Monday, January 29, 2007

HEEERE's Johnny!

In the words of the inestimable AH-nold, " I'm bach."

Back from the workers' paradise of the Caribbean and a lovely week of sun and odd-tasting omelets. The weather was superlative, the booze intoxicating and the week went by too fast.
Cuba is still easy-going Cuba, the people are still very pleasant and amicable. Where I was, they were obviously more expectant of the 'teep', but that's only because everybody seemed to think it was OK to be giving one for every door that got opened or drink slid along the bar.

Not that there's anything wrong with tipping - but at places like this one - huge - the staff was constantly being rotated from one job to another. Tipping a bartender for continued good service was no guarantee that you were going to get it from his replacement the next day. There were only two bars I noted with the same staff - the pool bar, and an evening only spot featuring a 'juggling' artist. There was also a cigar-room bar, but I didn't happen across it until the day before leaving. By the same token, not tipping someone you thought you could get it later raised the prospect you might not see that person again if they were shifted to restaurant or other duties. They should have a - 'tip station' at the main desk - divided among all the employees and you could do something special for those who really went out of their way for you.

The Cubans were being quite thorough in regard to security and immigration procedures. They were actually opening bags to check out stuff in luggage. They had sniffer dogs walking through the crowd, too. Canada, on the other hand was an exercise in 'show'. The security checks were perfunctory - or maybe it was because the dame 'doing' me had to take her break. Her replacement assumed she'd checked me, or thought I had an 'honest' face. Coming back was simply ludicrous.

Customs and immigration at our airports exists to check documentation for immigrants, foreign visitors and returning residents. Because there is no differentiation in this process, it can be a cock-up. There were hundreds of travelers who descended on the clearing hall, all at once, from a number of arriving flights. There weren't enough immigration officers on duty and lines for each were 60 plus in length. Timing indicated an average of 40 seconds per document check - ie a wait of 45 minutes to get through the passport check. Outside was a 'temporary' gantlet of 6 more armed immigration agents who were scrutinizing travelers and steering some off for more detailed examination, although how they were doing this was in no way apparent. No communications devices and no signal equipment from the scrutiny wickets - I think they were playing 'choosies'. The young guy ahead of me was sent 'down the hall' but he 'looked' like a potential suspect. Smugglers play hit and miss. Hand luggage isn't checked, if there was any sniffing going on, it was outside in the cold. They've got the inconvenience part of the heightened security pretty well in-hand. I'm just not sure the effectiveness matches it.

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