Since we booked our flights to Cuba they had changed 6 times, with the departure time becoming 4 hours earlier than originally planned. Arriving to check in at Cancun airport for our flight to Cuba we got a little worried as there was 2 (annoying) american groups who were booked on the 1pm flight who had been told that they had been bumped off because they had downsized the plane and now there wasnt room. One lady kept complaining that she didnt even want to go to Cuba anyway - she wanted to go to Israel - which was driving Ty crazy and it was all I could do to keep him from telling her to just go! Fortunately they must have decided they wanted us to go as we had no problems checking in. We had decided to leave one of our backpacks behind at the hostel in  Cancun but fortunately we were only 1kg over the baggage allowance and they didn't make us pay extra since it was 1 bag for two people.
Smiley sauce
We had heard that the food in Cuba is rather bland and had intended to grab some salt and pepper sachets from McDonalds but we forgot so we ordered a quick snack from Johnny Rockets in the departure lounge which came with happy face sauce. How can that not make you smile!

Its finally time to go - with great excitement we boarded our plane! We ended up sitting next to another American lady (so much for them all being banned!) who had worked with Cuban artists to set up a joint photography exhibition and refurbish an old water storage tank into art gallery and she was excited to be returning after a few years to see how things had progressed.

Arriving into Havana International airport and going through customs was more of an ordeal than going through Heathrow on a busy day - it seemed to take aaages! All of the customs officers were taking their sweet Island time to process everyone off two (small) planes and it was a good two hours by the time we made it out to collect our bags. Weirdly they scanned our hand luggage again coming into the country before we could pick up our luggage. First job was to get into the 2nd extremely long line to change our Mexican Pesos into the local tourist currency, the CUC. It is illegal to take cuban currency out of the country so you have no choice but to buy it on arrival. We had read about a common scam being that the exchange places try to scrape a little of the top however when i asked the guy for the reciept at the airport (for proof of the exchange rate) he was onto me, handed it to me, winked and then very slowly and deliberatly counted out all our money note by note with a cheeky look on his face. Welcome to Cuba! 

What became our nightly ritual
Waiting in line we had a guy come up and offer us a taxi into the city. We knew that the cost should be about 25 CUC so when he offered it to us for 20 we knew he must be one of the illegal cabs but decided to go for it anyway. Lots of the locals moonlight as taxi drivers in order to access the CUC and it causes more problems for them than the tourist if they are caught, but given that one ride from the airport to Havana Old Town is almost the equivalent of a months wage for a doctor they take the risk. When we asked our driver what his day job was however, he replied that he was just a taxi driver, kind of incredulous considering he spent 25 minutes looking for the street where the place that the Japanese guy who was sharing the ride with us was staying, and then another 20 looking for ours! haha.

Arriving at our hostel the manager wasn't there so we headed upstairs to the rooftop bar to wait for him, and tucked straight into some Mojitos made by the lovely bartender Leo. Sitting down to chat with the others around the table we soaked up the atmosphere and the sunset over Havana. We made friends with an aussie called Kylie and not much later on the instruction of other travellers who had been in Havana for a while we were heading to the local corner store to buy our first bottle of Havana Club Especial for the trip (at only $5.85 US for a 750ml bottle theres a reason why my liver now needs a detox!)

Once Ronaldo, the owner, arrived back he gave us a really good briefing about Havana and explained the two currencies to us, and how to tell the difference between them (an essential skill!) before we settled our stuff into our dorm. Tyro, having not had a good sleep the night before and having consumed a large portion of the rum we purchased was really tired, which is the only time he snores. Unfortunately for him (and for me) we were sharing the dorm with a group of 3 polish ladies one of whom prounounced loudly before bed time - "well, i hope nobody snores!" before waking me up in the middle of the night with her over the top, huffing and puffing at Ty's rather mousy, almost impossible to hear, snores, forcing me to get out of bed and encourage him to roll over. 

Next stop: Exploring Havana Old Town


04/11/2013 3:35am

Great writing - have you sorted a publisher for your return to NZ!! How's the detox coming along? xxxoo


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