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Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Morning

I wake up Friday morning in a better place than I was the night before.  But I had a knot in my stomach.  I wasn't sure what to do.  I was completely out of my element and not dealing with it well.  While I speak a decent amount of Spanish, VERY few people speak any English and it's difficult to communicate effectively.  I pull myself together and go to the hotel lobby for breakfast.  I'm careful to avoid anything that looks raw as I have no idea what's safe at this point.  I hear a Brit order food and watch him walk through the buffet.  I decide an omelette with peppers is ok.  It was.

I head to the front desk to ask about making change.  The woman working informs me that this hotel doesn't make change and that I would have to go to the bank.  I ask where it is and she tries to describe it before telling me to go upstairs to the gift shop to buy a map.  I do, but the map is three CUCs and I only have 1 left from the previous night.  She points out the street where all the banks are and lets the take the map making me promise to return and pay the additional two CUCs.  I head back to my room, reassemble my bike and pack my bag to bike over there but finally decide that a cab is the best way to go.  I load up my necessities: passport, Canadian dollars, health insurance card (we were told to carry it everywhere), wallet, and iPhone which is currently a $400 paperweight that can also play games.

The view from my room
I go downstairs and get a taxi explaining to the driver what I need to do.  Change first, then a SIM card for my phone.  Changing my currency was easy.  We drive for a while to where a Cubacel office is passing all the embassies:  Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Malaysia.  We start passing one that keeps going and has a massive concrete tower that overshadows the entire compound.  I ask what embassy.  Russia.  I forgot to take a picture of the Russian embassy, so I shamelessly ripped them off of Wikipedia.  Like every other building, the embassies are old.  The Russian embassy looks like something out of a Steven King novel.  Old, greying concrete from the 50's comprises all the buildings.  Seeing the brand new Audis parked in the compound is just flat out weird.

Russian Embassy (courtesy Wikipedia) 
Russian Embassy (courtesy Wikipedia)
We arrive at a Cubacel office but the line is at least 40 people deep.  I ask if I can get a SIM card for my phone from one of the locals, a kid, waiting in line.  He says yes, but I have zero interest in waiting for several hours.  He takes me around to his buddies and asks them if any of them have an extra SIM card.  They don't.  I go back to my taxi and ask if there's any other offices.  He says yes, but it's in the complete opposite direction of my hotel than we went.  Disheartened, I told him to just take me back to my hotel, but he tells me wait a minute and we find a hole-in-the-wall satellite office on some random side street a few minutes from where we were.  There were only a few people in line and one of them speaks perfect English.  I ask why so many people are waiting at the offices and he says that it's the last day of a 2:1 promotion by Cubacel.  All Cuban cell phones are prepaid and the promotion is for every CUC you spend, you get one.  No limit.

I get my SIM card and take it next door to be cut to fit in my phone.  I plug it in and turn it on.  After unlocking, I see full bars and Cubacel in the corner and nearly cry.  I speak with a man who has family in Miami and he shows me how to make an international call.  No texting.  The Cuba systems don't talk to the American ones.  The embargo is present everywhere.  I call my wife and get her voicemail.  I finally break down and cry babbling something incoherent about needing to talk to her and then hang up.  I have the cabbie take me back to my hotel trying a few more times to reach her.

I try again when I get back to my room.  Success!  I try to keep it together while I talk to her and fill her in on the previous 40 hours.  I am doing much better.


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