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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 28 June 2012 by Danica

travel the world - havana scam - street band

In this week’s “Travel the World, Just Don’t Get Scammed” series, we are very excited to have Tammy Lowe to share her experience in Havana with us.  It is a story of cigars, a muscle man with lots of bling, a few mojitos and a diamond ring.  Intrigued?  Read on…

That’s Where I am From Too!

“Where are you from?” we were asked by a friendly young Cuban during a stroll through Havana.  “We are from England”, we replied and he got very excited and told us that his friend lived in a town called Bedford.  “No way! What a coincidence, we are from Bedford”, we said.  We chatted for a while and found out that he was an English student.  He asked us what we were planning to see that day and we mentioned a few famous sights.  He asked if he can join us and be our tour guide, free of charge of course, so he can practice his English.  We agreed and had a really nice time with him.  At one stage he asked us if we wanted to go to a local market and if we like cigars?  Not one to miss out on a shopping opportunity at local markets we agreed.

travel the world - havana scam - me with cigar

The Man Nobody Wants to Mess With

So off we went to the outskirts of Havana in what looked like a much poorer district, where he led us into a flat.  That doesn’t look like a market I thought to myself, but then I thought maybe some people just run illegal markets in communist Cuba to make a bit more money.  Inside was a young woman with hardly any clothes on who puffed up the cushions on a mattress on the floor, which was turned into a sofa.  We sat down and all of the sudden this big guy (and I mean really big!) with gold chains and muscles that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger look tiny, entered the room, shouted at the woman to leave, and sat down opposite us.  At that stage we started to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Where are all these colourful, charming handicraft sellers we were used to seeing on the streets?  He asked us if we wanted to buy some cigars, but we weren’t really interested.  He looked a bit puzzled and shouted at our ‘tour guide’ who in a panic said to us that he thought we wanted to buy cigars.  We explained that we were more looking for souvenirs like handicrafts, but inquired the price for the cigars as we felt this situation could soon turn ugly.  The big man said $50 for a big box.  We said that we only have $20 on us, which was true and asked him what we can get for that?  He pointed to a mini packet with five cigars that usually comes as a free gift if you buy a big box.  He looked a bit angry and at this point we started to feel a bit nervous, locked in his house as we were.  Chris was holding on to our backpack very tightly and we looked at each other and said that we will take the small cigars as we only had $20 on us.  He sulked a bit, but led us out of his flat after we paid him.  Our tour guide didn’t follow us.  As soon as we were outside we quickly made our way through the back streets towards the more civilized and touristy part of town.

How I Really Knew You

After that shock we went to the nearest bar, ordered some food and a few mojitos to celebrate our escape.  We reflected on the day and couldn’t quite work out how we fell for the scam.  We kept thinking what a huge coincidence it was that this guy knew somebody in Bedford and was able to describe the sights and how beautiful the river was.  I mean Bedford is not exactly a well-known town in England.  And then it struck us that a few days before we had been asked by some other locals where we were from.  When we told them they just smiled and told us to enjoy Cuba, so we didn’t really think much off it and just thought the locals here are very friendly and curious.  But now we know that they must have all worked together and told each other the intel they received about us.  So when the guy asked us where we were from and we said England he knew full well that we lived in Bedford and had had a few days to research the town online.  So to gain our trust he made up the story about his friend studying in Bedford.

Then Comes the Surprise!

It was our first holiday together, so we put it down as one of those experiences you have as a traveler and decided to enjoy the rest of the night.  We sipped some mojitos and listened to a Cuban band when all of the sudden Chris started to look very serious.  He told me that he was glad our backpack hadn’t’ been stolen by the guy as there was something special in there.  I had no idea what he was talking about and thought maybe he couldn’t handle the strong mojitos very well, but then he took out a small box containing a ring and he popped the question.  Of course I said yes.  If we survived being locked in a gangster’s menacing flat, we can survive anything…

travel the world - havana scam - engaged

About Tammy Lowe:  Tammy is one half of Tammy & Chris on the move.  She hails from Germany, and is therefore both mighty and efficient.  Chris is the other half, hailing from the UK which means he likes to talk about the weather, be polite, or sometimes even both at the same time.  They both have civil service backgrounds, but have left their bowler-hats back in London to go and work on justice and human right issues in Cambodia, and, whenever they get some time off, travel around the world.

Thank you Tammy for sharing your story.  Congratulations, and what an adventure you two survived together!

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. TheCubanFoodBlog Says:

    I’m glad that your story has a happy ending. Many ‘green’ tourists find themselves in similar situations. My advise, read widely before you go. Many of these situations can be avoided by reading travel blogs and guidebooks. And watch out for the ‘Romeos’ that will steal your heart ladies!! Its far easier to recover from a cigar scam than a broken heart. That all said, Cuba is a safe place for travelers including single women and I feel safer here than many European capitals…. Enjoy your trip to Cuba.

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