“Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing in Havana in approximately 30 minutes time. The cabin crew will now spray you with insecticide before landing. This is a requirement of the World Health Organisation. Please feel free to close your eyes.”
If anyone has ever been through the process of flea bombing a house, that’s pretty much how this moment rolls.
Free of British disease and fleas we land safely in Havana at about 6.30pm and are taken to a lobby where we join one of 20 queues. We wait for a gruelling 2 and a half hours in this airless room with both tourists and Cubans flapping bits of passport and visa documentation in front of their wet sticky faces. I feel dizzy, I get pins and needles in my face, I crouch down on the floor to see if I can get some more air, only I realise there is less air down there and the guy in front of me has started farting. I get up again and luckily Seamus (as always) is well stocked with Haribo, and so blood sugar levels return to normal.
Behind us stand some classic Brits who assess the length of the queue in which we are standing, timing how long each person is taking to pass through passport control (avg. 7 minutes 30 seconds), and then with some precision – estimating how long it will take for us to be seen.
We are in queue 14 and are about 7 people away from the front. A lady with a badly clipped back fringe is seeing people through control booth 14 slower than a stoned snail. She swivels her chair around, opens the door to her booth and comically flops out of the room. Disaster! Queues 13 and 15 inch their way ahead of us. The Cuban farter in front of me gets agitated. The Brits start calculating again. The bad fringe lady returns 10 minutes later with even less energy than before, waving her hand, motioning for the next person to step forward.
“Shit,” exclaims Seamus, “She’s really looking at people’s passport photos and my passport photo looks nothing like me. I have a beard!” We wait nervously.
Our fortune changes suddenly. The lady who now looks as though she is about to die in her chair gets up and is replaced with a happy girl who we notice is putting on plastic disease protection gloves. I scan the other booths and notice that all attendants are wearing plastic gloves. What the hell is this? We both make it through safely but with the feeling that it could have gone either way. Getting in ‘aint so easy, and after being quizzed as to whether we had arrived via Africa (which I’m guessing is what the plastic glove/insecticide drama was about – Ebola), we retrieve our luggage.
Seamus is asked for his passport several more times (I’m blaming the beard), and we find our Taxi driver who is holding up our names on bits of scrap paper. “Hola!’ he says, “welcome to Cuba!” Despite waiting for us for 3 hours he is one happy chappy! He drives us through Havana and we watch all the colourful, classic American cars (Yank Tanks), pass us by. The pollution is overwhelming – these cars may be pretty but they’re pretty damn old. We arrive at our Casa Particular – like a bed and breakfast, and honest to god, it’s beautiful! Think antique furniture and high ceilings, so high that you’ll need to imagine the highest ceiling you’ve ever seen and double it in your mind.
We grab a beer from the fridge in our room and sit on the balcony, watching night-time Havana happen below.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.