Imagine you have just landed in Havana— an hour later than scheduled, pissed off an immigrations officer, managed to find your way out of the airport, exchanged some money (although the teller has to recount a hundred dollar bill and 3 twenties about a thousand times) and thankfully run into your taxi driver who was late as well. It takes a half hour to get to your residence because the driver sees his “boss” who must be picked up and dropped off in some random spot on the side of the road. The airport is actually in the middle of nowhere so it takes and a bit to get home— once arrived you are given the rundown and settle in. The host hands you a keyring with 6 keys. One for the door to get into the “complex”, one for the gate into two possible apartments, one for the iron gate before the front door, the key for the heavy front door, the key for your bedroom door and yet another key for the closet in the bedroom. Is this Cuba or Fort Knox.
By now you are very hungry and thirsty. Starving, perhaps. You get to the market and find out they have no water because it has already sold out for the day. Tap water is totally unsuitable for drinking. You decide to look around down the street for more options. Most mercados are already closed as it is a pretty late hour. You pass by many restaurants, so busy and bustling— live music draws all the tourists leaving hardly any standing room. A few restaurants are open and actually have seating. After reading menus posted outside you finally come to a consensus of where first to try. When you find your table, it takes ten minutes before anyone comes to give you a menu. Once you have your menu it takes another fifteen to twenty minutes for anyone to come back to take your order, even after trying to wave someone down and catch their attention. Now you’ve finally decided on some basic (everything is basic) chicken dish, but after placing the order are told that nothing on the menu is left (sold out due to rations being all used up). But hold on, the last two things on the menu are available: a seafood paella and lobster.
These are notoriously the most expensive, meats in general in Cuba… but you also want to dodge food poisoning. This information would have been nice to know before sitting down and wasting 45 minutes all the while starving. SO you decide to do the only natural thing which is to order drinks. The waiter then informs that you must be seated at the bar. The table is right next to the bar and no one under 25 is even in the restaurant as it is 11 pm, and in Cuba no one cares what age you are drinking anyways… but okay. Move to the empty bar and wait ten minutes for the somehow busy bartender to notice. We place an order for a beer and a mojito. I’m not sure how time consuming it is to grab a beer and a clean glass but it must be on the upside of fifteen minutes. The mojito was nothing more than a squirt of lime juice, cup 98% full with rum and a mint twig thrown in. Not exactly what was imagined. Good thing it was only $1.50 as it was not exactly palatable.
Looking around you see waiters, employees of this restaurant standing around doing a whole lot of nothing. You’d imagine that if the restaurant was concerned about profits they would at least be utilizing the oodles of people with no real job description and be prompt in delivering the check. It doesn’t even need any preparation and they already have it from the paper they took your order on. You want to leave and think you can get the hell out of there ASAP, but alas, another wrong assumption. The bartender is too busy (???), and three non waiter waiters sitting at the end of the bar near what appears to be a register just chatting and looking around but avoiding actually doing anything. The two waiters who take orders and deliver food are walking around so fast you can’t even catch their eye. So going along with the theme of the night, and now I know, Cuba in general— It takes twenty minutes to get your check. Tempting to dine and dash, or leave money on the counter and dash but you don’t know what kind of impression that may have— being completely new to this country.
Somehow it’s close to midnight now so you decide to find your way back to the apartment. Still starving you eat some health bars you brought from America; on the way over they got smashed into tiny granola bits so you scoop it directly out of a gallon sized ziplock (that was fun for customs) with a titanium spork into your mouth. That’s all the food you have left because the fine gents of customs were so suspicious of your Costco Korean beef jerky that they threw it away.
Welcome to Cuba.