'Yumas' In Cuba, "As If They Had Never Left" / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – He didn't know that in Cuba he would be
rebaptized yuma, but, within a few days of arriving he's become
accustomed to the word and his condition as a "hidden" tourist. Daniel,
born in Oklahoma, is one of the thousands of travelers from the United
States who have officially visited the island under one of the 12
categories authorized by Barack Obama's administration.
They are everywhere and are distinguished by their accents, their
generous tips and a fascination with everything they see.
"I came with a group of Protestant pastors, but in total we've only had
one day of religious programming, the rest of the time we've visited
bars, museums and come to know the country better," he tells 14ymedio at
an outdoor café at the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana.
Daniel arrived two weeks ago with a group organized by the Martin Luther
King Cultural Center, founded by Raul Suarez, a religious man who enjoys
Under the terms of the relaxations, Americans are obliged to justify
their trips to the island in great detail, and are at risk of the United
States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposing a heavy fine if
they don't comply with the requirements of their visit.
However, since the opening of the island to tourism in the nineties,
many of them have come to Cuba through third countries. The basic change
in the last year and a half bas been the ability to set aside
circumspection, and jet-set American have turned Havana's streets into
their latest fashion show.
In the first quarter of this year about 100,000 Americans arrived in
Cuba, a figure that is double last year's number.
"I went to Viñales, Maria La Gorda beach, and tomorrow I'm going to
Holguin and Santiago de Cuba," Daniel details. "Part of the agenda was
prepared from there," he added. His program was put together thanks to
the increasing number of alternative agencies and private accommodations
that offer ever expanded services.
"I'm staying in a private home near Neptune Street and the family has
connected me with another to accommodate me in the East," says Daniel.
He prefers spending time "with the people, to get to know the country
better," but doesn't rule out "enjoying the Hotel Nacional or the
Riviera for the last two nights," two of the great architectural
obsessions of yumas who tour Havana.
"They come looking for anything that reminds them of the US presence in
Cuba: Hemingway's house, old cars, hotels that were erected with money
from the mafia and, of course, they want to try a famous Cuba Libre,"
explains Yamilé, a Havanan who runs a dance academy near the Prado and
also offers city tours and "escapes to all sorts of places."
"The yumas are now the preferred tourists, because they have money,
they're willing to pay for high quality, and they try to be nice,"
explains one of the guides working with Yamilé. "We have people who rent
rooms who will only accept Americans."
Ivón rents two rooms on Compostela Street, in the historic center of the
capital. "A few years ago having an American or an Israeli was a real
pain," he said. "We had to inform [the police] every time the tourist
left the room, talked to someone, or if they had a really big suitcase,"
but now "there are so many yumas" that the controls have eased up somewhat.
At Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, the immigration
officials' practice of stamping the visa on a separate piece of paper,
rather than on one of the pages of the US passport, remains in place.
This way the passport doesn't record the trip to Cuba.
In legal respects, for the United States they are not tourists, but
citizens who come to expand the "people to people" diplomacy pushed by
Obama. But Cuban ingenuity has also adapted to this furtive way of
entertainment and has created offerings that meet the requirements.
"We have a visit to the town of Regla to see the museum, which has very
good explanations of Santeria in Cuba, and then the program includes a
fiesta we they can dance and eat," explains Yamilé. "When the activities
are done, they are free to do whatever they want and go wherever they want."
Yoga classes, visits to ecologically interesting places, visits to small
industries, and even programs focused on helping Havana's abandoned
dogs, make up a part of the kaleidoscope of activities that have been
developed since the easing of travel for yumas.
"They just need a justification and we give it to them, we adapt to what
they need because we have people who know everything," boasts Yamilé.
In a bar in Old Havana, dozens of Cuba Libres are waiting for thirsty
yumas. "I see them and it's like they never left, as if they had always
been here," says the waiter, while mixing Cuban and American flavors.
Source: 'Yumas' In Cuba, "As If They Had Never Left" / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mata – Translating Cuba -