After only a few hours sleep, we got up at 3 am, whispered goodbye to Lourdes’ husband who got up just for us and took our pre booked taxi to the airport. The streets of Habana Viejo were dark and completely quiet when we left, which was very special. The airport was quite confusing, since the check-in for AeroCarribean was done at the Cubana-desk and vice versa. Also everything took a lot of time, and Cubans obviously don’t know how to stand in line. An annoying tour guide tried to get ahead of us in the line and was constantly at the desk asking questions. We went up to departures, but not much happened and the annoying tour guide was no where to be seen. We went back down, and was told to go through a door in the end of the check-in area instead. It was obvious that most passengers were less frequent travelers than us. Most of them had to go through security 4-5 times, because they had jewelery, belts, coins etc. We also saw a lot of people coming back out of the security room throwing away lighters, so we moved ours to smart locations and went straight through without any problems. In the waiting room there were no information at all, other than a screen saying check in, even after scheduled departure. 30 minutes later there finally was some information in Spanish about boarding order, but no one listened and they had to check all boarding cards manually to queue people up. We boarded our ATR-72 which had very little space, hardly any reading lights working and baggage lockers who didn’t stay open. It was also strange for us to see people struggling with understanding the seat belts etc.
We made up some time in the air and arrived 20 minutes late in Santiago de Cuba. Before entering the airport everybody had to wash their hands, and people were again doing what they could to be first in line. At the baggage claim everyone got big trolleys and went to the front. When we saw our bag they would hardly let us through to pick it up. On the outside our host Yalissy was waiting for us and took us to a very shabby Lada taxi who took us to our casa for 15 CUC. We got a double room, but since we booked twin room they had put in an extra bed. After settling in we had breakfast in the kitchen 7 hours after we got up. We walked to Hotel Melia to get some more cash, and had to wait in line for quite a while since they didn’t have an ATM. We also went on the internet there to check a few things regarding our rental car to Pinar del Rio, our flight ticket back to Havana and possible busses to Baracoa. We continued along Ava Victoriano Garzón which was partly closed and full of stalls, small restaurants, carousels and pretty much ready for a huge party. We later checked with Yalissy, and she told us it would be closed until January 6th. The Cubans definitely knows how to party!
We continued to the city centre and had a beer at Patio los dos Abuelos on Plaza de Marte. They had a very nice back yard and are known for genuine local music in the evenings. Should probably go back there one night. We walked through a lot of pedestrian streets with loads of people, stalls, live turkeys etc. Among the things we saw on our walk were Plaza di Dolores, Museo Municipal Emilio Bacardi Moreau, Liberia la Escalara (a very charming bookstore where we bought some notebooks), Casa de la Trova (Cuba’s first trova house), Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Parque Céspedes, Balcón de Velázques (great view and good ice cream, but the terracotta-tiled roofs described in the guidebook was pretty much all gone), Padre Pico steps (a terracotta staircase built into the hillside), El Tivoli (not as picturesque as described in the guidebook after hurricane Sandy), Clock Tower, Parque Alameda and plenty of other beautiful houses and squares. All over the city we could see signs of the hurricane, lots of trees had fallen down, roofs were gone and some restaurants and houses were completely destroyed. But it seemed that they had gotten a lot of work done in the past months, so it was a lot better than we expected.
We stopped at a supermarket to buy a lot of beer, rum, coke and some water, before taking a taxi back to our casa. It had been a very long day, so we relaxed with a beer on our balcony, had a shower, did some blogging, had some Cuba Libre and didn’t really want to go out again to eat dinner. Instead our host Yalissy made us som warm sandwiches and we went to bed around 11 pm.