I’m back and I’m black. Seriously, I tan so easily, people confuse me for a different race. It’s that Inca skin my grandma blessed me with. So! Before I start with my full day one in Cuba, let me cover the arrival day.
As stated before, I scheduled my Uber ride in the wee hours of the early morning. Richard calls and I tell him to meet me at the front office. I walk down and he’s standing next to the trunk, which is already propped open. Note that I am completely jacked on pre-workout and coffee and am full of energy at this point. Richard opens the back door for me and laughs as I thank him, pass him up, and get in the front seat. Immediately we are immersed in conversation covering politics, religion, healthcare, etc. Definitely not your everyday conversation with an Uber driver, unless it’s past 2am and there’s alcohol involved, of course.
Me: “I’m going to make the assumption based on your attire and demeanor this is not your full time profession.”
Richard (laughing): “I was a psychologist, and I quit my job to finish my doctorates degree in clinical psychology and to focus on a non-profit organization I started last year.”
Me: “Very impressive….what does your organization focus on?”
Richard: “To provide resources for those with mental disorders, particularly in the homeless community.”
This guy may as well have been speaking to my soul. For those who aren’t aware, over 60% of people who are homeless have a mental disability/ disorder. Let’s face it…not only are there limited resources for those with mental illnesses but there are NO resources for those who do not have health insurance. So before you start judging those people on the streets, and saying they put themselves in that position, think about this and give them that damn dollar or sandwich.
We arrive to the airport, he helps me with my bags, and asks me out for coffee. Sure, why not…he’s handsome, has a promising future, and my dating life is essentially non-existent at this point so what do I have to lose? We exchange numbers.
Unfortunately, I know myself and I will not be meeting him for coffee. Why? Because I tend to be attracted to the emotionally unavailable men with a hint of asshole in them…there go my daddy issues again. So Richard if you’re reading this, you seem great…it’s not you, it’s me. Really.
Fast forward to Ft. Lauderdale. I have to check in again as I booked my flight from here to Havana separately. Jetblue has it’s own area for Cuba flights specifically. I hand the guy my passport and he immediately asks me why I’m going to Cuba.
Me (knowing my 11 categories): “Journalistic purposes.”
Him: “A pretty girl like you isn’t traveling there alone, are you?”
Me: “No, I’m meeting friends there.”
Him: “Good, it’s very dangerous out there.”
It takes everything in me to not roll my eyes, but he’s nice so I refrain from it. He tells me he got me better seats, I thank him and am on my way.
I get to my gate and there’s a bar in the middle of two gates. No name, no restaurant, just a random bar. I check my watch, it’s 11:15am…too early for drinks right? Ehhh…one drink won’t hurt. Two drinks later, an extremely drunk group of 6 walk up and start ordering shots. They look to be in their sixties, and are completely full of energy and laughter. Overhearing their conversation, they live in the Virgin Islands. No wonder they’re so happy, they’re living in paradise. Next thing you know, I have a shot of whiskey placed in front of me. I get a cheers from what I’m assuming is a wife and husband. Welp, bottoms up. I smile and thank them. At this point I feel a little buzz, and decide in order for me to sleep on the plane, I will need an additional shot of tequila. Bottoms up again.
I finally look down at my ticket and notice I’m in row 1. Well shit. He upgraded me to first class. While I would like to say I took advantage of all the perks that come with the first class life, unfortunately I passed out drunk and slept the entire plane ride. I even woke up with my mouth open and to judgmental stares from two flight attendants.
We land in Havana and I make my way through customs. The airport is extremely small and the woman who is checking my luggage is pretty with a short skirt and fishnet hose on. Wait a minute. All the workers checking luggage are pretty women with short skirts and fishnet hoses on. It’s like a damn Hooters in here. I finally get out where ground transportation is and am immediately greeted by a few men offering taxi services. I go exchange a few Euros to CUC, the exchange rate is higher so I only do 80 Euros. I follow one guy who leads me to another guy with a yellow cab. The guy gets in the passenger seat and I get in the back. It’s a little sketchy, I don’t understand why there’s two guys needed for this ride, but whatever, I go with it.
I give them the address of the place we’re staying at and am pretty impressed how they know exactly where to go with no GPS or navigation needed. (First world problems….literally.) This ride cost me 45 Cuban pesos, when it should’ve been 25-30. I got totally screwed on my first cab ride, and I’m very annoyed at this point, more at myself, as I should’ve haggled prices at the airport. We arrive at the homestay where I am greeted by Sergio and Isabella, the homeowners. They immediately take my passport information as they are required by the government to keep logs of EVERYONE who stays in their home. I shower, nap, and the girls arrive a couple hours later. Sergio is very helpful in providing us info on where to eat, what to see, and where to get Wifi. Oh yeah, there’s no service, AT ALL. There are only 10 Wifi spots in Cuba and we are only a couple of blocks away from one, luckily.
We grab our first Cuban meal and drink. It’s not the best, but we’re starving and it does its job…barely. The food portion was small so we were still hungry afterwards.
We walk to the Wifi area and can immediately spot out where it’s at. It’s like a block party, people have drinks, there’s music going, and everyone has their phone out.
We walk into the hotel and purchase our first set of Wifi cards. They are 2 CUC per card and each card is 1 hour long. We walk outside and hop on the internet. The only person I need to write is my little sister to let her know I’m alive and I’ve made it. She’ll relay the message to the rest of the family. We walk down the block; what’s funny is that left and right, people are looking at me and saying “¡Viva Mexico!” I am the darkest one of the bunch, and I’m wearing a bright orange shirt with floral pants so this may be why but still. I’m surprised they know my origins and they are surprised to hear we’re from the Estados Unidos.
Now, I’ve dealt with some pretty crude men in my life, but these guys took the cake. They were PERSISTENT. After trying to be nice and entertaining a couple, we soon realized the best way to handle the situation was to avoid them completely. Which is exactly what I/ we initially did when Angel walked up. However, he stood there and talked to Carolina and Caitlin and after about 10 minutes says he’s a tour guide. He then tells Caitlin he could not only tour us Havana for free, but can transport us to Viñales, Viñales to Varadero, and Varadero to Havana airport, all for 250 CUC. (Diana and Caitlin haggled him down to that price.) To compare, we were anticipating paying around 330 CUC for transportation, so this was a good deal, considering he was willing to tour us around Havana as well.
Caitlin gets his number via Whatsapp, and since we’re all still hungry, go have our second meal of the night. This place was much nicer; it was cleaner, the ambiance was more relaxed, the menu was larger, and the hospitality was better. Carlos, I believe that was his name, was very sweet and flattering towards me. Note, I am not favoring myself, I was merely the only one who had time to get dressed and put makeup on, so this was the reason why I was getting so much attention. He calls me Salma Hayek and stares profusely (I’m always getting compared to dark haired celebrities with dark features). Caitlin snaps her fingers in his face and demands he pays attention to her as she needs to order. I absolutely love her; she will always say and do exactly what’s on her mind. The girls and I have a very lively/ crude conversation that may have been a couple sound levels too high, and may have gotten us some dirty/ amused looks from other tables.
By the end of the meal, we are exhausted and still have quite a trek home. Carlos gives me a wet kiss on the cheek and we are on our way. On the walk home, freakin Angel pops out of nowhere! Does this guy just lurk in corners waiting for prey/ tourists? He is adamant on getting an answer from us and then indicates to sleep on it, and just let him tour us around Havana (tip only) to essentially gain his trust. We agree to meet at the same spot by the hotel, head home, and finally pass out after a LONG day. Now the real question is; Angel…angel or devil?