Trip Start Mar 19, 2008
5Trip End Apr 03, 2008
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Erica and I bought our tickets with cash at the Cancun airport. Being a German citzen, I was not too worried, but still better safe than sorry. We had arranged a place to stay in a Casa Particular through the website cubajunky.com. When we arrived at the airport late that night, we took a taxi into town and rang the doorbell of our contact in Havana. I had chosen this place because it was very beautiful inside, with Art Nouveau details, wood carvings, colored galss doors, etc., the Art history major in me forever looking for the artistic in every place I stay. Instead our man said the room was full and he would have to take us to another place nearby. Not seeing other options, it being almost midnight, we were then dumped onto his brother who walked us through the very run down and to us, scary, dark streets of Central Havana. We ended up meeting the manager of the new place, which was on a main street in a communist style building up five flights of stairs. When we entered, our hearts sank. It was as sterile as sterile could be, and depressing was putting it kindly. Still, we had no options. They said they would come by in the morning to get our money.
The apartment had two bedrooms. When Erica and I tried out the saggy, horrible beds in the one bedroom, I decided to sleep in the other room (big mistake). When the son of the manager arrived the next morning and discovered we had used the other bedroom (no mention of not using the room the night before), all hell broke loose. What ensued was me standing in my pajamas, sweating, dehydrated (we had no water), hungry, confused, and arguing in Spanish with two men. They wanted us to pay double for having used the second room, and they said we had promised to stay there for five days and should pay them the full amount. At this point we were done. We wanted out. We told them so, and they called our original contact, who then came rushing over, hostile and aggressive, yet putting on fake charm. He was almost desperate and said we could move back into his place, but at this point he had been so mean and rude we wanted nothing to do with him, at which point he said sarcastically, "fine, if you want to go to a fancy, expensive hotel, then have a nice time" and tried to shake my hand. I made some sort of retort which let him know that's not at all what we wanted to do, and I think he got the point. I found a phone in the apartment and tried to call the man who had made the reservation for us from the website (I won't mention his name, because friends said he was great to them), but I think rude, Smarmy, Aggressive Guy called him first, and he basically defended the mean man and hung up on us. After about two hours of arguing, I was exhausted. The manager of this new flat and his son finally became human after I explained the situation of having been brought to this new flat by Smarmy Guy, who we suspect just wanted to get rid of us so he could rent his place out for more money to someone else. They eventually took pity on us, became quite nice, said Smarmy Guy had been wrong and not a very nice person, didn't charge us for using the extra room, and gave us a card just in case we needed help.
We packed, went down to the street and decided to go to Old Havana no matter what. We were looking quite helpless on the street and many, many men were trying to give us "taxi" rides in their cars, when a sassy, cute, gold toothed woman about 35 in a yellow taxi moped thing screeched to a halt in front of us. She was our angel, and appropriately named Mary. At the apartment I had called some hotels for vacancies and found one at the Hostal Frailes in Old Havana. Our lovely Mary took us there, suitcases balanced on our knees, and then offered to take us on a tour later that afternoon. We gladly accepted.
Our hotel was beautiful. And expensive, but we didn't care. We wanted safety and nurturing after the male testosterone that had been aimed in our direction all morning. Inside the hotel were nice women, dressed as friars, a band was playing in the lobby, and there was a bar in the corner where another lovely woman was making mojitos. Okay, not exactly what we had planned (stay in real Havana, don't stay in the tourist part, don't spend a lot of money), but we were traumatized, so we caved.
We ended up spending the whole afternoon with Mary in her little yellow bubble taxi cab, me trying to translate for Erica everything she was telling us about Cuba, Castro, life, men, her boyfriend, what Cubans think of Americans, about her father, her son, everything. She took us to the cemetery and told us the story of a woman buried there who people say answers their prayers, she took us along the malecon, to the famous ice cream parlor in New Havana, and to the best place for a mojito. It was a pricey, pricey ride and was about probably four months' worth of her income, but we were happy. We felt safe and protected in our little taxi bubble cocoon!