Let’s go to Cuba!

November 3, 2018

Dear Blog,

For my new Followers that have recently joined me, this is where we pick up our story…

Here I am again!  Do I have all my ducks in a row?  Flights reserved?  Check.  Lodging secured?  Check.  Taxis arranged for?  Check.  Tours booked?  Check.  Am I bringing enough money?  I hope so.  Wait, you say, not to worry, a credit card will take care of things.  But it won’t, not where I’m going.  Credit cards won’t work there.  It’s cash, all cash.  And if I run out of cash, well, that’s not an option.  What if I get robbed?  That would be bad, very bad.  But crime is very low where I’m going.  So I’m told.  Let’s hope that’s the case.

Ok, it’s time to get going.  Where is my ride to the airport?  What?  it’s still 30 minutes from me?  But I have an international flight!  I have to be there 3 hours early.  This is not starting well, not at all.  I paid for a top name airport shuttle service.  What is this Uber looking car pulling up to pick me up?  Well, I guess I have no choice.  Let’s hope this works out.  This is just initial stress based on the place I have chosen to go, yes, that’s what this is.

Finding myself on an airplane in search of a new adventure!  Seating on planes is getting increasingly smaller every year, I swear.  Oh why couldn’t I be independently wealthy?  I could fly first class.  But I digress again, a common malady of mine.  Anyway, excitement builds along with trepidation as the plane takes off.  The flight is uneventful and lands on time.  Now to change planes for the trip out of my home country.  All goes smoothly and I find myself on the next plane.  Why isn’t the door closing?  The cockpit door is still open too.  I hear the captain announcing a delay.  Maintenance workers are working on the plane.  Probably something simple.  Some passengers are asking to get off the plane.  An announcement tells us that we can get off, but will not be allowed back on tonight. So we sit on the plane.  2 1/2 hours later, we get underway.  I call my host in the foreign country and tell him we’re delayed.  I only get to him by text.  I hope he gets the message.

So why do I travel?  Seems simple to all, just stay home.  But I can’t, I’ve been infected with the travel bug.  It’s worth it.  It has always been worth it.  It will always be worth it.  I just know this trip will prove that.  So on this plane I sit, waiting, outwardly patient as the plane is repaired and the door finally closes and we start to roll out onto the tarmac.  The plane accelerates normally and moments later we are airborne and the butterflies in my stomach fly away.

Nov 3, 2018  9:30 PM

The city of Miami dwindles under us as we rise into the sky.  2 1/2 hours after we were supposed to leave.  A taxi has been waiting for us at our destination for an hour and a half already.  I hope they follow our flight delay and don’t just sit there waiting for us.  Lights down below us must be Key West as we fly south.  The flight lasts just over an hour and the pilot announces our descent into Havana, Cuba.  Cuba will be our home for the next 11 days and our excitement builds.  We are finally here, in a country we have long wanted to visit.  But US Citizens have only been allowed to travel here for a couple years now.  We are traveling under the “Support For The Cuban People” Guidelines made up by the US Government.  We are allowed to support the Cuban people, but by no means are we allowed to spend money to the Cuban Government.  So that means no Hotels, not many Restaurants either.  So how does one travel to a place for 11 days without staying in Hotels or eating in Restaurants?  The answer lies in my last 4 months of research and a local Cuban lady that I have been in touch with via daily emails.

But I digress again.  We step off the plane in the Havana (locally spelled “Habana”) airport and we wend our way through Cuban Customs.  We get our Visas stamped (that cost us $85 each in addition to our plane tickets) and roll our luggage out into crowds of locals and spot a welcome sight, a man holding a sign with our name on it.  I also spot a series of CADECA Machines and head for them as my wife goes to greet out taxi driver.  The CADECA Machine changes the Euros that I brought into Cuban Pesos and we’re good to go for several days.

Our taxi driver loads our bags and we make the 30 minute trip from the airport to downtown Habana.  Our first lodging, called a “Casa Particular” (or Airbnb to those back home) turns out to be in the middle of a small old street (that resembles a back alley) in the Old Historic District of Habana.  The street is not much to look at and something that most people would shy away from willingly walking into.  Looking up above the door, we see clotheslines full of laundry hanging out to dry.  Our Host opens a ramshackle metal security door and we go inside.  Bus Station style seats adorn a broken down hallway.  Our Host and Taxi Driver each carry one of our bags up 3 flights of tile stairs to the 4th floor.  What have we got ourselves into?  But it’s 11:30 PM and we have a taxi picking us up at 8:00 AM to take us to our next destination and we are craving a good nights sleep.

The street from our Casa!
The street from our Casa!

Surprisingly, we step into the apartment and it is very nicely renovated in Art Deco Style blues and whites and very clean.  Much to our relief, especially after seeing the entrance and stairs up to it.  Our Host gives us a set of keys and instructions on how to leave the place and keys when we leave in the morning.  Wait!  We were told there would be breakfast at our Casa’s each morning.  But no, not here.  Go down 2 blocks, turn left for 2 blocks and there a plenty of restaurants.  Ok, got it.

Well, here we are, in Cuba!  Going to make the best of every situation, that’s how we roll.  First, let’s get some sleep.  The apartment has a bedroom, bathroom, full kitchen and living room.  Spacious, if you call small rooms spacious.  But it will turn out to be our largest but not best accommodations on our trip.  We get through our nightly hygiene routines and I purify a liter of tap water with an ultraviolet purification unit that I always take when we travel out of the country.  Any of you hikers out there will know what the units look like.

Ok, getting into bed.  Seems soft enough.  But what is this, the mattress slips into somewhat of a “U” shape.  Hey I lost weight last year, I’m not that heavy any more!  Oh well, close my eyes and go to sleep, it’s not that bad.  But my thoughts will still be rambling the way they always do, when you’ve traveled 12 hours and there’s nothing much to do.  Sorry if I sound like song lyrics, LOL.  Somewhere around 6 AM, I finally fall asleep.

Sunday, Nov 4, 2018

Promptly at 6:30 AM, the alarm sounds the beginning of our first full day in Cuba and we don’t want to miss our taxi at 8 AM.  Hmmm, check my clock to make sure because this just happens to be the day we turn our clocks back in the US at the end of Daylight Savings Time.  We meet someone in the streets as we attempt to find breakfast and they have the same time as we do.  It appears that Cuba recognizes US time zones and matches the East Coast time.  That’s good to know.  Ok, we find some poor breakfast sandwiches and chow down on them.  Better than nothing and we have a taxi coming for us.

We go back up to the apartment and get our bags and haul them down the 3 flights of stairs to the ground floor.  I leave the keys in the apartment, locking us out of it and we wait in the street for our taxi.  Check clock, 7:55 AM.  Hope our taxi is on time.  Check clock again, 8:10AM.  Ok, this is a very nondescript street, the taxi needs time to find us.  Check clock again, 8:25 AM.  Bet you can guess where this is going.  8:45 AM and still no taxi.  Haven’t been in the country for 10 hours and already things are looking disastrous for our trip.  We have a tour that we need to meet up with at 11:00 AM and it’s a 2 1/2 hour ride to our next and first real destination in Cuba, the small town of Vinales on the western edge of the country.

Ok, can’t wait any longer.  But at least we noticed on our morning excursion to find food that we are only a block and a half from Capitolito Square where taxis abound.  So we haul our luggage up the street where a local man attempts to offer his help to find us a taxi.  We have been warned of this very thing and told they are looking for a kickback of some sort.  But we follow him anyway and he brings us to his “Uncle’s” taxi where we are offered a ride to Vinales for $140 (Cuban Pesos are 1:1 with US Dollars, a very convenient comparison for our trip).  But wait, our original ride was supposed to be in an old Classic Car and was to cost us $80.  We can do better that $140.  We walk quickly away from “Uncle” and go to a Hotel nearby (not because we want their services, we cannot use their services as per information I already pointed out regarding spending money to the government) because we think, and correctly so, we can find an English speaking person to help us.

We find from talking to a few people that $140 is considered an ok price to go to Vinales.  Hmmm, this trip better not cost 75% more at every turn or we’re going to run out of money.  We head back towards “Uncle” and he has mellowed, wanting our business and he has lowered his price to $100.  Perfect, we can do this!  He loads our bags in the trunk and off we go.  Having studied maps of Cuba over the last several months and being a bit nervous that we could possible be taken for gullible tourists, I watch street and intersection signs and even the rising sun and soon determine that we are, in fact, heading in the right direction.  I start to relax but I check my clock.  Timing is going to be tight to make our tour at 11:00 AM.  We converse with our driver, compliments of Google Translate, and impart our urgency to get to Vinales before 11 AM.  He has no problem stepping on the gas and we roll into Vinales at 10:50 AM.

We unload our bags at our new Casa Particular where our new Hosts greet us at the door and happily show us to our new room in the back of their house.  I show our Host the phone number of our tour guide and she calls him and he comes and picks us up!  We even have a few minutes to take our first photos in Cuba, of our new Casa Particular and its rooftop patio!  Ok, this day has been repaired!