Day 1 - Sunday, November 28, 1999

So there I am. It's a couple of minutes to four in the afternoon and flight MP627 has just arrived at Frank País airport, Holguín. Feeling the warm, humid air I have no trouble understanding why the country looks so lush and green from up in the air. Palm trees are everywhere and I feel that holiday rush kicking in...

People standing at the airport building wave at friends or relatives who have been on the airplane. After a surprisingly short stroll I line up to have my passport and visa checked. The Martinair crew also got off the airplane and they get to go ahead of the other passengers. It's my turn after a couple of minutes waiting. I have done my homework, so I filled out my tourist card the way I'm supposed to. Still, the immigration officer explicitly asks me for the name of the hotel I will stay at and writes it down on my tourist card.

A green Mitsubishi Lancer will serve as my coche in Cuba. It really doesn't look too bad, taking into account that it has already carried tourists like me for over 145,000 kilometers across Cuba - dents and scratches are correctly indicated on the car rental agreement form without me having to point them out. Nice. You play fair, I play fair.

Motorist survival rule #1: Avoid driving in Cuba when it's dark, if you can. It's about five in the afternoon and it will be dark in a quarter so I decide to leave for Holguín, which is some twelve kilometers from the airport. One of the employees at the Transautos desk has given me a sketch with directions on how to get to Hotel Pernik, and this little map proves to be quite indispensable in the twilight. Where did all the road signs go? And why aren't those potholes fixed?

All along the way to Holguín people are trying to hitch a ride. I guess I will never know their exact words when they see me drive by in an otherwise empty car, but at this moment I just want to get to the hotel as fast as possible and get some sleep. Give me a break, will you, I just spent ten hours and a half in an economy class seat :)

Pernik roomThe Pernik parking lot seems safe enough to me to leave the car and I enter the hotel. The air on this Sunday evening is so humid that the wood of the reception desk feels sticky. The girl behind the desk takes five of my hotel vouchers; I plan to stay in Holguín until Friday morning. When I enter my room I inadvertently crush a cucaracha to death. A buddy of his hides out under the toilet seat and I can't get it to take its first swimming lesson. Not a bad place to stay, though. There is hot water in the shower and the sheets and towels are clean. What more do I need?