The Havana Diaries – Wandering

Wednesday April 6, 2016

I have been in Habana since Saturday, but there’s still much of the city that I have not seen. Today, I took a hop on hop off bus tour. I usually hate those cheesy things, but this seemed to be the best way to get coverage of the city as a solo traveler. It was 10:30 when I got on the bus, but it was already cramped with tourists at the upper level. I sat in the less crowded lower level of the bus, and opened the window to allow the wind to blow in my face. As the driver took us from stop to stop, I come to the conclusion that the bus tour was a waste. The only interesting stopping point was Plaza de Revolucion and Parque Central. The majority of the other stops were hotels. What was the point?

I got to Plaza de Revolucion to see what was probably the most Instagrammed tribute to Che, and checked out some old cars in the process.

Classic cars in HavanaClassic Cars in HavanaChe GueveraCienfuegos

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The Havana Diaries – Getting Adjusted

Monday, April 4, 2016

After enjoying a ham and cheese croissant for breakfast at Dulcinea yesterday, I decided that it would be my regular breakfast spot. I got ready for the day and walked down Linea between Paseo and Calle A, and the small panaderia was as crowded as it was before. I stood in line to order, only to be told that they didn’t have any bread or coffee today. Wait, wasn’t this a panaderia? *Shrugs* I guess I just got lucky yesterday. I bought a bottle of water and headed across the street to the Metro Bank to exchange currency. I walk in and it was basically like the DMV. I told the woman at the front desk the reason I was there, she handed me a number, and I sat and waited until my number was called. Despite a number of people also waiting, I didn’t sit for a full minute before my number was called. I approached the teller with my passport and 100 euros, and we went through the same process as the airport CADECA.

Next, I headed to Melia Cohiba for another 15 minutes of screenshotting Regla and other Havana maps. I walked out of the hotel, and took an old Chevy to Parque Central for 10 CUC. Then I took a stroll southward past Ralph Trejo boxing gym and down to Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market. I had no intentions of buying anything, but I was browsing to get an idea of what I wanted and how much it would cost me.

I walked out of the art market and headed to the ferry terminal in order to get to Regla. The workers made me finish drinking my bottle of water. Then they checked my bag, flirted a little by kissing my hand, and confirmed that I had 10 cents for the fare. When I got to the ferry, I hand over my 10 cents and get 1 CUP back in change. Basically, the fare was about 7 cents altogether. The ride was smooth and about 5 minutes. It had some nice views of the city and the Capitol, which was being remodeled.

ferry to Regla

El Capitolio Havana

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The Havana Diaries – The Arrival

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Ahhh!!! The time has finally arrived! I feel like I’ve been planning this trip forever! When I first booked my trip Havana, it was for a few different reasons. One was because about a decade ago, I developed an interest in the complicated history of the country. Another was the U.S. told me I couldn’t. Last time I checked, I’s free. The last reason was cigars and rum. *shrugs* Now, I was walking into Cuba to understand if socialism works. I’m pretty sure I know the answer, but I need to see it with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears, taste it with my own tongue.

Getting to Cuba is becoming less and less strenuous for U.S. citizens, although it is still illegal for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for the purpose of tourism. I had two options for getting to Havana: either fly out of a US city that offers direct charter flights to Havana (like Miami) or fly out of a third country.

I chose the later option by flying out of the New Orleans airport nonstop to Panama City, Panama. Then I flew from Panama City, Panama nonstop to Havana. (Note: I did review the US Treasury guidelines, and it is completely legal to book a flight out of a third country.) Easy enough? I did have to book both round trip tickets separately via Copa Airlines since the US doesn’t allow connecting flights to Cuba yet. Going through Panama was the best option for me based on where I reside, the dates I wanted to travel, the flight times, and the overall cost of the flights.

I arrived in Panama from New Orleans after an uneventful plane ride, Since I booked my flights separately, I had to go through immigration and customs, then check in again for my flight to Havana. I quickly exited customs and took the escalators upstairs to the check-in counter to get a boarding pass for Havana. The woman at the counter asked me if I needed a tourist card before I had a chance to inquire, and after a few moments of confusion on her part, she directed me to get it at the gate counter. Fine by me. I head ed through security and grabbed some lunch at Air Margaritaville since Panama’s airport didn’t seem to have any restaurants that were authentic to the region. No empanadas? No arepas? No ceviche? I guess this turkey club sandwich and guava juice would have to do.

After stuffing my face, I headed to my gate and asked for a tourist card. The gate agent simply asked for $20 USD, took the Jackson when I handed it to her, and handed me the card in return.  Right after, they made an announcement about the availability of the card for purchase by anyone who needed it. The required document had two parts – one for when I arrived in Cuba and one for when I departed. I filled it out quickly since it only asked for my name, date of birth, passport number, and country of citizenship. Yet another step to check off the list, and another step closer to Havana!

I was getting anxiety. Everything had gone smoothly so far, but I still hadn’t arrived. I was just worried about getting around without a map on my phone since I was usually dependent on phone data and Google maps for a smooth trip. These things weren’t as readily available in Cuba as it was in other countries, so I wa regretting not taking more time to find offline maps or buying one from the app store.

On the plane I checked out the scenery as we got close to landing in Havana. There wasn’t much to see, but I noticed there were several empty roadways. One or two Chevy’s every now and then, but mostly empty. I smiled at the thought I have arrived at Cuba – the one country I wanted to visit for several years.

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