“There are no Bananas in Havana”

by Veronica on April 12, 2010

I was in Cuba in mid-March, but not for the beautiful beaches that most Canadians go for. Instead, I took a bus tour of Cuba’s towns and villages hoping to get a feel for the real Cuba…the people and of course the plants.

I spent 4 days in Havana  before realizing that I had not  seen even one banana. I did notice that there was no butter though,  and I found that odd (you can tell where my heart’s desire is). I soon learned that shortages of all sorts of things are  par for the course in Cuba. When stuff runs out…and it does with regularity, that’s it. In Cuba,  if it isn’t in season, it simply isn’t available. And it doesn’t come from anywhere else either. Already crippled by the U.S. embargo, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba lost 85% of its foreign trade, including food, agricultural imports and petroleum.  The country was financially devastated and its food supply was hit the hardest. The effects are seen everywhere with shortages in almost every thing you can think of.

Family Fruit Stand

Family Fruit Stand

As we were travelling through a farming area, Leo, our tour guide, told us that he knew of a farmer willing to sell him some fruit (he lives in Havana and wanted bananas) and asked us for permission to stop the bus.  So, we stopped at a little fruit stand at the side of the road and Leo and our driver loaded up the baggage compartment with stalks of banana bunches, guava, and potatoes (hard to get in Havana too) and other things I didn’t recognize.

According to  Leo if a Cuban wants to be a farmer, the Communist government gives the family agricultural land (Cubans do not own property. Everything is owned by the government).  The deal is that the farmer must give 80% of what he grows to the state and is allowed to keep 20% of the produce  for his family’s personal use or to sell to others.

Leo tells us that the farmers are better off than doctors because they can grow food to feed their families and get a little extra income too. The doctor doesn’t have that option. Leo is lucky. He gets tips from tourists like us that make it possible for him to buy what most other Cubans have no access to.

A Small Banana Plantation

A Small Banana Plantation

One day we stopped for lunch at a mixed farm that grew bananas and pineapples as well as some veggies. I’ve driven by a lot of banana plantations in different parts of the world, but have never actually strolled through one. I don’t know what kind of bananas these were, but they seemed a lot shorter than ones I have seen in Malaysia, Costa Rica and Panama.

Baby Bananas under a flower bract...really neat!

Baby Bananas under a flower bract...really neat!

Now, for the exciting part. I felt like a peeping Tom. Here’s what I found when I peeked under a bract of the flower. A lot of baby bananas all tucked in as though they were in bed.

Guava Tree

Guava Tree

I’m not fussy on fresh guava, though I love guava juice. Guava was in season and there were guava trees everywhere.

Guava Fruit

Guava Fruit

This is the fruit of the guava tree.

Fresh Coconuts...1/3 of a great Pina Colada

Fresh Coconuts...1/3 of a great Pina Colada

One of the most popular drinks in Cuba is the Pina Colada, a  sublime concoction of 1/3 rum, 1/3 pineapple juice and 1/3 coconut juice. Here in Canada, the “mix” for the drink comes in a bottle. In Cuba it comes au naturel. At roadside stands when you order a Pina Colada, the barman splits a coconut in front of you to release  the juice. The coconut becomes the container for your drink…Yum!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Heather @ what's blooming this week April 15, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Hi Veronica – travelling as usual, I see. Looks like you had a different trip to Cuba than most of us. I barely see anything but the beach and the hotel room when I’m there. I do feel for the Cubans though. It must be so difficult to get just the basics. I always take alot of toiletries to leave behind because apparently even simple things like shampoo is difficult to get.
Happy spring.

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