© 2012 . Alle Rechte vorbehalten. Cuba-1st-102

Cuba the first days

Sorry about this article but it is quite long! Since I can only use a 64k modem which still seems like the fastest connection in all of cuba I wont upload pictures!

If you like leg room and a personal entertainment system you should skip on the Condor experience. I learned the hard way. It all started while boarding. Since I did not like to queue I just waited until everyone was on board. When I got to my seat I was greeted by a Swiss guy who asked me to switch my window seat with his wife who was sitting by herself in the last row. Well aware that I was giving up my best opportunity for sleep I agreed to the deal and regretted it immediately after sitting down. Lion Air in Indonesia is more comfortable. They probably bought the plane from Lion Air because there was an Indonesian sticker in the rest room reminding everyone (in Bahasa) not to throw anything in the toilet. We weren’t in the air for 5 minutes when I watched from my new seat how the Swiss couple decided they did not like their seats, upgraded to Econ+ and some random dude not only took my window seat but now also had a row for himself. Fuckers. Being bored to death by the lack off any entertainment I decided to join the airplane crew by standing next to the kitchen for basically the rest of the flight. It didn’t take five minutes before the entire crew knew me (chief steward: Malte, why does everyone in my crew know your name?) and I was offered more food by the crew than I could ever eat including these amazing curry chicken skewers that are for the crew only. One of the stewards who was suffering from a severe and very funny form of ADHD turned into my personal entertainment system, too. Overall, I have to admit, it turned into one of my best flights experiences.

After touchdown in Varadero I followed my fellow passengers to immigration. Immigration is Cuba is like nothing I have ever seen before. You enter the arrival hall where, if you haven’t done so already, find a desk where you can buy the tourist card before you go to immigration. You then find yourself in front of 20 cubicles, one next to another, with no way to see past them. Passenger after passenger then has to step into the cubicle, has his picture taken and sometimes is interrogated by the person in charge. Try to avoid any Cuban looking family in your queue since the officers tend to ask them questions for hours. Again, I this learned the hard way. When I finally got through immigration my luggage was already off the belt and I proceeded to the exit. Here I was stopped by a very friendly officer who asked me a couple of random questions (Where are you from? Do you smoke cigarettes? In Germany, do you smoke the marijuana?) which I must have answered correctly because he let me go without any further questions.

Stepping out of the airport I basically turned around and went back in again. According to some guy on the lonely planet forum there is an ATM right inside the departure hall where I wanted to withdraw some CUCs. Well there isn’t. Fortunately I did not bring along any Euros which I could exchange at the next booth so I had to pay extra by buying US-Dollars (!) which I could then change to CUC. Never trust the internet I guess. When I left the departure hall I was greeted by a Cuban in perfect German. Where I wanted to go he asked? Varadero town I said since I already booked a casa particular in Varadero. So I thought. Did I mention never to trust the internet and especially not the tiny arrows on Hostelbookers telling you where the place is? So instead of taking the bus to Varadero I had to take a private taxi to Matanza which is in an entire differect direction. Also it would have been possible to take a private bus right to Havana which was just waiting for our flight. Bummer.

When I finally arrived at my casa, I was greeted by Victor, the owner, and his wife. Victor speaks decent English and immediately started complaining about my lack of Spanish and the lack of Spanish, English or any language in German people in general. I tried to calm the situation by explaining that I already booked a two week course in Havana. Not good enough according to him and he offered to call a friend of his to extend my Spanish class in Havana. I explained to him that I my flights to Panama would leave after those two weeks and hence could not extend my stay here. Better take another class in Panama City then. Yes Victor, thank you.

Sunday morning I woke up at around 6am. Stayed in bed until 7 and decided it is a good a time as any to take a shower. Too bad that there was no water in the shower. I would soon realize that it was just one of the things that just happen in Cuba. Fortunately the tap in the kitchen was (almost) working so I washed up as good as I could. The night before I told Victor he should pick me up for breakfast around 9.30am since I was not staying at his house but at a casa a couple of blocks away. Since I did not want to wait any longer I just packed up my bags and left the house. Following the way I remembered I got lost immediately. I turned to an older woman sitting next to the street but she could not help me so I just went back to the house to wait for Victor. Later at breakfast I had a first glimse at what food would look like the next two weeks. Sponge-like bread, some honey, greasy eggs with cheese, some fruits and so-called-coffee. While I was having breakfast two Columbian girls, Andrea and Laura, from Bogota who were also staying at his casa particular turned up and joined me. They spoke English but decided it would be a much better idea to start with my lessons immediately so they only spoke to me in Spanish. Fortunately they had to take a (different) bus at the same time as me so they helped me at the bus station so all I had to do was wait for my bus to be called out, go to the booth and get my ticket. When it was called out and it was my turn at the counter the lady told me that she just sold the last ticket and I had to wait for the next bus in four hours. Two Suisse people who were the only ones queuing behind me asked me if I wanted to share a collectivo (taxi that takes as many people as it fits) with them which I did. So we went behind the bus station and talked to the first Cuban who approached us. He took us and five other people to Havana in his 1950 Dodge. Great fun actually!

The hostel is located right next to the big baseball stadium and quite close to the plaza de la revolucion which is a bit off the center but still close enough and about half way to the language school in Miramar. After I arrived I went to a couple of stores in the greater area trying to score a bottle of water (!). Impossible. Apparently they sold out everywhere a few days earlier and the next delivery was supposed to arrive any day now. As the owner of the hostel, David, told me it happens with everything all the time. Except for Cuban rum which is widely available and crazy cheap.

The next, Monday, morning I got up early to go to class. As I haven’t really figured out the (crazy) public transport system with collectivos, pirate taxis and buses I took an official taxi and arrived just in time for the introduction. Apparently I was the only student organizing housing on his own while everyone else was staying at a hotel nearby. Our teacher, Kari, was an older Cuban lady who’s totally crazy and whose first lesson included shouting out every number from 1 to 15 as loud as possible. When class was over she told me I should join her on her way home so she could explain to me, in Spanish, how I could get to my hostel for basically free. So she put me in this tiny public bus with about 300 other people squeezed together who all seemed to look at the one German guy who thought it would be a good idea to join them and lose all his belongings to the lucky pickpocket next to him. Then I stopped a collectivo which took me to the plaza de la revolucion from where I could find my way on foot. All in all it only cost me about 0.5€ and about 4L in sweat which dripped on the unfortunate lady standing in front of me in the bus.

Next text will be shorter, I promise! Don´t know when I will update the blog since the internet is really frustrating!