Frozen aircraft toilets and old Ladas

After spending so much time travelling now, I sometimes wonder why I still get so anxious about the onward journey. This week’s worries have included:

  • will I wake up in time to catch the 5am bus, despite having 2 alarms set and arranging for my sister to phone me to make sure I am up (and I didn’t sleep anyway)
  • falling on the icy pavement whilst carrying my backpack
  • freezing to death in my thin jacket having sent my thick one to England
  • getting the bus from Varadero airport to Havana and then getting a taxi to the Casa Particular into which I was booked.


One of the airport workers sliding on the ice outside the plane
One of the airport workers sliding on the ice outside the plane

Naturally, everything went smoothly, apart from sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a quarter in Montreal whilst someone unfroze the water in the plane’s toilets, which had seized up in the extreme cold (something that hadn’t even featured in my list of worries). We couldn’t, of course, commence a 4 hour flight without a toilet!

Taking off over a frozen Montreal
Taking off over a frozen Montreal

The main occupants of the plane were Canadians travelling to the all inclusive resorts at Varadero, although there were a few who joined me on the bus to Havana. One of them was a Brazilian student doing a PHD in Lisbon, who spoke fluent Spanish, English and Portuguese, which was lucky for me as she was able to translate as we sat in the Viazul office whilst the extremely helpful staff member tried to find out whether there were seats on the next bus. There were, but we had to wait for the bus to arrive to find out!

The journey took us through some very green and lush countryside and along the coast to the capital. The cows are obviously well fed even if the people aren’t. The roads were relatively empty, apart from a number of buses, ancient Dodges and other varieties of old cars, all of which now seem to be outnumbered by the Ladas, Toyotas and the job lot of Suzuki jeeps.

Havana itself, when we arrived 2 hours later, was, unsurprisingly, run down and sad looking with the paint peeling off the majority of the old colonial buildings. There were taxi hustlers at the bus station and having negotiated the price without too much difficulty, I was led out of the bus station and over the road. Naturally, I hadn’t thought to check the credentials of the driver and was somewhat relieved to arrive at my destination in Vedado in the ‘definitely seen better days’ Lada. As far as I could see, there were absolutely no street names so it was with a little fear and trepidation that I sat in the back and waited to see where he took me. It was a little disconcerting when he stopped in front of a Gastroenterology clinic but I soon spotted the door at the side with a list of apartments. Having rung the bell, Bertha, my host for the next couple of days, asked me to wait for her friend, who would help me upstairs with my bag. The concept of back packs maybe hasn’t arrived in Cuba yet!

View from my bedroom in Vedado
View from my bedroom in Vedado

My room is in an apartment building that has also seen better days, overlooking the supposedly 5 star Habana Libre Hotel. However, whilst basic, it is cleaner and more comfortable than the apartment I have just left in Montreal. Luckily, Bertha speaks marginally better English than my Spanish and we managed to communicate in a mix of languages. The next 3 weeks promise to be very interesting!

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