After our flight departing Havana got cancelled, due to an apparently cyclone, Michael and I spent 2 days completely stranded at Havana airport. Cubana airlines didn’t have any other available flights for at least 5 days, refused to give us a refund, and just left us literally stranded at the airport. We spent the next 48 hours going over our options and trying to find an alternative flight out of Cuba… with little luck!!! For a capital city, Havana airport is very basic; the only restaurants served the same basic food (cheese and ham sandwiches on white sweet bread), there were no internet services available, and to our discovery, only a few flights and airlines actually operated from the airport – the few flights that did, were either fully or over booked for the following week.
You might be wondering why we didn’t just jump in a taxi and head back to the city center; maybe spend a few days there until the next available flight or head to an internet café and search for some more alternative flights. There are a few reasons we choose not to do this;
1) The city center is an hour drive, and taxis were expensive ($20-25 each way – hey, we are budget travelers that’s half of our daily budget);
2) We had been ripped off and abused several times in Havana, and I wasn’t in a hurry to return;
3) There were only 2 internet cafes in the whole of Havana, which were a. expensive and b. had long waiting lists;
4) We thought that the best place to organize a flight would be from the airport;
5) We were on a very tight schedule – we were supposed to be meeting my parents in San Jose, Costa Rica in a few weeks. To do this we needed to travel back through Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, then on through Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, before finally arriving in Costa Rica. Any time we spent stuck in Cuba, meant more time on buses in Central America, and less time exploring the region;
6) I didn’t want to spend another minute in Havana or in Cuba for that matter.
After spending 2 days being misinformed, yelled at and ripped off by the airport staff (note: if you go to Cuba, make sure you confirm the price and product, then confirm again, then finally, make sure you count your change); that along with being completely cut off from the world (ie. no wifi, no internet, no phone, no one wanting to help us), we had had enough. We were done!!!
What some people don’t realize is that backpacking can be friggin’ exhausting. It’s not like being on holiday in a relaxing resort; it’s more of a lifestyle choice where you are constantly living on a tight budget, with limited clothes and belongings, having to pack up and move day by day to a new place, not knowing where the safe parts of town are, and who can be trusted as well as constantly being ripped off and harassed by people. It is also not the healthiest life style choice, and it can take a toll on you mentally and physically. So, we decided, after 6 months of solid travel, we needed a holiday!
We had already discovered by that time, there were no available flights departing Havana to anywhere else in Central or South America; the only options we had were Canada and Europe. So, we took, what seemed like the next logical step, and booked a flight to Frankfurt, Germany (which was not as easy as it sounds – but I won’t go into the details). From Frankfurt, we booked another flight to London Heathrow. I then sent a message to my cousin, asking if she could pick us up from the airport. It seemed like a lifetime had past, but we eventually made it to England, and my cousin kindly picked us up with only a few hours notice.
I have never appreciated a hot shower, an inflatable mattress and some real food, (opposed to the cheese sandwiches I had been living), as much as I did that night. One definite thing about traveling – it makes you appreciate the simple things in life! In the morning we went to surprise my Nan, and everyone else in my family in the UK… and I can honestly say they were all surprised… as far as they were concerned I was somewhere far away, in a country they’d never heard of.
In hindsight it probably wasn’t the most logical decision I’ve ever made, however at the time I think it was exactly what we needed – some home comforts – my Nan’s apple crumble and custard, a roast dinner, proper tea, a hot shower, a comfortable bed, and some friendly faces.
After spending a few days in Swindon we went to visit Michael’s family in Manchester, after which Michael had planned to work back at his old job, vaccinating salmon in Scotland for a couple of weeks, and I had planned to catch up with some old mates.
Shortly after arriving in Manchester, we discovered that due to some tragic and unfortunate events, which occurred in my boyfriend’s family, his cousin and her husband could no longer go on their holiday to Lanzarote (one of the Canary Island’s of Spain). They couldn’t get a refund at such short notice, and were struggling to find anyone to go in their place – they could only change the name on one tickets, so, I guess it was difficult finding someone that would be willing to go by themselves. Obviously I wasn’t going to turn down a free holiday, and before I knew it, I found myself at an all inclusive hotel resort in Lanzarote… while Michael was back up in Scotland, vaccinating fish – I most definitely got the better deal out of the two of us.
Two weeks in the Mediterranean sun, on a volcanic island, with several possible hikes, plenty of beach, a cute pool cleaner, and plenty of food and drink, definitely didn’t sound to bad to me. The one thing I did worry a bit about, was having all the time in the world to do nothing, except relax!! I don’t usually cope well with ‘relaxing’!! I’m one of those people that need to be doing something constantly. However, I managed to keep busy; I met some people, watched some corny hotel entertainment, hiked a bit, caught up on some “paper work” and wrote a bunch of blog posts and travel articles.
Overall, Lanzarote was definitely a different travel experience for me, and not something I would probably have book myself… but it’s been good and interesting to see how the other side live.
So, from here, I hot tail back to Manchester, night bus it down to Heathrow, meet up with Michael, fly to back to Frankfurt, spend the day there, then fly to the Dominican Republic, before finally flying to San Jose in Costa Rica, just in time to meet my parents.
The next adventure… 35 days backpacking around Costa Rica and Panama with my boyfriend and my parents – should be interesting!!! I may need another holiday at the end of this one!