Firstly you need some convertible pesos (see part I below). Then you need to be allowed to buy whatever it is, then you need to find it.
If you browse the ordinary shops where Cubans make their purchases, there is not a great quantity of items on offer, or very much choice. I needed a toothbrush, being a numpty I forgot to pack one, and so the very first place I had to seek out was a pharmacy. Of course, as a visitor with the right kind of money in my pocket, this was an easy task.
The nearest pharmacy was an enormous old fashioned emporium with beautiful drug jars ranged on its dark wooden shelves, gleaming under crystal chandeliers; a museum in action, even if it had very little stock. My communist toothbrush, as I have been calling it ever since, having the abrasiveness of a Brillo pad, has proved surprisingly effective. Three weeks’ later and I have been complimented on my whiter teeth. It seems decades of tea, coffee and red wine stains have been expunged by my new red friend. Viva la revolucion!
If only things were as simple for Cubans, where it has been just two or three years (the time varies depending on who you talk to) since it has been permissible to buy a car or buy and sell a house; and just four years to run one’s own business. Every small entrepreneur, running a restaurant (paladar) or renting a room, who we talked to thought this was the best thing since sliced bread. I remember having similar conversations with friends in Prague very soon after the Velvet Revolution.
Things have got to change, they say. After all you can’t tell a young person, who has some knowledge of the world via the, however limited, internet, why they can’t buy/have/do something these days. If you do, they’ll try to high tail it out of town sooner than you can say struggle. And that’s what I am told most people would do given the opportunity. Looks like the continual revolution is in its death throes. Raul Castro stands down as president in eight years’ time, then it’s game over for the last socialist experiment is my betting.