This instalment of ‘Where’s Wallis?’ is brought to you from the flight from Madrid to Cuba.
I do have 10 hours to kill (TEN HOURS!!) I foolishly thought it was about 6 or 7, much to my dismay when I checked the itinerary this morning. However I’m attempting to make the most of it: I’ve already had my carb-trio aeroplane meal (bread role, pasta main, and a side of rice…beach body on its way!), watched a film (‘Blended’ – fun and soppy), read some more of my Cuba Lonely Planet and now I’ll thrill you all with some updates.
You may think “oh but Caitlin surely nothing has happened in your travels yet” but how you’d be wrong. It has been a sufficiently stressful start to the trip, followed by a few pleasant encounters, leading to my current state of slight emotional limbo and great anticipation of what awaits me on arrival in Cuba tonight.
But to begin with, my final few days in London: I finished up at work, had some excellent farewell drinks with friends on Thursday, parting drinks with work-team on Friday, then a lovely weekend with friends from home (Oxford) in London before my annual outing to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum (worth a visit!) with my sister and mister 🙂 on Monday and a ‘last supper’ at Bibendum – I had the delicious garlic butter Escargot followed by Rabbit and Pancetta with hollandaise broccoli and then white peach sorbet (and a little too much alcohol for the night before a 20 hour day of travelling)…mouth currently watering…evidently not satisfied by the triple carbs…
I also received some wonderful parting gifts, a pair of Nike shorts from the home-girls (Havana’s Malecon, are you ready?), a beautiful necklace from my old housemates, a zip-wiring adventure trip from my current housemates, and amongst other travel essentials a go-pro from the boif. I plan to combine the last two to bring you a wonderful video extravaganza of my friend Dermot and I whizzing through the canopies of Costa Rica. Whilst being a helmet-camera-loser.
I definitely noticed a sentimentality growing in me in my final week in London, whenever it was crisp Autumn weather, or I passed a London landmark, or crossed one of the Thames bridges (my favourite part of London!) I felt a little tug inside and a greater sense of appreciation of what an excellent city it is. This faded slightly on my final London cycle yesterday, left home to a light drizzle, arrived at destination as wet as it is physically possible to be. My new ‘H2O repel’ Nikes did not stand a chance Yet, I acknowledge that this is very dull for those of you back in London, pissed off at whoever’s hair was in your face on the tube this morning, and so we shall move swiftly on.
My final days have also been a lesson in packing, unpacking, folding, rolling etc. I had thought that my 70 litre rucksack – kindly bought for me by my parents for my first solo trip: to Costa Rica over 8 years ago! – would be sufficient for my needs. Upon further consultation with well travelled friends/siblings it appears that the ‘standard’ is 90 litres, sometimes even 120, therefore once I had crammed the bottom and side pockets with ‘essentials’ and shoes (essentials) there was very little actual room for clothes in the main body. I will keep you posted on how the wardrobe situation fares and if my packing is wildly unsuitable at any/most points. The bonus is that the rucksack definitely has the worn and tattered look nailed, with one of the back-supports welded by someone who borrowed (and broke!) it a few years back. Fingers crossed it’s actually in the hold of this plane as we speak and didn’t get whizzed off in the different direction in Madrid!
That brings us to today, and the bout of franticness to kick of my journey. Flight from London to Madrid was at 10am, I resisted the urge to arrive at Gatwick 4 hours before as trained by my Dad, instead opting for a 7.30am Gatwick express. I was very kindly dropped at Victoria, tootled and bought my ticket, only to arrive at the platforms to precisely zero Gatwick Expresses and various announcements that due to signal failures they were delayed/cancelled. I then proceeded to run (literally run) around the platforms like a frightened beetle, bashing into various people in the process and frantic asking anyone what the alternative was. The rucksack felt plenty big enough at this point. Finally, just as I found a slow service that should still get me to Gatwick in time and was about to board, an Express pulled up at the opposite platform, forcing me to once again perform the frantic beetle run. Such a treat, especially on the mild hangover.
I made it to Gatwick in good time, rocked up at the Air Europa desk (disconcerting that no-one has ever heard of them!) to be greeted by a very stern check-in-counter-lady:
Me: “Hello!” still bit shaky from nerves of leaving and Express trauma but smiling handing over passport
CICL: “Do you have your proof of return flights otherwise you can’t be checked into this flight” stern
Me: “Ah so I’m actually flying onto Panama from Cuba, not back to the UK. But I have details of that flight on my itinerary” produce itinerary
CICL: to colleague “ummm so she doesn’t have details of a return flight so we can’t check her in can we?” stern
Me: silently panicking yet thinking this was totally illogical
CICL: “Also I need your Cuban tourist visa and details of medical insurance, otherwise we DEFINITELY can’t check you in” stern
Me: “Of course of course here everything is” producing documents, visibly shaking at this point….
CICL: scrutinises documents for quite some time “Right great, well your bag needs to go in oversized baggage so pick it up, go to the end, right, left, right again, on the conveyor belt thanks NEXT PLEASE?”
Me: frantic beetle scuttle away.
At the queue for check-in and on arrival at the gate I noticed that virtually everyone on my flight was male. This was explained on closer inspection by their Liverpool FC scarfs/shirts/tattoos and that Liverpool are playing Madrid tonight in the Champions League. I sat next to two good-eggs: Graham and Steve, who helped distract me from the nerves and when they asked my plans I learnt that they used to live in Sydney so they shared some tales.
Steve also told me an excellent story from his trip to San Francisco: he was only there for 2 days, and hadn’t booked to see Alcatraz, to which tours were fully sold out. Enterprisingly (or just illegally and ironically) he snuck onto one of the tour boats and into the prison. He got away with this and it was only as he was about to board the homeward boat that he felt a firm hand on his shoulder and was escorted to watch the CCTV of him sneaking in. He was asked for money, and upon answering that he didn’t have any, the response was “Fine, you’ll just have to stay here until the last boat tonight” so he had a lovely day relaxing in the sun on the island. An interesting punishment, though not sure I’ll be trying that approach when in San Fran!
I had about an hour to change in Madrid, all went smoothly, and when going through the security I met a guy who was also from London, Michael, who is going to film school outside Havana for a month, a potential buddy in Havana. My seat companion is a woman called Victoria from Barcelona who is going to visit friends in Havana. She very kindly gave me her number and that of her friends in Havana in case of an emergency, but hopefully I won’t have to use it! Her headphone socket is broken, nightmare for the 10 hour flight, so in an attempt to return her favour I have lent her use of my headphones and we are taking turns watching films, involving a synchronised “PLAY” hit so that her sound and screen are in sync.
And that effectively takes me to where we are now. I’ve had one attempt at Spanish requesting apple juice on the plane, to which I got a polite (and in English) response “I’m sorry madam we have orange and pineapple”. Urgh, pineapple…although I suppose I should get into the Caribbean spirit! I have about 4 hours left, time to watch Maleficent, and to scare myself by reading further things in the Lonely Planet that suggest I’m totally ill equipped (i.e. ‘Cuba is a cash society, you should pack a stash of cash to exchange, Euros, Stirling or Canadian, the worst is US $ as you’ll be charged a 10% fee on top of commission” numpty here who merrily bought $500 at Gatwick and spent my last stirling on a Pret smoothie. Winner.
I’m posting this from day 2 in Havana. I’m still getting settled but already seen some amazing things. Internet is highly sporadic and as anticipated I am in dread that I am going to run out of money….but I will update in due course when I’m able to.