Catching a “Tourist Leech” in La Habana

When arriving Havana around six in the evening I had spent a full day traveling and was ready to just check into my hotel, Sevilla, and go to bed, but with the time difference making it hard to fall asleep I started getting hungry and decided to head out for dinner.

Along the streets everyone were calling me amigo and wanted to help me find the things I wanted, obviously they all want to get something in return so I just continued walking and eventually found a restaurant that looked cheap and okay. As quickly as I had sat down and opened a menu a girl came to sit down next to me and started stroking my thigh. I took away her hand and said NO, then I dropped down the menu and stormed out. I was tired, hungry and started getting a bit fed up and when a 38 year old black man approachrd me to ask if I wanted a good restaurant. He spoke no English, which I took as a really good sign as most of the tourist leeches* do. So I went with him and 15 minutes of walking later we were at La Familia, a tourist trap restaurant in the old city.

I am One hundred percent sure that he got commission for bringing me to the restaurant which was fine as I was happy with both the food and the prices. Cubans do receive a monthly wage of around 15CUC/USD so If he got a couple of bucks by helping me out I was okay with that.

I also knew that he wanted me buy him food but explained that I could give him a beer and nothing more, a fair exchange for some company where I got to practise my Spanish and get some city advise from a local. Two hours later he had followed me back to my hotel and started explaining that he wanted money to buy more shirts and pants to wear at his university and milk for his family. Classic tourist leech strategy to do it at the end where I almost thought we were friends, but clearly we were not as the big man suddenly started getting angry at me for not giving him money. I am a small man with limited Spanish vocabulary and local knowledge so I was happy that I was already home at my hotel when he got aggressive so that I could just say good night and walk up to my room.

My first impressions about Havana is that it sure is lively enough and has beautiful people, buildings and a rich history, but to be honest I found it really tiring walking around by myself at night. Hopefully it will be better exploring it tomorrow with the rest of the group and then heading out to more quiet places. According to my new Cuban “friend”, Pablo, it is also supposed to be a lot cheaper once you get it of the capital which I also look forward to as prices here are quite a bit higher than I would have thought.

*tourist leeches (also known as beach boys in beach towns), are people who insist on following tourists around and want to help them in all kinds of ways. You find them everywhere where there are lots of tourists. Don’t be surprised if they know some words in Swedish and other European languages. Believing that they are your friends will most likely lead to an empty wallet.

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