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

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Danica

Cuba - Around the World Travel

This week, in our second installment of the “Travel the World, Just Dont’ Get Scammed” series, we feature Kellie Parry, a seasoned traveler and writer in her own right.  This is a cautionary tale about trusting others too quickly in a new place.  Often times, when we travel, we must juggle the balance between being polite to the locals and being cautious of the new surrounding.  This is a story you can not miss.  Read on…

A few years back I worked for a cruise line company in the States. I spent my days sailing down the coast of Mexico and through the Caribbean taking in all the sights. The Caribbean was always my favourite. Such lush tropical settings surrounded by a crystal clear ocean. No wonder everyone who lived there seemed so laid back and unaffected by the stresses of daily life. I made a promise to myself that I would go back one day. Years later that opportunity arrived. I was doing a round the world trip and Cuba was on my itinerary. I was excited to experience the casualness of the Caribbean again.

I arrived in Havana and was dropped by the taxi a fair way from my hotel which was not the drivers fault really. The road was missing. As I struggled with my suitcase past the huge abyss in the road, several people approached me for a chat. Most of them wanted to know if I wanted to stay in their house. Er…no thanks. Others wanted to know if I needed a tour guide while I was here. No thanks again. Fighting off all the overly enthusiastic unofficial Cuban ambassadors nearly sent me and my suitcase hurtling into the gaping hole in the ground.

scam-hotel-valencia-havana-cuba-trips-around-the-world

Eventually I made it to my hotel. Hotel Valencia was beautiful and I was most glad to be staying there rather than in some strangers living room. Once I had settled in I decided to go for a walk and get my bearings. I had not been walking long when I was approached by a tall Caribbean man. He was perfectly polite and introduced himself. He didn’t harass me about being a tour guide or me staying at his house. I kept walking and he kept up with me chatting away. He wanted to know where I was from, if it was my first time in Cuba and all the other standard travel questions. He told me that he was a chef and he worked at Hotel Valencia. He saw me check in and then after he had finished work, he saw me in the street and decided to come and say hi. In hindsight this should have been my first warning. It’s a bit much of a coincidence that not only does he happen to work where Im staying but then he also happens to see me in the street.

Havana Cuba Street - Round the World Trips - Scam

He then asked me if I wanted to see the bar where Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. Apparently it wasn’t far from where we were so I agreed to go. I figured once I had seen this then I could go on my way. We walked along, through narrow alley ways, around corners and past side streets. He continued to talk to me the whole time and after a few minutes I realized that I was hopelessly lost. I had no idea where my hotel was from here but didn’t panic yet. I could always get a taxi.

We finally arrived at the bar and he ordered a drink for the both of us. Since it was my first time in Cuba he declared that I MUST try a Havana Club rum. This should have been my second warning. After all my years doing bar work I knew that you should never accept a drink from a stranger. But I did and after I finished it I already felt tipsy. Usually it takes more than one drink to get me drunk. He got us another round and I swore to myself that I would leave after this one.

Cuba Havana Club - Around the World Travel

But I guess he had other plans. He then somehow convinced me to go to a salsa bar. “It’s on the way back to the hotel” he promised after hearing my protests. We arrived at the bar and I must admit it was fabulous with its live band and salsa dancers. I bought us another drink as my way of saying thank you for spending the afternoon showing me around and all that. By now I was drunk which was probably his plan all along. We continued on going from bar to bar and then on to a restaurant for something to eat. In my foggy drunken brain I realized that I had paid for everything. I made him buy the next round and he did with some reluctance. But then it soon returned to me paying for everything.

Montecristo Cuban Cigar - Havana Cuba Round the World Trips - Scam

His next plan was to get me some Cuban cigars. Now I don’t smoke and neither does anyone I know but how can one leave Cuba with no cigars? And I had promised my Dad that I would bring some home anyway. He assured me that he had a friend that could sell them to me much cheaper than I would get them in the shops. We headed into the seedy side of old Havana. As we walked through the dodgy streets people stood back and stared at me. After all I was the only white female tourist in sight. Once again my drunken brain tried to set off a warning but it got lost in the Havana Club that my head was swimming in. Next thing Im standing in someones living room while he did some sort of deal. The woman disappeared out the back and came back with two boxes of cigars. I was told that she worked at the factory and had in fact stolen the cigars and she would do me a deal for both boxes. I didn’t want two boxes but I wanted to get out of this strangers house and get back to the familiar tourist area. I gave her the money and we left. Finally after a few more drinks he lead me back to Hotel Valencia.

Once we got there he told me that he had no where to go and could he please stay with me. Was he kidding? But by now I was so drunk and all I wanted to do was pass out. I threw a pillow on the floor for him and told him if he moved or touched me I would kill him and I slipped into a drunken coma. I woke with a start a couple of hours later. For some reason he was in bed beside me. He was on top of the blankets and still had all his clothes on (including his shoes) so I guess he just wanted somewhere more comfortable to sleep. All the events of the night before came crashing down on me. All of a sudden I felt sick. I woke him up and told him to get the hell out. Once he was gone I sat on the bed and tried to remember everything that had happened. With a sinking feeling I grabbed my purse to see how much money I had left. Nothing. I had spent it all. Luckily in my drunken state I had locked my purse in the safe but he didn’t need to steal from my purse. He had already taken US$500 off me. All the drinks, dinner and then of course the cigars which Im sure he got a cut from. I locked myself in the room for the day nursing a hangover and kicking myself. How could I be so stupid?

Cuba Apartment - Havana Round the World Trips - Scam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, I ventured out to try and get more cash which in Cuba is not easy. ATM’s were a rarity. I finally found an money exchange where I could get a cash advance on my credit card. Once again I kicked myself for being so stupid. On my way back to the hotel I passed a cigar shop. Out of curiosity I went in to see how much cigars actually were. Once again I felt sick. A box of Monte Cristo’s like the ones I had bought was $50. I had paid $300 for two boxes so I had literally paid triple what they were worth.

Apart from this incident, the rest of my time in Cuba was amazing. It’s a beautiful place and it’s definitely worth seeing. I still to this day cringe at the thought of what could have happened to me that night. When I think of all the seedy places we went to and the fact that I let him crash out in my room, Im glad that all I lost was $500….

 

About Kellie Parry: Kellie is a travel writer who is currently based in Darwin, Australia. She spent 18 months working as an Assistant Bar Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. During this time she had the fortune of working on 5 different ships within the company, with each ship taking her to a new exotic location. It was here that she found her passion for travel and has spent the last 6 years criss-crossing the globe on her own.  Kellie documents her travel adventures at www.meandmypassport.com and facebook.com/TravellingKellie.  She can also be reached at kellie@meandmypassport.com.

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Thank you Kellie for sharing!   We have learned a great deal from your experience as well.

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. Guest Post – Travel Scams | Me And My Passport Says:

    […] head over to On The Ground Travel and read all about how I got totally   scammed by a complete stranger…. This entry was […]

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