My brother and I went to Cuba for the first time and our friend from New Jersey, Cha met us there. Our mother is Cuban, so it was our first time visiting the “motherland”. Our flight from Dallas had a connection in Miami. Our flight out of Dallas was delayed for two hours. When we arrived in Miami, we had to pick up our bags and head out to the front ticket counter designated for Cuba travel. There we saw Cubans in line with all of their check-ins covered with shrink wrap. We asked the person next to us why so many packages were tightly wrapped in plastic. He told us that family members typically take back hard-to-find items to their loved ones in Cuba.
We were able to purchase our Visa for $100 and arrange to get on the next available flight to Havana.
The flight from Miami to Cuba was less than an hour. Insane. On the plane, we had to fill out several documents, customs, medical, etc. When we arrived, the airport was nice and clean, but very out-dated. It was interesting to note that most of the female employees wore short skirts and elaborate black stockings.
Once we passed all the check points and got our bags, there were several taxi drivers with signs to greet guests. Since our flight was late, we had no taxi reserved. We joined the line for Currency Exchange, then secured one of the many taxi drivers for a 30 CUC ride into the city. (Our hosts at the Casa Particular knew a driver who would take us for 25 CUC).
We had pleasant conversation with the taxi driver. It helped that we could say that our mother was Cuban and it was our first time visiting. But each driver was helpful and eager for Spanish conversation. He took us to the hostel we had reserved and the homeowner, Manuel met us at the door.
The exterior of the house was quite deteriorated, like most of Cuba. But the sun was setting, so it wasn’t terribly noticeable. The house was on the 3rd floor and the narrow marble stairwell was dark and dingy. As an American, visiting for the first time, I had a moment of “oh my, what did I get myself into”. But once we entered the house, it was as bright and welcoming as the Airbnb – Hostal El Salvador pictures presented it to be.
The homeowners, Iraida and Manuel, were sweet and welcoming. It felt as though we had arrived at an aunt and uncle’s house. Our friend, Cha, had arrived earlier and was waiting for us.
We got settled in, called our mother’s cousin, Fernando Carr Parua and headed out to meet him for the evening. Fernando and Mora lived about 10 blocks from our Aibnb, so it was about a 15 minute walk. We arrived after 8pm, so the elevator was turned off and we had to take the marble staircase up the 6 flights to his floor. In almost every building, the ceilings are at least 15 feet tall, so a flight of stairs is quite high. The hallways were dark and dingy but when we entered Fernando and Mora’s home, it was warm and inviting. They made us our first true Cuban cafecitos.
Fernando showed us his library, where he has items aged beyond belief. His IBM typewriter, the fan, all working products still today. Old encyclopedias and dictionaries he refers to as needed. After a quick tour and refreshments, we were on our way to tour Old Habana. As we left the house, sweet Mora warned us: “If you get tired, send him home – Fernando will be out all night if you let him!”
We headed out to the nearest bus stop. Cuban locals travel on public buses as much as possible. Each bus was packed with couples out to celebrate Valentine’s Day, old ladies and genltmen who were ready to get home and workers who were exhausted from a day of laboring.
But we were out to see the city! Fernando proudly showed us highlights of the beautiful city and took a quick break for some Cuban pizza before ending out delightful first evening in Cuba.