Misadventures in Havana
A border run to extend my visa takes a bad turn. With no money or place to stay, what else could possibly go wrong?
The fact there is one photo in this album sums up my trip to Cuba, or more precisely Havana. The misadventure started in Cancúun airport, where, after making sure I left work early to be at the airport on time, I was told my flight would be delayed by nine hours, and that wasn’t all Cubana de Aviación Aviacón had to offer… No, no, they also decided that I had in fact never booked my flight in the first place.
Ten hours and $300 USD later I touch down in José Martíi International Airport where I’m greeted by a number of tiny taxi drivers. I choose the most honest looking one and tell him to take me downtown. It was the most authentic experience I could have hoped for and certainly topped the next five days. We chugged into Centro Habana in his 60 year old car, windows down, smokes at hand, watching Saturday night life go by in slow motion. Locals congregated in the dark streets, drinking, singing, dancing like only Cubans can. American cars from the 1940s and 50s dominated the roads and grand buildings such as El Capitolio illuminated parts of the city.
Since I thought I was arriving during the day and wanted to keep my options open, I had decided not to book accommodation ahead of time. My taxi driver kindly called all his contacts throughout the city looking for a place for me to stay for the night. We eventually found one of the only mamasitas still awake at 4am and after a much- needed rum or two, I put myself to bed.
I’ll sum up the next 24 hours in brief: I was mugged by three men, my bank inexplicably blocked my card, I stupidly spent my last $160 USD on internet coupons at the Hotel Habana Libre (when a simple phone call to the bank would have made sense… I blame my millenailismmillennialism). I felt completely stranded for a moment. But my fortunes quickly turned when a man jumped out of an alley, waving jazz hands at me before offering to help. He organised a phone call to my bank from the concierge office at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where I ended up bumping into Chris Tarrant from the UK’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire before enjoying a splendid rum with my new- found money. My night ended with being chaperoned from one party to the next by the ambassador to Serbia in her 1970s Mercedes. In that moment I felt cool. My father arrived the next morning with a bag of cash and I was immediately brought back to reality. I had failed on this solo trip.
All in all, I didn’t have the best travel experience in Cuba. I do however have a number of stories which I will forever cherish. At the time of originally writing this in my travel diary I had noted that this awkward relationship with the curious Caribbean island wasn’t over, and that I would one day be back to conquer Havana.
To an extent that was true when The Ink Collective was sent on an assignment in early 2019 for Refugee Transitions Magazine. Although I can’t say I conquered anything, I did at least manage to get out of Havana this time. But that’s a whole other story....
By Rhodri Jones