August 1, 2016
Like any other morning I woke up in my bed and reached for my alarm to postpone, but this morning my reminder of Cuba trip popped up, so of course it was not exactly like any other morning, today I was heading to amazing, magnificent, mysterious Cuba.
Day earlier I spoke with B (Shortening name for privacy purposes), so should would drop to Grand Cayman airport in George Town. She pulled up in front of the house with her little black car and I sat in with my one and only travel backpack.
I still had few things to do, like to visit bank for some cash and buy some things for travelling.
First stop- bank: Arrived to Butterfield bank ATM and slide my card in card machine slot. After doing all the usual transactions for receiving cash I was left empty handed. For some strange reason ATM did not agree with me and didn’t give me any cash. Confused I made my way across the street and told B what just have happened. Not my planned start of the trip.
Still in Grand Cayman.
Next stop Cayman National bank: This time I didn’t bother with ATM and went straight for the staff behind the counter. After 10 minutes of waiting and paranoia, that I will be broke in Cuba I received paper to sign and next to it 500 USD. Happy days. Think this will do for my trip (And I was very much wrong about this)
Next stop Paper man’s coffee by the Airport: We chilled there for amazing coffee (Café latte with single shot and Hazelnut syrup).
Next stop: Fosters supermarket in Georgetown: So I felt that I need few things before I head for Cuba
List of things I purchased:
Shampoo: 3.50CI(Cayman Dollar)
Razor: 3.50 CI
Mosquito repelant:25 CI
Some medication in case of bad flu: 7.CI
Condoms (Never know, better safe than sorry) :4 CI
Everything else I already had in my bag.
We arrived at airport and I waived goodbye to B. Made my way to in to check in.
So far there were only few people on sight waiting for Cuba trip. I confirmed location of my check in and headed that way. Got second in line. Wait was unexpectedly long. They already placed destination on the screen, but no staff member to check us in! I pushed luggage trolley closer to me and sat on it. After 45 minutes of waiting a man (Staff member of Cayman Airways) with a cup of coffee in his hands showed up. Lady in front of me was dressed were hipster like and seemed to be very anxious about waiting. She kept making “Disappointment noises “(that’s what I call them) and strange hand gestures.
It was my turn to check in and it was quick and easy. I did find it funny that in Cayman Airways system people lined up in Business class area were still waiting in line even after my check in (Economy class).
I walked out for a smoke and then headed in trough bag checks.
My bag, jacked, shoes, watch was on the small boxes and ready to pass through scans. I walked on other side and waited on my bag, but just when I thought that all is good, I was wrong.
Lady in her 40ties grabbed my bag and threw it in the pile and didn’t even say anything. Confused I stood there and wondered. Next to me was old grandma whose bag security took apart in great detail.
My bad came up next. Security lady still in bad mood opened my bag and started to dig. I tried to help her by taking stuff out, but she said that I’m not allowed to touch anything. So I stood there all bare feet and confused wondering in my mind what kind of illegal good I have in my bag, that I haven’t realized I have.
She pulled out my new mosquito repellant and shampoo. And explained that its over 100Ml and will have to go in trash. I was wondering If I can collect it on the way back, but no. She just threw it straight in trash bin.28.50 CI in garbage.
Ah well, at least I’m on my way to the plane.
Back seat by the window as always.
I arrived at immigration in Havana. I already had my Tourist visa that I purchased in Grand Cayman Airport at Check in for 25 CI (Cayman Dollars). So I stopped in line behind 5 people and waited. After 2 minutes of waiting I heard whistle. I ignored it, but it kept repeating until I noticed immigration officer waiting at me to come to his counter. So I did. Walked up and this Cuban officer seem to take a liking in me and processed my papers while smiling at me. In few minutes I was trough and other 5 who were now behind me, were still waiting. Happy days.
Upcoming was bag checks. In front of me was a guy stopped for smuggling many mobile phones into to the country, my bag was fine and I was out in Havana at last.
I sat on the steps in front of the Havana airport and and lighted my cigarette and watched old Cuban/ American cars passing by and listened to Spanish chatter.
First stop in Havana: Currency exchange (There is one in Arrivals area). I walked down there and straight went for exchange. I changed 450 USD and got 370 CUC (Cuban peso convertibles). They have a system, that if you change USD then there is 10% charge on top. As a some kind of fine system for using USD or in my words another way to make money.
They have only few currencies they deal with and CI (Cayman Dollar is not one of them, keep that in mind).
USD, Euro and few others are ok
I got a taxi to my Casa particular that I organized from Air BNB, but I could not process payment online so I just agreed to pay cash when I arrive.
We arrived in Havana Vieja and there taxi driver left me and said that his friend will show me my Casa particular. A young man in his late 30ties walked with me for about 10 minutes and tried talking g to me in Spanish. Of course my Spanish knowledge is super limited so it was a struggle. We arrived at Casa particular. Big cage like door and then 2 floors up the stairs. We rang the bell and old lady in her 60ties opened doo and spoke Spanish all the way. She invited me in, but Spanish man was still next to me asking for tip (This is how Cubans make money, they help you with something and then ask you for money as a tip). I found 3 CUC in my bag and handed it over. Happily, he walked away.
All that Spanish guy could say is “Little tip”
Lady in my Casa could speak zero English and we ended up speaking really bad Spanish. It was living room with blue sofas, reddish walls and lovely tiny balcony with plants. She offered cup of coffee and I accepted (Even thou I normally don’t drink coffee too much).
Strong Cuban coffee with hot milk on side was on the table and we processed payments(120 CUC for 4 nights – 30 CUC for a night)
My room was on street side with tiny balcony, bed, closet and bathroom was shared with one other room. I locked door behind me, sat on balcony and watched 2 stories down how kids play football on the street, older man on balcony almost across watching people too, little bicycles passing by with tourist on the back . Street was incredibly long both ways with the church at the end of it.
I slept for few hours and about 10 pm went for a walk to explore Havana. I was an eventful day so I gave up with a big bottle of water and strange taste pizza for 4 cuc and went back to room. Wrote few notes in my diary and went to sleep.
Some might have walked around all night, but for me purpose of this trip is to get a feel of Cuban life, food and people.
Just before sleep I sat on a balcony a bit more with my mysterious balcony buddy across the street. Somehow I felt safe, calm, relaxed and happy. It was a good start of my trip.
Casa Particular that i used for first 4 nights is called Magalus House :https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6475936?eluid=1&euid=00f1d98f-20ba-01ed-89b0-d5c6f52a6423&sug=51