Stuck in Customs ~ January 30, 2012

Looking down on a reef near the south cost of "La Isla", January 30, 2013

The day started off pretty mellow in the Hostal Malaku in Alejuela, Costa Rica. A friendly fellow traveler made breakfast for all who were hungry. Corn tostadas with Avocado, Chayote and scrabbled egg. Delicious. Then I got a ride with the hostal owner to the airport and began checking in. After buying my visa card, the check in clerk asked me to wait to speak the supervisor. I was curious what that was all about, my ticket had already been issued.

The supervisor in a few short sentences, asked me to change my shirt, because three customers have already complained that I smell bad. As per my usual tropical-airport-arrival plan, I bring a fresh change of clothes to change into before passing through immigration. Reason being, I usually sweat my clothes through just in the process of getting to the airport, and riding on the plane in sweaty clothes is no fun.

So I changed my clothes, but I was frustrated in the way the fellow talked to me, so I went back to him and asked him to be nicer to future travelers. The departure gate was changed three times and the flight was about an hour and a half delayed leaving Costa Rica. I was approached by drug investigators asking about what was in the box. Just cameras officers. The flight was pretty mellow with a chicken sandwich and lots of cool cloudscapes. Yelling passengers during some mild turbulence. Sweet reef and farm-scapes images upon landing. Clapping once we touch down. Good old Latino memories.

Nearing landing in La Habana

After touching down, I talked to many different officials in Immigration who asked interview style questioning: Where are you from? How long will you stay? What is your job? How long will you stay? Etc. Then in Customs the box brought up quite a few questions, and more interviewing. How big are those hard drives? What approximate mm are the lenses? How old is the laptop, etc? Finally I got out of the customs and found not a single tout yelling at me when I arrived. What a surprise. So I sat down, reorganized my stuff and went to the departures hall on the second floor. There I asked at information to where the exchange booths are and about the bus P-12 to get to La Habana. I told the lady I'm really good at walking. But its far. I know but I'm good at walking. Trust me. Ok well just walk straight and straight and straight. Done.

I exchanged my money, asking for some of the Moneda Nacional, as I knew the bus would not accept the CUC or foreigner's currency. So then I began walking out to the highway. Crossed the highway and followed a group of people who didn't seem to mind I was following them. Crossed through some strange barrios and found a store and bought a glass of soda. After I drank the soda I asked the owner how to get to the P-12 bus. He said he recommend I walk for our five blocks and then take a "Maquina" down to the Fontanar market and then take another Maquina to Habana. Maquinas are American cars from 1950s that have plenty of space for baggage, plus! So that's what I did. People helped me out. One dude gave me priceless advice. Just get in the maquina, pay the fare (fractions of US dollars) and keep your mouth shut. They will hear your accent. I was determined not to spend the $25 on a taxi ride from the airport. Instead I ended up spending one dollar.

Sunset on the 'Capitolo' building in Centro Habana

It took about an hour in this maquina to get to La Habana, but when I recognized the capital building, I asked to get out. Then I began wandering around with a vague memory of the map in my head. I stopped for a street pizza for 40 cents on the dollar. Basic but good. Then I eventually got out my map, and realized I was only 5 blocks from where I had reserved a room.

Then I got the Casa Particular but my reservation not been confirmed. So the guy walked me to the next door joint which had friendly people in a beautiful house. We chatted a bit, and I took a shower, organized my stuff and then had a real sit-down chat. The man who owns the joint showed me pictures from when he fought in Angola. Then I went out to eat another street pizza, buy 5L bottle of water and check my email for 6 minutes in the hotel Inglatera lobby computers with live music blaring from the park-side cafe. Then when I came back the lady and her son invited me on a short jaunt to the bus station to send a backpack full of stuff to someone on the other side of the country. We took a maquina there and a bus back, and sat down at the bus station bar and had drinks. I drank mango juice from a box. Lots of people talking on payphones, its cheap I bet. Lots of humans on the streets moving around. Dark streets no street lights.

This concluded my first day on 'La Isla'. More soon.