Thursday, May 26, 2016

Connecting to Cuba - Accomodations

Connecting to Cuba: Accomodations
Jake Whittenberg , wsts2 3:05 PM. PDT May 25, 2016

It's just a 45-minute flight from Miami to Havana, but it's a world away.

When we landed at Jose Marti International Airport (HAV), I noticed my
cell phone with Verizon service switches to Cubacel. I was able to make
calls in Cuba back to the states, but it's $2.99/min. WiFi is only
available in certain hotels. The Cuban people don't have access to the
internet, unlike the government, and American credit cards do not work.

When I got off the plane, the line for customs was very fast actually.
(Aside from the few moments when the power went out, and we thought we
were stuck.)

After showing my journalist visa and passport, I was asked about any
recent illnesses or trips to Africa; then that was that. My bags were
never searched, and I was never asked any other questions.

I exchanged my money to the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which is almost
1:1. From the airport, there were a lot of people gathered outside,
waiting for loved ones to visit. But there were also a lot of Cubans
hoping to earn a dollar from the tourists getting off the airplane.

My taxi ride from the airport opened my eyes to Cuba right away. My cab
driver spoke English, and also served as an excellent tour guide during
our drive.

There are a lot of Cubans trying to make extra money by renting out a
room or a house to tourists. I stayed with Jorge Luis Onidina in his
house along the seawall in Havana. He was incredibly gracious and
accommodating. The Cubans are very hospitable and kind-hearted. My room
was comfortable and cost $60 CUC/night. (I found out later that is
actually a little high)

After I woke up every morning, Jorge would offer me an espresso. Being
from Seattle, I love good coffee. Jorge could have dialed back on the
sugar, but I appreciated the gesture. Again, the Cubans are very caring.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are booking a hotel online you can do that, but
MAKE SURE YOU BRING CASH TO PAY FOR IT. Right now, Cuba is not connected
to American banks. So, just because you enter your credit card online to
book your room, it is not paid for until you get there. Cuba is still a
cash economy, so remember that when scheduling a trip.

To get around, I mostly took taxi cabs. In populated areas they are
everywhere and easy to hail. To find one from Jorge's house in the
suburbs, I had to be more patient or ask him to call a local friend to
give me a ride. I was given a tip to only use the yellow taxis because
they are owned by the government and drivers won't try to scam you. The
cost to get to and from the airport was $25 CUC. Most shorter rides were

If you are traveling a short distance in areas like La Habana Vieja (Old
Havana), try to hop in one of the classic American cars. The Cubans
offer taxi rides in them to tourists for extra money. They are
everywhere and fun to see their interiors. See the classic cars section
for more.

Because a lot of the cars are rebuilt using local parts, I found a lot
of cars spew a lot of exhaust. Sometimes on a busy morning, the major
roads got incredibly busy. Cubans drive with the windows up and the
air-conditioning on.

And although my first cabbie spoke English, it's not very common. So
brush up on your Espanol!

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