It’s half past two on a sweltering afternoon in the lush, rolling backcountry of Vinãles, a couple of hours west of Havana. My boyfriend and I are sitting on a bed, relishing the afternoon breeze in the 90-degree humidity, swallowing the remains of some very dry rice and beans, with the last drops of bottled water we are “allowed to drink” until nightfall.
Gone were the $2 bottles of rum, mojitos and daiquiris, dewy mangos, and fresh coconuts. Cuba was all fun and games until we blew our budget on day four of ten. After Obama lifted embargo restrictions in 2016, we rushed to Cuba, eager to experience its nostalgic charms and pristine beaches. We found that American phones, credit cards, debit cards, and banks wires still did not work on Cuban soil, meaning any money we needed for the trip had to be brought up front, in cash.
Which is how we wound up SOL in that tiny orange cottage with only 30% of our budget remaining, watching our hopes drain with the last of that morning’s water. How does an OCD, perpetually over-prepared traveler end up here? It’s always a few things, isn’t it? Getting ripped off by the angry taxi driver with our change, indulging in 10 too many mojitos, delighting in the fact that Havana actually did have a killer food scene.
Anyone who’s ever traveled on a shoestring has likely been there. But guess what, you can still cut corners, reduce costs, and make the very best out of the trip when your wallet gets scarily light.