Leaving Sydney

Thursday, 30 April 2015

We had wanted to visit Cuba since our travels in Central America during the 1980s. In May 2015, we took six weeks off work and followed the dream.

During our travels in Cuba we stayed in eight different locations: Havana, Las Terrazas, Baracoa, Santiago de Cuba, Santo Domingo, Trinidad, Playa Girón, and Viñales.

We avoided the tourist resorts on the north coast and travelled around the country mainly by bus. Our itinerary included an internal flight early in the journey from Havana to Baracoa. Thus, most of our journey was an overland road trip along the southern coast of Cuba from Baracoa in the East to Viñales in the West.

During the trip we met up with our daughter, Clare, who had been on exchange at the University of Miami in the USA, and she travelled with us from Havana to Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba.

Mostly we stayed in casas particulares, that is, private rooms that are rented to travellers by Cuban citizens. The network of casas makes it possible to meet Cuban people in a way that is often difficult for tourists. It helps if you speak some Spanish, as we do.

Our journey to Cuba was vexed by problems with air travel. The trouble began a few days before we left Sydney. We discovered a day or so before our flight was due to leave Sydney that Student Travel Australia (STA) had failed to book the second leg of our journey from Los Angeles to Mexico City. Our last 24 hours in Sydney should have been filled with excitement and anticipation. Instead, it was weighed down by sickening anxiety between phone calls to STA.

On the morning of the day we were due to depart, the missing flight to Mexico City had still not been confirmed. We decided to board the flight to Los Angeles and hope that the problem was sorted out by the time we arrived.

At 5 p.m. we settled into two Economy-class seats on a Qantas flight 17 to Los Angeles. The flight would take about 13½ hours. We remained plugged into the movie screen in front of us for as long as possible to escape cramped conditions in our mind’s eye. I watched Gravity for the illusion of space, and then Fury because it was Susie’s turn with the noise-cancelling headphones, and I had heard that the dialogue was completely unintelligible anyway. Before I finally attempted to sleep I watched Before I go to sleep.

On arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, we made our way to the Aeromexico counter to see if STA had managed to book us onto our connecting flight to Mexico. Apparently this had been done, but we could not check in until three hours before lift-off. That meant we had to kill six extra hours in Los Angeles Airport.

LAX was being renovated so there was not enough seating; the Wi-Fi did not work, and there were few food outlets. After some strategic loitering we secured two plastic seats in a long row near a door, and we bought a coffee and a cola to get us through the hours.

When we returned to the Aeromexico counter, the queue was frightful. Our only compensation was that we were surrounded by Mexicans. It had been a long time since we last heard that beautiful accent, and once we were though the check-in process, we allowed ourselves to get excited by the prospect of returning to Hispanoamerica.

As Aeromexico flight AM649 took off from Los Angeles at 11:30 p.m., our worries began to fade away. A little prematurely, as it turned out…

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