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The second week in Cuba was just as good as the first if not even better since by that point we were slightly more familiar with the country and got to experience even more of what the island had to offer.
Our group had one of the most optimistic itineraries: The plan was to head to Cienfuegos for a couple of hours on Sunday before making our way to Trinidad for the night. Monday would also be spent in Trinidad before we leave for Santa Lucia on Tuesday morning. Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning would be spent in Santa Lucia and Wednesday afternoon we would head to Santiago for our final couple days. On Friday we would head to the Santiago airport for a domestic flight to Havana before taking our flight back to Paris later that night.
Granted it was intense, but somehow up until Friday morning the plan worked pretty well. On Sunday after the whole car rental mixup we left Varadero around 2pm and made our way to Cienfuegos. The road was pretty cool and passed through several villages giving us an idea about the lives of so many Cubans. Arriving in Cienfuegos we got to enjoy the town for a few minutes before the rain greeted us. This didn’t stop us from walking around what has now become a ghost town given the crazy weather. My favorite part was randomly running into two of our friends who had left Varadero sometime in the AM and decided to take the bus.
After the pitstop in Cienfuegos, we made our way to Trinidad where we checked into our casa particular. A casa particular is basically an Airbnb before Airbnb was created. Nowadays, after the Obama visit to Cuba, Airbnb finally opened for Cuba and you can find a lot of casas on the Airbnb website. The rooms we rented were located in a cute little house with a small terrace right in the middle of town. The lady managing the house was super nice and the breakfast and dinner (for which we paid extra) was as delicious as can be; seriously, better than any restaurant food. My favorite part about Cuban cuisine is all the fresh seafood I got to consume during my two weeks there, and the fact that lobster is cheaper than in any other country I’ve travelled to. Sunday night, we met at the main square with the rest of the class who had made it to Trinidad that day and got to enjoy some outdoors music and salsa dancing.
Monday morning, some of us decided to go on a hike to a waterfall which was short and worth it. However, midway through the hike, we were randomly stopped by a man standing with a little sign and asking for the entrance fee. Apparently, that’s the way it’s done in Cuba. You get charged for going on a hike midway through it and chances are you will not say no because you’re so close to the end and actually want to finish it. Oh, the Cuban ways….After the hike we met with the rest of our group and headed to the beach for a relaxing afternoon.
Tuesday marked our longest drive; we left Trinidad in the AM and made our way to Playa St. Lucia with a pitstop in Camaguay for lunch. Arriving in Camaguay was crazy; there was too much traffic (compared to what we had seen in Cuba up until then) and way too many bikes trying to guide (or more like push) you places you didn’t want to go. At that point we were all just happy to park the car for an hour and walk around town which turned out to be really nice.
Arriving in Santa Lucia later that evening we were greeted with yet another Cuban surprise. We had originally rented out two rooms on Airbnb. That morning we attempted to call both to confirm but only one picked up. Arriving in Santa Lucia we headed to that one first: turns out the guy had given our room away since we didn’t arrive on time (whatever on time meant for him, since we really didn’t decide on a time when we called him that morning). The other room turned out to be in a house which exists; however, the lady managing the house hadn’t heard about Airbnb and didn’t expect us. The good news is that we were in a tiny beach town in Cuba, which meant that everyone knows everyone, so within half an hour we had two new rooms rented out and got to enjoy a nice seafood dinner followed by rum, cigars and a dominos game.
Wednesday morning greeted us with rain, but that didn’t stop three of us from deciding to go on a dive (I mean how many times are you going to be in Cuba?!). Thankfully though, the weather opened up a couple hours later when it was actually time to jump into the water. Since we hadn’t booked early, the dive center offered my two friends and I to take us on a wreck dive that didn’t require us to get on a boat. Honestly, better for me: no boat ride = i.e. no sea sickness & a smaller group plus the idea of a wreck dive is always cool. And it truly was. The wreck was super old, and really cool, and the colors surrounding it absolutely gorgeous with clear visibility.
After meeting up with the rest of the group and grabbing yet another delicious lunch at a random casa, we slowly made our drive to Santiago. The beginning of that drive was crazy; the road was not an actual road, and we were constantly interrupted by random animals, but we made it!! With good friends, music, weather and thoughts, all is possible. 😛
Arriving in Santiago a little after sunset, we were greeted with a gorgeous casa. A big colonial house with gigantic rooms = We were happy.
Thursday was our only full day in Santiago, so we split up in groups. I decided to join those who went to explore the big church close to Santiago and then went to the fortress close to the city. Gorgeous views from both locations! Afterwards, my group returned the rental cars and made our way to town to meet up with the others for lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around town and chilling before we went out for one final time in Cuba. Passing by stores in town, I was reminded once again how different Cuba was from the rest of the countries I’ve been to. There were so few options!! At one point we passed by one store where they had shelves and shelves stocked up with the only ONE shampoo brand they have, and it wasn’t even affordable!!
Friday morning we made our way to the airport and arrived there at 11AM. Once checkin opened at 11.30, we were all standing in the chaotic line and slowly made our way to the front. At this point I was thinking: “Man, people told us, we wouldn’t be able to do it, but everything went by pretty smoothly…” I need to learn to stop thinking these thoughts because guess what happened next… Three of us checked in before we made our way to the security point. At this point we still expected our plane to take off at 1.30PM arriving in Havana at 4PM, where we would spent 5 hours before we take our plane to Madrid at 9pm. Some of us even wanted to leave the airport in Havana and go to town for a bit. But things don’t always go according to plan, do they? At the security point we found out that our plane was delayed till 3.50PM. We tried to stay calm telling ourselves that this would still leave us with ample time for our trip home later on. But somehow over the course of the afternoon, the plane kept being pushed back before we finally all of a sudden boarded the plane at 4 and left 15 minutes after. All was good now, no? I mean we were in the air heading to Havana, right? Wrong. Midway through the flight, the pilot mumbles something in Spanish and I turn to Juanjo to figure out what just went on. Oh nothing much, there’s some storm in Havana, so we can’t land there. Instead we will be landing in some random airport in some random Cuban island waiting for the storm to pass by. Gotta hand it to them, they picked an airport with nice views during landing.
Arriving in Cayo Largo, some of my friends were freaking out. It’s funny to think that I’m usually the one freaking out, but somehow this time I was just laughing it out. Granted I didn’t want to miss my flight, and granted I didn’t want to pay a few hundred bucks to return to Europe on my own, but I mean at this point I felt like whatever’s meant to happen will happen, and so I waited. I’m still really happy that some of my friends took charge and tried reaching out to the rest of our group in Havana because nobody from the airline or the airport seemed to care enough to do anything. The rest of our class who was already in Havana told us that their plane also got delayed and that we still had hope of making it. So we kept our fingers crossed…
An hour or so after we landed, they asked us to board again; this time we were finally making our way to Havana. 40 minutes later, we were in the Havana airport, but of course given our luck, we realized that we’ve landed in the domestic airport and that it was a taxi ride away from the international one. At that point, it was already 8.20PM. Check in for the other flight, we were told, would be closing at 8.30pm and we were yet to pick up our luggage. So once again, we decided not to give up. Two of us took all of our passports and decided to rush to the check in area for the other flight. The rest of us would be waiting for the luggage and would rush to the airport afterwards.
So we waited and waited for everyone’s bags, and everytime three of us had their bags, they would rush out of the airport and onto a cab. I was in the last group who received their bags and made their way to the international airport. Oh man. We got there and by that time Juanjo and Raissa had checked us all in, and somehow even managed to get us all BUSINESS CLASS TICKETS!!!!!! How is that even possible? Well, the answer is 1) They’re awesome 2)The people at the counter wanted a tip. hahaha
15 minutes after we’ve arrived at the airport, we had passed security and were reunited with the rest of the class. Our plane (originally scheduled for 9pm) did not leave until 11.30pm or so, but we didn’t care. We were just happy to have made it!
Business class was as awesome as we expected it to be, and two of us (including me) hit the double jackpot and were even upgraded for the second flight.
What a day, What a week, What a trip. #forevergrateful for the things I learned, the friendships I made, and the travels I got to experience over the last two weeks.
Until the next time,