You want some more Cuba, ok….here ya go!
Yeah, yeah, I’ve been pretty lame about posting about Cuba……and for good reason if you saw my last post. Internet is still very hard to come by on La Isla.
Two dollars will buy you one hour, but you can easily spend more time than that waiting in line to buy the stupid internet card from the government agency known as Etecsa. It’s their internet, they are the ONLY provider, so there.
And now we will try to explain the very Cuban notion of what a “line” actually is.
Called a “cola” here (literally, a “tail”), and referred to in Costa Rica as a “fila” (literally, a “line”), it took me awhile to stop calling it the latter and refer to it as the former. Good thing I got the hang of it too, because no matter what you need to do in Cuba, you better get used to waiting in a “cola” (see note 1)
So, we’ll take the above mentioned errand to use as our example of a Cuban-style line. As you walk up to the building where you will need to do your transaction, in this case the government telecommunications office (see note 2), you will see a large crowd milling about. You should immediately shout “ultimo!” (literally, “last one!”) to ascertain who is the last person in line. When you establish who is “ultimo“, keep your eye on them like a hawk. This is your place in line, behind them, no matter what! Also, remember now that YOU are “ultimo“, and you must respond in the affirmative when the next person walks up and inquires as to who is “ultimo“.
You may have to ask several times, and with vary degrees of volume, who is the “ultimo“. Cubans, for whatever bizarre reason, are loath to admit that they are “ultimo“. Appearing somewhat surprised and perplexed when, after your fifth shout of “ultimo“, they finally raise their hand and admit to it. Try to fit in as best you can…..if you are “ultimo” and someone comes up and shouts “ultimo!“, don’t answer right away. Let them ask a few more times even though you heard them the first time.
Now that you know who you are behind in line, watch them carefully. At this point there will usually be some type of animated discussion about the order of the “cola” again. It will behoove you to not only memorize who is immediately in front of you (the person who finally admitted to being “ultimo”), but to then inquire as to who THEY are behind as well (see note 3). These are your landmarks. Remember what they are wearing and their physical appearance. Try to stay near one of them if you can.
That brings us to the next unique thing about the Cuban “cola“. In no way, shape or form is it an actually line. It is more like a scrum. You can actually leave the “cola” and go run another errand if that errand doesn’t involve a very long “cola“. Heck, you can even leave the “cola” to go drink a cola if you want, who says Cuba isn’t libre!
So, the person directly in front of you may actually disappear from the “cola“, but that’s okay, you covered yourself by keeping an eye on the person in front of them as well!
Of course like any line in any country, someone will always try to butt in. Not cool! And in Cuba it seems that it isn’t cool either, but people do it all the time and the result is a little grumbling from those left outside in the blazing sun still trying to figure out who is the “ultimo“.
So, those are the basics of the Cuban “cola“. Of course there are intricacies and anomalies that will pop up in different “colas“. Depends a lot on your “cola“-mates and their particular moods on any given day. Much is riding also on what the “cola” is actually for. What good or service are people waiting for? I saw an egg “cola” (yes, a line for eggs) turn ugly as the eggs ran out. I myself had to break “cola” etiquette a few times and call out a buttinski. Ummmm, EXCUSE ME! I DIDN’T HEAR YOU ASK “ULTIMO“!!
The Cuban’s were aghast!
But eventually I got in the door and bought my $2 internet card.
Use your hour wisely!!
After the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron), I set off for Cienfuegos and points beyond.
Here are some fotos of my wanderings
(See Note 4)
1) Our friends across the pond refer to a line as a queue. Many people call Cuba
QueueBa. Get it?
2) Where you can also use their computers to get on the internet, but you still have to buy a card. You can also pay your phone bill, house or cel, for those who have one or the other, or, in very rare cases, both. You can also purchase a land line telephone here. The actual phone itself. Like with the cord attached kind.
3) Yes, next to last I suppose we would say, if it mattered. Penultimo in Spanish.
4) I am in La Republica Dominicana right now, having left Cuba under a cloud of suspicion, for what I don’t know. I was interrogated like a felon on my way out of the country. That story, and much, much more over the next few days. Yes, great wifi EVERYWHERE in the DR.