Our Cuba trip is upon us. With a mixture of excitement and nervousness, we head to Houston’s main airport, IAH. Our departure time is 12:30pm, but we arrive three hours early to take care of special paperwork for Cuba travel as well as any delays. For travel to Cuba, one must purchase a special tourist visa ($50-$75) as well as travel heath insurance. As musicians, we were also required to purchase a special ‘cultural visa’, which allowed us to legally perform in Cuba. (These were $100/each, $400 total for the four of us.)
Our flight was on-time, and we furiously sent last minute emails and text messages, not knowing when our next internet ‘fix’ would be. (As it turned out, we were able to procure internet access only once during the week, at Abdala Studios.) About 15 minutes after boarding and heading toward the runway, we were told there was a mechanical issue - back to the gate! We had to deplane, and then re-board another aircraft. I sent a complaint tweet to United Airlines about the situation, and they responded within minutes. The second attempt was successful, and we were off to Havana! After arriving at the Havana airport, we deplaned and were able to exit the aircraft through the back as well as the front. Quite efficient. We were greeted by airport technicians and escorted into the terminal.
We arrived at our casa, a beautiful and grand colonial home from the 1920’s, recently renovated (in 2003). This was our ‘humble’ abode for the week. It had three bedrooms, a large sitting room, living room, study, and back porch area. What looked like a pool was covered with a thin layer of concrete - we also later learned that private pools are illegal in Cuba due to water shortages. Apparently, a neighbor had snitched and told the authorities, and the owner of our house (an Austrian named Cristian, who rents via Airbnb) had to drain the water and fill with concrete.
After settling in to our new digs, we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Our first Cuban meal was one of the best - succulent and humongous grilled lobster, with black beans and rice, plantains, grilled pork, and Cuba Libre cocktails. The legend is true: Cuban rum is all its cracked up to be…smooth, flavorful, and delicious. After indulging in our Cuban cuisine, we paid our bill (on par with an American meal, perhaps a little cheaper) and headed back to the house.
On the way there, we saw flashing disco lights and heard music which became louder and louder as we got closer to home…turns out the house directly in front of ours was holding a ticketed music event in the backyard. Why not check out a house party in Cuba, we said? After paying the entrance fee (5 CUC’s) we were led to the back of the house, where a DG was spinning records and conducting a light show. Pretty fun stuff. We had a few drinks and chatted with fellow party-goers. Most spoke very good english, and were eager to learn about us and America. (We were the only Americans there.) One young 20-something male said that his dream was to study in the states to become a scuba-diver and marine biologist. At around midnight, we said goodbye to our newfound friends and headed back to the house for our first slumber.