From the lap of luxury on Viking Sky we go to Cuba. Quite where on the scale of luxury that appears is questionable, if indeed it appears on the scale at all. What we do know is that it will be a very different experience. We also know that this is an island that is economically and governmentally challenged with little or no wifi. We are expecting to face some difficulties but we are not expecting to face them before we arrive.
We plan to drive ourselves around the island. There are no famous car rental names here, no Hertz, no Avis or anyone else we can rely on. Instead you have to join an online company such as havanautos and then “apply” for a car. Three days later you either get accepted or you hear nothing. If your booking is accepted you pay online and finally you get a voucher to take to the rental company. We managed to book and pay for a car three months ago and received a voucher. Half way through our cruise we get an email saying our car has been canceled. No reason given, but no car. We desperately try to find another car online but they are all sold out. We contact the people we will be staying with in Havana and ask them to see what they can do. They email back to say they have phoned everywhere and there are no cars available.
Panic sets in.
Finally two days before we leave the ship we have an email from our friends who own WDTravel in Vancouver to say that they have had a cancellation for a car and would we like it.
That would be a yes!
We fill in the application.
On the morning we leave the ship we get accepted.
We pay online.
We fly to Cancun for a night before flying to Havana
That night the travel agent emails to say the car company cannot take our MasterCard because their machine has broken down. Could we pay by American Express?
NO we couldn’t. We don’t have an American Express
At the airport waiting to board the plane our confirmation comes through with the voucher.
However the drama continues as we have no way to print the voucher. We are now in Cuba and despite the promise of internet in select places we are unable to get online. And as for being able to print…. that is not going to happen
So as I write this, the saga continues.
Meanwhile back in Cancun. We are flying on that well know airline Interjet to Havana. Interjet has advised us that we must check in three hours before the flight. Once at the airport we understand why. There is already a cabal of Cubans at the counter. They are not traveling light. They have clearly been to Cancun to pick up things they can’t buy in Cuba, which appears to be just about everything. Each passenger is surrounded by boxes of merchandise – air conditioners being the most popular. One man has five of them in a huge pile at the check in counter. But there are also TV’s, microwaves, fans, lights and any other electrical device that they can drag to the airport. Costco and Home Depot must make a fortune.
But the appliances are only part of the story. There are also huge bundles of what I presume to be soft goods parceled in layers of plastic wrap with black plastic handles taped on. The bundles look identical in size which suggests that this is a much practiced way of shipping. Each bundle is two to three feet round and there are dozens of them.
It takes 10 to15 minutes to check each person in as they drag the boxes and bundles one by one to the counter to be weighed and tagged. Remember, we are in Mexico, where nothing happens quickly, and everyone moves at their own pace which is considerably slower than ours. We are now discovering that Cubans are also in no hurry. They all seem to know each other and stop and chat in between dragging their goods to the counter. Once at the counter they talk to the clerk and then disappear only to return several minutes later with wives and children, who all help drag more boxes to the counter. It is quite the social occasion and everything and everyone moves at a snail’s pace. It is infuriating. Any lesser man might get extremely aggravated and impatient, and sigh loudly while giving the Cubans the evil eye. They might even be tempted to make uncharitable comments seemingly under their breath but loud enough to be heard
Fortunately, that wouldn’t be Gordon. I on the other hand ……………
Two hours later as we board the plane, the Cubans push past everyone, carrying still more merchandise. Several of them have long blue poles that look as if they attach to mops or brooms, others have yet more bundle of soft goods. Much practiced in the ways of flying they immediately stuff everything into the first available storage bins, starting at the front of the plane, before making their way to the back of the plane where their seats are. Within minutes every storage bin is full. It’s infuriating. Any lesser man……….
The flight attendants seem resigned to the process and just step back and watch.
At this point I just have to digress for a tiny rant. There are two passengers who stand out. They are in their late 40’s or early 50’s. She is tall and thin with shoulder length greasy hair that is longing for a shampoo but unlikely to get one. Her clothes are old and worn and should she ever step into a shower she should take them with her. The same description applies equally well to the man. As they enter the plane he notices the first two rows are empty. They are the “economy plus” seats. There is no way in hell that they have paid for economy plus, but he grabs her hand points at the empty seats and they both sit down in them laughing. At this point we can hear them talking and their accent gives them away. Gentle readers, they are from my favourite country. They are Australian. It explains so much. They sit there for ten minutes holding hands, cuddling and generally congratulating themselves on getting these seats.
It is infuriating! But it is rather satisfying as a flight attendant goes up to them and tells them to sit in their assigned seats which are no doubt in row 33.
75 minutes later we are coming in to land in Havana. The landing is smooth and the Cubans all start applauding, unused as they are to anything going smoothly. As soon as the plane slows to taxiing speed they are all out of their seats pushing forward to claim their luggage from the bins in the front.
It is chaos.
Welcome to Cuba
A little note here.
Wifi in Cuba is notoriously slow. It is also only available in a few outdoor parks. Downloading photos is a major process. So further blogs will follow if and when it becomes possible which probably means waiting until after I leave Cuba which is two weeks away
Until then ………………..