It was supposed to be a relaxing week away. After a horrendous 18 months, my boyfriend and I decided that, actually, life was too short and so we might as well just say, “Screw it” and book that trip to Havana we’ve always been dreaming about. And even better – we managed to find a much cheaper deal by flying with Air Canada via Toronto, another city we’ve always wanted to visit. Huzzah! We excitedly booked up our accommodation, made plans for some awesome experiences, and got ready for the holiday of a lifetime.
The first few days were pretty fantastic. Cuba is a country that’s not only beautiful, but also incredibly welcoming and full of so much history. But thanks to stupid mistakes we made along the way (and a series of horrendous bad luck) we ended up having one of the most stressful weeks of our entire lives.
Thankfully, we had a lot of amazing experiences during this holiday too, which I’ll be writing about over the next few weeks. However, I feel like I need to get this massive rant out of my system because OH MY GOSH it’s been a mental few days. Where to start? Grab a cuppa, because this is going to be one LONG post.
1. We ran out of money
Having paid in advance for our accommodation, we budgeted around £350 each for 5.5 days in Havana. After taking off money for a pre-booked day trip and cabs to/from the airport, this left us with approximately £200 each for food, sightseeing and souvenirs. We’re not massive spenders and thought that would be plenty – and, ordinarily, it probably would have been. In Havana, it’s possible to pick up an all-you-can-eat breakfast for 5CUC (£3.76), and a meal for two for 17.40CUC (£13). What we didn’t factor in were smaller things like the fact we had to buy water (since it’s not recommended you drink straight from the taps), and the fact we’d be stopping every 5 minutes for a Cuba Libre. Ahem.
One of the reasons we prefer staying in an Airbnb is that we can make the odd breakfast, lunch or dinner ourselves to save money. Except we didn’t anticipate Cuban supermarkets being so few and far between, as well as crazily under-stocked. It took us almost all of our first day to find somewhere we could buy the most basic of things like water, biscuits and juice.
Another mistake we made was not factoring in the cost of taxis to and from certain things. Take the iconic Tropicana, for instance. An incredible experience, but totally not walkable from Old Havana. All in all that cost us around 50CUC (£38) for a return cab. Oh, and because we had absolutely no idea about haggling/tipping protocols until we got WiFi, we were paying out WAY more than we should have been for the first few days. Argh.
In a bid to stem the flow of money, we decided to begrudgingly cancel our day trip to Matanzas, a town famed for its Afro-Cuban folklore and culture. But with so many days booked in Havana, we still had to find something to do…which ended up with yet another drama.
2. My boyfriend got sunburnt
After cancelling our trip to Matanzas, we still decided to take a short trip out of Havana in order to escape the crowds. In the end we opted to go to Playas del Este, a gorgeous stretch of sand located just a 20-minute drive outside of the city.
We got there for 25CUC (£19), paid our 4CUC (£3) for two sunbeds, and had a glorious few hours soaking up the idyllic white sands and crystal clear sea. By the time we headed back to Havana mid-afternoon, though, my boyfriend had turned a wonderful shade of salmon pink (despite the factor 50 suncream) which over the next few days started to get more and more painful and itchy.
Both this and the ‘running out of money’ drama could easily have been laughed off as minor holiday annoyances were it not for the next 3 things on this list, though…
3. I lost my passport in Havana…5 hours before our flight home
Honestly, just thinking about this one is getting my blood pressure shooting up.
After packing our suitcases and getting ready for bed, I decided to do a final check of our travel documents before we went to sleep, ready for our 4am airport pick up. When I couldn’t find my passport in my document folder, I didn’t think too much of it. After all, I’d taken it out earlier that morning to take in to the nearby Hotel Parque Central. We were using their WiFi to check in for our flight over some drinks, and I was pretty sure I must have given it to Ian for safe keeping.
When Ian got out of the shower, I casually asked him if he had my passport in his pocket. When he said no, I almost laughed, thinking it was one of his terrible jokes. After realising that, actually, he was being 100% serious, my panic levels went into overdrive. All my neatly packed clothes were tossed out of my suitcase as I checked pockets, bags and anything else I could get my hands on.
Remembering that the last time I had my passport was at the hotel, we threw on some clothes and ran across the city to ask if anything had been handed in. Guess what? Nothing was there. Panicking even more by now – and with just 20 minutes to spare before places started shutting up at midnight – we decided to run the 2km across town to check all the restaurants, museums and bars we’d been in since that morning. One by one we ticked off the places, and absolutely nowhere had had anything handed in.
On the way back to our Airbnb, we managed to find another WiFi spot. Here I was able to look up the phone number for the British Embassy to explain what had happened – all they could say was that I would need to go to the Embassy in Havana in order to apply for a special travel document to allow me to travel home. But they didn’t open until 8am, and our flight was at 7am.
Shit, shit and even more shit.
With the cab coming at 4am, we decided to make our way to the airport as planned anyway to see if anything could be done. When I told the woman at check-in I’d lost my passport she looked absolutely horrified, which got me even more panicked. One of her co-workers took me to one side and was able to book us on a flight for the next day for a 150CUC (£113) fee. That meant I had a whole day to get my emergency travel document sorted out, as well as another visa for Canada. In theory, great. But then things got EVEN WORSE.
As soon as 8am hit, I phoned up the British Embassy in Havana to explain what had happened. While they were sympathetic, they explained that they closed at 1pm on Fridays, and that it was more likely than not that things couldn’t get sorted out until Monday – meaning it was unlikely we could leave the country for another 4 days!
Up until this point, I’d managed to keep myself together as much as I could. Because what good is hyperventilating and crying over a situation when there’s something more useful you could be doing? But hearing that just sent the fear of God through me. I had work on Monday! Ian had to get to work! We didn’t have enough money for an extra 4 days in Cuba! My cats would forget about me! We were shattered beyond belief and just wanted to get home to our own beds. In my panic I just remembered a tarot card reading I’d had a few weeks before which said I’d be moving abroad at some point in the future. “This is it!” I thought. “I’m stuck in Cuba for the rest of my days! I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A CHANCE TO SAY GOODBYE TO THE CATS.”
The lady at the embassy promised she would try her best to get my emergency travel document done that day if I could get over to the office by 10am with a passport photo, 140CUC in small notes, and a new flight itinerary. Leaping into action, we realised we were stuck at the airport for another half an hour at least until the Currency Exchange tills opened and we could exchange the Canadian Dollars we had left over in our bag. As luck would have it, we found a place at Havana airport that did passport photos – but despite having an ‘Open 24 hours’ sign on it, no one was there. When we asked at the Information Desk, all we got was a shrug and a nonchalant reply. Why was everything going against us?!
Once we’d changed up our money, we rushed to get a cab into the city centre. We thought we’d make the Hotel Parque Central our first stop because we were more likely to find someone there who could point us in the direction of a photography shop. The clock was ticking. And by this point we had just 50 minutes to get a passport photo and race back across the city to the Embassy. I think we both almost threw up in the cab with all the stress.
Pushing past the queue of 5* guests at the hotel, I grabbed the first person I could find to ask, yet again, if a passport had been handed in. The woman at the front desk laughed and stared at me. I could have cried. “Why are you laughing?!” I wanted to yell. “Do you have any idea how stressed I am right now?!” After what felt like an eternity she slowly picked up the phone to speak to someone in the upstairs bar. Eventually she put the phone down and said they were having another look.
Ian and I were on the verge of tears by now. We were just 40 minutes away from our 10am deadline and couldn’t spare a single second of waiting. Just as we were about to race back out the door, the phone at the front desk rang. The woman answered, looked at me, and said, “They’ve found it. They’re just bringing it down for you now.”
HOLY FRICKING STICKS.
IT HAD ACTUALLY BEEN FOUND. OUR NIGHTMARE WAS OVER.
We both must have looked like sleep-deprived lunatics as Ian and I hugged each other while crying and shouting “Mucho gracias!” to absolutely everyone in sight. WE COULD FINALLY GET TO TORONTO!
4. And then I ended up in hospital in Toronto
Whether it was exhaustion, the stress of the previous 48 hours, or something I ate, by the time we touched down in Toronto for our 20-hour stopover on the way home to London, my tummy was doing somersaults.
Without getting too graphic, by mid-afternoon I was on the toilet floor of a Tim Horton cafe in Downtown Toronto feeling the absolute worst I’ve ever physically felt. I couldn’t keep anything down, let alone the medication Ian had picked up from a local chemist for me.
After an hour of this, we decided to walk over to the pharmacy together to ask for some advice on what I could take. Long story short – I ended up on the floor of that pharmacy’s bathroom, feeling like I was dying. Because it was 7pm on a Saturday night and all the medical centres were shut, the pharmacist recommended I head over to the nearby emergency room to get checked over.
Thankfully, the staff at the hospital were absolutely amazing. I was seen within minutes for an initial check-up, and then placed in a cubicle on a drip for some anti-nausea medication and fluids. At first they weren’t sure what was causing everything, but after a few hours (and a $950 bill which hopefully my travel insurance will cover…) they told me it was most likely a case of gastroenteritis. Thankfully by this point I was feeling stable enough to get back to our hotel. I was feeling exhausted, fed up, and so upset that I’d ruined the last day of what was supposed to be our ‘relaxing’ holiday.
5 …And then we lost both passports on the Tube journey home
The cherry on top of the cake? We left our carrier bag – containing our passports and all our other travel documents – on the Tube as we made our way home across London. Thankfully a member of the public found me on Twitter to say they’d found our passports and handed them in, but when I got to the station the next day the staff couldn’t find them! Later that evening I got a call to say the passports HAD been found and put somewhere safe for us, so fingers crossed they’re still there when we go pick them up…
And therein lies the tale of how our relaxing trip to paradise ended up being one of the most stressful 72-hour periods of my entire life. I’m prone to a bit of bad luck here and there, but having all this happen in such a short space of time has definitely put me off adventure for a little while.
Despite all this drama, though, our week in Havana had many highlights. But with this post already way over 2,000 words, that’s a story that’ll have to wait for another day…
What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on your travels? Please let me know in the comments below to make me feel (a little bit) better!
p.s. if you enjoyed this (or just want to make my day a little brighter) Pin this image for later!