These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Wednesday, Jan 4
From Baracoa to Holguin, then flight to Havana
As I said in an earlier post, the brother of the lady of our casa now has US citizenship and lives in Miami. His (and the lady of the house’s) mother had died, so he was in visiting. He was very friendly and we got a different perspective of things by talking to him. In discussions the night before, we had told him our group’s flight out of the Baracoa airport had been moved to Holguin, a town up the coast about 5-7 hours, so we were catching a bus out at 7:00 in the morning. He told us he was still flying out of Baracoa the same day as us. We were a bit puzzled but figured maybe they couldn’t get our group 12 tickets together on one plane.
So we got up very early and loaded the bus, grumpy from having to do a long trek we weren’t expecting.
We went down awful horrible roads, with more holes than we had seen put together on our whole trip. Before, we had seen patched roads and bad roads. This had deep and frequent holes and needed a lot more patches. Many times our driver pulled off the road because the dirt shoulder was better than the pavement. Also, the main bridge was out in Baracoa from Hurricane Matthew 3 months before. Nothing has been done to fix it. So we crossed this low bridge instead with water rushing right beneath us.
After a bit we stopped for a bathroom break at a gas station. This was one of the ones where you try to just not touch anything at all, a 2 out of 20 on my bathroom scale. Funny enough, at this little gas station in nowhere Cuba, we saw the Cuban-American nurse practitioner, brother of our casa owner. As it turned out, his flight out of Baracoa was cancelled and he was doing the same trek as us to Holguin.
Now we got to see a different part of Cuba. Cactus fences abounded (quite a clever idea I’d say but you better not need to move the fence), and we saw crops we hadn’t seen up to this point. There was still a lot of fallow ground and most of the crops we did see were small. The homes we saw on this ride, and the other areas as well, ranged anywhere from about 20×20 feet to about 8×10 feet. The casas we had stayed in were much bigger, but they are not typical homes. As rugged as we felt they were, they were very nice by Cuban standards.
We stopped for lunch, but the restaurant (someone’s kitchen basically) was not open, so we used their clean restroom and kept going.
When we finally got to Holguin, tired and cranky, we stopped for a “fast lunch” which is impossible in Cuba and turned out to be over an hour long. There is no fast food in Cuba. After driving through Holguin, a large city with a stadium and a prison, we arrived at the airport to find the small waiting room chock full of people waiting. I guess they were on an earlier cancelled flight or were waiting on a spot on another flight or something because I didn’t see any of them leave or go anywhere the whole time we were there. I never really did figure that out. We waited in an unmoving line for about an hour, watching their 1 luggage agent come and go and not do anything visibly productive. They did have a flat screen TV, one of the few we saw our whole trip, and the first I saw actually being used. It had a baseball game playing on it.
They finally called for our flight to check in and the line got moving. I guess they only process one flight at a time and between checking in flights the attendant does other jobs. Our guide stepped behind the counter to help the agent and get our bags all checked. They hand wrote our boarding passes, took us in a next-room-over 2 at a time to do our security check. We also saw several people here in uniforms sitting and doing nothing productive. For the x-ray bag scanner they used a computer, the first working one I had seen in use as a computer (we had seen some being used to play music) in the whole 13 days. Then they sent us back out and up the stairs. Someone checked our passport at the bottom of the stairs and we passed a not-working x-ray machine. I guess that’s why we had to do our screening in the same room where they scan the checked luggage.
Here we entered a totally empty waiting room where they had 2 more TVs showing the same baseball game. They called our flight onto the tarmac and we walked all the way across the length of the airport to our plane.
We had to wait for them to load our bags in the front of the plane before we could get on, which was inconvenient for us, but reassuring in that we saw our bags get loaded on.
While we were waiting, a very large American Airlines plane came in and unloaded its many passengers. This is a very small airport and I didn’t know American flights were coming directly into anywhere in Cuba but Havana.
I had a window seat and enjoyed looking out the window on the cloudless night and enjoyed the hour’s flight across the mostly dark countryside.
We arrived in Havana, retrieved our bags, and discovered that we had no bus to take us to our casas in Old Havana. We waited while our guide tried unsuccessfully to get us a state-owned tour bus. Remember I said it’s illegal for them to drive around empty? Well, an almost-empty bus for about 14 passengers arrived and dropped off its one passenger. So our guide jumped up and talked with the driver. After about 15 minutes of negotiations and phone calls, permission was given by whoever does that, and we had a bus. By this time it was after 10 at night.
We got off the bus, and our guide took us a few at a time to our different casas. We got to our casa, checked in with our passports, and got instructions for our private 2 bedroom apartment. The construction was new, but their pipes to the drain in the sinks didn’t have P traps to keep out the sewer gases. Also, they had a ventilation shaft which it seems had no cap at the top so rain came in freely and the whole building smelled of mold. So between the sewer gas and the mold, the whole place was rather stinky. The lady who managed the apartment also managed several others in the neighborhood. Evidently these casa we stayed in during our trip are listed on airbnb. I’m not sure how that works with the limited internet in Cuba, but people seem to be making good money renting out rooms.
By the time we met our guide for directions to a decent restaurant, we were just about starved. We had scarfed down some food at about noon, and it was now after 11 p.m. After a delicious dinner (they make wonderful fried chicken in Cuba) we went to bed exhausted, but happy to be in Havana. Even with all the mess of the airport, the missing bus, and the long hours, at least we didn’t have to drive the whole over-20-hours-straight way from Baracoa to Havana in a bus.
Continue the journey to Day 14 & 15.