27 December: Playa to Cuba

indi's picture

 

Last Minute Stroll around Playa

We woke up early to finalize our packing and then head out to the center of Playa del Carmen to buy some cheap breakfast from the stalls. We managed to see the last phase of the sunrise. Dang, I wished I had woken up earlier to catch the sunrise exactly when it began. But still it was a beautiful sunrise with rays penetrating the clouds giving a magical sensation.


 

   

We saw a Royal Caribbean Cruiseline at the deep end of the Playa del Carmen bay, and it seemed that the passengers are getting off using a small boat, rather than directly at the pier. This is because the sea depth at the Playa del Carmen port is too shallow to cater for cruise ship. Half an hour after that, we saw a group of tourists with stickers on their chest strolling down the fifth avenue. Yep, they're the cruiseline passengers. We saw a lot of Chinese cruiseline passengers who were traveling with their extended family members. It’s apparent that China is doing well economically, because we saw Chinese tourists everywhere!

We bought tortilla con camarones with fresh salsa near the central park for 8 pesos each (about 1 SGD). It was totally delicious, albeit cold. Then I bought a glass of fresh orange juice, for only 5 peso! TOTALLY DELICIOUS! It is squeezed fresh from the oranges.


 
 

We saw tourism policemen riding all terrain vehicles.


 

Then we strolled towards the pier and saw the boat that ferries passengers to Cozumel. I wished that we stayed longer in order to visit Cozumel too.


 

   

Indi bought some Tshirt for souvenirs and gift.

We rushed back to the hotel and checked out. Then we had breakfast at the Carboncito restaurant. During breakfast, Noe passed motion, so I had to return to the room (luckily it wasn’t locked yet) and clean him up.

To Airport

At exactly 9am, after I took note of the brand of the special tequila in the funny bottle with a shape of pistol, we drove to the Cancun airport.


 

During check-in we found out that our flight schedule has been changed, luckily for later timing. If it had been an earlier timing, we would've missed the flight. Our mistake, we should've checked the schedule the day before, reconfirming our flight.

Lesson Learned: Do reconfirm the flight a day before.

After check in, we had to report to immigration to get our visa form stamped.

Since we had to wait for about two hours before boarding, we decided to have a big early lunch. We were not sure that we would get food on board, and surely food wouldn't be easily found in Havana. I had a big hamburger, while Indi had a veggie burger, both served with fries. Alberto, the waiter, got us a small bowl of habanero salsa. For an overpriced airport food, it was quite good.

Since Noe was too excited about flying off in an airplane again, Indi had to take him to a park to let him run around in the open, while I was finishing my burger and delicious big flan (crème caramel). Noe got introduced to Sophia, a 3 year old Mexican girl who was really shy. Noe also broke the water bottle by throwing it around.

Flight to Havana

Then we went to the boarding area. The security check for Havana was really lenient. In the boarding area we saw a lot of really fat people, so big that they might just occupy two seats on the plane.


 

Then we boarded the airport bus and get into the click Mexicana flight to Havana! It was a very nice clear weather and during take-off we could see clearly the zona hotelera in Cancun, and the lagoon where Fernando took us on a boat trip. The color of the Caribbean sea was so beautiful, we could see the coral reef with its distinctive color.


 
 
 

Arrival in Cuba: The Adventure of Passing through the Immigration

After about twenty minutes flying above the sea, we began to sea a stretch of land that is Cuba. First we saw Maria la Gorda beach and Pinar del Rio province. We could see how pristine the Cuban landscape is. Too bad the weather was rather cloudy and the clouds masked the landscape. We landed in Havana after 45 minutes of flying.


 

We were surprised that they have the aero-tunnel (or whatever the name is, in Indonesian it is called Belalai Gajah (Elephant's Trunk), which is old but is quite well maintained.

Our first impression of Cuba is that there is no billboard that greeted us at the airport. Everything was just barren except for some public service advertisement. The lack of billboard became a break for our eyes.

Then we arrived at the immigration area that resembles the room with thousand doors in Alice in Wonderland. It looks like a dead end, except for the doors that has the same color as the wall.

There are many queues for foreigners visiting Cuba, with two dedicated counters for mothers with child and disabled people. There is one counter for diplomats and crews, while there is only one counter for Cuban nationals. I guess this means that Cubans do not or can not travel outside their home country.

We obediently lined up on the designated counter. As a group with a toddler, we lined up behind the child counter. However, when the officer called us to the front, Noe and I had to be separated from Indi, because the counter is only for the child and the mother. So Indi had to go to the adjacent counter. We noticed that on top of the counter there is a mirror in an inclined position. We guessed that it is for the purpose of seeing people who are shorter than the counter height, or people who trying to sneak into Cuba by crawling under the counter.

The immigration officer was quite friendly, and I spoke to her using my very broken Spanish. This is my first time listening to a conversation with strong Cuban accent, which I find is harder to understand compared to the Mexican or Spanish accent, because Cuban accent dilutes many consonant. For example, the final “s” in each word is not read, and “b” is strongly pronounced as "w", and many consonants are diluted to speak a word or sentence in a more flowing manner. Also, Cubans talk fast. Really fast.

Anyway, after about ten minutes of Q&A and scanning of my passport, I was let in by the officer. Let me illustrate the scene in slow motion. The officer handed me the passport and press a button in her desk. A buzzer buzzed, which means the door to the Cuban world is unlocked, and I had to reach the door handle and open the door.

But right after the door there are two XRay machines. This is the first time that I had to be scanned before entering a country. Our Targus bag which is full of electronic equipments attracted the officer attention, and we had to open the bag and showed her that it is a real laptop. Luckily she just wanted to see whether it is a real laptop or not.

After this Xray scan, we were 90 percent in Cuba (We had to pass by customs before it became 100 percent). While waiting for the luggage we changed our Euro cash into Cuban pesos convertibles (which is tourist's currency). We were surprised that the rate for Canadian dollar is much better than euro. We should've brought Canadian dollar.

Then we went to the "Nothing to Declare" lane and voila, we were in Cuba officially!

First Taste of Cuban Culture: a Long Wait for Service

We reported to Havanatur reps to get our hotel vouchers. But then the car was broken and they had to get a replacement car, and it was unclear when the replacement would arrive. Nevertheless we patiently waited.


 
 

A janitor approached us and offered to exchange money with black market rate, but we politely refused this illegal proposition. In the airport shop, I saw the Havana Club Gran Reserva which is aged for 15 years, this is a must have!

Drive to Varadero

After two hours, we finally got the car. We were in a same car with a couple from Cayman Islands who were staying in Hotel Nacional, perhaps the most luxurious hotel in Cuba. During the drive to Varadero, our impression that Cuba is a country without a billboard is confirmed. But there are a lot of graffiti and billboards of government messages such as about the revolution, victory, and liberty. We saw a lot of pictures of Fidel, Che, and Marti on the roads.

Too bad we had to drive at night, so we couldn't see much thing around the road. The road was totally dark, there was no street lighting and the houses were only dimly lit.

The driver was very enthusiastic to show us around. Although he only speaks Spanish, we (try to) understand him. He showed us the Havana Club factory, and suddenly the air in the car smells like molasses.

Got a Huge Apartment Unit in Hotel Mar del Sur Varadero

We arrived in Varadero around 10pm. When we gave 10 CUC tip to the driver, he was totally elated. We thought that such amount of tip is quite reasonable, considering the long drive from Havana to Varadero, and also, with such a bad weather and in such a dark street. But for him, it was a lot of money. The average salary of people in Cuba is about 10 CUC, while the president’s salary is just 40 CUC. So, we just gave him enough money to take a vacation for one month.

We checked into our hotel, called Mar Del Sur. It was quite a big hotel complex with twenty four-storey blocks. The building was apparently really old, like, from the 60s, which is characterized by its concrete construction. Although the building's facade and physical appearance were not well maintained, the interior is amazingly clean. We got a whole apartment unit for ourselves, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with kitchen and living room.

After putting our stuff in the room, we head back to the reception to ask for recommendation for a place for dinner. She recommended the restaurant La Casa de la Miel about 5 blocks from our hotel. So we decided to just walk to the place, although we're very tired. We were surprised that the street was totally different to Cancun and Playa del Carmen. There were very minimal street light, and only few restaurant open, and not many activities on the street. Perhaps because it’s quite late at night. When we got to the restaurant it was about to close, but luckily they're still willing to serve us food. Indi and I got an overly salty spaghetti bolognaise while Yodhi got a very delicious roast chicken with generous amount of rice. For the drink Indi and Yodhi bought state-produced soda in cans, which tasted quite nice, like pepsi, while I bought mineral water. This is the first time we went to a country where we can't find Coca Cola! Even when I went to the himalaya, Coke was already there before me. But in Cuba, there's no Coke.

We were quite satisfied with the service and the food was quite good too. We walked back to the hotel, took a shower, and had a good night sleep.

Comments

Visa ke Kuba dll

Hi there,
Nice to be able to read about someone from Indonesia travelling to Cuba.
I am also planning to visit Cuba for a week or two in November. Aku lagi ada di Kanada skrg pakai multiple entry visa, jadi ntar dari Kuba bisa ke Kanada lagi sebelum balik ke Indo. Tapi aku belum punya visa ke Kuba. Kalau baca dari blog ini, visa ke Kuba cuma berupa turis card doank?. Ada nama kita di card tsb nggak? soalnya aku baca dari blog lain, ada orang indo yang ke Kuba dari USA via Kanada dan ternyata di dalam pesawat dibagikan form biru (selain form imigrasi yang lain) dan ternyata itu adalah tourist card dengan membayar US $25 or so. Jadi, apa tourist cardnya hanya berisi form kosong yang kita bisa isi data kita pakai bolpen? Soalnya kalau apply visa/tourist card di consul atau embassy di Kanada, cukup jauh dari tempat aku sekarang.
Oya, independent traveler dari Indonesia (yang bukan lewat special counter for mother and child) pas lewat petugas imigrasi di Kuba lancar kan?
Please let me know about the visa thing above and passing through the officer when arriving there.
Thank you.

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