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Published: August 20th 2012
In March 2011, a friend and I went to Cuba for a week. I can’t remember how we got the booking but it was around $380 return per person. We flew to Santa Clara on Westjet and flew back from Santa Clara on Air Canada. I found it interesting that they do not stamp your passport when you enter or exit the country. When going through customs (entering), I observed that a lot of people had brought food and all fresh food were confiscated. I had dried fruit and nuts which I don’t think were a problem but I also had a whole bag of fresh kumquats but they didn’t find them.
After we exchanged some money at the airport, we found that Santa Clara is 12 km away and that the only way to get to town is to take a taxi for $25 CAD (25 CUCs). We found 2 other people also going to town so the 4 of us shared a taxi. However, coming back to the airport, we realized that the taxi was not the only way to town. There is a family of farmers who lives just beside the entrance/exit of the airport and they have a horse-cart. Of course, they won’t go as far as Santa Clara but at least they can take you out to the main road (about 2 km) where you can catch a bus or other horse-carts going toward town. For our return trip, we took from Santa Clara a local bus that goes on the road (311) toward the airport. We got off somewhere near the airport and walked in. We were 4 hours early and while waiting around, we saw the family with the horse-cart and asked the guy if he can take us out to the store we saw on the main road and then back. He agreed. When we got back, we gave him all the Cuban money we had left in CUCs and CUPs which totalled about 1 or 2 CAD. He was very happy. There was nothing at the airport and we were hungry. That store, more like a Greek periptero, was about 4 km away and it was the closest place where you can get snacks and drinks.
Couchsurfing or staying in private residences by foreigners is not allowed in Cuba. What they have for foreigners is http://www.casaparticularcuba.org/
. Some are just people’s private homes, some are more elaborate set-ups that look like hotels. These are private properties where the owner applies to the government for a licence to house foreigners. The licence requires a monthly payment to the government and certain standards to be kept. We stayed at the Hostal La Pérgola for $25 per night and it was a really nice place. It was also very close to the central square in Santa Clara.
We asked a local on the street where we can exchange CUCs for CUPs and he took us to a bank at the main square. Then he took us to a restaurant where he said they have the best food in town. It was on one of the small streets just off the main square. The plates we ordered ranged from $6-8 CAD which is expensive by Cuban standards but in the end, it turned out to be the best food we were to have in Cuba.
We looked into taking the train to Havana and because we only knew a few words in Spanish and had just a dictionary with us, it was impossible to understand why we couldn’t take the train to Havana. Many people, including the ticket agent explained a lot of things to us, none of which we understood. We decided to try hitchhiking (read about the Amarillo: http://wikitravel.org/en/Cuba).
We took a bicycle rickshaw to the outskirts of town and then from there, we took a public bus to get to the highway toward Havana. We found the Amarillo but realized that it would take too long as there were loads of people there. We decided to go to the bus terminal which is on the other side of Santa Clara.
To go back to town, we hitchhiked and got a ride in a truck, which was awesome. There was hardly any room to stand on the back of the truck and the road was really bumpy. Once in town, we took a horse-cart taxi to the bus stand. There are designated buses that foreigners can take but there were only 2 buses left for the day and the first one was already sold out. (The buses for Cubans are more frequent.) While we were waiting at the bus station, we saw a guy from India. The friend I was travelling with is from India, so naturally, they started talking to each other. The guy was here studying medicine as the tuition is very low and cost of living is also very low so many Indians can afford to send their children here to study. Apparently, Cuba has pretty good medical schools. This Indian guy told us that it’s probably better to take a private taxi to Havana. It’s faster and the cost is comparable to taking the bus. He said there are lots of these taxis outside the bus terminal and he will negotiate for us since he speaks Spanish. I can’t remember the exact cost but I think he managed to settle on $15 with the driver. However, the driver would not leave until his car was full but just then, he got all his passengers and we left immediately.
The ride took about 4 hours. On the highway, we passed by farm fields after farm fields and there were many people selling food on the highway. Apparently, certain produce can only be obtained directly from farms so while one is on the highway, it’s a golden opportunity to buy certain things. The driver stopped several times to buy stuff. He also stopped when a passenger wanted to buy something. He stopped at a fruit stand and asked if anyone wanted to buy anything. I got out as I saw bananas. The prices were listed on a board. I asked for bananas and gave the guy the amount listed on the board which I thought was the price per kg, and he gave me the entire bunch which was about 2 feet long. I didn’t know how to explain that I just wanted a few bananas, not 100, and since I didn’t want to delay everybody who were waiting for me in the car, I just took it and left.
When we got to Havana, we didn’t want to lug that huge bunch of bananas around so we ate as many as we could. Luckily, they were the small variety so we were able to eat about a third of the bananas. (and luckily, we both love bananas!) There was a beggar woman and we offered her many bananas but after the third, she didn’t want anymore. Finally, we took all the ripe bananas off the stem, put them in a plastic bag to take with us and left the rest of the bananas on a bench in the square. It was really too heavy and big to carry around. The sad part was that when we visited a couchsurfer the next day, his friend came over and was complaining how difficult it was to get certain produce especially fruits. We gave him whatever bananas we had left and he was ecstatic. It was too bad we didn’t keep the rest to give to him.
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