Cuba 1: Cancún to Havana

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two spent a week relaxing and recovering at Playa Del Carmen. Simon and Ang both enjoyed a fantastic week in the stunning Playa, graciously hosted by Sandy and Gigi.  They lazed on the beach and visited ancient Mayan ruins.  After successfully completing the food challenge for this leg, they were given their next clue, provided by Callan.

Quickly packing, the team raced via ADO bus back to Cancún airport.  There they found that their Cubana de Aviación flight to Havana had been delayed.  The delay was initially 2 hours due to mechanical problems.  Checking their bag in, the team was told the delay was not two, but actually 12 hours, and that they would be taken to a hotel in Cancún to wait until their flight later that night.

Having previously experienced this, the team were hesitant to go to the airline hotel, as it rarely lives up to the hype.  However, the chance to see Cancún and hang out with the friendly Israelis they met at the airport convinced them otherwise.  Two hours of airport wait time later and the team was on a bus along with the other passengers to the Imperial Perlas, Cancún.

This hotel could be best described in nine words as a one star spring break all inclusive budget cheapie.  The team decided against swimming in the pool or the attached beach and instead set off to walk to the nicer beach about 8km away they drove past on the bus ride in.

After passing other establishments such as Temptation (an adult only hotel experience) and the big giant Mexican flag and with the sun setting, the team accepted they were not going to be able to swim in the nicer beach.  They returned, slept and a few hours later boarded the bus back to the airport.

Big giant Mexican flag!
Cancún sunset panorama

The rather interesting crowd of fellow passengers included Americans, Canadians, Russian, Mexicans, Cubans, a nice Spaniard named Juan and Israelis.  Bizarrely on the bus ride, Simon chatted with a nervous Mexican-America.  He was nervous because he regularly flew Cubana and in particular the aircraft that would be used for this flight.  He also had recently escaped from being kidnapped, was wanted by Mexican gangsters and probably suffered from post traumatic stress.

Being 2am, the airport was completely clear of people.  The racers were able to clear security in under 5 minutes, but had to surrender their toothpaste.  Ang and Simon then joined the other passengers in the departure lounge, waiting for the final boarding call.

Soon the team and their fellow passengers boarded the bus for the short drive to the aircraft.  Cubana fly the Cancún to Havana route using an old soviet aircraft, the Yak-42d.

The Yak for tonight’s flight had several unique features.  To enter the aircraft, the team had to bowed as the cabin door is about 4.5 feet high.  The luggage compartments were spray painted silver.  The seats had the capability to fully recline 180 degrees and the Cyrillic on the signs was supported by English, Spanish and a mystery third language.

Ang is thrilled to be on the airplane

The team was allowed to sit in any seat, so they wisely sat next to an exit door (one of seven) and awaited the flight.  Soon the safety briefing commenced and the aircraft was prepared for take-off.

Climbing out of Cancún airport, the air-conditioning started to vent thick smoke.  The team was unable to see people two seats away.  Other passengers were concerned, but an unfriendly hostess assured the other passengers that this was normal.  Both Ang and Simon agreed that it was like being in some sort of gloomy time machine.  They then resumed pretending it was a bad dream.

The Yak climbed to 24,000 feet and the next hour was relatively smooth with exception of one unfriendly incident involving the angry hostess and an ‘Americano’ oversized carry-on bag that was too large for the locker. No one admitted to being American to the hostess for the rest of the flight.

Burnt sesame treats anyone?

Soon the plane was on final approach to Havana.  Once again, smoke vented from the air-conditioning as the engines strained.  A British girl living in Cuba, who sat in the seat next to Simon, went to the toilet on final approach.  About 10 minutes later, the Yak was still landing.  Ang was getting annoyed at this point and wanted the plane to hurry up.  Finally, the plane touched down at José Marti International Airport, Havana.  The British girl returned from the toilet to her seat to collect her bags.

Next, they took a tour by bus of the airport precinct before clearing customs, acquiring some convertible pesos and getting into a taxi.

They were sped into Centro Havana, where to complete their journey back in time they were greeted by gloomy streets with classic American cars cruising past colonial buildings, stray dogs and prostitutes.  Their cab driver had some difficulty, but eventually was able to locate Rolando’s casa particular.  There the team checked into the pit stop for this leg of the race.

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