I couldn’t believe that it was finally time for me to head home. My week in Cuba was quite literally life-changing. For my first completely solo vacation, it was absolutely amazing. I woke up early, not wanting to risk missing my flight.
See, I had done research. The Internet and countless travel guides told me, “Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours early, as the Havana Airport can be unpredictable.” My flight wasn’t until 11:45, and the airport was only about 35-40 minutes away from my Airbnb. But, being extra cautious, I had my taxi come a bit before 7a.m. Just to be safe.
By 7:30, I was already in line at the airport. I had checked in and gotten my tickets, and was waiting to clear customs. It seemed I had drastically overestimated how much time getting to the gate was going to take. Or had I?
The line wasn’t bad. I waited for about a half an hour, and then I was finally 4 people from the front of the line. This is when it all went horribly wrong. We stood still, not moving, for a long time. Finally, people began to get antsy. Of course, 97% of the people around me only spoke Spanish, so I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening.
People were getting nervous about missing their flights. It was only 9a.m., so I wasn’t panicked yet. However, people began to press and shove forwards. Fortunately, I was up front so I could see what was happening. I was juggling my large shoulder bag and my suitcase, while wearing a jean jacket (because the plane would inevitably be freezing), and people began to surround me on all sides. I started to sweat. It was getting unbearably hot.
With hordes of people surrounding me, and confusion running rampant, I was starting to get nervous. There was no ETECSA, no wi-fi, no cell service. I was completely alone to deal with this situation. We finally were made aware of what was happening. EVERY. SINGLE. COMPUTER. Had shut down. Nothing was working. No one could clear customs. God, what a nightmare. I swear I have PTSD.
Their first plan was insane. People who had imminent flights (as in, departing in less than 30 minutes), were told to pass their PASSPORTS forward through the crowds to officials. They would call out a flight number, and you were to relinquish your passport to strangers while it was passed forward to officials, who would then manually check your information. Your passports were then supposedly returned by officials pacing the length of the crowd yelling, “John Smith?! John Smith?! Passport for John Smith?!” It was insanity. I knew then and there that my passport was not leaving my hands. I can’t believe how many people willingly gave theirs up.
When it became clear that that wasn’t working all too well, they started trying to force people to clump up by flights. I heard the yells for “American!” and hustled over to the far corner, where I was squashed even more by angry crowds. A woman asked me if I was also taking Flight XXX (in Spanish), and I replied to her in broken Spanglish. My mind was in a frenzy, so I told her to give me a second to compose the answer in Spanish. She laughed. She spoke perfect English!
It turned out that she and her husband were not only getting on the same flight to Miami as I was, but they were also later taking the same connection on to Chicago! In the chaos, I decided to stick with them. It was inching closer and closer to time for our flight to depart. Finally, we started being allowed through the gates slowly.
Throughout this whole ordeal, tons of people had been putting their phones up above the crowd, as though at a concert. Videoing the chaos. Naturally, as I run a blog, I decided to do the same! This way, I could show people what the airport might be like, and why you need to arrive early.
I was finally allowed through customs, and entered the area to go through security. I snapped one last video of the masses pushing up against customs, and headed to put my stuff onto the belt. The next thing I know, a man is approaching me, yelling in Spanish. My Spanish is bad? His English was far worse.
Apparently, it’s incredibly frowned upon to take pictures and videos of their airport. Like, DON’T DO THIS. He and a few other officials snatched my passport. Then they demanded to see my phone. I was confused. I didn’t know what was happening. I finally realized they were angry about the videos. I showed them my phone, and they kept saying, “basura, basura.” I know enough Spanish to realize he wanted them thrown out.
I apologized and erased the videos, my hands shaking and my heart racing. They were threatening to not let me board my flight. They were holding onto my passport. I was already dangerously close to missing my flight. God, how had this day gone so wrong? I honestly thought they might try to detain me. I was terrified!
Once I erased the videos and showed him that they were gone, he handed my passport back reluctantly and waved me through. I sighed in relief, and sprinted through security to my gate. Where I realized– my flight (which was supposed to depart in 10 minutes), had been pushed back 20 minutes.
I went up to the gate agent, and she wrote down my name, to track that I had made it through security. We were finally allowed onto the plane, but we had to wait another 40 minutes (causing a total of an hour delay), for other passengers to clear security. What happened to “the train waits for no one?” Apparently, that’s not a thing in Cuba. I swear we waited for every single passenger.
We finally were airborne. I was worried I would miss my connection! The minute we touched down in Miami, I was running. I sprinted through customs (thank God for Global Entry), and rushed into the airport. At customs, I was shocked. The guy didn’t bat an eye at me obviously returning from a Cuban vacation, something Americans aren’t technically supposed to be doing. It made it easy!
Once through customs, I had to go back through Miami Airport security to get into the terminal. With minutes to spare, I sprinted up to the Admirals Lounge, the exclusive lounge for American Airlines frequent flyers and cardholders. I quickly filled up my water and grabbed a few snacks for the road, then cruised down to my gate.
I had made it with 20 minutes to spare. Once on the flight to O’Hare, I finally let myself relax. My first solo vacation was over. I had done it! I hadn’t died. I spent a whole week alone, and learned and grew a lot. I made it. It was truly the best week.
I woke up around 8:30 to get ready for the day. Ana had my breakfast ready for me at 9, and oh man was it delicious! The bread that she served was unbelievable, so I may or may not have eaten the whole basketful. Oops.
She also cooked some fried eggs, and served them with platters of fruit, some sort of breakfast cake, and juice. It was all to die for. I was curious if she would make it at 6:30 tomorrow morning before my taxi arrived, but also, I didn’t want to be a jerk about it and make her get up at the crack of dawn.
After breakfast, I headed to the wifi park near the house, Park Cervantes. After letting everyone know I was alive, it was time for my drum lesson! It was ridiculously close by the house and the park, so it was an easy walk.
I wandered in and we got started. I worked up a sweat! It was so much fun, even though they spoke very little English. We played several songs, and took a coffee break as well. It proved I still don’t like coffee, but I drank it to be polite. After my lesson, I was dying. It was so hot in their tiny apartment/music school.
I headed back to lay in my air conditioned room (which was less than one block away), for a little siesta. After relaxing and enjoying the AC, it was time to get on with my day. From the house, I walked up to the ETECSA one final time.
I was surprised at the chaos. I was able to slip in through the door, which was for once, unmanned. I sat down quietly to wait, and connected myself to the internet. Seeing that I knew what I was doing, a French woman begged me for help with the wifi, and I gladly obliged.
After awhile, I realized no employee was going to come and tell me that it was my turn. Instead, I needed to go stand in the chaotic “line” and wait. After a long wait, I received my last 3 ETECSA cards of the trip. 21 hours of internet, I’d bought, in total. All from this place, which meant that I’d come and gone from there 7 times! Will I finish all my cards? Probably not. But they don’t expire for a year, and they only cost $1 anyways. Maybe I’ll come back?
I quickly ran down to the restaurant that I wanted to eat at for lunch. I parked myself into a small table on the upstairs level, and was thrilled to find that the waitress spoke English! Excellent English. I ordered the O’Reilly Tacos (I have no clue what was in them), and then had a bottle of water and chips. All of it was delicious, if not super messy. When she brought the check, she brought me a flower, and it made my day.
From there, it was a short walk to the art studio. I actually had a brief moment to hop online on the way, and update my family. The art class was AMAZING. All three guys were great and spoke excellent English. Two kids from the neighborhood came and crashed the class for a bit as well, which was super fun.
We learned a few different art forms, and I had so much fun doing crafts! I feel like I never get to do stuff like that anymore. When the class was done, they told me that I could come back at 6p to pick up my art. It needed a bit more time to dry off. I said no problem! Then they shocked me by giving me a caricature! I’ve always wanted one, so this made my day even more than the flower had. I loved it.
From there, I headed back home to rest for a few before going back out in search of internet, dinner, and ice cream. I dropped off my flower from O’Reilly 304 and cooled down for a second.
Then I was off to find some internet! I sat in Cervantes Park until about 6p, when I headed back over to La Ubre to pick up my artwork. They had packaged it so nicely! I brought the package home so I didn’t have to lug it around, and walked myself over to dinner.
5 Sentidos was much fancier than I had imagined. Imagine an upscale Italian place. 5 Sentidos had a very similar vibe. White cloth tablecloths and napkins, with a guard manning the door to keep random people out. I was served a drink on the house the minute I walked in! The waiter was so attentive that it made me super self conscious, as I read my book and enjoyed my pork. He literally watched as I ate (the restaurant was relatively empty), and the minute the last bite of pork was in my mouth, he swooped in with toothpicks. A bit overmuch, in my opinion. I decided I should probably not eat dessert, and save my last 5CUC in case of emergency.
I headed back to the park, where I hung out until 8. At 8, I got up to go and was halted by a strange man who asked for a light (I had no idea people still did that), and got sucked into a strange conversation and Cuba vs. The Philippines. Finally, I excused myself, as I really needed to go home.
I got home, took a shower, and packed my bags. Snuggled into bed, I finished my book, and went to sleep.
I woke up early. Somehow, despite the roosters crowing at dawn again, I had managed to sleep through it this morning. However, I still needed to be up at 6:30 to have plenty of time before the taxi arrived.
I rolled out of bed and got ready to go, then asked Susana to turn on the wi-fi. With the internet on, I caught up with the world until breakfast was ready at 7:30.
I got the rooftop to myself, and basked in the glory of the new day. It was going to be gorgeous out. After breakfast, I waited for my taxi. He arrived at around 8:20, and I was excited to see a modern car (relatively speaking) instead of a 50s car! His 80s sedan had AIR CONDITIONING! And nice seats WITH HEADRESTS AND SUN VISORS. Oh the things we take for granted. I was the first pickup, and as such, I got to sit up front.
Next, we picked up a nice, elderly German couple. they were very curious and told me I was the only American they had met in Cuba so far, so I explained the process of coming here as an American. We pulled up in front of the 3rd party’s house, and I was mid-conversation with the couple when I heard, “Hi, I’m Jenny!”. I turned around in shock and saw that it was the Jenny I had befriended while riding horses two days before.
We both quickly caught up, and then relaxed for the long ride. We only stopped once, for the man to use the bathroom at the side of the road, and after that we cruised quickly to Havana.
We stopped just in the borders of Havana, and Jenny switched cabs, as she was not going the whole way into Havana, she was heading to Varadero. We said goodbye, and we drove into the city!
I was dropped off next. It was impressive. My ride from Havana-Viñales had taken almost 4 hours, and this ride barely took 2.5hours. What a difference a modern car and an organized driver makes! I was stunned to discover how centrally located my new Airbnb was. And it was ICY COLD due to working AC, with a massive shower. I was overjoyed.
My host was also very nice. She arranged for my laundry to be done, and organized breakfast for 9am the next morning. I laid in the cold room relaxing for an hour. I needed a nap because I’d woken up so early! Then I set out to find internet and alert the world that I was still alive.
I headed up to ETECSA, which was now gloriously close to my Airbnb and purchased 3 new cards. I updated the world a bit, and then went to Central Park to sit in the shade and read a book on my Kindle.
After an hour there, I decided to head up to the Museum of the Revolution. It seemed worth checking out! I arrived and checked my bag in, then bought my ticket. I was expecting the museum to take at least an hour to explore, if not more. The building itself is massive! However, this was not the case. I found that 90% of the building was under construction and not able to be seen. I saw (and read) everything there was within 45 minutes. Also, it wasn’t all in English, which was unfortunate. But I am still glad I went!
They do have a cool outdoor exhibit where you can see planes/trains/automobiles from the war and Revolution, and I thought that was pretty neat.
I walked around a bit through Old Havana and found a wifi park where I sat for a bit. I informed everyone I was going for a siesta, and went to lay down and read a book in my air conditioned room until dinner.
After my siesta, I headed back towards the wifi park, where I sat for an hour, enjoying the last sunshine of the day. A little boy approached me asking for money or food. I handed him a fruit leather strip, one of my remaining few that I had on me. I felt bad not giving money, but I was running low on funds and really did NOT want to have to exchange my last bit of USD before I left. I noticed a restaurant on the corner near the wifi park that looked really good, and I decided to chance it. I’m so glad that I did!
Habana 252 was delicious and had fantastic service! It was comparable to Chicago, and I was in and out in under 40 minutes. I was highly impressed on the whole.
After my dinner, I went back to sitting in the park. My little amigo found me again, and I felt bad that I had nothing more to give him. Oh well. Maybe tomorrow!
I headed back to my Airbnb where I found my laundry done and folded on my bed. It made my whole night! I definitely didn’t need to have laundry done (I totally overpacked), but I appreciated having clean pajamas and the fact that I could pack my suitcase without having to worry about bringing home mountains of dirty laundry.
I took a shower and curled up in bed to watch movies that I had downloaded to my devices. It was almost time for my last day in Havana.
Ahhhhhh beach day. I woke up early to the sound of the roosters at 5:10 in the morning. They didn’t let up until 8a. It was insanity.
I lounged in bed on my phone until it was time for breakfast at 8:15. Having Internet in bed was such a luxury, I honestly could’ve laid there all day. Breakfast was out of this world. Looking at the mogotes from Susana’s rooftop was amazing. Stunning. I enjoyed my breakfast, but definitely could not finish it all.
I got my bags ready for the beach, and at 8:50, my taxi arrived. I was the first to be picked up. We rode and picked up a girl who spoke English, I was so excited. She and her father were travelling from Germany. She had wanted to come solo but her parents were too overprotective.
After picking them up, we picked up 4 others who spoke different languages. As our driver called it, it was a “coche del mundo,” or a car of the world. The ride to the beach took about an hour and forty five minutes. If the roads were better, it would be much quicker, but the roads are so pock-marked, it’s impossible to go quickly. Especially in a car from 1953.
It was very funny. 4 cars left Viñales at a similar time, and we kept leapfrogging one another the whole way there. Relatively smooth road? The new Hyundai surged ahead. Smaller potholes? The old blue Ford would pass us! Then all of a sudden, we’d fly past them both. It was a fun pattern that I enjoyed observing.
Finally, we reached a sign marking 4km to Cayo Jutias. Time to rejoice! Except… he quickly informed us that the sign was incorrect and it was not 4km, but 11! I was squished between the driver and another large man, with no leg room. It was getting hot and uncomfortable, so I was so happy when we finally arrived! We all decided to meet back at 4, to head back, and we hit the beach.
I found a secluded spot down the beach, and laid out my stuff to relax. It was glorious. I don’t ever remember being so relaxed. I got to lay in the sun and read a book for 5 hours! The restaurant also serves you beachside, so I was able to order and receive a pina colada without getting up! And it was only 3CUC. The small price to pay was the waiter asking me to go out to salsa that night, but I just politely declined.
The beach was interesting. Not overly crowded, and a lot of Europeans! Halfway through, I started noticing that there was a lot more nudity than I expected!
At 4p.m., we all piled back into the clown car. I thought it was hot being squished between them in the morning? After the black cab had been sitting in the sun all day, it was now boiling. I was melting on the way home, and of course our driver kept stopping to chat with friends on the side of the road!
After we dropped everyone off, I asked if he would be able to take me to the Prehistoric Mural. It was less than 4km away. I told him I would pay extra! He took me to the mural, and allowed me to practice my Spanish with him along the way. We paid the 3CUC admission, and I got out to explore. I asked for five minutes, but I know he would have been fine with more!
I didn’t want to take too much of his time, so I got out, checked it out, and quickly returned. Upon arriving back at my casa, he informed me that the cost for the WHOLE DAY (journey to and from Cayo Jutias and then to the moral and back), was only 20CUC! I was astounded. I had previously been told that the ride to and from the beach was 25CUC total, and assumed the mural would cost me at least 10CUC extra. My cab driver, Joaquin, is my new favorite person!
Back at Susana’s, I took a quick shower and then watched the sunset over the mogotes from her rooftop, ending my day as it had started.
I woke up and laid in bed reading for a bit. Then, I went off in search of a Cadeca (money exchange). I went the wrong way, several blocks. Then I asked 3 different people, and finally found the cadeca. It was very close to my Airbnb!
I exchanged more of my money, and then set off to find the wi-fi park. I sat in the wi-fi park for 1 hour, communicating with the world. Then, it was time to go pack up my stuff.
I packed up and said goodbye to Rafael. He brought my bags downstairs and tried to convince me to wait upstairs. The weather was nice (ish), so I decided to wait outside. No worries!
At 11:15, my collectivo (shared taxi) pulled up in front. See? Waiting outside had not been an issue. I squeezed into the backseat with two large men. We began the drive into Old Havana. Soon, the two men got out, and it was just me and the woman in the front seat left. She was let out soon after, and it was just me.
We made the drive back towards Revolution Square, where he stopped and parked near the Viazul bus station. Before I knew what was happening, he put me in the front seat and had let a family into the back. And we were off!
Or so we thought. 15 minutes later, we were BACK at the bus station, picking up one last straggler. Now, we were heading to Viñales and Pinar del Rio. Once on the highway, we were flying. Almost immediately, he stopped by the side of the road for snacks. I shook my head, because I had snacks in my bag!
Then, we stopped at a gas station for no apparent reason. We waited for a few minutes, then got back underway. Then we stopped at another gas station where we had to wait for a long time to get gas (there are lines at gas stations in Cuba). Finally, we were cruising. First, we dropped the family off in Pinar del Rio. Then, the straggler and I were the only two left. Once in Viñales, we let the straggler out at the gas station. And it was time for me to ride horses.
We arrived at Boris’ place around 3p. I had to leave my bags there and was immediately placed on top of Piña Colada, my horse for the day. She was 10 years old and I loved her the minute I laid eyes on her. I was shocked that they did not offer any sort of instruction. I was simply thrown up onto the horse.
For me it was a non-issue. I spent a lot of time riding as a child. I would definitely not have wanted to do this experience if I’ve never ridden before though.
We were led through the trails to a small house where we were offered drinks. I had a mango juice, which was delicious. Then he brought out the Cuba libre, which was rum mixed with cola. It was crazy strong. I started talking with the other guest on the experience, Jenny. She was super nice, and also a female solo traveler. Thankfully, her English was superb.
After our drinks, we were taken to learn about coffee. Our guide was so knowledgeable, we learned about coffee and how it was grown, harvested, and produced, and also the same about rum and honey! We were able to sample the honey and take a shot of the rum. It was strong stuff (40%)! I wished I could’ve bought some honey, but they only had large bottles which would not go in my carry on luggage.
From there, we went back to learn about cigars and tobacco! We were able to see the entire process. He explained how they dried the leaves, and then showed us how they roll their cigars. It was amazing. I also got to smoke a cigar! I did NOT end up making a fool of myself, thankfully. I coughed on the first try, and then smoked nearly half of it. I bought 6 to bring home, 2 for each step-brother and 2 for my step-dad!
After this, we continued our ride. We rode our horses up to a stunning lake. Jenny and I were able to take pictures of the mogotes and the lakes. It was absolutely amazing. We saw so much wildlife! It was fantastic. Then, it was time to go eat.
We went back to where we had our drinks earlier, and were immediately served platter upon platter of food while we watched the sunset over the mogotes. It was all to die for! We had rice and beans, chips, a salad, and yucca with pork. Delicious! I also had another mango juice.
After we ate, they tried to teach me how to play Cuban dominoes. It was way trickier than I thought, and I still don’t fully understand it! It’s almost like mahjong. We played 3 games, and I think I won one. Maybe. After that, we got to ride our horses home.
Piña Colada was amazing and picked her way from the dark with ease, allowing me to marvel at the constellations above me. It was truly magical. From Boris’ house, a taxi drove me to my casa in Viñales, and that was that!
My host Susana was amazing. Her house has wi-fi, which is super rare. I had her turn it on and was able to browse the internet before bed, a luxury I hadn’t had in DAYS. I took a shower and climbed into bed.
I first learned to finger knit when I was in high school. I wanted easy Christmas gifts, and arm knitting appeared on my Pinterest one day. So, that year, I arm knit scarves for EVERYONE.
Shortly after that, it occurred to me. If I could knit on my arms, why not my fingers as well? I later would try and apply this concept to knitting with chopsticks (because I was not about to spend money on knitting needles if this was going to be an epic fail), and it did not work nearly as well. But the finger knitting? Cake.
These have become my go-to gifts for people. This year, I knit scarves for the entire support staff of my office, as I wanted to give out little gifts. Everyone loves these things, and when they find out you’ve made them, they’re instantly more impressed!
The best part about these scarves is their price. You can get a skein of yarn for about $2 at Walmart, and you typically only need one skein to complete a scarf! So these make great gifts, but also, if you love wearing scarves like I do, you’ll be able to own scarves in every color for a super low price!
Here is a video tutorial of how to finger knit a scarf. Hope you enjoy it!
Let me know if you have any questions, I’m happy to help in any way that I can!
I woke up late, around 9:30, on my second morning in Cuba. I spent awhile lounging in bed, reading on my Kindle, and letting my poor, aching, foot rest. At around 10:30, I emerged from my room and asked my hosts if it would be relatively easy to find a taxi in front of the house.
Claudia began making calls immediately. It took nearly a half hour, and we finally decided to just go down the corner and try and find a cab! I was surprised by how long it took. Once in the cab, I was surprised when the cabbie told me it was only 5CUC to get downtown. I definitely was not going to pay more than 5CUC to get home tonight then! No way, Jose.
I had him take me to Central Park, where I planned to stay on the internet for an hour or so. I didn’t need to be anywhere until 12:30. I sat online and caught up.
Shortly after I parked myself on a bench, a man came and sat down next to me, trying to strike up a conversation. After 30 minutes of stilted conversation came the sob story. He needed to go pick up his baby and he and his wife had no money for milk. If it were anywhere else in the world, I’d have given him a couple bucks to get him off my back. But this is Cuba. In Cuba, my credit and debit cards did not work. My money supply was limited, especially now that I was relying on cabs.
I apologized and handed him a few cents. Less than .50cents. But it was all I could spare. And with that, he left. Shortly thereafter, another man came to strike up discussion. I shut him down quickly telling him I needed to be on the internet, and so he moved along.
At this point, I decided to go to ETECSA and pick up a few more cards. Why not? I was not doing anything. I grabbed three more cards and sat and enjoyed the wifi for a bit. It was time to head to Sloppy Joe’s Bar to meet my Airbnb Experience! I arrived right at 12:30 and introduced myself to the two guys. There was a driver and a photographer. Both seemed nice! However, the other two people who had booked the experience did not show, and by 12:40, we decided to go without them.
I lucked out, I had a 2 hour private tour of Havana by car, and due to the fact that the others had booked it and bailed, I was able to only pay $20 for the whole thing. Typically, a car rental costs $60 (according to most Airbnbs–this is not necessarily true here in Havana). However, since 3 of us were meant to be on the tour, it was meant to be $20/person. The host graciously honored that pricing for me, despite taking a huge loss!
I enjoyed the tour for the most part. I had chosen a very short, very flippy dress, and it happened to be the windiest day of the year. It was ridiculous. On top of that, the host spent a lot of the time hitting on me, which was super unprofessional, in my opinion. It was the first time I felt uncomfortable in Havana! But we did see many cool places, including the statue of Christ and El Morro, two places I had not expected to make it to during my trip (not for lack of want!).
After the tour, I met back up with Marcela by heading to meet her at her place. And guess who I saw outside? My salsa teacher from the day before! What are the odds? It was a fun, brief reunion.
Marcela and I decided to try El Teniente del Rey, and it did NOT disappoint. We both got the Mariscada, which was a chef specialty. It was grilled lobster, shrimp, and fish, served with rice and veggies. For only 15CUC! It was a ton of food and it was delicious! I also splurged and ordered a piña colada, which was also fabulous. We had the whole restaurant two ourselves, which was nice, and service was fantastic. Halfway through our meal, we were joined by a begging cat. The waitress informed us that she had given birth days before. She had 7 kittens, but only 3 were surviving. 4 had died. What a tragic story!
From El Teniente del Rey, we walked up to Central Park to connect to wifi. I also showed Marcela La Floridita and La Gran Manzana Hotel! I could be a tour guide by now. We agreed to meet back in Central Park at 6:20, after my next tour!
From Central Park, I took a “death cab” as I decided to call them, up to La Punta to meet Daniela, my next photographer. Of course, my decision to hop in a death cab was met with so much rain! I was wet and cold by the time we reached La Punta.
I met Daniela at 4:30, and had a blast getting to know her and taking so many pictures over an hour and a half. We visited many famous places, such as La Punta, El Paseo, the Capitol, the Revolution Museum, and more. And the pictures turned out amazing!
At 6p, I told her I had to go and meet Marcela. She even walked me back to Central Park, as I was hopelessly spun around! She was absolutely fantastic.
Marcela and I wandered around for awhile. We were stopped by a woman who was begging us for diapers. She wanted us to go into the drugstore with her and get them, as she was heavily pregnant. Due to my limited funds, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. The woman wanted like $30 worth of stuff! Marcela proved to be a much better person than me.
We went into the store and purchased diapers and soap for her (well, Marcela did). They were crazy expensive!!! I attempted to take a picture of the store (as it was EMPTY), just so I could show my Mom what a drugstore was like. (She had told me to go buy “liquid band-aid” to fix my foot. I said I didn’t think drugstores had anything. I was right.) Surprisingly, the pregnant lady saw me trying to snap a picture and started yelling at me!!! So I didn’t get a pic.
After this interlude, we simply parked ourselves in the alley by Hotel Inglaterra and hung out on the wi-fi! We stayed for nearly an hour and a half! Her excursion for Saturday had been cancelled so we tried to see if she could join me for mine! Unfortunately, it did not work out. We said our goodbyes, as she would be leaving before I returned on Monday, and I hopped into a cab back to Centro.
To ruin my day completely, I was ripped off by my taxi driver. I wish that I was the kind of person who could say something or stick up for herself when that kind of thing happened, but unfortunately, especially with the language barrier, it’s very difficult. I’m not an idiot though, I know to pay attention to my money.
I handed him a 20CUC and asked for change. He “sneakily” swapped my 20CUC for a 20CUP he was holding. Then told me I needed to give him 20CUC. So I was forced to exchange a perfectly good 20CUC and take his 20CUP which he was claiming was initially mine. It sucked. Majorly. I got into my room and cried about it. I had just lost over 30USD to a 2km cab ride.
To further explain: 1CUC=.87USD. So basically an even conversion. However, 1CUC=24CUP. So it takes 25CUP to make ONE USD. That conversion is astronomical. He took my 20CUC (the equivalent of 20USD), and swapped it for 20CUP (the equivalent of LESS than 1USD). It was the scummiest thing!
I wish I could’ve or would’ve said something, but I knew nothing would come of it. My day was officially ruined. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted! But I refuse to let this ruin the rest of the trip. I allowed myself to cry for the night, but the next day, I would be okay.
Oh what a day! I woke up bright and early because my Airbnb host wanted to make sure that I was OK before she left for work for the day! I figured I’d start my day instead of sleeping for another hour as intended.
I read a bit on my Kindle, then got ready for the day. The minute I walked outside, I was wishing for a jacket! It was chilly and slightly misting. I was surprised. Not the best weather for my first day in the Caribbean. Oh well!
I walked to the park where Rafael and Claudia had told me that I could buy internet. I made it there easily, but couldn’t find anywhere to buy ETECSA cards. Dozens of cars were on the street, but they clearly were not where you purchased cards from.
I approached a woman who was sitting by herself, and thankfully she spoke English! She told me to walk two blocks to the west to find ETECSA to buy cards. Three blocks later, I gave up. West was the opposite direction of Old Havana, where I intended to spend my day. I figured I’d find something along the way.
I almost got hit by a bus, but finally made it to the Capitol building. Hm. Where to go from here? I found Central Park, the meeting place for my Airbnb tour, yet I still needed to locate ETECSA. With time to spare, I typed it into Google (I had downloaded Google Maps of Havana and so I was able to search without Internet) and found that the Obispo location for ETECSA was not far.
At ETECSA, I was very confused by the process. What a nightmare! I was told I needed to sit and wait. So I went to sit. There was a man directing everyone where we were to sit. He ignored me so I chose my own seat. Somehow, everyone was called before me. Even people who had come in after me!
Everyone was waved through quickly to the front desk, one after another. Finally, I sat up front, irritated with the whole situation. It had been almost 20 minutes. He glanced at me, and instead of waving me to the front of the office, he sent me to the very back. Why did I have to wait? No clue. Why was I sent to the back of the building instead of the front, along with everyone else? No clue. It’ll remain a mystery for forever.
I was asked how many ETECSA cards I wanted. I replied, “20, or however many you can give me.” I was hoping to get a week’s supply all at once. She told me, they could only give 3 per person, but I could come back in an hour for three more. Fine. Whatever. I let her see my passport and paid her 3CUC (1hr=1CUC). With that, I had internet. With only 30 minutes until my tour started, I set out to find a hotspot right away. Central Park happened to be one, so I sat there to be online and wait. I assured everyone that I was alive, and sent them some pictures to appease them.
At 10:30, I stood up and began to look for my guide. I finally approached a man who was standing alone and asked if he was the guide. He told me that we were expected to have 6 other people in the group! We waited for almost 20 minutes, but no one else showed. So I got my own private tour of Cuba!
My guide, Fernando, was fantastic. His English was the most impeccable that I had encountered thus far. And even as I write this at the end of Day 1, it remains the most impeccable. He formerly worked as a translator for the government, which is a part of the reason his English was so superb. He was incredibly knowledgeable and told me so much about Cuba! We covered a lot of ground in two hours. And luckily, at this point, the weather had gotten better. Sunny and no more drizzles.
At the end of the tour, my feet were SCREAMING. I had tried to wear my Birks hoping to avoid that ugly break-in period. Bad call. I definitely did not avoid it. I headed back up to ETECSA to grab more internet. Once there, it was a much quicker process! He sent me back very quickly. I realized the ETECSA store WAS an internet hot spot, so I stayed there for almost an hour, catching up on internet usage. Then it was time to head to activity #2.
With my feet very nearly bleeding, I made my way towards the Arts District of Havana. Halfway there, I decided I needed food. I had forgotten to pack my snacks in the morning (yes, I travel with food), and hadn’t eaten since my flight the night before. I stopped at a cart on the street and bought a banana!
I walked to Jesus Maria 20, the bar at which we were meeting, snacking on a banana. I leaned against the wall, and realised I was 15 minutes early! I could feel that the ocean was close by, so I decided to walk over and see it while I waited. As I was about to go, a man stopped me and tried to tell me something about my banana. Due to his poor English and my poor Spanish, I didn’t get what he was saying. I felt bad. However, I asked for the garbage and he was actually kind enough to throw my peel out for me!
And so, now banana-less, I walked to the ocean. Halfway there, I was stopped by a man who wanted me to eat at his restaurant, some John Lennon place. He was super nice and friendly. His wife was from Chicago so he was excited to meet another Chicagoan! I told him I’d try and come back and headed to sit by the ocean.
At this point, I needed to do something. I pulled out the flat sandals that I had in my bag in case my Birks failed and threw them on. It was a WORLD of difference. With happier feet, I headed back to the bar.
At the door, I showed security the screenshot of my Airbnb experience and asked if I was in the correct place. He told me yes and sent me up the stairs to the rooftop! I walked up and hesitantly showed the waitress the same picture.
She smiled and pointed me towards the table where a girl was seated. I walked over and introduced myself, thinking she was the photographer! She said, “Oh I ordered some food, I hope you don’t mind.” And I was ecstatic because despite the banana, I was starving! I ordered a hamburger and we made small talk.
A few minutes into our stilted conversation, another girl showed up with a camera. It turned out, the girl who I was sitting with, Marcela? She had also booked the experience! We each believed the other to be the photographer! However, Lisi was our real photographer.
Lisi held conversation with each of us as our drinks arrived (Marcela had a mojito, I was boring and just had a water!). Then she invited us up to the upper level of the bar to start the photo session. As we were ascending the spiral staircase, our waitress delivered our food to the table. Marcela and I decided to keep taking photos and wait to eat. She went first, and then went down to eat, then it was my turn!
Lisi and I then went down to join her while I enjoyed my hamburger! I have NO IDEA what was on it, but it was delicious. And, it was only $6! We chatted for awhile, then asked for the check and began taking more photos in the bar. Finally, we were ready to go!
We hit the streets, looking for fun murals and street art to pose with. We had the best time with Lisi, and the three of us all hit it off. After taking several photos in the streets, we wandered into an art gallery. Lisi wanted to take photos of us in the gallery. It turns out we had just missed salsa lessons! However, the band had hung around. The next thing I know, Marcela is salsa-ing around the gallery like a pro, and it was a full on dance party!
And all of a sudden, I’ve got a guy trying to teach me how to salsa, as Lisi is snapping pics of my inadequacy and Marcela’s grace! It further proved that I cannot dance. Oh well. I tried, and had an absolute blast!
From there, we headed to take more photos with street art. I ran into my banana vendor friend, who was super excited to see me again, and very very friendly. So that was fun. After posing with many other murals, I glanced at the clock to see that it was 4pm! Our photo session was from 2-4. I looked at Lisi apologetically and told her I felt horrible that we had gone over.
However, she told me that she wanted us to get all of the pictures that WE wanted. The Experience promised that we would get to see the Capitol, and since it was included, Lisi wanted to make sure we got pics there. I am so so grateful to her for sticking with us crazies!
My feet had been faring much better up until now, but as we were picking our way through the chaotic streets of Old Havana, I felt it. The blister popped. Instant, horrible pain. I refused to say anything and simply limped along beside them, trying to keep my gait normal.
We reached the Capitol and I told Lisi to go ahead and shoot Marcela first, as I wanted to deal with my foot. Ugh. I looked down to see the blister to end all blisters on the sole of my foot. Thanks Birks! I stuck a bandaid on, knowing it was a futile attempt.
Lisi snapped some pics of me in front of the Capitol, and then we walked (I limped) up to the very front of the Capitol, where she took even more pictures. At this point, I threw my Birks back on, hoping they would help support my blister rather than antagonize it, as my flat, unsupportive sandals were doing. It helped, but not much.
I very nearly was hit by a car as I was crossing the street, but I survived! And so ended our photo shoot. Lisi gave us tons of recommendations, and we all took a selfie! At the end of it all, her photo count was upwards of 700 photos of us. Oops. But the results were absolutely amazing. Of the three photo shoots I did while in Cuba, Lisi’s pictures were my favorite.
Marcela wanted to check out a clothing store Lisi had mentioned, so I tagged along with her. Clandestina is a Cuban clothing brand, and they had some amazing stuff! I felt bad that both my budget was so tight, and that my suitcase had so little room to spare. Marcela bought a super cute t-shirt, and we chatted with the employee about wifi and where to find it. And about what their lives were like without it! It was a fascinating conversation.
We decided to get dinner together at El Dandy, a restaurant that had been recommended to me several times. However, when we crossed the street to head in, the doors were locked! We were told that there was a meeting going on, and the restaurant would not open for 30 more minutes, if we wanted to wait and come back.
I realized the ETECSA was not far from where we were, so I decided to head up there and told Marcela she was welcome to join! We each bought 3 more ETECSA cards (this time I got waved STRAIGHT back with no sitting and waiting! — moving up in the world), and sat down to utilize their wifi. Before we knew it, we had been there for nearly 40 minutes! We were able to connect on social media, exchange pictures and videos, and catch up with our social medias, emails, and messages! Time well spent.
Then we headed back to El Dandy. We were stopped by a man who wanted to sell us tickets to a salsa festival! Marcela was excited because she thought it was the one that she was going to, and she wanted me to get tickets and join! If not for my foot’s bloody condition, I totally would have.
However, she soon realized that what the man was talking about was different from the salsa festival she had bought her tickets for. She decided to think it over and see if she’d rather go to his. We went to sit in El Dandy, and she decided that she wanted to get tickets to this different one!
We ate a delicious dinner. I had carnitas with a traditional Cuban drink called Canchanchara. It was STRONG. I shared with Marcela and she agreed! I couldn’t finish it. After dinner, we asked the friendly security guard for directions to buy the tickets for the salsa festival. I told Marcela I would walk with her to do it. However, his directions confused us even further. we decided to first go to her Airbnb, so I would know how to find it tomorrow. (441 Villegas). After she showed me her place and swapped out her purse, we headed to look for salsa tickets. We realized it still wasn’t the right place, and she gave up on attempting to go to salsa for the night. We said our goodbyes and finalized our plans to meet up for tomorrow (making plans is REALLY hard when you have no way to contact the other person day of!), and that was that.
I decided to walk up to Central Park to connect with my parents one last time and let them know I was alive. Due to my foot, I was definitely taking a cab instead of walking the nearly 3km back to my Airbnb! I got online at Central Park, and touched base with home and the rest of the world. Then it was time to find a cab.
I approached a group of men and asked for a taxi, showing them my Airbnb address. They all looked befuddled. I tried to explain, it’s not far from here, I walked this morning! After several minutes of head scratching, they quoted me 10CUC, a price that my screaming feet happily agreed to. I climbed into the cab and bid Old Havana goodbye.
However, that was not the end of my day! My cab driver took me to the wrong location. I put it in Google Maps and showed him that we needed to be heading the OTHER direction on Padre Varela, the street I was staying on. We did a U-turn and headed back my way. All of a sudden, we were passing places I’d passed on my morning walk. Irritated, I handed him his 10CUC and said I’d walk. Luckily it was less than a block away!
Home at last. I took a shower, very gingerly, as I protected my poor foot. Fun fact: my Airbnb shower was clearly not pictured online due to its size… I hardly fit! 12 inches from the curtain to the wall, and less than 3 feet wide! I pancaked myself in and faced the curtain, trying not to move at all, because any move I made simply glued the shower curtain to my wet body. It was an experience.
I crawled into bed, ready to sleep for years. Just checked my step counter– I walked over 10 miles today. It’s fine, I’m fine. Why did I not eat more? I should be starving. And super thirsty. Hm. I resolved to not walk nearly as much any of the following days, my feet were in rough shape.
I arrived at O’Hare International Airport by 10:50a.m., driven by my mom. I didn’t mind being so early to my 1:30p.m. flight because I was flying out of Terminal 3, American Airlines. Why is this a perk? As an authorized user on a AAdvantage credit card, I’m able to get into the Admirals Club, American’s lounge. They don’t have a lounge in the international terminal, so flying out of Terminal 3 is always my preference! It’s pretty amazing. I breezed through security and wandered up to sit and work.
I worked for about an hour, and then at noon I got up to get lunch. They provide complimentary food and drinks, so I indulged with pita chips and hummus, followed by chocolate chip cookies. After that, it was time to board my flight! I headed to Gate H17, where boarding took no time at all! I was super impressed.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I realized that no one was sitting in the middle seat of my row! This allowed me to stash my super over-sized personal item under the empty seat, giving me plenty of legroom. I appreciated that, a lot.
However, it took AGES to get off the ground due to the lovely de-icing process the Chicago winter requires. When we were finally in the air, I napped for the first 40 minutes, and then woke up and read several books on my Kindle.
Once we’d reached altitude, I tried to take a sip from my LifeStraw bottle which I had filled before takeoff. Bad call. The water bottle had pressurized as we ascended and when I opened the straw, water came gushing out like a geyser. I was extremely grateful that no one was next to me. It was a long, wet flight to Miami.
As we touched down in Miami, it started to downpour, delaying us even further. I began to panic, thinking I would miss my connection. I finally got off the plane at 6:20p.m., with gates slated to close for my flight to Havana at 6:44p.m.
My arrival gate was E30, and my departure was at E5. I assumed it would be easy. No such luck! E30 is in Miami’s satellite terminal. However, some luck was with me, as the minute I reached the shuttle, it was arriving. I scurried through the station at the main terminal to find that, for once in my life, I was lucky! E5 was the VERY FIRST gate. The line to board was massive, even at 6:35, ten minutes til doors closing.
I stood in line for a period, but then realized I needed to go to a separate counter to get my Visa! I hustled up to do that. I was really bummed when, instead of the $85 price advertised by American for Visas, I was charged $100! Granted, it’s only a $15 difference, but it was still more than I was expecting to pay. Irritating. However, the process was so easy. I simply handed over my passport and then the credit card, and I was ready to fly.
This was the point when I started to have a nervous breakdown. I was heading to a foreign country, where I did not speak the language, where I knew NO ONE, where they had no cell service, to spend one week alone. Who let me do this?! Why was I here? Panic was setting in and tears were welling in my eyes.
I couldn’t admit my weakness to my parents. They hadn’t wanted me to go in the first place! As I boarded, I texted my sister, “Freaking out a bit. Who the heck decided I could go to Cuba alone for a week?” Good sister that she is, she had no idea I was Cuba bound and offered no helpful advice. So much for her making me feel better.
I was trying not to let the tears fall. I could do this. No, I couldn’t. I texted my last resort. Polly. The older sister I never had. She immediately responded and reassured me that everything would be fine, which was exactly what I needed to hear. I let a few tears fall, but then sucked it up, deciding I would not let myself cry again until I arrived at my destination. And I didn’t.
Visa in hand, I jumped back over to the boarding line and boarded JUST before they ran out of overhead space (lucky me!). The flight was honestly, the worst flight of my life. I was miserable. My stomach was all wonky, and I don’t normally get motion sickness on flights! And the flight was SUPER turbulent. It was a nightmare. I downed some Advil and forced myself to eat some fruit leather, thinking it was maybe due to the fact that I hadn’t eaten much all day.
When I got off the plane I was feeling slightly better, but still not 100%. I was exhausted. And I still had to clear customs. I followed the signs and all the people into the absolute CHAOS that is the Havana Airport. When I say chaos, I mean CHAOS. It’s a nightmare. And I thought going into the country was bad? Wait until you hear about my departure.
Unlike organized customs at any other country, there are no roped off lanes. You just walk to wherever the heck you want and wait for an agent to call you. Then, you’re lucky if they speak a lick of English! Despite what I had read about them asking if you wanted your visa or your passport stamped, she didn’t ask me and simply stamped both.
Once through customs, you go BACK through security. Convoluted, right? You’re required to empty your pockets/take off your belts and jackets, but thankfully shoes can stay on. I passed through security where I was stopped by yet ANOTHER checkpoint.
Although, I believe this one is temporary. Upon receiving my visa in the US, I was given a form from the Cuban department of health to fill out, questioning what symptoms, if any, I had felt in the past 15 days. This was, I believe, due to the coronavirus. We had to stand in line AGAIN to hand over our health forms! Nothing complicated was required, at least from me. I simply handed her my form and kept moving. I did see some people get stopped though!
Finally I was into baggage claim. I’ve never been so glad that I did NOT check a bag… This looked like an absolute nightmare. Nothing in Cuba is automated, so bags are manually unloaded from the plane, which takes ages. I was so glad I didn’t check one! I followed the signs for “nothing to declare” and in front of the exit sign, a girl in a military uniform stopped me.
She asked something in rapid Spanish, and I did not catch it. I simply said, “I’m sorry, I…” and she cut me off with a laugh and waved me through. And I was in Cuba!
And here was where the madness truly began. Hundreds of people crammed into the smallest area, waving signs and ready to welcome family members. I saw a sign for “cadeca,” which I believed to be a place where I could exchange money. I brushed through several groups of people and asked the security guard if I could exchange my money. He shook his head and said to go outside and to the right. As I turned to go, I was stopped by a man wearing a yellow shirt who was asking me questions in Spanish. I said that I spoke no spanish, and apologized. He asked in English if I needed a cab.
I replied, yes, but I first need to exchange my money. He took me outside to the left, to the exchange place, and told me he would be waiting down the street. Strange, but okay. Maybe this was how Cuba worked?
The nicest woman and her husband and child were in front of me in the slow moving line. I was approached by a man wearing a yellow “taxi” vest, who spoke little to no English. Upon realizing our conundrum, she stepped up and helped translate for me and him! With their help, I realized the man who had spoken to me earlier offering me a cab, was NOT an official taxi driver. They told me to make sure I got a cab from someone official, and that it would cost $30 to get from Havana Airport to Centro, where I was staying.
I finally exchanged my money and headed over to what I thought was a place where I could buy wi-fi cards. I had been told to buy them at the airport! However, the place was not what I thought. I went inside to ask. At this point, my yellow shirted taxi man approached and was like, “I thought you needed a cab and were going to come with me!” And I told him, “Sorry, I need to do some stuff first.” He followed me around as I queried different airport employees about ETECSA.
Finding out I could not get it at the airport, I was bummed. I decided to try to text my parents and let them know I was alive. I wanted to reach them and let them know I was okay!
However, my phone had no service. Defeated, I approached a lady in a yellow vest to ask for an official taxi. I told my yellow shirted follower that I was going to get a cab from her, and was stunned when he backed off with no argument. I was expecting him to be way pushier, and am so grateful that he was not.
While trying to get to the woman, another young man came up and was like, “Do you need a taxi? Can I help you? Are you meeting someone?” After many “No, thank yous!” I finally reached the taxi lady. I did not want to trust anyone who was not official.
I felt like such a jerk when I realized he was an official driver who was helping her out. She took my address and helped me into a cab with a great driver! We set off for Centro Havana. I don’t know why I had forgotten this wasn’t America so quickly…
I forgot that most people and places drive manual transmissions, something that makes me incredibly motion sickn due to the slightly more jarring motions than those of an automatic. Especially city driving. It was another miserable section of travel.
I inquired if there was a place to stop for ETECSA on the way to my apartment, but he told me that everything except ETECSA in hotel lobbies would be closed. When I followed up asking if there was a hotel on the way, he sadly told me no. I was resigned to the fact that my parents wouldn’t hear from me, and just hoped they’d believe I was OK.
While in the cab, I counted the money I had been given at the money exchange. I was HORRIFIED to find out that the exchange rate was even worse than I thought! I had been told 1CUC=.87USD. and was expecting a similar conversion. I took the stack of bills I was offered without counting them then and there, a rookie mistake.
I counted my bills in the cab and found that I had only been given 240CUC for the 300USD I had converted. I wanted to cry because I assumed the exchange rate was worse than I thought. I was going to have to forgo many meals. However, upon arriving in my Airbnb I would find that this was not, in fact, the case.
The exchange rate wasn’t bad, it was exactly what I thought it was. I was meant to receive 260CUC. The girl had miscounted. And this is how I lost $20 on my first day out.
Anyways, back to the cab ride. He brought me straight to my Airbnb, where I stood for several moments, trying to get in. I started to panic thinking no one was home and I had no way in and no way to contact anyone! However, after I rang the bell two times more, someone came to the door! I was greeted by Rafael, a friend of my Airbnb host who was out of town (and had warned me of this beforehand). He carried my suitcase upstairs for me and showed me to my room. I then went out to chat with him and the other host, Claudia.
They had me sign in and took my info, and told me a bit about the area. When I asked about the internet and if ETECSA places would be open in the morning, Rafael was curious as to why. I explained that my parents would be freaking out because I did not contact them and tell them I was okay.
The next thing you know, he and Claudia are lending me their phones to communicate with my Mom. They even allowed me to call and speak with her instead of just sending a “Hey, it’s Maysie, I’m alive” text. And with that, a giant weight was lifted off of me. They knew I was safe.
It was time for bed. I had to be up early in the morning to find ETECSA! And so ended my first day of solo travel.
It’s finally time to write about the great sites I’ve seen in Wisconsin, particularly way far up north. The first thing I want to talk about, and my personal favorite, is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Man, oh man. I honestly could’ve spent an entire summer exploring this place! It stunk that I only had a few hours to check it out. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.
Driving away, after our tour, I told my stepdad that I liked the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore more than I liked the Grand Canyon. I mean, I hardly got to see the Grand Canyon, and I didn’t see much of the Lakeshore either, but of the two, I can tell you, personally, I’d rather be up north! I think I probably need to spend more time at both, though.
We chose to do a half day kayak trip through Lost Creek Adventures. We wanted to see as much as possible in our limited window of time (4 days, covering 1300 miles), and this seemed like our best bet. I knew going into it that I really enjoyed kayaking, but my experience was limited to less than an hour at a time and on very small bodies of water. But I thought this would be a great opportunity!
Lost Creek is located in Cornucopia, right across the road from Lake Superior! However, you don’t launch from there, they actually bus you a bit down the road to launch from a different beach. We arrived early, so we went to check out the water conditions to kill time, and got to see these gorgeous shades of blue on a placid Lake Superior.
I booked online, and read all of the FAQs and information they provided so that I could be 100% prepared for our excursion. One major question we had was, do we have to wear wetsuits? On their website, it lists that they have them if you want them, and that they’ll make you wear them depending on the weather. Lake Superior is, after all, the coldest of the Great Lakes! Unfortunately this also meant that due to the lake, the air wouldn’t be super warm either. We were nervous, as the weather was listed as hovering just below 60 degrees on the day that we were going out. It seemed cold to spend hours on the lake.
I called to ask if they were required (I really did not want to wear one), and they told me that it really did depend on the temperature of the water. So we were resigned to the fact that we might have to get one! We arrived the morning of dressed in numerous layers. I wore a sports bra, a sleeveless top, and a light sweater. I also had a windbreaker in the car in case it seemed particularly cold. For pants I wore a pair of leggings. My shoes were gym shoes, because the website said not to wear open toed shoes. This was definitely not enforced–almost everyone else wore sandals! At first I was upset and wishing I had worn sandals, but then I realized my feet would’ve gotten cold and sandy and was grateful for my Nikes.
We asked right away about the wetsuit situation, and they went to check the temperature of the water. They informed us that we were not going to need to wear any! We each got a life jacket and did a “get to know you” activity, so that we could meet the guides and the others who would be going out. Then we all loaded up into a van and headed to the launch point.
They showed us how to step into the spray skirts and get situated into our kayaks. They explained paddling and what to do in different situations. And with that, we were off! Lake Superior was amazingly placid the day that we went out. We couldn’t have asked for a better day and better weather. I found myself stripping out of my jacket before we even launched, and tying it around my waist. The sun kept me plenty warm, and kayaking for 3.5 hours was way more of a workout than I imagined it would be, so I was sweating from that, too! I actually ended up splashing myself intentionally several times, just to feel the cool water.
One thing that didn’t occur to me before booking the trip was that I get INCREDIBLY seasick. It’s really bad. Any sort of rocking motion. I’ve felt nauseous before at work from swaying back and forth at the copier (yeah–it’s bad). It’s insane how bad I have it. I really, really, lucked out with how calm the lake was. I don’t even want to think about what the alternative would have been! The guides even kept remarking on how calm it was and how rare it was for it to be as perfect as it was.
The whole tour itself was awesome! Our guides were incredibly informative and just great guys! They were super knowledgeable and great company. Towards the end of our outing, one even put on a show, flipping over a few times in his kayak for us to see it. I can’t even imagine the core strength that takes. The tour involved us kayaking along the shore and getting close enough to touch the rock formations. There were other tour groups out kayaking, which did delay us slightly, but it really wasn’t bad at all.
I brought along my phone in a waterproof case (that also would float, in the event that I dropped my phone in), and had it on a lanyard around my neck. This allowed me to feel free to take pictures while we were out and about!
I would do the tour again in a heartbeat. Actually, I would probably opt to do a full day tour instead of just the 3.5 hour one! They also offer one that checks out the shipwrecks of Lake Superior, and that sounds AMAZING. But it is exhausting. I didn’t realize how exhausting it would be to kayak for such a long period of time! Especially with 2 other people in your kayak, one of whom was not paddling. It’s tiring. I looked it up, and with my height and weight, kayaking for 3.5 hours burns almost 2000 calories! Yes, we did stop for McDonalds on our way to our next stop. Oops!
Lost Creek Adventures did a great job of showing us around Lake Superior, and I had a blast on my first sea kayaking adventure. I can’t wait to be able to do it again!