travel to cuba is still kind of tricky to navigate, official paperwork-wise. when we'd checked in at the port and showed our passports, we were given our visa to enter the country that the cruise line had secured for us.
and then as i was reading all of the rules and guidelines that had been left for us in our stateroom the night before, i realized that we needed to book a guided tour to fulfill a requirement that was set by some act that was passed last november. it was all really confusing, but because i didn't want to take any chances of us getting in trouble for any reason, the hub went ahead and booked us a "cigars, rum and art" bus tour. it would take us around havana for a few hours and drop us back off at the port to either return to the ship or set off on our own for self-guided site seeing.
after gulping down an iced coffee, we met up with our tour group and were directed off the ship and into the terminal.
our visas were collected, passports were stamped, and then we were officially in cuba.
it was super hot and humid, so we were happy to board our air-conditioned bus after meeting our tour guide. i'd read that the cars in cuba were all made in 1959 or older, but that only applied to american-made ones. there were plenty of newer cars and buses and vans from all of the other countries everywhere.
the hub had obtained some cuban money for us:
after circling around the block, our first stop was literally across the street from the terminal - the havana club and bar.
i took advantage of all the cheesy photo ops.
while the rest of our group followed the tour guide to walk around the club, the hub and i hung back and did our own thing.
"our own thing" = veering off into the famous bar, where the employees were getting ready for the day.
and although it was maybe 10:00 in the morning, we got started on the rum. the hub was excited to try this super fancy aged stuff that was poured carefully for him by the lady behind the bar.
he ordered up a couple of cuban coffees for us and asked for them to flambé it as he'd seen done before. she tried and tried, but for some reason she couldn't get it to light on fire and we eventually gave up and just drank it.
and as we sat there enjoying our coffees and the peace from being away from our tour group, the live music started up behind us. it was just a really lovely setting, and the music was fantastic.
when we spotted members of our group passing by through the window in the door, we decided to get up and join them in the shop (because don't all tours end in a gift shop??).
customs regulations allowed each of us to bring home one bottle of rum (up to a liter), and i pointed at these and said "we'll take those!" ha!
after another short ride on the bus, we ended up somewhere outside of the touristy area and were warned to leave all large bags and cameras on the bus for our next stop - a cigar factory. the management is super protective of their facility and everything that happens inside, and we were told that photos would not be allowed. we were led into the rolling room, where rows upon rows of employees sat working side by side on assembling the cigars. none of them knew what brands of cigars they were rolling, they were just given carefully measured stacks of tobacco blended to each manufacturer's specifications. as we walked through, we would smile and nod at the staffers and some of them would gesture towards the cigar they were working on and silently offer them to the hub. he told me that they did this with all the tour groups on the sly, trying to earn some extra money, risking their jobs in the process. but due to the nature of the industry, even if they were caught and fired they had no problems going to another factory to get another job. the hub handed one of them a rolled bill, and told me that was probably more than what he would earn that whole day. yikes.
when we got back on the bus, one of the ladies in the group showed off the cigar she'd taken from one of the employees. "look, he just gave it to me! i got a free cigar!" she crowed. the hub and i just exchanged a look, knowing that that employee was probably fuming from the loss of some extra cash. sheesh.
with the "cigars" and "rum" portion of our tour complete, all we had left was the "art." this was our last stop.
here, too, we wandered away from our group for a bit, stopping in a small bar we'd passed. the hub paused to watch a few minutes of the world cup game on the tv.
back on the bus, we drove through lots of narrow streets, avoiding bicyclists and horses and these funny little taxi things.
the u.s. embassy building:
a former hilton hotel and one of the places the hub had stayed at during his last visit to cuba:
a football stadium that had been severely damaged by hurricane irma:
hotel nacional de cuba, which was originally built by the mafia and where the hub also stayed during his last trip.
with our guided tour over, we were finally free to set off on our own and do some exploring. the day had just started, and there was lots still to see. part 2 of our day in havana, next!