Published: January 13th 2012January 13th 2012
The adventure began, or was supposed to begin Sunday night at 9:30 PM. About noon on Sunday I checked online to confirm the flight and found departure had been delayed 20 minutes. No big deal until later in the afternoon I checked again and found that the 20 minutes had grown to about 2 hours and we were now scheduled to depart at 11:50PM. But that was still a Sunday departure. We finally ended up being scheduled to depart at 1:40AM, Monday morning, and actually were boarded and moving from the terminal at 1:40AM. The beginnings of this Cuba adventure had begun to remind me of another adventure about 2005 when Robb and I were leaving, or trying to leave, from Glasgow with Canadian Affair. And tonite, after leaving the terminal building we didn’t get far.
It seems that the towbar used to push the plane from the terminal building had somehow broken and there we sat in the middle of the “parking” area. It was fortunately a quick fix and by 2:00 it was up, up, and away to Veraderro. I was reminded of why we usually create our own “tours” and travel by scheduled airlines. I think this was the first time we have ever travelled on a charter airline tour arranged through one of the many tour operators out there. I don’t know who is making or losing money on this deal but airfare and hotel for a week for two was less than a single return with a scheduled airline. Hmmmm ?
Monday morning at 7:30 we were on the tarmac in sunny, warm, Veraderro and it seemed all the other planes parked at the terminal gates all said SunWing on them. I have to admit the tour operator had things organized and by 8:00 we were out of the terminal, Heather was in the currency exchange lineup and I was waiting for our bus to Havanna to arrive. It wasn’t long before a young woman approached me, introduced herself as Ilyanna, and said she was our tour guide for the bus trip to Havanna which would take about 2 hours. Shortly before 9:00 we were on our way in a comfortable, air conditioned, luxury tour bus with 40 other persons. It wasn’t long after leaving Veraderro that we made our first stop at one of the all-inclusive resorts to drop off a bunch of passengers. A few miles further along another bunch were dropped off at another all-inclusive and then we were on the highway and on our way with about 20 people left on the bus.
Our “guide” Ilyanna explained how she was a student studying English at a university in Matanza, a community we passed through en route to Havanna. Part of Ilyanna’s studies included some co-op time with the tour companies that gave her some exposure to native English speaking persons and an opportunity to practice and expand her English. She spoke well and soon had all of the passengers engaged in conversation and explaining day to day life in Cuba to us. The countryside is beautiful and in many areas was reminiscent of Turkey. Houses were old, many in disrepair, and it seemed just as many abandoned mid-construction. We had one brief roadside stop along the way. An opportunity for the compulsory Mohito, or whatever other beverage might be preferred.
On the road again and we were soon in Havanna making stops to drop passengers off. Some of these places didn’t look too great, and in saying that I’m trying to be polite. As we continued to make drop offs further from central Havanna the accommodations didn’t seem to improve to much. Finally there were only two people left on the bus and I was unsure what we were going to find. But all’s well that ends well and we seemed to have won the hotel accommodation lottery as we pulled up to a. gorgeous new building, rating a full 4 stars minimum. We were soon checked into a large bright room with a large balcony overlooking the pool area and Havanna. Needless to say, after our long Sunday with sleep (??) on the flight we were somewhat tired and the highlight of day one was pretty much the opportunity to see the Cuban countryside on the trip to Havanna.
Tuesday morning started with the hotel buffet breakfast which had had some very mixed reviews. We found it wonderful and wondered what were the authors of those negative reviews expecting or where were they looking. Lots of fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, juices and pretty much anything one could want. And a really nice patio to enjoy it on. The internet is a wonderful thing which we have come to take pretty much for granted but it allowed us to make independent arrangements with a local Havanna guide for Tuesday morning to more or less give us a quick tour of Old Havanna and some general information on “the lay of the land” so to speak. Anna Lise is a guide more or less by profession and when she is not working for her regular employer she does part-time work for other guiding operations which is how we had come to connect with her. (the old friend of a friend network). We left the hotel about 10:30 on the complimentary hotel shuttle bus saving about 10 to 15 convertible pesos which are pretty much 1 convertible peso for 1 Canadian dollar. Anna Lise is very knowledgeable about her Havanna and history and gave us pretty much the type of guiding experience we wanted. She showed us the main sights, without dragging us through them, and then showed us a number of other things and places not on the usual tour guides. We had stopped for lunch along the way and enjoyed some live music and it was not until we were leaving that I noticed the large sign in front of the restaurant promoting the Beuna Vista Social Club, a musical show Heather had wanted to take in. e We parted company company with Anna Lise about 4:00 and explored on our own for another couple hours before catching the shuttle bus back to the hotel.
Old Havanna has some wonderful architecture. Unfortunately it has suffered from 50 years of neglect and the effects of salt air. There has recently begun a major undertaking to repair and restore these buildings and there is lots of work going on. To support this effort the Cuban government has established a somewhat specialized apprenticeship program training carpenters, masons, electricians and other trades the art and skill of restoration. It will take many years but there will be a stream of trained craftsmen to complete the project in the long term.
It was now getting close to 8:00PM and dinner was coming to mind. We had wanted to check out a couple “paladors”, small, privately run, in home restaurants and asked in the hotel lounge if there were any nearby. It wasn’t long before arrangements were made and a taxi was coming for us. The taxi was free. Turns out this palador is across a park from the hotel and at night from our balcony we can see the small neon sign on the front gate. But how were we to know, and anyhow the taxi was free. The place was clean, nicely decorated, with a couple of attentive young Cuban girls who served us but spoke no English. To the rescue the North American smart phone with English/Spanish translator app. The grilled lobster was simply prepared and presented, but good, and so was the “pulpo”, or grilled octopus with garlic spicing. When we had finished eating our taxi was waiting for us at the front gate and brought us directly back to the hotel. It was now we learned the taxi TO the palador was free but the ride BACK was 5 convertible pesos. Proving once again that nothing is free. !
Seems to be a problem loading pictures. Sorry, maybe tomorrow ?