December 27th, Baggage Claim of the Havana Airport, Cuba:
Ric and I wait for my bag at an unlabeled carousel. It’s been at least thirty minutes since the plane landed, and announcements over the tinny speakers have been unhelpful at best. It’s not until I notice the Spirit-yellow “transfer” slip sandwiched between a bag and the carousel’s metal slat that we know we’re waiting in the right place. About ten minutes later, after the baggage handlers have presumably had 1-2 smoke breaks while completing the ~100 yard transfer from plane to baggage claim, my backpack finally arrives. Between the standard Spirit Airlines delay of 20m and this wait, it’s now over an hour after we are scheduled to land in Havana.
And yet, as soon as we walk out of the baggage claim area and into the swarm of friends and family, he is still waiting: José Ramón, the host of our AirBnb, he with whom I spoke relatively broken Spanish over the reservation’s built-in chat window, standing alongside his wife and with a sign reading “CHRISTIAN KEIL.” I’m very surprised that he showed up at all. We never confirmed that he would be there, nor a price for a trip; in the moment, we considered it a grand gesture of Cuban culture and hospitality that the host of our $37/night AirBnb would include transportation (and waiting for an hour to pick up us) gratis. Our host drove us in his late-50s Ford to the property in Havana’s northwest “Vedado” region, and our trip was off to an incredibly smooth start.
Two days later, we came back from a day of exploring Havana to a note from José Ramón: we should call him to confirm our check-out procedures, oh, and if we could leave the $25 for the cab ride from the airport, that would be perfect. That is Cuba, as I saw it. José Ramón was, overall, an incredibly gracious host. And the country was, overall, relatively tourist-friendly. But the whole country is just so wildly impoverished that there really isn’t another story to tell.
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