Day 1 in Cuba: Traveling to and spending first night in Havana

22 Jan

Just walking her dog and shopping at the fruit cart on a street in Old Havana.

Just walking her dog and shopping at the fruit cart on a street in Old Havana.



Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post for more photos with captions.

Alaska Airlines’ new route from Seattle to Havana goes by way of LAX and leaves at 5 a.m. Gulp! I got up at 2:30 a.m. Reminded me of my days working at a PM newspaper 20 years ago.

I used a new way to get to the airport because the trains and buses don’t run at that hour. I grabbed a Car2Go that was a block away from my place, drove to the airpart and parked at a new C2G parking area in a WallyPark garage. A shuttle then takes you to the terminal. C2G cost: about $16. Beats the hell out of a $45 cab ride.

Flight down to Los Angeles was uneventful. My friend Jeff had flown to LA the night before, and was coming to join me at the gate for the Havana leg. The great news? We were nos. 3 & 4 on the upgrade list out of 13, and there were six unsold first-class seats. Front row, baby! Cocktails, beer and wine at our beck and call. It was a fun flight. The crew was awesome. Total time in the air: 4 hours, 8 minutes.

We landed at Jose Marti airport’s terminal 2, using steps to get out of the plane. At this point something unusual happened: We had to wait for 20 people from the back of the plane to get off first to keep the plane from tipping over. Apparently at US airports they have equipment to keep this from being an issue.

Inside, we waited in a couple of relatively short lines to have our passports checked and our bags scanned. Once outside of customs, it was chaos, with taxi touts and general confusion on our part because we couldn’t find the currency exchange. Some guy finally led us there, where we waited in yet another line.

We had brought Canadian dollars and Euros to avoid the 10% tax on US dollars. US cards do not work in Cuban ATMs. But they would only change a single 100-dollar bill, saying we needed to change the rest “in the city.” That gave us 71.50 in Cuban convertible pesos each, and the pesos are on par with US dollar. We could pay for the cab into town and dinner and drinks, but we would not be able to pay the host at the casa we were staying at.

The cab ride in was 30 pesos and took about a half hour. The cab driver had a baseball game on the radio – the country’s championship series is happening.

We arrived about 30 minutes early to the building where were staying, so I talked Jeff into walking to the main street to see if we could change money. But places were closed. Back at the casa, we lugged our bags up four flights of stairs, which was unexpected. Oh well.

Our host, Fanny, and her husband, Freddy, were there, along with their daughter Isabel. Fanny was a hoot, spending a half hour showing us around the place and to our rooms, making sure we had everything we needed. This would be our home for four nights, at $35 a night. The rooms were spartan, but had small balconys and AC. And a big breakfast would be prepared for us each morning.

Now, not only did Fanny not need to be paid until the end of our stay, she offered to loan us money!

I had emailed ahead to have her make a reservation for us at one of the more highly rated restaurants in town, Habana 61, in old Havana, maybe seven minutes’ walk from our casa. We wandered around exploring a bit before arriving there, enjoying a nice breeze coming off the water. It was slightly muggy, but it certainly wasn’t hot or muggy enough to make it uncomfortable.

The architecture was amazing. In its glory days, Havana must have been amazing. Now, after years of neglect, each street has its share of gutted, crumbling monuments to a better time. But if you look deeper, there’s lots of beauty to find in wrinkly, weathered faces. Stories to tell.

Dinner was fine: Jeff had lobster and I had shrimp in a traditional Cuban sauce. With rice and beans, of course. I had been warned not to expect tasty food. The lobster was overcooked a bit and otherwise things were slightly on the bland side. But overall it was pretty good. The bill including two drinks each totaled $42. Pretty high for here.

After dinner we wandered a bit, ultimately going to the Floridita, famous for inventing the daquiri. After we’d been there a few minutes, I noticed a familiar face sitting down at a table behind us: It was the crew from our flight on Alaska and they recognized us. It was hilarious. They have a 24-hour layover before flying back to LA.

And we were back to the casa by 11.

Click on the photos below to see the larger versions.

Me, with the crew of our Alaska flight to Havana behind me.

Me, with the crew of our Alaska flight to Havana behind me.

Hemingway's favorite bar in Havana, the Floridita, the creator of the daquiri.

Hemingway’s favorite bar in Havana, the Floridita, the creator of the daquiri.

The beautiful Gran Teatro in Havana.

The beautiful Gran Teatro in Havana.

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One Response to “Day 1 in Cuba: Traveling to and spending first night in Havana”

  1. Carol Pucci February 2, 2017 at 3:41 PM #

    Good post, Bob. I look forward to more. I had to do all my posts from Cuba after I got back too, because of internet issues.

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