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Published: February 16th 2018
This morning we were up bright eyed and bushy tailed for our journey into Cuba. The flights were relatively uneventful. Two flights from New Orleans (which we left covered in fog) to Miami and then onto Havana. Jo inadvertently found a work around for the baggage charge for American flights. They charge you $25 per checked bag. I dutifully paid and checked my bag, Jo took hers through as carry on. (so many folks do that here) At the gates they ask again if you would like to check your bags at which point Jo decided yes I would. No charge. Smart cookie that one
We purchased our Visa’s in Miami, three forms which ask all the standard questions and strenuously point out that you must fill in all details correctly. Another form will result in more charges for a replacement. Upon arriving in Cuba, they checked our passports, stamped them, collected the forms with barely a glance and we off into the Cuban sun.
Outside in the airport we stopped for a cigarette and were debating weather to exchange our cash at the airport or wait until we got into Havana. Jo figured we could pay the cabbie in USD or CAD. We were approached by friendly concierge who went and checked the exchange rate for us and informed us that yes you can get better in the city. He gave us a rough calculation which told us CA$100 would be about CUC76. We asked if he could take us to a currency exchanger on the way. Yes of course. Turns out, he was our currency exchange. He transferred the CA$100 at the rate set at the airport, less his fare, less tips. We probably should have vetted that a little better.
The ride into town was interesting….scary as hell, but interesting. Our taxi was a little Peugeot, there are a lot of modern cars here. But there are an awful lot of old bangers too. Our driver was hurtling down the freeway in his little Peugeot, whose seatbelts don’t work by the way, at least 100kms an hour dodging between cars with barely a meter in between. Please understand, this is Cuba, there were not that many cars on the road, but there were cyclists, and pedestrians, and at least one horse and cart.
We had a bit of drama getting into our AirBNB. Our taxi driver dropped us off at a hotel and gave us directions. He couldn’t drive the car in this area. To be fair, the streets are narrow and full of pedestrians, but we have seen the odd car edging its way down the street. It was only a short walk, but someone may have gone a block (or four) to far in the wrong direction. I’m not saying it was my fault but I probably should have listened to Jo. We get to our apartment block and Carmen, our host is nowhere to be seen. The lovely folk downstairs knew her number and called her for us. Then tried to communicate with us that she was on her way. They were really very friendly and kept chatting away to us. However, they had no English and we have no Spanish, so that went well.
Eventually Carmens mum turned up. She only has a little bit of English but we managed to work out that her dad has had eye surgery and the family is a bit all over the place at the moment. They clean forgot we were coming and the apartment wasn’t ready. She told us to leave our bags and she would clean it immediately. (it really wasn’t that dirty) We left her to it while we went out for dinner.
We walked a short distance around the corner to find a plethora of restaurants. We have definitely come to stay in the right area. The difficulty being we only had about $45 to stretch between the two of us. We covered dinner with very little difficulty. (including a mojito and a cerveza) However lots of people were asking for tips. There was a musical duo that sang and played guitar for the crowd but we did not have enough money to give them a tip. A gentleman came by and gave us a magic show and he got our last CUC as a tip. There were also a couple of kids begging, which is always awkward, but we had nothing for them.
After dinner we went for a walk around the city, I think we found all four of the main squares. It really is beautiful even though it is crumbling. Although I think their roads are better than New Orleans. Most of them are cobblestone so I have to watch where I’m walking, but they are still in pretty good nick. There are restoration works going on everywhere but that is a big slow project. Eventually we found what we were looking for, an ATM, and blessed be the Gods, my ATM works. We found a bar we could buy cigarettes and a couple of beers ($10) and relaxed a bit. We still have some tasks to tick off our sensible list a) find bottled water b) find a bank to convert our CA$ and c) a laundry because Jo packed super light and is running out of clothes.
Happy Valentines Day
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