Arriving in Cuba

Trip Start Mar 01, 2006
Trip End Dec 01, 2007

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Saturday, October 20, 2007

Just before landing  the Cubans sitting next to me made a sign of cross, to ask for a safe landing I suppose... and it worked !!!

At the immigration gate, it was another story though. The guy was not very nice with me. I was starting to wonder how I was going to ask him to stamp my passport, as normally they don't.
At some point he asked me how much money I had. 100 dollars or so, I said. And my credit card, of course. Oh oh...
Had to wait for a good 20 minutes, while he explained the case to a colleague. That colleague came to talk to me and asked me questions, then went somewhere else. Then my immigration officer came asking me more questions about where I lived, where I had learnt Spanish, in Buenos Aires, oh were you working there, no I said, so what is your job then etc... That talk convinced him and he talked another time with his colleague and then called me back to the desk. Gave me back my plane tickets that he had been checking, my passport and the stamped tourist card, and welcomed me to Cuba. Then I asked him to stamp my passport, and he gave me a very enthusiastic yes, and it dawned on me that asking for the stamp was the ultimate tourist request that I should have started with and he would have not been so suspicious.

Got money, bought a map of the island and cities. The tourist info lady told me to go with that lady who was an official taxi. But I had to walk out of the terminal, go under the vehicle ramp, walk to a restaurant, pass the little door in the fence behind it, in order to get to the side of the highway where the taxi would get me... Anywhere in South America I would have said dream on, but this was Cuba, one of the safest countries you can imagine.

A couple was waiting on the side of the highway, asked me for a light. I got my matches out, my "taxi" arrived: a small, very old car that didnīt look like a taxi. The couple was about to climb on, but stopped when I told them it was a taxi: hitchhiking is very common in Cuba, as I had read and as I could see during the transfer to Havana.

The taxi lady picked up a guy, her husband it as it turned out, and they engaged in a small street to change seats: she is the one accredited as a taxi, with authorization to get tourists from the airport, but he does the driving!

They gave me advice for things to see and to be careful about, and displayed their whole range of services, from citytour to 24h pickup to go out and get back, and also a tour of the island with everything taken care of by them. How nice, but... No thanks!

On the highway to the city, a lot of brand new advertising roadside panels with messages stating he will to resist American pressure. But they were formulated more against Bush than aimed towards at the US in General.
The first one I saw held the photos of Hitler and some American presidents, and I don't remember the accompanying text, but you can imagine that it was not talking about the humanistic values of Hitler.

They dropped me at my casa particular.

I went out to look for internet, headed towards the parque central, and found web access in a big colonial hotel. Lots of people in the streets. On the terrace, dining or drinking, with a live band playing typical Cuban songs as the ones we are used to from uena vista social club. High ceilings, big fans, old pictures on the walls.

I had dinner in the street, the prices were in national pesos. Had fried rice, a bit of salad, and a very small piece of chicken thrown in my plate. They were smiling and talkative, but they were giving me less than to Cubans... not very nice...
At the time of paying it came up to 5.5 pesos convertibles (equivalent roughly to dollars). I knew this was not the price, so gave the money she was asking, and then asked for explanations. She tried to give me back a peso. No, I want explanations I said. The price is that. Plus that for the rice (liar). Plus that for the beer. The correct price was around 3 dollars, plus the rice she was adding up came up to 3.5, so she gave me back the money. Still were missing a few national pesos, so I asked for that. It became difficult, they were not happy at all, that I'd fight over such a small amount, and that I was so clearly pointing out their dishonesty. I let them go away with a fallacious explanation that the beer was to be paid in convertibles and the food in national pesos, blah blah blah. Maybe I was too harsh on them, but maybe I should have not let them get away with the last 10 cents. If they want to rip off, they can do it on the price announcement. But stealing change is a very detestable thing to do, whatever your condition, and especially when you pretend to be friendly.

Mmmm, not that all that really disturbs me, I am used to it... Itīs more that I was expecting more of a warm atmosphere on this Island. To early to say, of course...
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