Cuba — The camion diaries, part III: biosecurity hazards galore

Moa (an accident) — Wednesday 17/5/17

Naomi: Trying to leave Baracoa turned out to be more traumatic than trying to get there. Kate ate some dodgy fish served up at our homestay, we asked for chicken and it tasted super weird — turns out it was off fish. So we got up the next morning to chunder-McVomsome bringing up a storm.

Kate: I woke up at 5:30am and vomited 4 times but still decided to get on our 7am taxi collectivo we had booked in an attempt to get back to Havana. VERY BAD DECISION. The taxi only had one seat that was next to a window and it was hard enough convincing the driver to let me sit in it. I was on the verge of vomiting for about an hour when I couldn’t hold it any longer and we happened to be driving through a small town when I start chundering out the window to the viewing pleasure of many Cubans on the side of the road. This happens again, so the driver pulls over where I continue to vomit by a food stand on the highway. At this point, a German nurse travelling in the collectivo with us produces a suppository to stop me vomiting because by this point 5 anti-vomiting tablets haven’t worked. So I’m now on the side of a highway in Cuba sticking a suppository up my bum, using the last of the hand-sanitiser we have (relevant later on).

Naomi: The suppository didn’t help and just made Kate so drowsy she couldn’t control her head, so now instead of vomiting outside of the collectivo, her head was just floppin’ around like a loose hose leaving a trail of yesterday’s fish down the side of the door (hope nobody was eating whilst reading this). We stopped in a miniscule town to change collectivos and with Kate slumped on the floor like a sack of….spuds we decided to stay the night in said town which has never before encountered tourists EVER. Immersion immersion immersion.

Lovely streets of Moa. Authentic.

Holguin (another accident) — Thursday 18/5/17

Naomi: Twenty-four hours later we make attempt two at mission “get back to Havana”. After another few hours in a collectivo we make it to Holguin *shudder*. Here our tale hits a real low. No Cuban person will tell us the truth about what modes of transport exists to get back to Havana, they just lie to try to make some money off us. A guy tried to get us to a take a collectivo by telling us the bus took 20 hours, until his collectivo plan fell through and then “magically” a bus then only takes 6 hours (we knew it took neither 6 nor 20 hours but were just really keen to find out the shortest way back to Havana before Kate sicked on everyone again). We were told that there are no camions back to Havana just as one turned the corner, we were told one bus was only for Cubans, we were told if we waited an hour there would be a tourist bus (there wasn’t), we were told if we waited somewhere between 2 and 6 hours there would be enough people for a collective (there weren’t). After five hours this all became very….tedious and at this point we took a toilet “break”.

In Cuban public toilets, without fail an angry woman will accost you at the door for some money (often the amount is deliberately unspecified until you take some money out of your pocket and the price magically happens to be every last bit of money you have in your hand.) Once you’ve paid “however much” to enter the loos it quickly becomes apparent that no amount of money has ever been spent on these toilets since their installation in 1972. No toilet seats, no running water, no toilet paper BUT an overflowing bowl of excrement. Also, apparently in 1972 people only needed half-length doors and walls– they were either very small in the 70s or got kicks out of public toileting. As I’m busy in my stall trying not to contract a venereal disease I hear a scream from Kate next door and look over the wall to see her bawling her eyes out with a fair sized chunk of poo on her hand which was on the door handle. And not her own poo at that. To make things worse a Cuban woman is just watching this unfold from her stall. To make things even worse there is no running water and we used up all the hand sanitiser in the previous journey. Poor Chunder-McVomsome Poo Hands.

Sooooo….having lost our dignity and our minds we get a taxi to the nearest airport to try to get a flight back to Havana (blowing Kate’s darling budget). Luckily there were flights leaving that evening so we try to buy a ticket but a helpful member of airport staff tells us we can’t buy tickets in advance but instead have to wait 4 hours until just before the flight and “see if any are available”. We asked if there are normally tickets “available” and she just shrugs. So off we go to wait with no plan B for if we’re stranded for the night. 30 minutes before take-off something is said very quickly over the tannoy and many Cubans go running towards a desk, so I just run-follow the crowd and manage to secure us two tickets. The most frustrating part of this story is that our tickets were $120 each, a plane ticket for Cuban people is $7 and the flight we got on was a full sized plane with only 10 other people on. So yes, safe to say there are normally tickets “available”.

My first “meal” after the vomiting in Holguin airport. Mousse through a straw

Havana — Friday 19/5/17 — Tuesday 23/5/17

Kate: Scarred from our return trip to Cuba, Naomi cried when she hugged Carlos the owner of the hostel in Havana. That day we went to visit Ernest Hemmingway’s house, which was supposedly as he left it. It was actually really cool, we both loved it but I doubt Ernest left his table perfectly set with plates and cutlery. It was a relief being back in Havana, strangely people weren’t lying to us and just telling us the information we needed but given the last week and half we were both sceptical of any information a Cuban was telling us. We found a few happy hours in Old Havana in the afternoon, went to our favourite crepe and cocktail bar that we ended up visiting 4 or 5 times while in Havana and then got a collectivo taxi to the Focsa building, the tallest building in Havana, for a cocktail on the 47th floor. But the Focsa building was a bit strange so we left and joined a Cuban street party below. Naomi whipped out her best salsa moves, tore up the dance floor and showed the Cubans how it’s done (Naomi: lies). Clearly still not recovered from the food poisoning, I ate a pork roll at the street party and it set me off vomiting again all night.

Cuba’s tallest building — it’s really something.

The next day we visited the neighbourhood of Varadero for a walk around. Very different feel to Old Havana, with wide streets, big houses and barely any cafes and bars. In an attempt to have a healthy lunch we ordered a chicken salad and it looked like this (see below)!! It was the only time in Cuba where we were genuinely confused as to whether the price was in the local or the tourist currency, when we saw our lunch it was a feeling of relief and disgust all at the same time. Lunch was only 50 cents but it looked like that! For dinner we went to a tapas bar and ate a salad with figs and smoked salmon. It’s a mystery to how they found or obtained that in Cuba, but a nice dinner finally!

“Chicken Salad”
Actual food in Cuba that was smuggled in by food gods.

For our second last day in Cuba we paid for the hop-on, hop-off double decker tourist bus. As tacky as it is and full of American retirees, I still really liked it, it’s an easy way to get a good tour and view of the city (Naomi: it pained me to my very core to be on said bus, no matter how good the views were, we had to sit and listen to Bill and Charlene behind us discuss how truly authentic their experience was because they stayed in a homestay for one night. Get back to me when you have faeces on your hands Charlene).

Loving the tourist bus

Naomi: It was my job to write about the activities for the last day In Cuba but it’s been three months since we were there and now I have no idea.

The End.

Two nice pictures of Cuba to take away from the horror.