It is not the prettiest report but here it is ( especially with notepad formatting.
Check in with AA. Had to give the address of the place we were staying in Havana.I bypassed the 10% government charge for dollars by using some Euros. Also there is a 3% exchange fee. So the American $ will take a 13% hit at money exchanges here.
Money exchange at the MIA airport was charging $1.24 per Euro. Bank at home was charging $1.09 per Euro.
So it is better to get the Euros at a home bank.
Getting ready for the MIA to Havana leg of the trip. The Cuba Ready's mobile booth was not at our gate when we arrived. So I seen it at another gate and went over
there to check in early and beat the crowd. We were the only ones so showing our boarding pass, passports and Cuba travel card/visa got
an immediate stamp on our boarding pass making us ready to board.
Had to fill out several forms on the plane. A customs card, health card, tourist card/visa and card for embarkation. There were about 20 immigration booths all
manned. Took about 10 minutes to go through all the immigration process. Even if you are traveling with your spouse you have to go through the immigration check solo.
I seen a cordoned off area in the immigration hall where there was a nurse at a table , and there were 2 video cameras on tripods. Don't know what this was for as I
didn't see anything happening there, maybe where you buy health insurance. Then there was another line, a table on each side with 2 nurses each collecting the health
cards. One looked at me and waved me and the wife through without collecting the health card. On to collect the luggage. there were 2 turnstiles. One for another
flight the other for ours. It took aan electrician about 10 minutes to get ours started. Luggage came out at a trickel. After 30 minutes my wife went to the other
turnstile to see if our luggage was there. No not yet , but after 15 minutes it did arrive at the turnstile the wife was at. On to customs. The line was short, manned
by 1 person that collected the customs form ( 1 per family).
Out side was our taxi driver with a sign with my name. Walked to his taxi that had most of it's parts. 1 window crank shared for all windows. The money exchange
outside the arrival area had a long line. So the taxi driver took us to the national airport where there was no line at the money exchange. The taxi ride was $25 CUC
and 30 minutes from the airport to our apartment in the Old Havana area.
I booked the apartment through Airbnb. In Cuba thay have what the call "casas particulares" which I take to mean private houses. There were about 350 to choose from
in Havana. So after the wife picking what ever she liked and I narrowed the choices down to the area I wanted we ended up with this one. And this ended up a very
Our apartment was at Muralla 66e, Apt #3. between oficios and Mercadres, Havana Vieja, Cuba. Owned and operated by Joel and Ailen, phone +53-78012920, +53-52544706,
+53-52940403, Airbnb listing # 17302030 under Claudia Placeres ( as she handles the weblistings for many)
During our stay a girl from California came to stay in the other bedroom. Two older ladies showed up to ask if they had room for them to stay for 3 days ( no
reservations). A couple came for the back apartment, he from England, she from Peru (honeymoon). Several people came to view the apartments and ask about
reservations during our stay.
The taxi pulled up to where there was verticle old cannons that blocked the street and parked. We exited the taxi and both our jaws dropped. This was a very low
maintence area. The taxidriver then took us on a 3 block walk to where we are staying. It was quite a bit better but we were still giving each other looks as the
maintence on the front of the building was minimal. The front and hallway seem to be a common area so if money is spent on the building it is on the owners
appartments first. Apparently a first floor apartment is on the first floor above street level businesses. So up the stairs we went ( taxi driver had the luggage).
Our room was as pictured on Airbnb, very clean, recently remodeled. Our hosts are very nice and live in this apartment too. We have a seperat lockable entry door to
out part. I guess the entrance area is a common ground area so the people that live here don't spend much repairing that part.
OUT and ABOUT
A half a block from our apartment is Plaza Viejo. WOW The archetecture of the surrounding buildings is remarkable. Even the ones in disrepair. Many bars and
restaurants in this area. Most have live music and singers. Some have seating inside, some have seating outside on the plaza, some are theme bars ( ie Coca Cola,
Harley Davidson). A super evening listening to music, drinking and eating appetizers. Rhum drinks are $3 to $4 each. The best Pina colida I ever had was at the bar
next to the Museo de Ron. Did look at some of the hotels close too, very upscale. Seen some nice stores to do some shopping. There are many new cars here, Mercedes,
Kia and Hundai to go along with the "old" cars. Groups of tourists everywhere.
Many forums said there was not much shopping. We have found lots of places to shop. High end stores to a huge warehouse that has literally hundreds of individual
booths that sell everything. Also some that will exchange dollars for CUC's at a pretty good exchange rate. I got .95 to $1 at one shop.
There are many ways to see Havana. By foot, by negociated taxi, horse drawn buggy, tour bus 3 wheeled bycycle, Coco taxi etc. There are huge old beautiful Churches.
We did a tour of a mock up 1930's Havana Ron distillery calles Museo de Ron ($7 pp, different tour time are spoken in different languages). English is spoken in
most places as is other languages. Many people that offer the bed and breakfast rooms are taking English classes at night. I have seen tourists from France, Norway,
India, basically from all over the world.
Shopping at Avineda Obispo. Mojitos at the bar Hemmingway drank mojitos, Bodegita del Medio AND Daquaries at El Floridita where daquaries were born and also where
Hemmingway drank daquaries. Negociated a city tour in an old car, $40. Many were parked acrossed the street from Hotel Plaza. The tour got extended so the taxi
driver wanted $20 more. We went inside the Paza Hotel where there were a tour information center. We tried to get a hotel for 1 night at Vedadero beach. the hotels
there are all inclusive. And was told no availability, I think there is a 3 day minimum. But there is a day tour available for $75 per person from Hotel Plaza. That
means 4+ hours for transportation which would make a long day. So after some discussion with the owner of the apartment we are staying at. We are hiring an old car
driver to drive us there ($110 1 way) and will try to rent a room on arrival. Then come back the next day. Supposidly there is alot of things to do there in the
Off at 8 AM the the Verdado beach area in a deisel 1959 Rambler. 2 1/2 hour ride. We must have see at least 100 new tour busses between the cruiseship pier here in
Havana and Verdado. First hotel we didn't get past the entrance security who said that the hotel was booked up( was told there is 53 all inclusive hotels in this
area). Went to a second hotel, Tuxpan, all inclusive, $244 for 1 night. Got checked in in time to catch the breakfast buffet before it closed. Lunch and dinner was
about the same. They had some chefs at the grill prepairing , a fish fillet, marinated beef, and found out later some turkey ( all gone at the first lunch). Liked the
beach area, drinks were good, and the nights entertainment was excelent. That is where the good stopped. Only 1 elevator worked. It didn't go to the 4th floor ( our
floor)4 th floor buttons were gone. The rest of the food was terrible. I made some bread and butter for the first breakfast and when ate had a horrible taste in my
mouth. It was the butter from individual packet servings. I tried again for the dinner as this butter was served from a large bowl so I thought it would be
different. No, the same. The best I could figure out it was made from sour milk, if that is possible. Found out later that renting a house short term is available.
Anyhow, the blankets in the room smelled as if they haven't been washed in a while. The hotel had an odor too the wife said. I wasn't so sure. But she made the
comment at the front desk and they told her the smell was only in the hallways which wasn't true. She wouldn't go back to the room to get the suitcases because the
smell had her stomach upset. So we ordered a cab early to leave. The man at the cab station said it was the smell from the refinery. All I know is the air was
fresher outside than inside. Rode in a new Yellow Cab (a Greely brand made in China)back to Old Havana, $80. One note, most of the guests were from Europe. We did
talk to one couple from Costa Rica. At the grill where the hot food was prepaired I saw tip money laying next to the grill. It was all in dollars.
Seen three cruiseships coming into port on the way back and passing the port there was one in dock.
Cleaned up went back to the Vitrola for a good lunch and listen to some live music.
Low keyed day. Took a bicycle taxi back to Avineda de Obispo for $3 to exchange a shirt. Obispo was very busy today with tourisa. Maybe for the cruiseship in. Took
a Cocotaxi ( $10 but I think he gouged us) back to the warehouse where there was all the booths for the vendors. Seen the best prices here for cigars ( for my
friends) the shop had the best prices I seen for the Havana ron. Wife bought souvineres for her friends. ie $30 for a large leather purse. As for leather items,
there is sheep leather and there is cow leather, so be an informed shopper. Anyhow ended up again to the Havana Rom bar next to the Havana Ron museum. This place
has the best pina colodias I ever had. Also always live music. Now back to the apartment whre my wife prepaired food from Colombia for all to eat.
Nothing special planned. We went to the meat market to buy some pork for the wife to prepair. We returned to the apartment where she called a woman in to do here
fingernails. It seemed like it was going to be a womans day in the apartment so the owner and I went restaurant/bar hopping
on Obispo and O'reilly Ave.
Wrapping things up for the trip back home. The host is prepairing breakfast in the open air kitchen. I am sitting on the patio listening to the rooster down the
block crow and wondering what adventure today will bring.
BITS AND RAMBLINGS
Local money, the CUP, which is the money the local people use cannot be spent on beef. In the peoples market pork is tha mainstay and some chicken in the can. The
local people have ration cards given per month. A months allotment of potatoes is 5 pounds. I think as the tourism industry is growing there is going too be more
CUC's in the hands of the local people. So this will open up more options for them.
Don't drink the water. Bottled water is readily available.
Most the tourists have a Cuba travel guide from Lonely Planet.
Was told a tough time for Cuba was when the USSR in 1993 stopped sending support to Cuba and Venzuela. There was no food on the island then and many people died of
Wife had fake nails put on and here toenails painted $11
The family that lives here, father , mother and 9 year old daughter and grandma that stops by to help with the cooking, shows sooo much love for each other. What a
Knowing Spanish is not necessary BUT knowing a little will help. Don't count on using a translation App on your cell phone as internet is spotty.
As for tipping. I really didn't see much but was told 10% was really appreciated. The muscians at the restaurants and bars had someone come arround at the last song
before break selling CD's and passing the tip box. Just for curosity I did tip a little to few waiters. There face looked suprised and very happy. Many of the
salaries are made by kick backs. So someone always has a friend for a tour , taxi etc. So expect this as it is "normal".
Went again to the large warehouse with the booths near the cruiseship pier. Lots of leather goods. $30 for a large tooled leather purse. $20 for bongo drums, 2 pair
maraccas, and 3 or 4 other souvineers. $20 for 4 small leather , name engraved leather pouches. Small girls dress with some hand embrodery for $13. 2 Cuban style
shirts $25 each. There were also 1000's of hand painted paintings for sale. Only had one booth that sold Cuban cigars, Romeo & Juliet small $20 for a box, 2 regular
size cigars called Belindas, $5 each. this booth also had a good price on Club Havana Rom.
Said goodbyes. A Mercedes mini van was the taxi to the airport ,30 minutes ride , $30 cost but was reduced to $25. Maybe because the driver and I talked about his
Operation Blessing international T-shirt he had on. You should get to the airport 2 1/2 hours before the flight. I seen an ATM in the airport. It dispensed CUP and
CUC in small denominations. AA had 4 main checkin lines 2 manned, tooked over an hour to checkin, and 2 priority boarding lines both manned never a line. Next to AA
was 6 Jet blue chekin lines all manned , never seen a line. there was 17 lines for immigration embarkaion, all manned, short lines. You will need your passport AND
your stamped travel card/visa. Security screening was quick, maybe 5 minutes in total. About half the travelers failed the first machine screening so they were
wanded down ( kinda). Off to our gate B-10. No plane was there. Looked up on the departure board it said B-15. B-14 and B-15 gates are in the lower level AND not
marked. The passangers were herded on to a bus. The bus took off drove about a block did a U turn and parked at the stairway to enter the plane. This was 50 feet
from the back door of the bus when leaving. I am still scratching my head on that one. It took 20 minutes to fill the bus and stow the carry on's. It would have
took 3 minutes to walk from the B-15 gate to the stairs for the airplane.
Arrived at CLT a little early. Immigration was quick. We were the only international flight in at the time. We were all waved past the kiosks to immigration
officers, 10 minute wait on luggage, short customs line. Whole process took 20 minutes. At no time was I asked "What was the purpose of your visit".
Now the last leg of the trip and tomorrow to put out a weeks worth of fires at work.
THAT'S ALL FOLKS