Day 25: Culture Shock

Fri. 7th September 2012

Olly and his new friend, Che!We hadn’t realised until today how much we had acclimatised to Cuba – how much we had come to accept the scenery, sights and the limitations of Cuba as normal. So getting to Playa del Carmen in Mexico was a real shock.

Today it was time to say goodbye to Havana and Cuba. For so long, when we were explaining about our trip to people, an early line was always “…and our first stop will be Cuba”. Now Cuba is in the past, the days are ticking by so quickly and we are on to the next stage in our travels.

The closest you will get to Starbucks in HavanaHowever, before heading off for the airport, there was one more reminder of the quirks that are essential to Cuba. We were running low on cash and so needed to make one final trip to the ATM. Yesterday, we kept an eye out, but all the machines we found were out of action – even in the big CADECA on Obispo (a major tourist street) the 6 ATMs in a row were all out of “fluido electronico” according the handwritten notice on the entrance. The security guard had assured us that they would be working mañana, but that didn’t seem to be the case. So, it was in to the CADECA with fingers crossed that I wouldn’t need to resort to cashing some of our emergency stock of US dollars and the punishing exchange rate that would entail. After much scrutinising of passport (by 2 people) and two attempts with the card machine, all was good and we could settle up with our casa host and have money for the taxi and airport departure tax.

The flight to Cancun was pretty uneventful. Havana airport is entirely forgettable, immigration and security as you are leaving Cuba is much simpler than when you arrive, and the plane landed pretty much on time in Cancun. It was only once we were there did we realise that we might as well be on a different planet not just a different country.

Getting through immigration & customs ‘only’ took 90mins – half the time of Havana. Buying a  bus ticket for Playa del Carmen was simple, the next bus left in 15 mins and when it arrived it was plush, cool and comfortable.

Well that is me sorted then!It was arriving in Playa del Carmen (PdC) that provided the real shock though – the sensory overload of shops which were all bursting with goods of all sorts, shapes, colours and sizes. Shortage? No way. And then to cap it all off, on our walk to the hotel we passed a Starbucks! Ah, heaven!

It turns out that whilst PdC is less touristy than Cancun (which is why we didn’t want to go back to Cancun), it is only a matter of degree and style. It is probably more that Cancun is full of large hotels and all-inclusive resorts that people don’t leave. The centre of PdC comprises small hotels and restaurants and so the main street (5th Avenue) is chock full of bars, restaurants and tourist shops selling everything and anything. After the austerity of Cuba, we had forgotten about the colours and variety.

Hotel Copa - Quirky and with character - and cheap!Once we had found our hotel – cheap and quixotic (and hot!) – the next priority was to find a bar. In Cuba, your full choice of beers is Cristal or Buccanero – here in PdC the list was vast. However, we forced ourselves to make a selection (Montejo) and got on with our next treat – proper WiFi on the end of a real internet connection. Bliss – cold beer and internet. What more could you need.

There is one similarity between PdC and Cuba that we found though – PdC operates a dual-currency system. US dollars are accepted everywhere and most items are priced in both pesos and dollars. Somewhat confusingly though, the symbol for peso is $ – so you do have to double check the price to make sure of what currency they are asking for. (There are about 10 – 12 pesos to the USD!)

As shock therapy and a reminder of what the 21st Century is like, PdC will work well – as somewhere to stay for any length of time, we are happy to be only spending a couple of nights here. I hope that we will find somewhere that is a little more authentically Mexican.

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3 Responses to Day 25: Culture Shock

  1. Chris says:

    Ah yes mexico, well known for being considered first world and civilised.
    Thought you might also want to be kept up to date on the tennis, Murray is through to the final, ferrer v djokovic is the other semi which was tornadoed (if thats a word) off today so will be finished tomorrow (ferrer was 5-2 up in the 1st).
    Stay well, and I’m hoping to see some mayan ruins.

    • Dave says:

      All things are relative – compared to Cuba, Mexico and in particuarly the Caribbean coast is first world.

      C’mon Tim! (Or is that just not funny)

  2. Back to checking emails and facebook at breakfast….cannot break from technology!

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