Hotel Havana Libre, Tuesday, April 5, 2005, 7:20 pm
Yesterday I had to sign up for my Spanish course at the University of Havana. The Campus of the University is an astoundingly beautiful collection of classical buildings and a Cuban tank graces the entrance to the library.
At 9 am all the foreign students, about 40 of them, met in the Edificio Varona and we were shepherded by various professors into a very antiquated lecture hall. (By the way, of the 5 or 6 washroom stalls in the women´s bathroom, only 1 or 2 have toilets in them, no toilet seats, and no running water in the sinks. Again a sign of rather run-down infrastructure…)
There they told us about the program, but only in Spanish, which was okay for me, since I speak Spanish, but about half the group was completely lost. We then had to do a quick written placement test to assess our existing Spanish skills and then the bureaucracy began.
We found out that we needed the following documents:
– a copy of our passports
– an official copy of the hotel guest card and/or a copy of the licence of the private Casa Particular
– 200 CUC (Convertible Cuban Pesos) in cash for a 2-week course or more for other courses
– 40 CUC for changing our tourist visa to an academic visa (in fiscal stamps which we had to obtain abuot 5 km away)
– 2 passport photos
– 25 CUC in cash to expedite our academic visa if we are in town for only 2 weeks.
I linked up with a bunch of foreign students and we headed off together on our quest to fulfill the Cuban desire for Burocratismo. We first obtained cash at bank at the Hotel Havana Libre, then got the passport pictures done (to be ready for pickup 3 hours later), then searched for the other bank on Calle 23 that would provide us with the 40CUC stamps for the academic visa. With extremely long lineups everywhere, this took us about 2 or 3 hours.
Then we got really hungry and we were approached by a local “Jinetero” (restaurant tout) who promised us a complete meal with main dish, salad and side dish for 6 or 7 CUC. We walked with him, only to find out that the wait at the Paladar (private restaurant) would be about 45 minutes to even sit down, not including food preparation time.