I’m writing this on the plane back to Havana, Cuba. Let me tell you why I’m headed back Chapter 1. "FEAR"
Let’s go to CUBA! It all started. We had no idea what to expect. Old cars, Cuban cigars, rum and Fidel Castro. Sounded like a great idea. A girl friend of mine and I had decided to travel some more this year together. Cuba was on my Bucket list. I immediately googled “what to do in Cuba?” And found questions: “Can I visit Cuba as a tourist? Is it safe to travel to Cuba? Can Americans vacation in Cuba?” Great, looks fun and uneasy as the internet has failed to answer these questions. I came across a blogger who had a post from 2016 with a glamourous painted picture of how her Cuba vacation went. And of course, she included some very “instagram” chic photos of her taken there. SOLD!
A week before the trip an aircraft crashed leaving Havana and every passenger died. This only added just a tad bit of uncertainty for the upcoming trip. As the trip was 2 days away, my travel companion was not able to make the trip after all. Could I go alone? My first trip out of the country, not to mention a communist country that has not been Americanized just yet. I had butterflies in my stomach and an urge to GO. My mom gave her 2 cents about how it could dangerous and etc... “If it’s my time... it’s my time. Whether in Cuba or the U.S.” as I told my mom that, I kept a straight face and played the bravery card... but deep down inside I was scared (TERRIFIED). Will Smith had just talked about the subject: FEAR. In summary, he explains how Beauty comes after fear. When you’re sh***ng your pants and are mortified of what’s to come. After you take the leap, there’s beauty. After all, how can you appreciate the beauty of it without feeling the horror? It took 3 hours to book my HOMESTAY with a host in a casa, my connecting flight & returning flight. I was GOING. The next day was GO TIME. My grandma drove me to the airport and I just pounced on out of my comfort zone. Since the original plan was to go from Cancun, Mexico... I stayed in Cancun for a night then the next day was the morning flight. My naive self and my carry-on arrived at the airport and ready to get to my gate. “You need a Cuban Visa mam” sh*t, wtf? Where? How? After being directed to 3 different areas, I purchased my $15 visa for Cuba and headed back to the gate. I arrived in Havana at 3:00 pm. The plane landed, everyone clapped and whistled. I didn’t know if it was normal but I was glad the shaky plane was grounded. As I exited the plane I didn’t know if I had just exited a time machine. All of sudden it’s 1960 and I’m confused. Thankful for never forgetting my first language; Spanish... I fit right in. I took my phone off airplane mode: no service. This was definitely the 60’s. I asked a few people where to get a taxi, WiFi, a phone? They led me to the CADECA to exchange some money. $40 US $ got me $35 CUC. Well the dollar sucks here clearly they hate the US. I was later informed you have to purchase an individual WiFi card for $1 CUC and can only use it in designated areas. I panicked, I couldn’t send my “Just landed!” text to my loved ones. I could already imagine my mom wondering where I was. I could already hear my mom saying: “Chingado”. As I stepped foot outside the airport, taxi drivers came rushing to me offering me deals to get to my destination. I went with the first one I saw. $25 CUC to get from the airport to downtown Havana, not bad? Uber’s for a 30 min drive would be about the same. I got dropped off at my Casa and had no clue what to do next. I knocked on the door and there was my host! Welcoming me in and gave me my key to my room. It had air conditioning, it’s own bathroom, 2 beds, and a mini fridge = score! $120 CUC. Not bad for 5 nights and 6 days. “You came alone?!” My host asked. After my response she was bewildered. Her motherly instincts came out and she told me to please be safe and not talk to strangers. She handed me a map and circled where we were located in case I got lost. As she kept talking I was anxious. “Where can I get WiFi?!? My moms probably worried”. She directed me to a hotel and explained that would be the closet thing to good internet service. I darted out the door to the hotel. Bought a card and connected. After explaining to my loved ones the Internet situation, I realized how dependent I was on my cellphone back home. As I kept talking and talking on the phone all of sudden the call drops on WhatsApp. “Hello?!” Damn. Time was up. So I’m here, what now? I walked out of the hotel to find an army of Cuban men swarming up to me asking me if I wanted to purchase a tour guide or go eat at this great Cuban home cooking restaurant. RED FLAG #1 DON'T LISTEN TO THE CUBAN TOUR GUIDES. There I went, homemade food? Count me in. I got to the restaurant and noticed the gentleman left after he dropped me off. I ordered a plate for $20 CUC. It was pork, rice, beans and a salad. Water wasn’t included in that. First bite, BLAND. Ok, no phone, food sucks, and I’m alone. I paid my tab and left. I started exploring the neighborhood I was staying in. I ran into 2 American ladies and they bragged about how amazing their time was but to make sure I brought enough cash. I had brought my debit card and $125 CUC. She informed me of the new laws not allowing US cards to be used in Cuba. My meal didn’t sit right. I was confused and puzzled and didn’t want to believe her. I left and headed to the CADECA. I NEEDED to see it to believe it. As I walked there I kept thinking “well the blogger didn’t mention that? Was this in the news?” 10 minutes later, “Correct mam, your card DOES.NOT.WORK.HERE” Here I was now with $100 CUC after putting my taxi money aside to get back. If I got stuck, I couldn’t call anyone, change my flight? Nope.
I needed a cocktail, I went to Hemingway’s favorite bar for a good Daiquri. “Floridita” was the name. I sat down and ordered 1 drink. I felt restricted since now I only had $100 CUC for the next 6 days. Will Smith was wrong, I kept thinking. Sun was setting and the city was incredibly beautiful. As I walked around Havana, I felt so at peace. I felt as if me, myself and all my “problems” were nothing. Absolutely NADA. I sat at the park and watched the kids play marbles. Holy moly, I remember that. These kids were so happy. Smiling, laughing, enjoying every minute. I totally looked like a creep watching these kids but I couldn’t help but to sit at the park and feel as if time stood still.
......to be continued