Cuba has been on my bucket list ever since my middle school project on the Cuban missile crisis, a brief moment in time when the world was on brink of a nuclear war. Imagine my reaction when President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations after fifty plus years. Airlines celebrated by offering ridiculously low direct flights out of Newark so of course I took advantage especially since it was unclear what the policies would be under the new administration.
As I was booking my flight, I had to choose under which of the 12 reasons was the purpose of my visit. Initially, I was unsure because of the restrictions on Americans but I found a lot of people were able to go on their own. I picked “support for the Cuban people” because I figured I would be essentially contributing to their economy by staying in air bnbs and eating locally. Technically you need to go through a tour but those are ridiculously expensive with restrictions. I bought my visa at the gate for $75 the day of and had no issues.
The moment I stepped into Havana airport, I knew I was in for a real treat. There was only a ceiling fan to relieve the humidity and our luggages were being casually brought up the belt that looked as if it would malfunction at any moment. I asked an airport staff after waiting an eternity (or so it seemed to a Jersey girl) and he replied nonchalantly with a smile”don’t worry, you’re in Cuba!”.
Yes, indeed. It was as if time had stopped and no one was is in a rush to do anything. As a notoriously lazy individual, I was down with that. If you’re glued to your phone, you will be sorely disappointed as wifi is very difficult to find even if you pay for it. You can’t get Google maps to navigate your way through town let alone Snapchat with our favorite filters. Therefore you guys can’t rely on Snap to get rid of those blemishes. This also means it’s difficult to communicate with Air B&B hosts or tour operators as they are unable to check emails regularly.
They made us fill out a bunch of paperwork during the flight but no one collected it so I assume it’s all for bureaucratic show. Once you leave baggage claims, make a right and enter in the departing section to exchange money. Foreigners use CUC which stands for Cuban Convertible Pesos where $1 is equal to 1 CUC.
Here’s the catch – American dollars get taxed roughly 13 percent so you end up with .87 CUC for every dollar. That’s not even the worst part- you get taxed again converting unused CUC back to American dollars. Cuban currency isn’t traded internationally so you can’t get it before you arrive. Your best bet is to convert American dollars to Canadian dollars before you arrive since CAD doesn’t get the extra surcharge.
Planning the trip took extra time, especially with limited resources on Cuba, but it was well worth it. Having no internet allowed us the opportunity to chill on the balcony in Old Havana and people watch while our family and friends were worrying over our safety (sorry Mom). The people are extremely friendly so it wasn’t too difficult to navigate with limited Spanish. To be honest, it was refreshing to be away from technology. People there are so laid back and there was plenty of good vibes all around. There was no moment I felt unsafe; except for the time I went scuba diving in the Bay of Pigs but that’s a completely different matter.