Few years ago, I seriously considered visiting Cuba, even if that means I’ll have to go up north to Canada and then go South again, alone. I read a lot of travel journals and reviews for research, and two things stood out: (1) subtract 1-2 stars from the hotel rating, (2) tip the people with consumer goods, rather than cash.
It was so hard to process that in my mind. Wait, what? Subtract stars from the hotel rating? Why? How? What should I expect? And tip with goods? Not cash? Then how much of what should I give? I don’t want to insult anyone! After my Cuba trip, those tips were all very true. However, little did I know back then.
On top of that, my Cuba trip was hastily decided. So we didn’t take much goods with us. I still remembered that tip about hotel, so we made a reservation at the newest hotel in Varadero, Cuba, which had 5 stars. Like everyone said, it was 3.5 stars by international standard, but more on that later.
So like that, I got on a 3.5 hour flight from Toronto, Canada to Varadero, Cuba.
Day 1 at Varadero. I’ve never seen such a cool dark clouds over the sky.
I wasn’t too worried about not getting in to Cuba. We are coming to spend so the government is unlikely to turn us away. You need to fill out a custom declaration and entry/departure visa form. The English wordings on custom declaration was so strange, so I had to call the flight attendant and ask what that means. Let’s not forget I lived in an English-speaking country for so many years and got a proper education there.
As of the entry/departure form, you cannot mess that up and cannot lose the half of the form. If you mess up the form, you’ll probably have to pay for another. And if you lose the half of the form, you are in trouble when you are departing Cuba. The border control does not staple/clip that form for you. Thanks…Probably because of lack of consumer goods like paper? I don’t know.
As I landed on Varadero airport, I was standing in line for border control. Strange enough, their border control reminded a lot of Chinese airport border control. The strange thing about Cuban border control booth is that it has an auto-lock door. So you can’t see what’s going on beyond the booth, unlike many other international airports. You can’t leave until the officer approves your entry and opens the door in her booth. It makes you feel like you are in some kind of interrogation booth.
Passing the border control, I proceeded to the luggage carousel. The luggage carousel looked pretty old, and there were several security guards with pointers…without leash! It looked like they were just hanging out with dogs. The rest of that day was pretty uneventful. You get out, meet your tour representative, get on a bus, watching beautiful Caribbean Sea and bright colored buildings, and get off at your hotel. Occasional sighting of old cars running by the ocean offered me momentary time travels.