Stones with no tourists
Ysabel Muñoz Martínez
On an ordinary day, I would be walking around town with visitors sharing educational and cultural insights of the legendary Trinidad de Cuba. As a tour guide who holds a bachelor in Cuban literature, I have extensive knowledge on local culture and history. Using my background, along with my own personal narrative as a Trinidad native, I have created a special experience for these temporary friends. I can´t keep track of how many people have joined me on those trips since 2017. Some of them passed in and out of my life in an afternoon, but others became real friends. These special connections have taught me about what the world is like “abroad.” Due to the economic and social circumstances in Cuba, there was a time when I could not even have considered the possibility of boarding a plane to leave Cuba. What I value more than the income I earned with my work as a guide, was a new way to travel through the people I met, without leaving home. Endless conversations and sharing common aspirations and fears, and hearing their stories of the world outside also helped me to gain appreciation for the life I have. I felt lucky that I was born in the small but lovely town of Trinidad.
However, my beautiful city has been drastically changed. Like so many others in Cuba that also rely on tourism, Trinidad has suffered a great impact from CoVid 19. Trinidad is where the first tourists infected with Covid19 were found in Cuba. After 3 months of restrictions and closures, it has become “clean” from the deadly disease. My colonial village, at 506 years old, with its cobblestone streets, and rich history is lacking new faces. The locals are longing for the return of the tourists who once filled our city with interesting conversation and global influence.
In recent times, more than 7% of all Cuban workers serve in the Tourism industry. Tourism represents the country’s second primary source of incomes. Now, these workers are supporting themselves and their families exclusively with scarce savings. Taking into account that the last few years have been particularly harsh because of tighter restrictions from Trump’s administration, Cuba is feeling the impacts of the loss of the tourist economy deeply. Entrepreneurs from many other fields (more than 600,000 Cubans work in the private sector) have also been affected. Most of them have created a chain of offer and supply which has become fragile without support of tourism in the local economy. It is estimated that one job related to tourism generates up to 7 indirect ones.
Another big loser in this new survival game is our cosmopolitanism. The rich heritage of Trinidad’s culture is inspired into new levels by Cubans who come here from all over the country, looking for the promises of economical growth. Many of them achieved it, but under these new circumstances, many of them have had to return to their families and leave Trinidad for their respective home communities. Unable to pay high rents and facing long queues for food and goods, many have been forced to leave Trinidad. As a result, I have had to say goodbye to several friends, indefinitely.
To this day, Cuba has 86 deaths and only 76 active cases diagnosed with Sarscov2, out of 2,413 who have tested positive. Except Havana, where the spread has been a bit harder to control, for obvious reasons, Cuba is now on the second stage of a plan designed by our government to go back to “normal.” This means that we can now move across provinces, and once again enjoy cultural and gastronomic services. Masks are only used for attending crowded places.
I am very lucky to have many tasks to keep my mind busy, since I have been working at the Conservator’s Office as an editor and writer. I stopped working from home recently. I attend to my office on a much more regular basis, now that walking tours are all gone. But I can´t deny that I miss a job where I meet new people every day. I enjoyed working in tourism and sharing my city with travelers from all over the world. It gave me the opportunity to have cardio exercise, walking kilometres on a tiny Historical Centre. And often, in tips alone, I could make in a day as much as the monthly salary from my government job.
After more than 100 days of lockdown, I am happy to go back to have a coffee at Don Pepe, where tables are now widely separated and trees still offer the necessary shelter from 32 degrees at noon. I am delighted to support our circular economy visiting my friend´s bar El Mago at night for refreshing mojitos and the coolest music in town. Although, I can´t afford to pay for drinks during these visits every day, since my incomes have drastically changed, I still enjoy the social time. I miss tourists too.
Nevertheless, I am deeply grateful, because my 70 year-old father is safe. Food is not missing from my table. I am able to communicate with so many people now that internet connection has been improved. And, I can freely run with my friends through the countryside towards the sea. This alone has perhaps saved me from insanity.
This is my experience in a small Cuban city coping with a global pandemic. I assume that this story would be echoed by so many others from different places across the globe. In the meantime, we adapt while the country is looking for alternatives for achieving food sovereignty. We continue to survive the best we can with few Dollars or Euros left to use in the international market.
In Trinidad, normal won´t be the same without the visit of thousands of foreigners changing the colour of our streets, taking pictures and increasing our purchasing power.
We are looking forward to the arrival of a third stage, for opening frontiers and bringing tourists back.
Helped by many coffees, I patiently wait. This is something Cubans have become very good at.
When you book your travel with The Breath of Cuba Travel, be sure to ask Cheri about arranging a tour with Ysabel in Trinidad, Cuba. Highly recommended is The Breath of Cuba Footsteps Tour where you can meet several of the characters in her stories and Ysabel too.