Having flown in from Mexico City, we stay on the runway for over an hour, waiting for one of only five docking spaces. When we finally disembark, it’s into yet another long queue for immigration. I have my prescriptions and insurance policy handy since I am expecting a search for imported drugs, or proof of my ability to look after my health without using up local resources, but no-one even bothers looking at me.
A rather dingy feel to the old terminal, but apart from that it functions pretty much like any other airport in the world. Once we’ve retrieved our bags, we walk out into the main hall looking for someone wielding a placard with my name. There she is, a buxom young Cubana with mobile phone. In my very rusty and stunted Spanish, I manage to make myself known, and she bids us wait – not sure quite what’s going to happen next, but I am assuming we are waiting for a group all going together.
W and S go outside to change some money, and join the first of many queues here in Cuba. I realise that our wait on the tarmac was just the first introduction to Cuba – it seems anywhere of transactional importance to us (bank, pharmacy, telecommunications) invariably has about 40 people milling about waiting to transact. When they finally come back with cash, another buxom local lady leads us to her taxi and off we go to Casa 1932, where we are to find our accommodation: Casa Arloy.
On our arrival, we are greeted warmly and in English by our host, Luis Miguel, who bids us sit down and brings us a welcome cold beer – it’s soooo hot….
It appears Casa Arloy is not available but he is the local casa fixer, so he has found us another place, which by his estimation is much nicer, since it’s around the corner from Casa 1932 in Centro. He gives us a run-down of things in Cuba, and suggests for our travels that he can recommend a hire taxi for the duration: 130 cuc per day (US$130): a door to door service with detours all inclusive.
We confer, and decide that’s a very attractive option – better than lugging baggage to and from bus stops, and to and from accommodation. I’m afraid I am way past the back-pack stage, and even with wheels my bags are heavy going. And Luis Miguel is a good entrepreneur; he’s a born salesman.
Luis also puts at our disposal the services of his casa particulares association. This affiliation of ‘home-stay’ houses has a co-ordinator in all the main towns, who will arrange accommodation for our next stop on the journey. So all we have to do is decide where we want to go, stay as many days as we want, and then move on to the next casa. Sounds ideal, since we don’t really have an itinerary planned, and want to stay as flexible as possible. It’s now 8pm, so we are keen to dump our luggage, and take a walk and then retire.
Our hostess at Casa Gloria is Jumi, and she’s here to guide us to her place – up a marble staircase, in through a door that you could take a horse through, and we are shown our rooms in this formerly grand house. Air conditioning and en suites for all rooms, and we are happy for the next few days…