Cuba!! Ya’ll I was so excited to go to Cuba. Cuba has literally been on the top of my bucket list for years, and I could barely believe I was actually going. I was bummed I could only find 4 days to squeeze the trip in, but I was literally counting down the days till I could walk through the streets of Havana. After talking to a bunch of my friends who had already made the trek to this beautiful island, I decided to spend my entire trip in Havana. Trying to get around the island can be a bit tricky and I didn’t feel like spending 2 of my 4 days traveling. Thankfully Havana is big enough that I never felt bored and all 4 days were full of walking around and exploring.
My first full day in Havana started of slowly. As much as I wanted to hit the ground running I was exhausted from my long week and because I hadn’t exchanged enough money needed to wait for a woman to come to the hostel to exchange money.
Cuba has two different forms of money. You have CUC which is tied directly to the USD. This means it will always equal the dollar–and is the money the tourists used. After the CUC you also have the Cuban peso which, during my trip, was almost equal to the Mexican peso– and the currency used by the locals. I had been told to try and get a bit of both. As I stated previously I hadn’t exchanged enough money at the airport which meant after paying for the taxi, my hostel, and a night out I had a total of 5 CUC left. This was just enough to get lunch and nothing else.
After waiting 3 hours for the woman to come back with money to exchange with me, I decided to take my chances with the banks and off I went. Well, this turned out to be an adventure. I left my hostel at 1:30 in the afternoon, and by the time I ate a lunch that took my remaining 5 CUC, it was about 2:30 by the time I started searching for a place to exchange money. Remember that USA banks and their cards don’t work in Cuba so I actually had to find a place to exchange money in person.
Well, this search to exchange money turned into a huge adventure– as all of the banks were closed. Some locals thought it was because of the time, others suggested it had something to do with the petroleum, and yet others thought made they closed early for the holiday. No matter the reason, three hours and many miles walked later, I was stuck asking hotels if they could exchange money for me (even though I knew the exchange rate was horrible). But what do you know, they exchange all currencies EXCEPT Mexican pesos.
I was hot, frustrated, and on my last nerve as I walked into one last hotel to see if maybe, just maybe, hotel Ingleterra would be able to help me out. The conversation went something like this “Hi, can you exchange Mexican pesos here” ” I’m really sorry ma’am but we don’t exchange those here, trying going to the bank” “They’re all closed, and I have no money I have no idea what I’m going to do” I must have had a desperate look on my face because she looks around before whispering “I think there is a man named Micheal who works in the restaurant who exchanges money. Go over there and ask him” At this point I would do just about anything (within reason) to exchange money, so I confidently walked over to the restaurant and asked for Micheal.
My confidence quickly dwindled as I watched Micheal’s face grow more confused as I started rambling about exchanging money and the woman at the desk. My conversation with Micheal drew enough attention that another man working at the restaurant came over and began listening to my plight. As with all the other people I had asked, they first suggested the banks, and then opined why they were closed. Finally, the other man (Micheal had no idea why someone would think he exchanged money) said his neighbor might be able to help me and pulled out his phone to make a call. After having the phone shoved in my face, and straining to understand the man on the phone, we agreed on an exchange rate, and I gave the phone back to man number 2. He pulled out the agreed upon amount of CUC in exchange for my Mexican pesos.
At this point I was so tired, exhausted from the sustained stress of trying to exchange money, that I walked the 20 minutes back to the hostel and took a nap.
That night I was determined to find a salsa club and was devastated when I discovered after getting already and walking to the “club”, that all 3 places recommended to me were either permanently or temporarily closed. I returned back to the hostel around 1 am disappointed and hoping the next day would go slightly better than the first.