Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Havana, Cuba

Hola! I finally made it to Cuba, yay! I got in this morning and everything went very smoothly. I traveled to Cuba via Cancun, Mexico (will write more on this later) and at the airport I had to buy a tourist card to enter Cuba. This was very easy to obtain as they were being sold near the check in counters, the guy selling them was trying to rip me off by saying it costs $25 then when I took out $40 he didn't have change so he was like, "$20 is okay" the nerve! I later looked up the cost online and it does cost $20 if you buy the card in Mexico. I don't know about other countries but US passport holders have to have this card in order to enter Cuba, make sure to buy it prior to check in as you can not be checked in without it.

I had read that baggage claim at the Havana airport is a mess and you could easily spend an hour or more waiting to get your luggage and chances of it being lost are high as well. With this in mind I made sure to pack light and travel with only my back pack and a small carry on suitcase. I was feeling quite proud of myself for traveling light till the lady at the check in counter told me that all the luggage on you has to be 10 kilos and below in order to be allowed to check in items. My luggage (back pack and suitcase) weighed 12 kilos so I had to check in my suitcase. You can imagine my sorrow and panic as I realized if my suitcase ended up lost I would be so screwed because it pretty much had all my daily essentials. My back pack only had my laptop and official documents. I reluctantly checked in my suitcase but later on I saw people boarding the plane with luggage that appeared to easily weight more than 10 kilos!!!

The trip  to Havana from Cancun lasted about an hour and a few minutes which was very short, it felt like as soon as we took off we had to buckle our seats once more for landing. I made through Immigration which went smoothly and pretty fast, I was done within 5 minutes. Baggage claim was also smoother than I expected and contrary to a lot of information I had read online, I was able to get my suitcase within 15 minutes after leaving the immigration area. That took care of my initial worry about losing my suitcase or having to wait for hours to get it. Actually the baggage claim area seemed pretty organized, maybe it was my lucky day but I had read really bad reviews about the Havana airport but my experience was nothing but a breeze. 

With my luggage in hand I headed outside the airport to get a taxi, this older guy approached me and offered me a taxi ride at the price I had been advised is the normal range so I decided to take his offer. He turned out be quite a funny guy and when I got to my airbnb accommodation he actually parked his car and carried my suitcase to the address I had in hand and called my airbnb host to make sure he came down to get me before he left. He was such a sweetie and had this fatherly vibe about him. In the taxi as we were chatting I had told him that my birthday was on the 17th so when we got to the airbnb host’s place he told him to note down his number and call him during my birthday so he could wish me well, he was very serious by the way. It was too cute!

My airbnb host, Damian got me oriented with the house I am staying in and introduced me to his wife Chaveli and his mother who lives with them. I immediately felt like part of the family and within minutes I was chatting away with them like they were old friends, they are super cool and I really took a liking to Chaveli the wife and talking to her felt like I was talking to an old friend, super cool couple. They gave me a map and showed me places of interest that I could check out, they live in Havana Centro which is between old and new Havana (Havana Vieja and Havana Nueva). Everything was within walking distance so I decided to maximize my day by exploring Havana Vieja to familiarize myself with the streets.

Walking along the streets of Havana vieja gave me such a deja vu feeling as it reminded me of other cities I had been to, cities like Cartagena in Colombia, Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo in the DR. I think it gets to a point all plazas start to look the same and so do the narrow colorful streets, don’t get me wrong. Havana vieja has its charm but I wasn’t wowed because everything just seemed so familiar. The only different observation were the colorful 50s cars which are used as taxis for tourism and some crumbling buildings that seemed to have stood the test of time. Well, its only my first day here so my opinion might change within the next several days in the meantime, enjoy some of the photos I took during my stroll.

After so much walking I decided to stop for lunch at one of the restaurants that had been recommended to me. Its called Los Nardos and is in front of the Capitolio (just in case anyone of you reads this blog and visits Havana), the food was good and cheap but the service was horrible!! I swear I waited for almost an hour just have my order taken, this other couple was so annoyed by the wait that they left but I was starving so I decided to wait, you would think the wait was long because it was busy but nope! the waiters just didn't seem that interested in delivering fast service. The funny thing is, the food arrived within 10 minutes after ordering! 

After lunch I decided to head back to my room because I was tired and my feet were so sore from all the walking, I had been walking non stop for 4 hours! Once I got to the house I sat down with my hosts Damian and Chaveli and we had some very interesting conversations that went on till very late at nigh before deciding to get some sleep. 

Random Thoughts Of The Day:

People here are very friendly and helpful with directions if you stop them on the streets but customer service in other places like restaurants is crap or rather non existent.

I had heard that Cuban men can be very annoying with catcalls on the streets but to be honest I haven’t been bothered so far. I really don’t mind it because I am enjoying the peaceful walks on these streets so far.

Speaking of men, the taxista who gave me a ride from the airport today was telling me that many Cuban men are well known for being womanizers, he then said that Cubans resolve all their problems through sex. They use this as a distraction to forget the many problems that they face, he was laughing as he told me this. 

It is super safe around here and even my host was telling me chances of getting mugged are very low. Its not impossible but its a very rare occurrence because the law is very tough on criminals. I never even once felt uncomfortable walking around even when I was taking pictures. You just don’t have that fear that someone will grab it from your hands, same goes with phones. I mean, I have traveled to places where taking out your camera or phone immediately marks you as a target so it feels very refreshing not have to worry about that here.

I have seen some very attractive men on these Havana streets! nothing wrong with appreciating God’s marvelous creations plus hey! as I always say, “I am married not blind”

Its amazing the things we take for granted but for the regular Cuban, its a luxury. Things are just not always available in stores and options are limited. I was talking to Chaveli about hair products and she was telling me how hard it is to get access to good hair products. If you come across a good product buy as much of it as possible because its not a guarantee that it will be there the next day.

There are Cubans who bring products from the US and sell them (not legally of course because Cubans are prohibited from importing goods for business purposes). The stuff they bring doesn’t last long as everyone scrambles to buy them and stock up so if you snooze you lose.

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