Hubby and I recently returned from a cruise around Cuba and, although it was an interesting and action-packed week, my love-hate relationship with travel has been reconfirmed. I still love to go away. I still hate getting there.
I’ve wanted to visit Cuba for a couple of years now, before it becomes overrun with Pizza Huts and McDonalds. After reading many horror story reviews of overcrowded and understaffed resorts, I realized the rest of the world was also rushing to get a taste of authentic Cuba.
Just when I’d decided I’ve missed my chance, I discovered Celestytal Cruises, which sails around the island of Cuba, starting and ending in Havana, with excursions in three other ports of call included. I was instantly intrigued, and it didn’t take much to convince Hubby this was an ideal way to see Cuba.
Lucky for us, the unpredictable mountain highways were in good shape for our winter drive to Vancouver. My brother and his lovely lady, along with our youngest son, met us for dinner that evening. With a 3:00 am wake-up call, we hit the hay soon afterward. Hubby’s an early to bed, early to rise guy, so this was routine for him. But me? I’d rather go to bed at 3:00, then get up at that ungodly hour.
We washed down a stale muffin with a few swigs of chocolate milk before joining the surprisingly large group catching the 3:45 shuttle the next morning. We’d intended to grab a more substantial breakfast at the airport before our 6:00 flight, but only a couple of donut joints were open, all with long lines, so we decided to wait for lunch on the plane. Rookie mistake. But first I have to go on a bit about the airplane.
I’d never flown on an Airbus 330 before. It was huge, with nine seats across and about 50 rows deep. We were seated over the massive wing, which completely obliterated the view below. Hubby liked the individual touch screens that offered a variety of TV shows and movies. And lots of washrooms, so no lineups.
It took us awhile to realize we weren’t getting fed. There was a for-fee menu, but not a for-free one – not even pretzels or stale cookies. I must be naïve, in this age of cutbacks, to expect to be served something to eat on a six and a half hour flight. We made due with a handful of peanuts I had in my carry-on.
I somehow had the mistaken impression we were flying directly to Havana. Wrong, again. First we stopped in Santa Clara, where we debarked the plane and were left standing on the tarmac, inhaling jet fumes, for about fifteen minutes before entering the terminal to have our carry-on luggage scanned and to present our passports (and of course I got picked to be wanded). Then we sat in the airport lounge for over an hour before returning to the airplane. Twenty-five minutes later, we landed in Varadaro, not Havana.
My experience with Cuban immigration was disappointing. Each traveler approaches the wicket individually. A sullen looking person took my ID, then motioned me to remove my glasses and look forward to have my picture taken. Strange scratching noises ensued, and a few stamps, before she returned my passport and motioned me to leave. I understand she might not have spoken English, but civility is universal. I gave her a smile and said hello when I approached, I gave her a smile and said thanks when she handed me my ID. She gave me nothing but suspicion and latent hostility. Not exactly welcoming to a visitor to her country.
We found our transfer bus without a problem, but then had to sit and sit, and sit some more. We overheard the couple in the seat behind us explain to their companions how someone had taken their red luggage in error, so the bus driver was trying to track down the missing suitcases. Apparently the driver hauled our red luggage off the bus for them to check whether it was theirs. When our names were mentioned, Hubby hightailed it off the bus to ensure our luggage had been reloaded. It had. Whew! By the time we left the Varadaro airport, the sun was setting on a long day.
We hadn’t eaten anything since our muffins thirteen hours earlier. And we still had a two-hour bus ride to Havana. Thankfully, the embarkation process went smoothly, we were able to fill our bellies at the buffet, and fall gratefully into a comfortable bed. Yes, I really do hate traveling.
But I also really love exploring new places. And I couldn’t wait to explore this intriguing country with its complicated history.
This is Cuba:
And this is Cuba:
But this is also Cuba:
Cubans proudly display their flag everywhere.
And they love their monuments. Jose Marti, freedom fighter and national hero:
Carlos Manuel De Cespedes, 1st President of the Republic of Cuba:
And all those classic cars! Wow!
In the coming weeks, I’ll share some of what we learned on our travels in Cuba. I promise there’ll be lots of beautiful photos. Click here for next post.