Hello from Havana!
This is my first post from Cuba so I want to stick to the events and try to keep the plot away from emotions, but typing the second sentence it already seems impossible. Ohhh this place is something! Honestly, I think it is going to be the most amazing traveling experience of my 23 years of life. And I have had some!
It’s been 10 days since I came to Cuba and I don’t even know how to describe even a tiny part of what a hurricane has been happening in my head since the very first second I left the aircraft.
Well, if trying to stick to the facts, the unusual experience started even before boarding in Paris. Entering Cuba is tricky. Far more tricky than I had thought. As a Russian, you need absolutely nothing to enter the country and stay here, only your passport. But it is not the case for the rest of the world, and the problem is that the regulations are being changed so fast by the Cuban authorities that nobody knows for sure what you need to be admitted. I was flying with a bunch of Europeans who need travel cards or whatever to enter the country. They were used to be provided by the carrier airline. But not anymore. Which not everyone knew about. Now if you need one, you have to obtain it yourself in advance at the embassy or travel agency. All websites still say completely the opposite so a lot of people on my flight just weren’t allowed to board because they didn’t have those and they couldn’t be issued anywhere. I was one of those people who would be kept from boarding not possessing those. AirFrance don’t know the regulations. It took a lot of time and patience to prove that I need damn nothing to come to Cuba. I was eventually allowed to board but I was literally crying at the gate not knowing what to do. Make sure you know your rights and the up-to-date Cuban regulations, I’d recommend to have those particular ones applying for you printed as well.
The flight itself was fine. The sun was shining extremely bright the whole time as we were traveling west so I didn’t really sleep, so I appreciate AirFrance for at least serving you as much wine as you need. As always, I met alcoholic people on the plane and it ended up being fine, 12 hours flew fast. Funny how they don’t care much about security and not even all flight attendants wore uniforms. I guess you see that only flying to Havana!
Talking about bureaucracy again, in general, better have hard copies of everything you can think of. The Internet in Cuba is another tricky thing. It is becoming more available for the tourists. You have to buy a card that contains login and password and will grant you 1 hour of surfing. Those are being sold at special offices and cost 2CUC there, but I yet have not bought a single one there because the line is enormous. I get those unofficially which is possible, too, but they cost starting from 3CUC then. The connection itself is available only at several hotels where you have to come already having a card, the aren’t sold at the reception as many think. The locals can not enter hotels for the tourists, though. As well as any other tourist areas. It is in general not welcomed to be hanging around with foreigners for them, so whenever Cuban guys are with us, they are constantly being stopped by the police who would check on their documents and ask a lot of questions why is a conversation a case at all. You as a tourist talking to a local can be asked, too. So, if you are dark and you speak good Spanish and can be mistaken for Cuban, carry your ID with you. I don’t have the problem, but I have another one – I am being starred at by basically anyone. Kids, women, dogs – whatever. They are nice here, though, but they really want to draw foreigners’ attention, so be ready for whistlers. They won’t touch you, but a lot of action around you is guaranteed. Just take it easy, they really mean no harm.
It is very dirty and smelly in the area where I am staying, Habana Vieja. It is though not dangerous anywhere. The only thing that can happen to you if you are not attentive is that you can be tricked with money. There are two currencies in Cuba: CUC (convertible pesos you get when you exchange your money) and CUP (the currency locals use). Just be careful and check the change. And be aware that US dollars are a subject to 10% tax while exchanging and American credit cards are not accepted. Other than that, everything is quite straight forward and you shouldn’t worry much ebout being robbed or anything like that, knock the wood. But it’s anyway incredibly beautiful.
Back to my arrival. It all depends on the terminal you arrive to, of course, but for me it took about 3 hours to get out of the airport. The customs are very harsh. They check on anything, open everything and make you fill in tens of declarationish papers. Just be patient.
Immediately as I got out I felt an extremely positive vibe. The people are so sweet, so is everyone who arrives here and feels this optimistic energy. I got to know 2 locals and 2 tourists right a way; we took pictures together and had a ride in a cool car from the 50s.
I think that’s enough for today. Honestly, I just want to enjoy the view on the ocean and another daiquiri which are incredible here! Will try to write soon about my Cuban experience itself.