After a flight delay and a mistake on the part of Copa Airlines that almost had us stuck in Panamá, we finally arrived at José Martí airport in Havana.
Immigration was quite easy, but the pain is the customs/security check right after. Long lines with confused passengers who cut in line is the norm, but everyone was patient. We had a Cuban-American woman who asked if she could cut in front of us, to which we did say yes. Then we started asking her questions about taxis and such, and got some good information.
An hour later, we exited the doors to a crowded arrivals hall. Our new Cuban-American “friend” found her mother, and she confirmed the taxi situation with her, telling us to pay no more than 20 CUCs for the taxi to La Habana Vieja. After exchanging some money we ended up with a taxi driver who charged 25 and we were headed into town.
The road to town had little traffic and it took about 25-30 minutes before we entered the city. Our driver actually stopped at the Plaza de la Revolución where a huge photo of Castro was displayed, and this was where just a day ago people lined up to pay their respects to him. Yes, we arrived in the midst of the mourning period for Castro. Minutes later, we finally arrived at the casa particular we had booked. The building is definitely very worn on the outside, yet on the inside you could tell they had a fresh coat of paint not too long ago. We were welcomed by the owner’s son, who then introduced us to his mother who provided us with a cold welcome drink and we were finally in Havana.
It was sunset time and even though it was cloudy, I really wanted to see a rooftop view of the city. The owner’s son took us up there and it was… wow. To an ordinary Cuban it’s not a big deal (and perhaps they couldn’t stand it), but to us foreigners it’s definitely a view that we’ve never seen before. The worn buildings and the architecture is what we were here for. We wanted to see and appreciate them before Havana gets a real facelift, and before the wave of globalization hits these shores.
It was already 6pm, so we decided to go for a walk to get an orientation of the surrounding area. The streets were dark in our immediate vicinity and potholes were everywhere, yet we weren’t bothered by it – because this was the Havana we wanted to see.
We walked along Calle Obispo, which is a major shopping street. Many stores had already closed for the day, and the streets were just filled with sounds of the footsteps of tourists and locals. Perhaps this is because we’re in the middle of the 9-day mourning period for Castro. No music, no alcohol anywhere. It’s a unique time to be here in Havana indeed.
Towards the end of Calle Obispo, we ended up at the Plaza de Armas. We walked around and then found ourselves at the cruise ship dock, and then around the corner was the Plaza del San Francisco. Then Plaza Vieja. In between we saw groups of people on their cell phones as if they were looking to catch Pokémon, but they were just trying to get online using one of the 35 wifi hotspots in the country. The telco office wouldn’t let me in to buy a scratch card (it’s 2 CUCs for one hour of access) and told me to come back the next morning at 8. Peddlers outside were selling them for 3, a 50% premium. We decided that it’s okay to be without the Internet for now.
Tienente Rey with the new Brazil name. Then dinner and walked back. The tapas restaurant was supposed to be some good cheap eats but in the end we were a bit disappointed. For 23 CUCs we got two plates of assorted chorizos with lots of bread, then a plate of chicken with pineapple and chicken with tomato sauce, both with more bread. The chorizos were good, except you couldn’t enjoy it much because you kept biting into bone or cartilage. The chicken with tomato was bland, but the chicken with pineapple was alright.
Nevertheless we are excited that we are here.