Day 2: Bienvenidos a Cuba–Please Wait

Wed. 15th August 2012

Do we really want to leave this behind? Oh, yes!We had originally intended to spend 2 days in Cancun prior to moving on to Cuba, but Cubana Avianca decided to cancel our flight a couple of weeks ago. After a bit of email negotiation, they booked us on a flight the day earlier and so we ended up spending less than 24 hours in Cancun. As it turned out this was sufficient for us to catch the local bus downtown and to confirm that Cancun had limited attraction for us – when we get back to Mexico, we will try to head away from Cancun to try to find some Mayan rather than US culture.

However, this didn’t stop us from taking full advantage of the all inclusive buffet breakfast, drinks and pizza for lunch. This turned out to be a really smart move as it was late by the time that we got in to Habana and we were well past eating a big meal.

(As I write this, the background poolside music is JessieJ singing that ‘it’s all about the money, money, money’ – I nearly said out of the mouths of babes and innocents, but I suspect neither of those applies. Nevertheless, even in Cuba, she is right on.)

After lunch, our transfer to the airport was straightforward but then everything seemed to be happening in slow-motion. At check-in, you could tell which were the Cubana Avianca desks as they had the longest queue in front of them.

Getting on the plane we were reassured to find that it was a good old product of Soviet Boeing rip-off design Tupolev Tu-204. Cubana got us on to the plane nice and early only for us to sit and wait and wait. 15 minutes after our scheduled departure time, pilot announced that there would be a further 30 minute delay because of ‘immigration problems’. I never thought there would be a time when I was glad to be flying in the Tupolev but it sure beats sitting on the ground in one!

It turns out that the 50 minutes of actually flying from Cancun to Havana was the shortest part of the whole transfer. Once we got to Havana, the queues really started. The good news was that the immigration hall was larger than I expected it to be and that there were 20-odd immigration desks each one of which seemed to be manned.

The bad news was that the queue in front of each desk was huge, and that it took about 1’30” to process each person before they were allowed through a mysterious door marked ‘Exit’. An hour later we were at the front of the line. At least we had been able to pass the time by talking to some fellow backpackers – albeit ones who were about half our age (or less).

Getting through the mystery door revealed another set of queues, this time to have our hand baggage scanned. Finally both we and our bags were given permission to enter Cuba and catch up with our backpacks, which presumably were now bored with waiting for us. This allowed us to join the queue for customs. Hurray!

At least there was something that resembled a queue for customs – unlike the zoo in front of the CADECA which we had to join as we needed some CUCs (convertible pesos) in order to pay for things like the taxi to get us to our hotel.

Eventually, some two and a half hours after landing we were in a taxi, sharing with one of our new backpacker friends and heading to the Palacio O’Farrill (yes, really – and thank you Sharon & Richard) in old-town Havana Vieja.

I guess the moral of the story is – allow time for stuff to take longer than you expect; don’t fret about stuff you can’t change; and make use of the time by meeting new folk and swapping stories with them.

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