Fakes in Cuba. Where to begin?
Somebody went to Cuba recently and had such a cool time they posted a video on Vimeo. Have a look from about 2:35 in to the video.
That's the first time I've seen glass-top boxes in Havana.
At a LCDH, the only time I've been (or ever will be) at this particular one. I won't mention the name but it's on the other side of the harbour.
February 2018, an opened box of Talismans on the counter with 8 cigars left in the box. "I'll take the lot", I says, "and the box too."
"Sorry, we can't give you the box." For those who don't know, if you ever hear that in a shop in Cuba don't buy the cigars if you want to be sure you are not buying fakes.
"OK, just one cigar then." It was fake, enough alarm bells on the cigar and band right away.
Fake Santiago 11 year old rum in government shops last February. First time I had seen fake rum. No cardboard outer and the text on the label was slightly blurry. I tasted side by side with real Santiago 11 year old and big difference.
Condoms on pizza. I remember seeing a video a few years ago of a guy in Cuba going through an old recipe book that had been issued during the Special Period. Issued to show citizens how to get by on reduced rations. A recipe on how to fry grapefruit skins to make them act like steak was mentioned. I can't remember seeing condom pizza in that video, though I have heard the story many times, so who knows. If it was ever done in Cuba, I don't think it is now.
Nevertheless, use discretion when asking for "extra mozzarella" in Cuba!
A pile of boxes of Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva in the men's room of the Salon Rojo for $80 a box. These may not have been fakes, but I know the men's room attendant wasn't in a position to issue Facturas. 🙄 I posted about this a few years ago.
Countless offers in bars, hotels, restaurants, side-streets, outside factories etc.
From very good, a box of Cohiba Esplendidos in Habana Vieja with everything perfect, warranty seal, new bands (perfect) etc. Strangely, he wouldn't let me take a picture!
To silly: wax-paper wrapped bundles of Cohiba Robustos in a micro-brewery in Plaza Vieja.
To surreal: a chap literally sitting on a pile of horse manure (I presume minding it) on Calle O near the Nacional, offering me "cigars, Cohiba". I presume with "barnyard aroma" built in.
Then there's the issue of "exceptional charges". "Bribe" sounds so uncivilised!
For me, just once. And that was to buy a police report for a lost (stolen) phone, for insurance purposes. I've posted about that here before too. The phone was genuine, the report too. The charge wasn't, but it was reasonable. All parties were happy.
Maybe I've been lucky, but never at an airport, even when stopped, though I've been prepared.
I've never paid "extra" at any cigar shop for hard to find cigars or anything like that. Having said that, I will always have a box of chocolates for staff in some shops, who I regard as friends now. But that's never for cigars. As often as not, I'm not even buying cigars in those shops on that trip.
And I would say, regardless of wherever you are in the world, don't offer anyone in uniform a "bribe", unless you are completely familiar with the lay of the land.
If they ask, that's one thing. And, if you can, have a local do the negotiation for you.
Having said all that, there are times when I keep about $50 dollars worth of local currency in the picture page of my passport as an emergency fund when going through an airport. There might be an exit-charge, something in Duty-Free I want to buy, a charge for use of the lounge. And if that emergency fund goes missing, well that's just fortuitous carelessness. It has always come home with me so far though.
Food in Cuba. As Nino, Prez, and others have said, there is plenty of good food in Havana now to eat well in two different places everyday for two weeks.
Some of my favourite dishes in the world are in Cuba, the Ceviche in Santy's, the Marlin Tacos in La Guarida, the grilled eggplant in La Corte del Principe, and I'm not even a big fish fan. Do some research, plenty of info on this forum and you'll be fine.
Some rules of thumb. If there are tourist buses outside, unless it's El Aljibe, don't bother with it. Grey "meat" in brown "gravy" on soggy "pasta" or "rice" will be their most popular dish.
If you walk past a restaurant and the tables look perfect, perfect tablecloths, lots of spotless glasses and tableware perfectly set up and the waiters standing around waiting for something, keep walking. It will be the worst food-to-price experience you'll ever have. And probably simply one of the worst food experiences.
The burger in the Parque Central is usually decent if you're in the mood but always ask for "well-done". Always. Especially in my company, as I'm the one who'll end up with your "medium" or rare one and you will not want to swap. Then we'll never talk again.
If you meet a Cuban person on the street and they recommend a restaurant, don't take them up on it, you won't end up happy. Sometimes I'll have a chat with them, but only if I'm looking for something specific (bar etc.). The simplest, quickest way to end that conversation is telling them you already have a reservation somewhere else.
The ham and cheese in the Nacional. I know it's not "haute-cuisine" (Nino!) but I still find myself coming back to it. It's Havana's comfort-food. Cheap(ish), quick and easy. I've had great 3-hour meals in Havana and I love them, but I can't do two of them a day, every day.
But every place will have its food that some people love and others just don't "get". For me, it's lamb in Cuba. I just don't get the love. I've had it, once, that's all I need. I have good lamb in Ireland, maybe that has ruined me.
There was a thread here before about duck in Cuba and the scarcity of living examples. I would say the same about lamb. I've seen a few goats but never anything that would even pass as a lamb's parent.
Last thing, constipation in Cuba can be a thing. Maybe it's the rum I don't know. If you forget your medication, try the burger in Bar Monserrate (and I love the place). If you really need to get it sorted out quickly, order the shrimp.