I'm always excited when I travel but I hadn't had quite the belly doing flip flops feeling for getting to a location since my first trip out of the country to Guatemala. Cuba is something I knew covered only in history classes and locations in movies like the Godfather Part 2. Here I was boarding the plane. I laughed when I saw I had one of those strange window seats that didn't have a window...Why, airlines, why? Well, at least it wasn't the middle seat and I could see enough from the window of the person in front of me. I flew over Cuba when I went to Honduras so it's not like I haven't seen it from the plane and the flight is short.
As we wrapped up a 45 minute flight, I could the island from the window ahead of me. And then the captain got on the speaker and told us that there was a grass fire at the Havana airport, no one was allowed to land and the air traffic control tower was being evacuated. So we headed back to Miami and landed. I frantically started making phone calls to Holbrook so they could let the Cuba contacts know we went back. They assured me that if the fire is small, chances are good they'd send us back before they day was done. The captain kept us on the plane and an hour later we were given the go ahead to head for Cuba again, the fires were out. We made the short hop and our flight mates cheered as we landed in Havana among charred grasses.
Baggage claim was pandemonium because of all the delayed flights landing at once. But we finally made it to our cultural guide who got us to our hotel and recommended some local restaurants that we could safely walk to from the hotel in Old Havana. Hunger outweighed fatigue and well, I was too excited to sleep. Our group headed out in the dark and music filled streets in search of food and a beer or two. We found a restaurant willing to let in some weary travlers on a late night.
The next morning, our cultural guide Claudia took us on a walking tour of Old Havana as well as a city park where we were meant to look at the gardens and butterfly house...but it was the first day for new birds for us so were more drawn to the bird around us. The trees were full of white-eyed vireos which we could easily hear but not see. But it wasn't long until we got our first regional specialties.
After we got some birding out of our system we were ready to pay more attention to the culture. Claudia took around the various squares and historical sites. After she gave us the tour and left us for a few hours to relax in our rooms, she encouraged us to explore on our own as Havana, particularly Old Havana is very safe. I took her up on that offer when I went out to get a postcard for Non Birding Bill. His only request for a souvenir from this trip wasn't cigars, it was to receive mail from Cuba. Which interestingly enough took about three months to arrive from home. I was in Cuba in April and then went to Hungary in June. NBB received the Hungary postcard well before he received the Cuba one.
As I walked Old Havana alone, far more vendors of cigars, "art" and internet access cards approached me than they did when we were with Claudia. The streets in Havana are very active with living statues, so much music, and dancing you can't help but feel like you have your own personal music soundtrack where ever you go. If you pause for music and take any photos or videos, handlers for the performers will make a bee line for you to drop in some cash. The energy of the city reminds me quite a bit of New Orleans, you can see why artists and writers are drawn to Havana, the creative vibe in the air is as thick as the aroma of cigars.
Above is a very brief video I took for Flat Michelle, my friend I take on some of my travels. The stilt dancers are very well know in Havana--we saw them featured on many postcards around this island. But tow things to note in the above video: 1. the big pink building in the background is our hotel and 2. note the lady in blue. She saw me filming the dancers and was coming by to collect some money.
I have more photos of Havana over on Flickr if you are interested.