Even though I’m seriously not a fan of early mornings, I was on deck before the sun came up, determined not to miss our cruise ship’s arrival in Havana. As a reward, I got to see this.
El Morro at sunrise.
Havana skyline before full light.
The cruise ship traveled slowly toward Havana Bay, as the sky gradually lightened.
A massive yacht left the harbour as our ship approached. While Hubby admired the yacht’s sleek lines, I fretted that it was headed into our path.
Although our ship’s engines were cut, it still had some forward momentum and the yacht crossed way too close for my comfort.
No wake as we wait for the pilot boat.
A fisherman in his teeny-tiny boat checks out our gigantic ship.
The sun rises above Castillo del Morro.
The sun’s arrival brought Havana’s colourful skyline to life. Modern Havana.
New blends with old.
Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, on the harbour’s east side.
Castillo del Morro lighthouse
The Battery of the Twelve Apostles
Castillo del Morro
Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña
Hubby couldn’t resist another photo of the Christ statue.
The Malecon runs along the harbour’s west side.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
Approaching Terminal Sierra Maestra.
The pilot boat’s job is almost done.
One last look at the mouth of Havana Bay.
Terminal Sierra Maestra
Skyline shots from deck nine.
Statue of Mercury, the god of commerce, on domed roof of the Produce Exchange building.
An underwater tunnel connects Havana’s east and west sides at the mouth of the bay. Each time we took it, I had to pretend we weren’t in a tunnel built almost sixty years ago, with forty feet of water above us. Our bus to Varadero couldn’t cross that half-mile of darkness fast enough for me.
Pit stop at Peñón del Fraile.
Royal Palm trees are native to the island, and we saw vast valleys of them.
Matanzas is situated between Varadero and Havana.
It’s known as the City of Bridges
We arrived at the Varadero airport at 12:30. Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 6:40, and we couldn’t even check our luggage until 3:30, giving us lots of time to kill. The check-in area only had six chairs and, of course, they were all taken. During our search for something to eat, we found three tables with chairs and, yay, two chairs were available. Nothing to eat, but at least we could sit.
I stretched my legs quite often, but Hubby refused to budge from those chairs. Three long hours later, we checked our luggage and headed to security. The immigration wickets empty directly into the screening area – which was complete chaos. With no defined queue lines; people just herded into the general area closest to where they’d exited immigration. Naturally, our ‘line’ moved the slowest.
After clearing security, we went directly to find food. It’s almost comical, but mostly annoying, how every vendor in the airport would accept US dollars (we’d cashed in our CUCs), but not one of them could make change. If we wanted it, we paid extra.
The departure screens didn’t show a gate number for our flight, and there wasn’t anyone from Transat to direct us. About 6:00, long after we should’ve already boarded, a gate was finally assigned. With all the noisy pandemonium around us, we couldn’t hear the announcements, and it was only by chance that I noticed people queueing up at an unmarked side door, near our assigned gate. I convinced Hubby we needed to check it out and, sure enough, it was our flight departing. Don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t spotted that lineup.
We arrived in Vancouver at midnight and breezed through the self-check customs. The city had just been hit with a substantial snowfall, and we shivered in the dark, waiting for the hotel shuttle.
I checked in while Hubby retrieved our suitcase from our snow-covered car. By the time we’d thawed out my pjs and got to bed, it was 1:30. With the time change, that made it twenty-two hours since we’d awoken that morning.
Some final thoughts on the trip:
Cuba should improve the way it welcomes tourists. We crossed through Havana’s immigration six times and twice at Varadero’s airport. Each time, I was treated with varying degrees of unfriendly suspicion, which occasionally bordered on hostile. Those experiences left me feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. Only the immigration personnel at Santiago de Cuba went out of their way to greet us with smiles and friendliness. I understand that entering another country is a privilege, not a right, and custom personnel have an important job to do, but if Cuba intends to encourage tourism, less mistrust and more civility would go a long way.
If you want the beach, drinks and sun experience, Mexico is probably a cheaper and easier destination. But if you’re interested in learning about Cuba’s tumultuous history of genocide, slavery, invasions and counter-invasions, replete with centuries of revolution, and combine that with incredible architecture, along with the sun, sand and scenery, Cuba is a must-see. And we’re so happy we went.