By Michael Ritchie

Entrance to the Jose Martin International Airport in Havana. Photo: Caridad
Entrance to the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — It must be a joke. That’s what I thought when I first passed through Havana’s José Martí International Airport and discovered that there are no toilet seats in the restrooms.

None.

People of Cuba, this is the 21st Century. Do you want to take a back seat to the rest of civilization?

José Martí Airport is, for tourists, their first impression of Cuba. I mean, the Pope passes through there. What if he…

Seriously, this causes extreme difficulty in one’s travel plans. I’ve had to skip breakfast knowing that I’d be standing in line for three hours to get to the departure lounge, and then sit there for another hour. Hoping the whole time that there arose no urgent need to use the facilities.

Once I paid 13 CUCs (15 USD) to wait in the VIP Lounge, assuming there would be more luxurious seating arrangements. I found a cleaner, more private bathroom, with toilet paper even, but no toilet seat.

I discussed this conundrum with some of my friends in the United States— most far more worldly than myself. They pointed out that there are many countries in the world where people squat to conquer, so to speak.

Well, I can assure you, a visiting President Barack Obama would never stand for this.

Photo: Caridad
Photo: Caridad

Habaneros, I do not want to appear as another whining US tourist who wants Cuba to change everything to suit my personal, pampered needs. I understand that the cursed Embargo has created many inconveniences and shortages which the Cuban people have been forced to endure for decades.

But how much do a few toilet seats cost?

In the hope of solving this problem, I appeal to Cuba’s MININT, and to President Raúl Castro personally. I will pay for the toilet seats if the government will install them. I’m a frequent visitor, so you can just hit me up for the money when I come through Customs. Surely you’ll recognize me as you’ve stamped my passport and taken my photo six times. And you’ve got my full-body scan on file somewhere.

That said, I understand that a prestigious Parisian firm has been hired to re-design and overhaul the airport. This is welcome news. It would comfort me— and the Pope— to know that their plans include toilet seats.

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*Michael Richie is a freelance journalist and published author living in Key West, Florida, USA.  “I’m grateful to Havana Times for giving me the opportunity to relate my experiences with the daily life in Havana, the good and the not-so-good, as well as the wonderful nature of the Cuban people.”


14 thoughts on “Cuban Bathroom Humor

  • As I wrote Pat, at Playa Salado – which you can find on Google maps lying about 15 km west of Havana, there is a typical Castro project for “the people”. Having driven along normal (with pot holes) roads, suddenly there is about 200 yards of double carriageway lined by Royal palms and then a substantial car park (reasons unknown as few Cubans have a car). Then there is an imposing two storey concrete structure which upon closer inspection is locked and empty. But on either side facing towards the sea, there are wings containing about half a dozen supposed cafes, only one of which is in operation. The sole toilet is on the left hand side looking from the ocean. It is as usual the source of employment for one elderly man who tells you whether it is occupied or not. There is no toilet seat, but a trickle of water from the cistern.
    About 50 yards to the west there is a shop which sells rum (the main drink for Cubans as at about CUC3.50 a bottle it is cheaper alcohol than beer, beer and a few consumables. But astonishingly for a TRD store it has toilet paper!
    The buildings which are white are liberally covered with slogans from the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba, describing the good fortune of living under a communist dictatorship and quoting Fidel, Raul and ‘Che’ – but not him saying that “Youth has to think as a mass, to think as an individual is criminal.”
    Immediately to the east (towards Havana) and over a small bridge crossing a small river there is an abandoned camp ground with winding concrete paths and an imposing main dining area where there is a woman ensuring that folks don’t enter the campground which is littered with garbage.
    Returning back across the bridge there is the actual ‘Playa Salado’, the actual beach is only about fifteen feet wide, but there is a pier from which one can dive. The rest of the coastline along the frontage is jagged rock of the type you may have observed on the Malecon in Havana.
    If one walks further west past the shop, the woods are garbage littered for the next two kilometres.
    You should understand that until three years ago, Cubans were not allowed access to the beaches used by tourists or to the hotels – in contradiction to Article 43 of the Constitution which reads:
    “The State establishes the right of its citizens to live in any sector, zone or area and stay In any hotel.”
    Less than five years ago when seeking lunch at the hotel at Playa del Este, Havana, my wife was evicted by security for being a Cuban – and I was told I could stay as I was a foreigner. Obviously we both left. When three years ago, Raul Castro decided that Cubans could stay in hotels (if with average earnings of just over CUC20 per month, they could afford to do so) seven members of my family decided to visit Varadero for four nights to experience living in an hotel for the first time in their lives.
    I’ve given you a rather full answer to your question, but you obviously are genuinely curious and as one married to a Cubana with our home in Cuba, I thought that I would give you a full description as a somewhat dubious reward!

  • I see. Well, I didn’t go as a tourist. I wish I could, but I’m not allowed. I didn’t get to see a resort, but I did stay at a famous hotel, a rather grand old lady. I’m still learning who can and cannot go where or do what. It is proving to be quite interesting, to say the least. Just out of curiosity though, what is the condition of the toilets on the beaches such as Playa Salado ? Are they at least sanitary ? I hope this is not an inappropriate question, but that would just kill a day at the beach for me. At my age, I have a horror of “Splash Back”.

  • Obviously Pat you stayed in GAESA hotels. They may be managed by Melia or Sandals etc, but they and their employees are controlled by the military, Transtur, Gaviota, Cubacar, Cimex, TRD shops are each one of the 57 companies owned by the military holding company GAESA.
    As hard currency from tourism is of high significance to the regime, they do endeavour to provide a modicum of comfort to their guests. If you had visited one of the beaches designated originally for Cubans – for example Playa Salado west of Havana, you would have found that there is one single toilet for both sexes and that it does not have a toilet seat. There are however many slogans extolling the virtues and good fortune of Cubans being subject to the Castro dictatorship. The Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba is alive and well – and active.

  • I stated that I DID have toilet seats. And I also ate VERY well ! The toilet seats in my hotel rooms were comfortable to sit on, and the food was very well prepared. And I didn’t go there for a vacation. I did not stay where there were no toilet seats. I was just there in May

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