings, what to avoid and so on. It's actually kind of nice that during these weeks of traveling some people i've met have gotten very protective about me and have gone out of their way to advise me on safety and help me in every way they can. I'm not used to people worrying about me and it's nice they make an effort. Anyway, by the time Anita was finished she had made me feel that as soon as i stick my white pretty nose out of the door two Cuban guys are going to pin me down, while the third steals my shoes, fourth goes through my bag and fifth stands on the sidewalk and says stuff like "Oy, que bonita!".

She told me to wear my backpack in front of me and constantly observe my surroundings. If i'd do that i'd be as much out of place as those scared (and probably lost) tourists i saw in Mexico City, clutching their bags and watching around frantically, looking like an easy prey even for a toddler. I don't know, maybe it's stupid or stubborn, but what is the point of going to a country like Cuba if i'm supposed to be afraid to walk on the streets? If all you do is being afraid and suspecting everybody's intentions you kind of miss out a lot. Jevgeni already forbade me to go to Mali and Algeria because of safety, i don't want to restrict the rest of my trip also by only visiting "tourist safe" areas, which are guarded by security guards and police.

I felt quite comfortable in Havana. Yes, i got tons of attention and i was being generally careful and vigilant, but in the end i was walking 90% of the time with my big camera hanging from my neck and i didn't feel particularly observed or followed. People who know me, know that i can be quite paranoid and worrying at times, so nobody can blame me in being careless. There was only one time in Havana when i ventured a bit too deep into a rather secluded area and at some point i realized that there weren't anymore too many people walking on the street and those that were were kind of dark and ominous looking local men. Yes, maybe i'm falling into stereotypes here and these men were actually pacifists / Buddhists and practising zen-thinking, but at that point i thought it's about time to become paranoid and high tail my ass out of there. So, still alive and kicking plus i got some nice wicked photos from there.

Anita said that in Havana a lot of people get their bags cut open with a knife and stuff grabbed out of them. Also, popular means of robbery is opening the zipper of your bag (specially in backpacks) and grabbing the first thing they see. Can't do much about getting my bag cut open (though camera-bag has plenty of padding and the thief most likely will not achieve the desired result) but i did find a way to avoid somebody from running by and opening my bag's zipper. It won't of course protect against seriously motivated individuals, but "crime-of-opportunity"-guys are out of luck.


  1. Ragne! I love your blog! I'm glad you are not letting yourself get scared and are taking advantage of all the great opportunities during your travels. One thing that I did in Asia with my camera bag/purse was take a carabiner and clip the strap of the bag to my belt loop. It prevents the run by and snatch the bag thing without making me look like an ultra paranoid westener.


  2. Hi Jade! When i am super paranoid (like in Barcelona) i use a special thin weaved string made of fishing line, one end is attached to my camera and other to my belt. Of course you can cut through it, but there is a difference between crime of opportunity and assult and in my mind the whole point is to make is super unconvinient for a robber to rob you, rather than try to make yourself bullet-proof.

  3. Thanks brings back memorys i visited Havana 10 years ago and it was an experiance...You have all the guys tring to sell you fake Cuban cigars too?..Nice pictures though...jimmy

  4. Not specially much cigar-selling guys actually. I don't even know if the times have slowly changed since you visited last or i was just not the target audience.


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