I flew to Cuba on a short, two-hour flight from Mexico City, with Interjet. (I’ll be posting about logistics of Cuba- how to get there, is it legal, what about the money- all of that fun stuff following my posts on traveling in Cuba, but long story short, since it is a Mexican airline, I could purchase my ticket in advance.)
Our flight took off a little late, but we arrived in Cuba around 4pm. I was armed with my passport, a tourist card which I had purchased in the Mexico City airport, and a carry-on with electronics for my clients’ family members. I was a little nervous about this but my clients had warned me that they screen all carry-on luggage so I came prepared with an excuse of everything I had on hand. I first got to passport control and they asked me if I wanted them to stamp my passport or not (however, they didn’t give my friend the option). I said, ‘Yes,’ as I think it’s irrelevant these days whether or not you go to Cuba and I had nothing to hide. I then had to get my luggage screened. The women working in the airport were all wearing tight, short, tan uniform mini-skirts with black lace tights. I shouldn’t have been surprised, knowing that Cubans often wear sexy attire, but I was surprised given that it was a government uniform. The beautiful young lady sitting behind the screening machine had to keep tugging at her skirt as to not expose herself- yes, the skirts were that short. My carry-on rolled through the x-ray machine and on the other side another woman was searching bags. She opened the woman’s bag in front of mine and pulled out a Wii game remote. She turned it over in her hands, inspected it carefully, then took it over to her co-worker (the one tugging at her skirt) and asked her what it was. Again, considering the lack of technology and modern amenities available in Cuba, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. The other young lady didn’t know what it was either, so she brought it back to the owner to ask. After explaining that it was a game remote, they let her go. Next, she asked me about something in my bag. Not understanding Spanish, I started to open my bag so I could find the possible item in question, but she just brushed it off and told me I could go. One of the few times when not knowing the language is a plus!
The luggage area was a bit chaotic. I found my bag on the conveyor almost immediately, but it took us a good half hour to find my friends’ bags. Both had been pulled off the conveyor and sitting among piles of other bags- however it’s a fairly small luggage area and quite crowded so we didn’t spot them right away. Otherwise, the airport was nice and the exit was easy. We stepped outside and got in line to exchange our Euros into CUC, the ‘tourist’ currency for Cuba (although not necessarily just for tourists these days, as it’s becoming a currency to distinguish a growing upper class as well… you see? Cuba is complicated to talk about! But later, we got national pesos as well).
We grabbed a taxi and headed into the city for our casa particular Lunass in Centro Habana. The first thing that hit me was, of course, the old cars! I’ve seen plenty of photos and I knew there were a lot of old cars still on the streets, but in Havana, there are SO many. It’s hard to imagine all of the old cars until you see them in person. I was glued to the window. As we got closer to the city center, it was sensory overload. I noticed the old buses jam packed full of people on their way home from work and recalled client stories about how you rarely get a seat on the bus and sometimes don’t even pay fare. The architecture was captivating- so beautiful, but crumbling away due to lack of infrastructure and funds. We arrived at the fourth-floor walkup apartment, complete with a lovely balcony, and knew the journey was just beginning. Some photos from our homestay:
Motivated by hunger, we showered quickly and stepped out in search of our first meal and our first mojito!