Sunday Times Travel
TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
“EAT ease eamposseabaal,” he said with a sharp shake of his head that translated as that particularly Spanish sense of certainty.
Outside, the aircraft that was due to take us from Madrid to Havana was taking in its ooze of passengers and luggage. Inside, we were lined up at the boarding gate singing, “Hey we’re going to Havana!” quietly to ourselves and to hell with the Barbados of the original lyrics.
Until, that is, “eat” became “eamposseabaal” …
As far as we could Google, the SA government says South Africans don’t need a visa for Cuba. Happily, the Cuban government also says South Africans don’t need a visa for Cuba. Instead, on arrival in Cuba, South Africans pay a negligible amount for a “tourist card” and present it with a breezy, “Howzit, comrade.”
Moerse. Except that Iberia Airlines have an agreement with the Cuban government that no passenger will board their flights to Havana without a visa. You might have thought Iberia would have told us this when we bought our tickets or when we checked in. But no – they waited until the boarding gate.
Whereupon we discovered that “eat” – boarding our flight – “ease eamposseabaal”.
Of course, we made a mad dash back into the airport to buy the damned visa, at more than R1600 a pop. Of course, we were too late in our scramble back. Of course, they told us our luggage would be offloaded. Of course, it wasn’t.
No problem, said Iberia. We’ll book you on the Madrid-Havana flight four days hence; no extra charge. “Gracias.” Your luggage will come back on tomorrow’s flight. “Eat ease posseabaal.”
But first, we needed a bed for a night we had thought we would spend on an aircraft. Back we trudged into a Madrid heaving with profanely pinkening Poms to find no room at any of the inns. “Jesus!”
Finally, just as the apocalypse of a night on the street loomed, someone took mercy on us. Even gave us a couple of T-shirts that would have people believe were worked in the hotel bar. Bless him.
Nevermind. The next day, our luggage would be back …
Yup. “Eat” was not. But where the hell was it? Nobody could say, because calling or emailing Havana was “eamposseabaal”. You could send them a Telex. But it was “eamposseabaal” to know when or even “eaf” they would reply to the bloody thing.
Still, we tried. Send them a Telex to say keep the luggage until we arrive, we said. Yes – override our original Telex, which said send it back …
Four days without bags means an emergency shop for stuff like cheap T-shirts and toothpaste. Yeah, right: in Europe. Not to mention four unplanned nights of hotel and food bills.
But, heady with revolutionary zeal and the idea of roaming streets filled with classic cars, elegantly wasting buildings, cigar smoke and impromptu renditions of “Chan Chan”, we boarded our flight luggageless and loving it. Viva, visas! Viva!
Our bags, Iberia said, would be at lost property in Havana …
Of course, they weren’t. Of course, lost property said they would be on the carousel. Of course, they weren’t. Of course, they had been loaded onto the plane that had just brought us to Havana, the plane that was on the runway making take-off noises for the return trip to Madrid. “Jesus!”
“Eat ease eamposseabaal” to get them off, they said. But we did, pretty much by throwing tantrums until someone bolted onto the runway to stop the plane in its tracks.
And there, after a twisting, turning trudge round midnight through some of the lesser lit corridors of Havana airport, were our bags! “Ease eat posseabaal?” Bloody hell, yes!
Of course, we discovered in the thick, wet light of an “eamposseablea” hot and humid morning, we had been robbed.
At least they had left us with something. “Eamposseabaal” would have been nothing.