Despite its ingenuity Cuba was still in a downward spiral. Castro had no choice but to open the country up to tourism though we was deeply concerned that foreign ideas would infect the local population. Nevertheless the government started building fancy hotels. It also renovated old Havana, restoring monasteries, theaters, and other tourist attractions. Now you can take a walking tour through cobblestone streets, rent a 1950s Oldsmobile, or enjoy Cuban music with your beer. You can even spend the night in a hotel that looks remarkably like the kind of society Castro tried to overthrow. And if you still get bored a government travel agent will be glad to book you a visit to one of Cuba’s beach resorts. He’ll probably send you there by tourist bus. It’s in a completely different part of town from the one that Cubans use. There’s no line to buy a ticket but it’s 25 times the local price. On the other hand the waiting room is clean and spacious, the toilets have attendants who hand out toilet paper and there are doilies on every chair. The furniture is overstuffed. A television keeps you entertained. And there’s even the baggage handler to help you with your gear. And if everyone looks cool and comfortable it’s because the entire place is air- conditioned. But it gets even better. The bus seats all have clean white covers. and it’s only half full. The driver is told to make frequent stops so that everyone can refresh themselves with cappuccinos or a bottle of water that costs more than the bartender earns all day. And then it’s back on board so you can get a glimpse of the Cuban countryside before you arrive at your resort. Where you will enter a completely different world. There’s no traffic the cars are modern and the sidewalks are extraordinarily clean. The police are everywhere not to harass you but to make sure everything’s okay. You can shop for Western brands and then dine on beef or lobster which only foreigners are allowed to eat. You can also rent your own scooter unless you happen to look Cuban. Locals are not welcome at resorts like Varadero. If you want a guided tour of the whole resort several double-deckers do the circuit every half-hour. The only thing you probably won’t see on board are Cubans. they’re forbidden to use tourist forms of transportation so they catch whatever ride they can. Truth be told, there’s not all that much to do in Varadero except get sunburned and shop for trinkets at the many tourists stores. Cuba’s resorts are the quintessential
tropical paradise deliberately designed to keep tourists in and Cubans out. Until recently Cubans were forbidden to stay at any of these places. Although the government badly
needed those tourist dollars it didn’t want foreign ideas contaminating the local population. Cubans are now allowed to rent a room though few can afford the $300 nightly fee. In fact the only locals who get a glimpse of in Varadero are the bartenders and other service personnel. They have the best jobs on the island – a week’s worth of tourist tips can earn them more than a doctor makes in an entire year. But they’re also carefully vetted by the government for loyalty to the system so you’ll only ever hear the party line. But there’s another way to see Cuba though the Cuban government won’t approve. You can hitchhike, and take local buses. Stay in private homes, and eat at local stalls. It”s not nearly as comfortable or relaxing but you’ll get to meet a lot of Cubans and that’s worth almost anything.