Where do I begin? This is how the Love Story theme starts, but considering Cuba I am not sure if I could call it a love story. Rather a tough love.
So maybe I should start with the airport. Or no. The plane. The plane was the beginning of a crazy ride.
– Siniora, si prego attenzione, seduta emergencia sd…..
– Excuse me – I interrupted – but I don’t speak Spanish.
– Este salida d’emergencia ekw….(something I absolutely couldn’t understand basing on my Italian, but I let the lady speak, politely smiling and tilting my head to the right like a slightly disabled cat)
– Non hablo Espaniol, I’m sorry, in the last 2 minutes nothing has changed and I cannot understand you…
The cute a bit chubby flight attendant pointed a brochure in a seat pocket in front of me and with a voice not bearing any objection informed me:
(there were only pictures how to detach the emergency doors, but I agreed to read)
Airborne and an hour and a half of blissful slumber later I focused on reading a book I will never admit I read in public, when out of the sudden:
I jumped in my seat, put an ear closer to the place where the sound was coming from (THE EMERGENCY DOOR) to see if I was right and shit-fuck-shit I was. I looked at people sitting on the other side of the isle – as in the mirror: the same terrified faces.
Oh, why those terrified-in-Spanish dudes cannot stop twisting in their seats with a giant OMG on their faces and TELL the YOU READ lady that something’s wrong? – I was wondering along with panicking and thinking that maybe my Cuban encounter was never to happen.
They finally asked. One of them made a funny tap-tap on flight attendant’s arm as if he was 5yo and about to confess “Miss, I’m sorry, I guess we broke the plane”. It turned out we didn’t – that was a regular aeroplane’s performance. Such a shame nobody had informed us about it (but who cares – at least we knew how to detach emergency doors).
Half an hour later, we landed. Safe and sound.
After I had reached the end of the internet when it comes to Cuba, I was expecting mules dragging our suitcases instead of the carousel.
And I wouldn’t even mind mules if only my bag was there. But an hour after the plane landed I was still standing in front of the emptied carousel that stopped moving…along with 20 other passengers. When tired swarm of resigned passengers, including myself, started moving towards the Lost&Found office Heading to the Lost &Found office, I spotted a happy Cuban ground-staff worker running towards us. He was smiling cheerfully and waving his hands. Suddenly the carousel belt started circling again. What happened? They simply FORGOT TO UNLOAD EVERYTHING.
With such a beginning it had to be fun.
How to Havana?
There are some things that surprised me. Huh, even made my jaw drop, so, just to let you know:
- At the airport, when you finally retrieve your luggage you’ll have to go to exchange some money, just like all of the fellow travellers = be prepared to wait in line for at least an hour.
- The best currency to exchange is Euro or GBP. Exchanging from USD you’ll face a 10% penalty fee.
- What you’re getting is CUC – Convertible Cuban Peso. 1CUC=1USD.
- To get to the city centre, there’s only one way – a taxi. That will cost you 25-30USD, so it’s good to use your time while waiting in front of the exchange office to find some people willing to share your ride.
- Wifi is a tricky thing, very expensive and hard to get. Prices for 1 hour fluctuate between 2 and 5CUC – 2 and 5 USD. How does it work? First, you go to a special store, or easier, one of the expensive hotels, and buy a scratch card. Next, you find a place with a wifi, connect and log in with numbers provided on your scratch card. It usually works. When you’re done, don’t forget to log out, so that you could use your precious minutes later. Or just avoid the hustle and accept the fact, that Cuba is an offline island.
- Walking to the restaurant be like:- Can I have a menu?
– We have only chicken.
– But….may I see the menu?
– So you want this chicken or not?
I’ll never forget when on the day one I left home with a thought that I’ll walk around a bit and then grab some food at the supermarket on the way. Buahaha, very funny. After 40 minutes of fruitless search, I’ve finally spotted one. SUPERMARKET . I’m saved. Walking inside I was welcomed by 4 giant floor-to-ceiling regals.
First one – just rum.
The second one – just canned beans.
Third one – baby food (NAN1 powdered milk).
And the fourth one remained empty.
That made me sad, but not for long – in a corner, at the end of the supermarket I spotted an Algida ice-cream fridge. Full of hope I trotted towards it.
Inside was no ice-cream.
Just a giant pig’s head wrapped in foil.
Cute hills, huh?
I believe there are people who love to plan their journey. Spend hours in front of the computer reading about everything they can do there, how, when, why. I prefer to have “something”, kinda starter, basic info, and then just go with the flow, asking people, or following them like a creep without saying a word :v
Usually, my priority is to find a good WiFi, but since Cuba was meant to be a holy holiday time (working online from Cuba, good joke!) I couldn’t care less. The Nice picture was enough.
But how to get there?
Taxi like a boss.
I somehow still remember this April afternoon many years ago, when after celebrating my birthday for a couple of days, a bit tipsy and tired as hell we came out with an amazing idea:
WHAT WOULD IT BE IF WE COULD GO BACK HOME (350km) WITH A TAXI?
Of course after a short discussion with the driver who enlightened us explaining how much such a pleasure would cost we gave each other hi5 and went to the railway station.
But this is not the way people do in Cuba!
Finding not only transportation but also accommodation and some recommendations what to actually do in lovely Vinales turned out to be a piece of cake. Ten minutes and our Airbnb host, along with his brother-in-LOVE (I hope nobody will ever correct him because that’s so sweet!) organised it all.
Airport -> Havana, 45min, 25 USD.
Havana -> Vinales, 4h30, 30 USD.
“Fuck logic” I thought, dashing in a retro taxi towards warm sun rays shimmering through the trees and my next destination – Vinales.
Imagine a very small town, where 90% of the buildings are guesthouses. Or rather: casas particolaras. This is what it looked like. Basically, two main streets, crossing in the heart of this overgrown village, one church, one market, two banks and many restaurants, where happy foreigners can spend their money.
Hosts will treat you as if you were The Queen of England and almost in every house, you’ll be able to find delicious and very affordable cocktails (La Canchanchara was my number one). They also will be happy to help you with numerous excursions and everything else you could think of.
There’s no Google – there are people.
As a city girl who’s slowly convincing herself to the true beauty of nature instead of always craving for more skyscrapers, I must say – I was amazed.
We decided to visit a cigar factory placed in a cosy cottage among those unusual mountains. There were two options: walking tour and horseback riding. But because I wasn’t sure if a Zebra riding a horse in the mountains would be any good idea, I decided to stay with my feet on the ground, as much as possible.
Entering breathtaking expanses of greenines felt as if entering a different world through an invisible portal. Seriously! Cowboys in checked shirts, cigars glued with honey, vultures circling above their pray, natural pools and Cubans with their unique spark in the eye.
I was sitting under the tree, sipping a fresh pina colada, while hoards of mosquitos were sipping me. As you can imagine, rum was the only, very questionable, repellent available.
Chilling can’t last forever and thank God. Even though Vinales was amazing, my metropolitan soul was already craving some civilisation – even if by civilisation I mean Havana. Last day though surprised me more than I could expect in my most courageous dreams.
Ladies, trust me, leave your men at home. Havana should be tasted sauté ?
When a friend who was visiting me in Cuba vanished in fumes of gasoline emitted by the taxi carrying him to the airport I was left without my salary (errors happen), without a place to stay (shit happens sometimes too) and with no ideas what to do with myself.
3 hours later I was having free drinks, wondering in which offered to me hacienda I should stay, driving cars, dancing dances and having a time of my life. When I thought it cannot be any better, an angel from the Angel cafe asked me on na date. When she mentioned he works also as a model I wasn’t surprised at all.
I didn’t go. That was too much of goodness packed in a single day, even for a wild heart like mine.