A Long Night in Santiago de Cuba

Cuba, Travel

This is the third part in a series of our travel adventures in Cuba. If you are planning your own trip to Cuba, please refer to my Cuba Travel Guide. You can find all of my content on Cuba here

Our 6am flight to Santiago de Cuba came early. I was pretty tired and oddly cold at different times but chalked it up to lack of sleep and having to get up so early. As we entered Terminal 1 of the Havana airport for our flight to Santiago de Cuba, it was loud and noisy despite the early hour. There were no signs for where to go and throngs of people were everywhere. No one seemed to be going anywhere fast. Luckily, a nice woman with Cubatur helped us find our line (it would have been a while before we figured it out). We waited inside the muggy waiting area for over an hour until we were finally called up to the counter. That’s when we discovered what was taking so long: they were hand writing boarding passes!

After dropping our bags and getting our tickets, we were to go upstairs to get to security and the gate. The escalators were broken and had been turned into a staircase. As we came around the corner we could see the run down airport with air conditioners leaking all over the floor and pieces of wall and flooring crumbling away in places. We went through another ID/passport and ticket check before being buzzed through to a one-lane security line. Here is where we had a slight hold up – Jon had accidentally packed some of the gifts for the Casa in his carry-on bag, which included duct tape and screwdrivers. He was taken out of the area while I anxiously waited for him, and had to be re-searched.

Our flight was “on-time” but somehow we managed to leave an hour late. Luckily, it was a quick flight to Santiago de Cuba so we weren’t too far behind schedule. I wasn’t feeling too good by the time we landed, but since I hadn’t eaten all morning, I thought it was related to having an empty stomach. As soon as we got to our Casa we went up to the terrace for breakfast. It was here that I started to feel worse, finding it difficult to eat. By this point I thought I was just tired of the traditional Cuban breakfast, specifically eggs, so I skipped them and just ate a bit of fresh fruit and bread. Again, I didn’t think much of me not feeling well.

Jon and I explored Santiago de Cuba with Lonely Planet’s self-guided walking tour. It was so hot that day – well over 90 degrees. I had a terrible headache, my body was feeling achy and didn’t feel like walking much. I made us take frequent breaks along the route and I really wasn’t much fun. I was sipping on water but I even found that to be an unbearable task.

We stopped for lunch at a top rated spot a few blocks from our Casa and despite the fact that I was hungry and thirsty, I couldn’t eat. I took a few bites but I had no ability to eat or drink. I sat there trying not to cry as my pain was worsening. We went back to the Casa for a siesta during the peak of the midday heat.

Upon waking up, I felt a smidge better. Well enough to go out to a castle. We caught a taxi, which looked like it was lucky to still be operating, and headed out to the castle. I started feeling ill again on the car ride out and knew that we would be making this a quick stop. The castle itself was cool and we saw some lizards and iguanas but the ride back was where things would get interesting…

Our driver asked if we would be okay with a guy who worked at the castle riding with us; we said sure. Just as we’d come down off the hill from the castle, the taxi hit a pothole and suddenly started making a terrible screeching sound as the driver held tight on the steering wheel of the now out of control vehicle. It happened all so quickly, yet in slow motion, but it was over in about 30 seconds. He safely stopped the car in the middle of the road without hitting anyone or anything, but the damage was done. The taxi had a broken front axle. We paid the driver while the passenger guided us the rest of the way to the Casa. As we left the taxi driver we turned back to look at him… He was already pulling all the equipment and parts from his trunk to fix the axle.

Back at the Casa, we headed to the terrace again for dinner. The terrace was covered in vines, greenery, and flowers, which created a lovely ambiance against the sunset. Unfortunately, I was feeling so miserable it was all I could do to not cry. I couldn’t drink, not even my favorite, virgin piña coladas. As our lovely meal was served (bread, salad, and soup to start), I started crying. I wanted to eat but it smelled terrible to me and even attempting to eat was miserable. Just as the main course was being served I told Jon that I was going to vomit. I’d felt nauseous throughout the day, but never like I was actually going to throw up. I got up and started walking/running out of the terrace restaurant, which of course alerted the wait staff. As soon as I got outside of the restaurant, I leaned over the railing and puked. Naturally, this made me even more upset and embarrassed so I ran back down to the room.

I stayed in the room the rest of the night. We talked to Jeff (who happened to be an EMT and now personal remote physician). He told us that, based on the symptoms, I’d reached second stage dehydration and needed to pump fluids for at least the next 12 hours. After Jon had taken care of telling the wait staff what was going on (as best he could since they spoke Spanish and he spoke English), he came in and asked me what I needed. After deciding that I needed fluids and something bland to try and get down, Jon went back out of the room to go see what he could find.

However, when Jon left the room, he was greeted by the entire staff (all three of them) of the Inn standing around the door. Unfortunately for Jon, the wait staff didn’t speak English and he doesn’t speak any Spanish. He did his best to explain to the staff that he wanted to find some Sprite and saltines, but they really didn’t understand him. Fortunately, there was another Cuban sitting in the lobby using the internet who started acting as an interpreter.

Once the manager of the Inn understood what Jon was looking for, he ran to the kitchen to see if there was any available, but there was none. So he told Jon to wait just a moment as he left the Inn to check with some other folks to nearby to see if they had any. Unfortunately, he came back empty handed. After consulting with the cook, they gave Jon some of “lemonade” that they like to serve, since the juice is supposed to be a natural digestive. Jon gave it to me, and did help some, but it wasn’t going to keep me hydrated for the rest of the night.

So Jon left the Inn in search of Sprite (or something Sprite-like) and saltines. By this time it was 10pm, so our hopes weren’t high, since most stores weren’t open. But Jon went all over town trying to find something that was open that might have something Sprite-ish. Finally, down by the pier, he found a gas station with a convenience store still open. They were out of real Sprite, but they had the national Ciego Montero alternative in a big bottle, and they had a big box of saltines.

When he had them in hand, he hurried back to the Inn and the long night of waking up to consume more liquids and a few Cuban saltines began. By morning, I was feeling better but unfortunately, Jon had been up all night too, not because I was sick, but because he was now sick: with Montezuma’s Revenge.

The story continues in Baracoa