Havana to Guatemala City
6. April (Friday): We're two weeks into our journey and today we set off for Guatemala.
Somehow I have the strange feeling that our holiday is over and we were going back home. But of course this is way far from the truth and we'd be having many more weeks of adventure before us.
We have our last breakfast and I settle the bill with Fernando. He does not charge us anything for washing our clothes so I give him the remainder of my Cuban Pesos, since I can't use them anyway.
We then decide to take a look at the Museo del Artes Decorativas. It is in a small mansion near to where we live . It is a very beautiful place with nice exhibits, highly recommended. It has very nice furniture, vases, porcelain and ornamental items well worth seeing.
We go and get some flowers for Francisco, take a last look at the Malecon and then go back to the Casa Particular to get our bags. Francisco orders us a taxi and seems very happy about receiving the flowers.
The ride to the airport is uneventful, we wait in line at the "Copa Airlines" desk. They are efficient, we pay the exit tax, have another Pollo in the airport restaurant to get rid of our dollar change (actually there wasn't any need for this, since Dollars would be accepted in Panama)
Departure immigration had similar booths to the ones they have entering Cuba. Mine was staffed by a rather sick-looking young woman who was sniffing her nose. I had become quite tanned in the Cuban sun and somehow she was suspicious of me. My passport was empty except for my Cuban entry stamp and that must have added to her distrust. She asked me where I was going (Guatemala), where from there (Costa Rica), I had to produce all my tickets, she asked me whether I was on business, where I lived, where I can come from, what my occupation was. I was getting a tad nervous by all this questioning but I had nothing to hide. It was only when she asked me for an additional identification and I produced my tattered Swiss driving license that she suddenly believed me and let me pass through with a jab at the switch of the electric doorway.
Havana airport is modern enough, I'm wondering how good our airline and planes are going to be. Copa is actually a very good airline, clean, modern and efficient but they have interesting flight routes. In order to go from Havana to Guatemala City, we would have to take this flight to Panama City, change to another flight, and it would stop in Managua, Nicaragua on the way to Guatemala. This complicated trip would cost us the most of the day.
Security car driving along with the plane during takeoff at Havana Airport to make sure no Cubans escape the country!
Panama City harbour at sunset. In the foreground you can see the Causeway. The Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal is the waterway just after the causeway, leading to the right.
The security officials check and double check our boarding cards and passports, they want to be absolutely sure that no one who's not a passenger boards the plane. There is a count on the plane as well. When we take off, a police car accompanies the plane under it's wing, I assume to make sure no Cuban hops onto the plane to escape from Cuba in the wheel wells of the plane!
The flight is pleasant and when we begin to land at Panama City I'm looking out to see if I can make anything of the Panama Canal. I'm quite excited to see the entrance to it in the orange light of sunset.
Panama City airport is modern and glittery and we are overwhelmed by it's opulence! There are glittering stores stocked with goods and luxury items. It seems we are in paradise! Strangely enough, when we would return to Panama City airport a few weeks later we would not think much of it, it is the huge contrast to Cuba which catches our attention!
We catch our onward flight to Guatemala City, have the planned landing in Managua and then land in Guatemala City. On the immigration cards we receive, I read that it is legal to import a handgun into Guatemala if you can prove you are a tourist. This is something I have never seen anywhere before! The lack of communist-style immigration is evident and our luggage once again arrives safely.
We've arrived late in the evening and I'm glad we have a pre-booked room for one night at the Holiday Inn. When we discover a Holiday Inn booth at the airport, I call them and they say they will send us a bus to pick us up. What luck! And I can even speak English with them, how pleasant! The bus arrives than expected and the hotel is quite near to the airport, making it a short drive. We check in and the personnel is very friendly and helpful and speak good English. We choose a "king-size bed" from two bed options (I can't remember what the other was).
We're overwhelmed by the room when we see it, pure luxury! Good room size, great bed, marble bathroom, coffee machine in the bathroom, ironing board, a credit-card operated safe, TV with so many channels, WOW!
After recovering from all the opulence, we go down again to have a drink and land up at a place next door with a loudish music system playing pop hits. The beer is quite good, but we don't want to wander around after that since we're read that Guatemala City is not safe after dark. There is personnel around carrying guns, which is quite unsettling.
We're dead tired after the long day and sink into our king-size bed.