December 09, 2013

"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Days 11 & 12: But why is the rum gone?

November 16, 2013
It was our last day in Cuba, and thanks to Air Cubana's multi-hour delay, we had some time. We set our with no real plan. We walked toward the capitol, which is the same as ours but a little bigger, with palm trees and classic cars surrounding it. It looks like a bizarro world set piece--it could be the US capitol after some serious climate change, or in an alternate reality.

The capitol building as seen from taxi #2.

We also saw the whole building or two that constitute Chinatown, and the bar where Hemingway drank. The most famous one anyway--Husband and I have a theory that any bar of a certain age can make the claim that Hemingway drank there. I was also told that there's a bar down the street advertising the fact that Hemingway didn't drink there, but we didn't pass that one. At any rate, this is purportedly the bar where Hemingway invented the daiquiri, though the idea of him sipping a daiquiri doesn't compute in my head any more than does his bidet.

There's Hemingway's liquor, between the granny chairs
and under the taxidermy.

Then we came to a street lined with old cars most of which are taxis. We chose our favorite, like selecting a lobster to eat, and took it out to the Plaza de la Revolucion, otherwise known as the place with the giant Che and Fidel faces. The centerpiece of the square is the Jose Marti memorial, which we couldn’t go up in because the lift was broken. We determined that without being able to go up in the tower, the museum wasn't worth the price, and so I confess I still don't know who Jose Marti is. It's on my list!

Taxi #1.

After taking many pictures with Fidel and Che, we picked another taxi—a convertible this time--and went back to Plaza des Armas, where people sell trinkets and books and coins. We ate a very slow but pleasingly adequate lunch there, did quick shopping, and went back to the hotel to catch the bus to go to the airport to leave. I know I didn’t want to. Overall I loved our time in Cuba, and yes, I would definitely go back.

Hanging with Che.

Getting to Cancun was easy. The Cubans let us leave; after determining that we were still ourselves a whole week later, we passed through to the gate and tried to spend our remaining CUCs at the duty-free shop and snack bar. The duty-free shop, however, was an exercise in sadness. Rows and rows of rum, coffee, and other things I couldn’t bring back no matter how I wanted to. If you find yourself at the airport with extra CUCs, try asking one of the people working in the shop if they will give you USD for them. They are paid in all kinds of currency, and eager to rid themselves of it, and their rate is much better than the one you'll get in the cambio. 

One of my favorite examples of propaganda, as seen from
the bus on the way to the airport. Bye, Cuba!

Settling into Cancun was another matter. Tour guide Michael had told us that we had a reservation at the Comfort Inn, but given some of his previous communications/promises/assurances, we were about 95% sure we wouldn’t actually have one. Compounding the problem was the fact that husband and I wanted to check with United to make sure we were really on our flight, before we left the airport. So we exited the arrivals area and took a shuttle to another terminal—only to find that the last United flights had departed and no one from the airline was around. Michael had also said that the taxi drivers would call the Comfort Inn’s free shuttle for us (because he didn't have the number), but again we found this to be a gross untruth. All the taxi drivers wanted to sell us a $40USD ride to the Comfort Inn, where we weren’t at all sure we’d have rooms. No deal. So we went back to the arrivals area we’d come from, where they of course wouldn’t let us back in the terminal.

We asked all the shuttles that were there, and the taxi drivers, but no one knew anything, and my suspicion is that the information people did give us was made up on the spot. I thought I had the best chance of getting back inside, where I hoped I could get the phone number for the Comfort Inn, so I headed for it. Security stopped me, of course, and he didn’t speak English. But a taxi driver did, and he translated for me. My initial story—that I had left something inside—quickly fell apart. “What did you forget?” he asked, skeptical. Pablo, his name was. “Information?” I replied. I told him our story, but words weren’t the key. Tears were. Believe me, they were genuine. But they were also expedient, and you’d better believe I feel conflicted about using emotional weapons to get what I want. It worked. Pablo took me inside, got the number for the Comfort Inn, and let me call from his cell phone.

Of course they didn’t have our reservations, though I tried under all of our names. At which point I said fuck it, do you have any rooms, and how much are they? A few minutes later we were set, the shuttle on its way. Wait at the Meeting Point, the woman on the phone said, then hung up before I could ask where that was. I went back outside and told everyone, and Pablo pointed to the restaurant that loomed behind us: The Meeting Point. It was still many minutes until the shuttle finally arrived, during which time we were told that the Comfort Inn doesn’t provide the shuttle service for reservations made less than 24 hours in advance. But show up it did. When the man walked past us with a sign bearing Husband's last name, I was so shocked I barely recognized it. Oh! That IS us!

The Comfort Inn (the one near the Cancun airport) lived up to its name amazingly. Our rooms were quite nice, with clean white tile floors. They let me pay in Canadian dollars (which I had left over from Cuba--since Cuba charges an extra fee to convert USD, we'd taken some of our cash in CDN). The restaurant was still open. And they had free wi-fi (which didn’t work in our rooms because they were too far away, but still). Check-out time was 1:00pm, which meant Husband and I could have eaten our free breakfast, gone back to those fluffy white beds for a few hours, caught the free shuttle to the airport, and leisurely checked into our new business-class flights home. But no . . .

November 17, 2013
Bunny and Crow’s shuttle left at 10:00am. Because we still hadn’t gotten a 100% confirmation that we were on our flights (the first of which left at 5:00pm), Husband insisted that we go with them, so we’d have time to pursue a backup plan if something went wrong. So we tore ourselves away from the welcome Comfort of the Inn, and went to the airport . . . where we were told we couldn’t check in until three hours before our flight, or 2:00pm. It was 10:30. We said goodbye to Bunny and Crow and then settled into the one restaurant that side of security. We ate, we read, we resisted the almost overpowering urge to lay our heads on the table and sleep. We lamented that we weren’t in our wonderful beds at the Comfort Inn. It was going to be a long day.

Love this sign from Cancun's airport. Also the conditioned
and apparently illiterate American with her shoes off.

But it turned out fine. We were on the flights, and they were in fact business class. A week before, when we'd boarded our Air Cubana flight from Cancun, I laughed when we walked on into a classless cabin. Of course a communist country's airline doesn't have first class! I tend not to approve of the class system on airlines, but man was it nice to be on the right side of it for once. Free drinks, a real (although still terrible) meal with real cutlery, and damn decent movies on the free TV (Wolverine and Iron Man 3 were the ones we watched). I wouldn’t say it was worth the price, because I will be working off these tickets for weeks if not months, but it sure does make a difference. 

Sunset from the air. Bye, Mexico!

In SFO we went through customs with no trouble at all. They didn’t even ask for our legal but ridiculous documentation, and I’m pretty sure I could have smuggled some rum in with no trouble. They way to do it would have been to have it in the carry-on to SFO, then put it in checked bags before re-checking them. Just FYI. Not that I would ever think of doing such a thing, and not just because the possibility of randomly being searched does exist. But of course all this will be a relic of the past soon, because surely our country’s ridiculous embargo cannot last much longer, and then we will all drink Cuban rum and be happier for it.

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