The thing that struck me the most from meeting the people in Havana, particularly, was their desperate need to make money – in any which way they could. They aren’t aggressive about it but they are relentless and so quick and tactical it’s scary. They really do have it down to an art form.
Jineteros (hustlers / poachers) are everywhere in Havana. These guys operate either alone or in pairs posing as couples. They start a conversation with you and before you know it you’re in a bar being ordered a round of drinks that you will be expected to pay for, or shown a room that is available for rent. This system of poaching people is remarkably quick and no matter how prepared you are, you will always be caught off guard at some point.
There are many creative, imaginative ways of luring in the tourist and making money from unsuspecting holiday makers who are just looking for a good time.
A Classic Jinetero Moment
“We’re musicians and we’re playing in 15 minutes – you should come and see us! [No gracias]. We’ll get you in for free…[No gracias]. It’s the last day of the Havana Salsa Festival. It’s just down the road…” before you can even say no thanks one more time, you’re skilfully manoeuvred into a bar like pawns on a chess board; the waitress is asking you what cocktail you want and the musician is asking you to buy milk for his pregnant wife, who is now sporting her swollen belly.
“It’s one off free entry salsa night at the Buena Vista Social Club!” Ignore them – say you have no money – maybe another time. No money means no business – watch them scurry away.
Cubans have an ability to seize any opportunity that comes their way…and I mean any opportunity. No opportunity with them is ever wasted, and I’m not just referring to the Jineteros here. What I stumbled on was a nation of entrepreneurs – really really smart, educated people – some of whom chose to be jineteros, some of them business people running casas, restaurants and taxi services.
Now the opportunity for them to run their own business has come about – only in the last couple of years, mind you, and still with restrictions applied – I felt I had come into Cuba at a very very special and unique time.
I have never ever come across a more determined group of people in my life, and after leaving Havana I was about to learn a lot more about how ‘seizing opportunity‘ was what set the Cuban people apart from any other people I have met in the world.
I think this Cuban mentality is what I will take away with me.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.