3 Days in Cuba
21.10.2009 - 24.10.2009 31 °C
I am sat on the balcony of our casa particular watching the sunset over our first day in the Cuba in the revolutioenary capital of Havana. Following what can only be described as one of the most stressful days of travelling we have encountered in the last 6 years. Having given ourselves 2 and a half hours at the airport to check in, complete last minute shopping and cancel those final few bits of post our previous land lady had recieved since our departure we thought we'd be fine. We hadn't anticipated the crashing of Virgin's check in system and our failure to check if a visa was required. Having finally made it to the front of the bag drop line we were then instructed to visit the sales desk to purchase the visa and before coming back to the desk. At no point did this girl also ask if we had evidence of our onward journey from Cuba as we had only booked a one way ticket...
So upon finally returning to the check in desk and now being dealt with by a different person of course the next question out of her mouth, "Can I see proof of your onward departure please" Umm... no you can't because we don't have a copy. It turns out this was not the correct answer, we were once again directed back to the sales desk to attempt to access our email and obtain a copy of our e-ticket from Copa Air. By this stage our flight was due to depart in 1 hour. Ensuing frustration and a computer slower than a snail on valium left us pulling out our hair and left us residing ourselves to not picking up all those last minute items such as deoderant, razors, headache tablets, antihistamine and numerous other minor necessities we'd decided were required over the past month. Following a cut and paste job we were on our way back to the front desk for our third attempt at getting checked in. As the saying goes third time lucky. With a hop skip and running pace that would have impressed even the likes of Usain Bolt we sped off to customs. 45 Minutes left to flight departure. What was probably only 10 minutes but felt like a life time we were through to the departure zone. Splitting up, Hannah ran to Boots (the chemist) and I departed for Dixons to look for a netbook (very small laptop) the rendavoue point being the departure gate. The announcent board declared that the flight was closing. Once again resorting to the pace typicaly seen in the 100m sprints we made it to our gate, hot, sweaty, heart rate elevated and stress levels off the charts. The flight hadn't even started to board...Typical!!
So Yesterday was stressful, but thats ok, we woke to sunshine, leafy green boulevards and the feeling that we were in somewhere pretty special. We were looking forward to exploring the streets of Havana Vieja. Our host just left us with one piece of advice don't talk to anybody off the street. Following today and our inability to follow what was cleary a good instruction we've been left agitated, drainted, and fleeced. However as we both agree it could have been a lot worse and we've now learnt our lesson for South America.
So there we were minding our own business taking a few pictures of the beautiful but delapitated colonial buildings of Cuba's past when a gentleman attempting to look like Che Guvara asked to have his picture taken. Following a few happy snaps and swapping fo smiles he then demaded 3CUC for his troubles. Lesson 1, ask how much they're after for a photo before snapping away. As I firstly pulled out my wallet forgetting that the local money was in my zip pocket he moved in only being blocked by Hannah. Realising the money was elsewhere I pulled out the cash about to hand him the 3CUC note he tried snatching the whole lot. Luckily I had a pretty good hold on the money and I got it out of his reach before handing him the 3CUC note and quickly walking away. Needless to say this ruined our good mood.
You think we would have learnt, but no it appears that we are slow learners. Having been approached a younger guy about our age asking if he could help as we were looking at a restaurant menu. He loved the fact that we were kiwi's and not Americans. What were we up to today, did we know there was a salsa festival on. No I don't want any money I'll just walk you its up in here, blah blah blah the guy was good, it's obvious he'd done this before. In 30 minutes he got, 1 mohito (that he didn't finish), 1 cigar from the packet of 25 he orgainsed for me and 2CUC for his troubles before disappaering under the guise that he'd get a pen so he could give us his email address. He most likely got a commision on the cigars he orgainsed for me as well. However 25CUC for a packet of 25 even if they are just the ones the locals smoke is fine by me. So there we were left in this bar waiting for him to return, after 10 minutes it was eviden he wasn't returning and our time in Cuba had just been completely ruined.
Ive finally decided that maybe Hannah's non trusting attitude whilst travelling is a good tool to have. I thoroughly appreciated her effort to chill out and make an effort to give people a chanve however I welcome it back as I know that she is probably going to save us money and a lot of hassle that dampens the mood!
Trying to recover ourselves from our second fleecing in the space of 1 hour we moved in to Havana Vieja (Old Town). Lifting one's head above eye level to take in the decaying facades of what were once grandeous buildings it doesn't take much to begin to understand the frustrations of the Cuban people back in the time of General Baptista's rule. The Colonial mansions were owned by the few ad the few had the power. The lavish and luxurious lifestyles of these Colonial dwellers played their part in the Cuban Revolution. The obressive nature of those few who held power being cast aside in an attempt to achieve an equality for the people of Cuba.
The fading pastel colours tell a story of struggle and of weathering hard times. It is evident that the owners of the buildings have never been able to maintain them to the condition they were originally in when the Colonial Masters of Cuba retreated following the Revolution. While they are weary in their appearance a happiness can still be found within in them. They have a living breathing soul that comes from their occupiers whether it being the high pitched screams of children running through the corridors and courtyard placing catch, or from the passion and sexy rythums of the cuban jazz and salsa being played from an occupants stereo.
The feeling of falling into a time warp and ending up in a bygone era is added to by the classic car collection that is driven through the streets of Havana and across the country. Car's from Detriots gold age in the motoring industry flood the streets in all manner of appearance and condition. The size of these petrol guzzling monsters make them ideal for the local taxi's that pickup and drop off as many locals as they can comfortably fit in at any one time. While their size and age prevent them from being the zippiest things around their slow rumbling nature fts in well with the Cubane way of life. One feels that the attitude of "slow and steady wins the race" has been adopted by most people, which in turn suits the climate. The hot humid climate of Cuba is certainly not endearing to a return to Australia, at least if its cold you just put another layer on. Where as a layer of sweat can only be removed by a shower or swim!
The best looking local cars have of course been put to use in the tourist trade, soft top cadillacs and fords with their polished chrome bumpers provide tourists with drive by tours of the city. We only had 4 things we wanted to do in Cuba, they were, smoke a cigar, learn to Salsa, drink rum and have a ride on a classic car. However given our experiences of today we are passing on item 2 and 4 for fear of being fleeced again. We'll get salsa lessons in Quito during the two weeks of language school.
Items 1 and 3 were completed today, however I'm not sure if you could call my attempt at smoking a cigar really smoking a cigar, perhaps I should have googled or Utubed how to smoke a cigar before I made my attempt! Having taken a particular liking to rum, and by rum I don't mean that hideous stuff that Australian's call rum, Bundaburg? Yuck!!! I mean mean Havana Club, and I'm loving the fact that 3CUC gets you a glass of my favourite 7 year dark rum. However they don't need to give us half a bottle in one glass!!
To cheer ourselves up and to hopefully turn this part of our adventure around we splurged on lunch today, shouting ourselves to a chatubreaund for two, two glasses of rum and candy house dessert, pictured below for about 50CUC (30 quid). The Chatubreaund was melt in your mouth the rum as to be expected delicious and the dessert, well it only existed for about 90 seconds.
Thus ends our first day in Cuba, lessons have been learnt, stress levels have been pushed and Hannah has been burnt for the first time in just over 4 weeks, which for her I think is a new record as her fair skin normally frys at the first hint of sun.\par
Tomorrow we're going to adventure up to Revolution Plaza, check out the hop on hop off bus and return to that resturant for another piece of chatubreaund. Here's to things improving.
On a positive note we know more spanish than we thought and Hannah is kicking my butt, I need to get some confidenece and just start talking, even if I'm wrong they'll correct me and learn from my mistakes!
Following on from our first day the jury is still out whether I misplaced or had my sunglasses stolen from my camera bag as I was wandering around taking photos. We're looking forward to our plane flight tomorrow!