We drove down the dusty Havana back roads and arrived at our casa particular. It’s basically a home stay situation where you occupy a room in the residence of a local Cuban rather than a hotel. It’s cheaper, it’s more authentic, and I felt good supporting local people rather than a hotel.
Our host, Gerardo, greeted us, made us reservations at a restaurant nearby since we were both exhausted and starving, showed us on a map how to get there, and gave us the keys to our room in the house.
We examined the two beds and the bathroom, dropped our bags, and regrouped before heading out to dinner. I plugged my essentially worthless phone in and was concerned when it didn’t start charging. It was only useful to text my dad to let him know I was still alive, as for some reason Mariska’s phone wasn’t accepting my texts, so it wasn’t a pivotal part of my trip. I hadn’t expected that it would work anyways, so it was a nice surprise that I could connect to my dad.
But the bigger issue was it was standing in as my camera for the entirety of my trip, so I frantically plugged it into a different outlet wondering how long my battery would last on airplane mode. Mariska came out of the bathroom as I was bending my phone cord at odd angles over my head, praying it would get some juice and start charging. She looked at me, nodded as I explained my charger wasn’t working, and then proceeded to tell me we couldn’t flush paper down the toilet.
I was praying she just meant paper towels or notebook paper or something that some dumbass had done to clog that toilet in the past. I asked her if she was sure it was toilet paper, and she confirmed my fears. We had to throw our used TP in the trash can next to the toilet. There was even a sign above the toilet thoroughly explaining that we were not to clog up the system.
It happens. It worked that way in Greece, so I knew that I could deal with it, but I didn’t want to. I sighed, and secretly wished I’d be constipated the whole trip so that I wouldn’t have to stress about number twos and the dirty toilet paper that would be sitting in a trash can until someone cleaned it out. I retched at the thought of it.
I watched as Mariska plugged in her phone and it buzzed to life, drinking the power out of the outlet and gaining new life after being drained from use.
“What is happening?” I exclaimed dramatically.
“Why do you say that all the time? Is that an American thing?”
I looked at her like she had five heads, blinking blankly as I could not process thoughts properly on my three hours of sleep I’d gotten in the last 40 hours.
“You said it when you saw me at the airport too.”
I explained I meant it like “what is going on, or why in God’s name is this situation happening after a series of weird events.” I didn’t realize how often I used it until she brought up that I already told a story in the taxi and used it as well.
“Also I think you shouldn’t drink the water because bottled is better. They are still working on their water systems here,” she added.
“Jesus Christ,” I sighed. I was too hungry and tired to process all of this, so we went to eat and once I got back I reassessed the situation.
91% battery. I would leave my phone in airplane mode and it would be fine. But my battery drained fast nowadays because I needed to get a new one. I wasn’t in a first world country anymore either, so it seemed like a douchebag move to ask for an iPhone charger in a place where that would clearly be hard to find.
I brought my packaged Kleenex in my purse before we went in search of the restaurant in the dark, getting catcalled by men in the street as we clearly stood out as two blonde women.
I knew now that my friend had saved my life when she suggested that I bring my own toilet paper with me to Cuba. I made a mental note to be indebted to her, as on more than one occasion in the following days I would be working my quads by squatting over a public toilet sans seat and look over to see that no toilet paper was anywhere in sight.
Mariska and I had a great meal after getting lost looking for the restaurant. I had half of a whole chicken on my plate, some vegetables, and some mashed plantains and devoured as much as I could. It was delicious, and I looked out into the streets with a full belly watching the people walk through the dark streets, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.
Even if it was terrible, we only had a few days to spend in Havana, so we may as well make the best of it. I read up on a few things to do, as had Mariska, so we figured we’d eat breakfast and hit the ground running in the morning.
On our way back, we overshot the block our casa particular was located, as navigating the new streets and getting our bearings in the dark was not either of our strong suit. I went to bed and crashed quickly, as I was exhausted from lack of sleep and a long day of travel.
I thought through my previous trips where there’s always an adjustment period. It’s new, and sometimes adjusting to new and different can be scary, and I was more than a little rusty being two years since the last time I traveled someplace that felt foreign to me.
Before I went to bed I listened to the voices outside speaking in foreign tongues. I remembered how weirdly calming it is to hear a different language drifting through the air. I find it kind of exciting, not having a clue what is going on around me. I drifted to sleep wondering what Havana would be like to explore in the daylight.