Welcome to Cuba – with the Sardinan flag!
There are things in life you would like to do more than anything else, but you always think it’s not the right time and so you keep postponing them…The desire to do them though, keeps coming back and with more intensity each time. You try to find a valid reason to push it back and a valid justification to confirm your choice. It’s not always possible to find it anyhow and so…you need to decide!
And then it happens that because of a challenge or because you are just joking around, we are booking a flight to a place where time has stopped: Cuba!
Cuba is geographically the largest island of the Caribbean’s, just eighty miles south of the Keys Island but there are more than eighty years that separate Cuba from the near coastline of the United States. Departure is as usual from Rome-Fiumicino airport with L’Avana International Airport as our final destination. We leave early in the morning for Paris and in less than six hours we are thrown in a reality where reason and “filthy lucre” are not the only things to rules the world. Cuba is a unique experience that puts together not only nature and Caribbean rhythms but also human qualities that are becoming more and more rare amongst people. It is also everything you can think of it, but what sticks to your mind with more intensity is the will for socializing, participating, living together and …sharing.
But let’s proceed with order….
We knew it was not going to be a trip like any other. Cuba is not just a voyage in space but also a real voyage back in time. The feelings were different from the ones we have during previous vacations and often conflicting. The time of departure is usually the more exciting moment, charged with adrenaline…this time is different though…yes, we are euphoric…but there is a little fear in the air…mostly because we think we may be subject to unwanted attentions…we fear we might do something wrong and find ourselves in trouble…We are afraid of what Cuba represents, as even if Fidel Castro is not longer in power it’s still a dictatorship that rules the island.
The trip had been carefully planned and we had decided to tour the island starting from the capital and moving towards the south. We had gathered all the information from all different web sources and we had read we did not need any medical insurance or a tourist visa to enter the country since they could be purchased upon our arrival.
Monday, December 3rd we reach the check in counter at the airport with our passport and a lot of enthusiasm. The flight attendant asks us “ Where are you guys going?” Costantino, Mariangela and I utter in unison: “CUBA”.
“Perfect, just give me your passports”. We do not hesitate and give her all the papers. After few seconds we hear her saying “Guys…you need the visa to go to Cuba…I don’t’ see it…where is it?” A chilling sensation runs through our bones and our faces turn pale “THE VISA???? Actually we knew we could purchase it in loco along with the insurance once we arrive at destination….”. The operator is inflexible “You can’t leave without the Visa” The anxiety was growing and our dreams of glory were going to end before they even started. “Ma’am…what can we do now?” “You can see it they still sell them at Terminal 2. There’s a travel agency that may still have some…” We look at each other, say good-bye and carrying our luggage along, we run towards T2 looking for the Visa. The agency is open …and luckily they still have some “permits” in the safe.
We go back to T1 with the biggest smile on our faces, back with the same operator and after all the formalities we board our plane to Paris. This is not the best way to start a trip but it’s just the beginning of a long series of unforeseen events that with accompany us to Santiago de Cuba on December 12th! The flight are just perfect: no delays and after all, quite comfortable. We reach the “Jose Martin International Airport” in L’Avana at sunset. As soon as we leave the terminal, the Caribbean heat envelops our bodies! Awesome!! The first obstacle we need to overcome is finding a cab to take us to our first accommodation: Miriam Sole’s casa particulares. Yes, this is something where Cuba is also different from other places. There are casas particulares that are nothing but some sort of B&B where the guests share the owner’s home. To tell the truth, we were quite skeptical if going or not but traveling, according to us, means to be able to empathize with local people and their cultural habits, or one end up spending their time in one of those all inclusive tourist place that look exactly the same all over the world. Our group is quite united under this point of view: visiting a foreign country is also try to understand their people…observe their customs and traditions, appreciate their food, admire their arts and crafts and least but not last, understand their way of living.
We are at the airport and Costantino shows off his fluent Spanish and starts bargaining with the ‘official’ cab drivers, who are just a handful and ask us for a exorbitant amount of money to reach the downtown area. We walk away from the arrival terminal and approach a green truck that sales hotdogs to ask the owner if there is anybody available to drive us. Of course there is!! A young man, who looks much older than his 28 years of age, tell us he can do it for a fist of pesos. Great! Deal! We follow the very happy man and after one hundred meters he shows us is racing car: a Fiat Uno from early 90’s! AWESOME!!!
We get in the car: four people and luggage everywhere! The way of driving the typical Cuban style: aggressive and without any rules!! The way from the airport to the city center is a whirlwind of emotions: even if the sun is setting we can still observe our surroundings. We are excited to see those old American car from the early 50’s…those one we can see in the Al Capone’s movies. It’s incredible, it feels like been in a film! The very colorful and huge automobiles are everywhere in spite of the European antipollution laws. In less than thirty minutes our friend tell us the story of his life…and immediately we get the idea Cubans are quite expansive and, amazed by the fact that the FIAT UNO is very appreciated amongst the population, we finally enter the city limits. We look at the skyline with worry and astonishment, such a different view than what we are used to. L’Avana seems dark and dirty…and in the darkness all the buildings around us look very bad kept and in ruins.
Time has come to a stop in Cuba
The excitement is slowly diminishing and anxiety is taking its place “where are we???”…and then we reach out destination.
We are lodging in one f the main streets of the city. We buzz the intercom and a woman in her fifties lets us in to show us our apartment. It’s on the second floor accessible from a very steep staircase but the rooms are big, clean and respectable. She gives us the keys and asks us what we would like for breakfast the next morning. So nice these Cubans though!! We have the time for a quick show and then decide to go for an evening walk when we meet two youngsters who immediately capture our attention and take us to a bar where we pay an outrageous amount of money for five cocktails. It is our first night and we didn’t even think we could meet two “jineteras”, who are young people using all different techniques to get money from tourist, even by ordering drinks at a higher price so they can get a commission from the bartender…this is also a way of making a living in Cuba.