“The slower you drive, the farther you get.”–Russian Proverb
Last week, I wrote about life in Cuba, which as I’ve noted, is “complicated”, as well as how getting loan approval in the U.S. can be complicated as well. By law, Cubans cannot buy a new car, or have a mortgage. There is a shortage of housing, and many people in Havana live in challenging conditions. Many families share old, beautiful, but dilapidated buildings, each occupying one room with very few amenities. This reminds me of the way we lived in Riga, Latvia during the former Soviet Union.
The majority of people work for government owned enterprises and are paid in local currency, the National Peso, which they can use in stores with limited supplies and empty shelves. There is also the Convertible Peso, known as the CUC and commonly referred to as “kooks, to tourists. The US Treasury department doesn’t allow Americans to buy anything in Cuba, but tourists from other countries do not have these restrictions. There are better stores, which sell products and merchandise in CUC, which are also used by foreigners in the hotels and restaurants. There are 24 pesos to a CUC. Our travel guide told us that her monthly salary is enough to buy food for a week. Thanks to the tips that she receives in CUCs, she can afford more.
Cubans also get subsidized vouchers for special rationing stores which exchange vouchers for meat, fish, and bags of rice. Hugo Shaves, president of Venezuela, who is currently hospitalized in Cuba, is considered a friend and benefactor. I photographed his poster in one of those stores. There is also a popular barter system. A ballpoint pen that a person might receive as a gift from a tourist, can be exchanged for something else, and after a number of transactions, that person might end up as a piece of chicken for dinner.
On the streets of Havana, one can see many newer cars that are owned by various government agencies, each with differently colored license plates to distinguish who is who, as well as old American ones, some in very good condition. Those cars are privately owned since they were purchased before 1959. They have yellow license plates and often serve as taxis. To get around, Cubans and tourists can hire a two-seater motorcar or rickshaw-like bicycles. The problem with owning a car in Cuba is the same as it was in the former Soviet Union–the lack of spare parts. In my book, “The Mortgage Game: The 5 C’s and How to Connect Them”, I wrote that car owners in the Soviet Union, as well as home owners in the US have two joys in their life–when they get a new car/mortgage and when they get rid of it.
Cubans are very clever at fixing those old beauties with parts from other cars. Cuban life can be really complicated. Seeing their challenges brings to mind the saying “One cries for the lack of shoes, until meeting the person who does not have legs.” If next time you want to complain about anything in your life, just find a group traveling to Cuba.
American car owners might have different problems. In my new e-book that I am currently writing, titled “Mortgage Solutions for Smart People: 5 Simple Ways to Get Your Loan”, I discuss an issue of how to lower high qualifying ratios.
Car payments, like student loans and mortgages are called installment debts and are part of the second qualifying ratio, and in most cases cannot exceed 45% of one’s income, which also includes other obligations resolving debts like credit card payments. What most borrowers do not realize, is that if the ratio is over 45%, the loan request is going to be declined. In my book, I offer different ways on how to improve the chances and at the loan approval, steps to eliminate a lot of unnecessary headaches. One piece of advice that I give–never co-sign for other people’s car loans, unless you are willing to make the monthly payments yourself. One of my clients learned this lesson the hard way. After the son of his girlfriend to whom he helped buy a car, missed two payments, my client’s credit score dropped over 50 points and I could not help him lower monthly payments by $250. Car owners’ life in the United States can be complicated as well.
Before my trip to Cuba, a friend asked me to photograph American cars on my trip. You can see some of them in this email. Since I do not photograph objects but life on the street, these images might give you an additional view of Havana. When I have time to put together a website dedicated to Cuba, you will be able to see more images including more cars.
A few days ago, we received the Smithsonian Travel Magazine in the mail. They offer many great trips including a new one to Cuba. We met tourists at our hotel who were visiting Havana on a National Geographic Tour. Our trip through the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop was the best way to travel to Cuba for those interested in photography. (The one in April is sold-out.) The cost of those three companies (including a flight from Miami, FL) varies between about $4,000 to $6,500 per person.
After browsing through the Smithsonian magazine, my wife Elfa, asked me if I want to go to Cuba again and I immediately said, “Yes!”, but it is pricey. I also remembered about the website talking about Cuba and jazz trips. On the web, I found cubaexplorer.com, an organization located in Vancouver, Canada that offers “Cuba Educational Tours” and has many monthly trips including one for 9 days on December 15-23, as part of the Havana Jazz Festival. The cost (including air fare from Cancun, Mexico) can be about $2,100 per person. Check out jazzcuba.com.
We Are Going.
I joined their Club Cubano and for each referred guest, they offer $150 discount. After 10 of my friends will join, my daughter can come for free. When we will have a group of 25, we can have our own bus and travel together. Are you joining us?
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