This is the first of a number of posts I wrote while we were in Havana, Cuba. The internet there is very limited so I didn’t even try to post anything on the blog from there. Now that I’m home I will be catching up little by little as I have time. These are mostly “we went here and did that” kind of posts with pictures. It was quite an experience though so when I get my thoughts more together and have some time, I have quite a bit more to say. We had a very “live like a Cuban” week which was eye opening to say the least, and a huge, extremely huge lesson in appreciation for so much that we take for granted every day.
But, with no more ado, let’s start from the beginning.
Thursday Lucho, Haydee, Joel and I headed to the airport for our week in Cuba. We have been good friends for as long as we have been in Panama, and thought we would be good traveling companions so we planned this adventure.
The pope was in Panama City for the World Youth Day event. We heard the city was crazy but everything was normal in the airport. We saw quite a few pilgrims and welcome signs for the event but there were no large crowds or anything else out of the ordinary. We were thankful though that we flew to Panama City rather than land by bus one one side of the city and then have make our way to the airport on the other side.
Flights went as planned until Havana where we had to circle for an hour waiting for a big storm to pass. But, we landed without problems, cleared customs, collected baggage, etc and proceeded outside. Since we were so late apparently our ride had given up on us but no matter, there were plenty of other taxis.
One big improvement from a couple years ago were the ATM machines where you could change money. We changed dollars for euros at the Panama City airport since the fees for dollars are, I think, 10% to change them in Cuba. Changing euros for CUC’s (more on Cuban money later) was a snap, no lines, feed the machine, wait a minute, collect CUC’s and be on your way. Since we now had local currency we could use it to pay the taxi which isn’t a huge difference, but a bit to our advantage since 1 euro = 1.08 CUC’s.
After asking a few people for directions our taxi driver let us off at what he thought was our destination. Thank goodness our host’s assistant (Diana) was looking out for us since we were on the wrong end of the block, an hour late, and it was raining. She quickly got us settled in our apartment. (We rented a 2 bedroom apartment for the four of us through Airbnb) Thank goodness we were with a couple Panamanians since her accent is difficult for me, she talks a lot, and very fast!
After we got settled we set off on foot to find some place for dinner. We finally settled on one, climbed up steep stairs to the second floor and to a cozy, home like room where they served us a nice dinner while the musicians entertained us. It was crazy expensive though – $74 for 4 dinners, 2 bottles of water.
Night was a bit nuts. We were in Old Havana neighborhood, and it doesn’t sleep. People are in the street talking, hollering, driving cars, motorcycles, hauling carts, playing music and who knows what all. We were on the second floor but it sounded like we were in the middle of the street! Things finally quieted down around 3, only to start up again around 4:30.