|June 29, 2011 | Photos By J.Yuenger, Travels
Pinar Del Rio, Cuba : we fly to Havana in a Russian Tupolev TU-204 jet. Later, I tell my friends this and they are unnerved by it, but it’s a nice plane, indistinguishable from any other 1990s airliner. The terrain below is an unbelievably bright, rich shade of green. There are no shopping malls, no highways, just little roads that connect little towns, farms, mountains. There are hardly any vehicles. It already looks like the 19th century, and then we notice something we’ve never seen before in our lives ; a steam engine, an old wild-wild-west-looking one, chugging along the tracks. Later, behind El Capitolio, we come across a junkyard full of them.
The return flight is a completely different experience. We board a vintage Yakovlev YAK-42, and I think, “uh oh, hell ride”, which turns out to be the case. The interior of this airplane has a stripped-down, almost military look, and everything is labeled in Russian. I’m 5’11″, statistically average for an American male, and I’m not large, but my knees are jammed against the seat-back in front of me, the top of which almost touches my forehead. I am uncomfortable, but I imagine that anyone on board who is taller or wider than me must be flat-out suffering. I decide that this is the Cuban government’s way of punishing anyone who wants to leave the country.
There’s a guy with a German accent sitting behind us. He is very loud and very gay, and he tells us that he lives in Alabama and goes to Cuba often. He spends the flight complaining loudly about the exchange rate (admittedly, it is terrible, and they really go for the throat if you’re changing American dollars), his knees, and the fact that the drink-cart never makes it back to us. This guy is either a spy or a sex tourist, probably the latter. It’s not a long trip and we are nearly at our destination when the plane falls for a second or two. I have no idea how far a drop it is, but it feels significant. I yell “mother FUCKER!!”, which is okay, because everyone else is screaming too. As I jump up and run to the lavatory to vomit, the German is laughing. “Woo hoo! We lost an engine!!” . I am content in the Russian restroom, which I notice has no toilet paper, and I stay there until it’s time to land. When I get home, I look up Cubana’s safety record and find out that it’s the worst in the world.