#ChantsInCuba: Day 1 -- Arrival
HAVANA, Cuba - The Coastal Carolina men's basketball team landed in Havana, Cuba, Friday afternoon at 1:27 p.m. ET to begin its foreign tour which features games against the Cuban National Team on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Below is an account of the day by freshman guard Christian Adams followed by observations of the past two day's events by Assistant Director of Media Relations Cody Bays.
A day of anxiety and excitement. Our second day of traveling began at the Tampa International Airport, where we stayed in the adjoining Marriott Hotel. At 8:15 a.m., the team met in the hotel's dining area for breakfast prior to traveling. The breakfast was first-class. I ordered French toast that came with fresh fruit and bacon, it was delicious. Following breakfast, we went to ticketing and received our boarding passes and checked bags for the chartered flight to Havana. A lengthy process to say the least. An hour later, we headed through the security check and prepared to board our flight. The flight departed at Noon and we landed in Havana at around 1:30 p.m. During the flight, there were spectacular views stretching across the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys.
Once arrived in Cuba, all flyers had to go through a customs check and then we had to wait an extended amount of time for luggage due to the baggage checks. From the first step out of the airport, everybody could see a significant difference between American society compared to Cuba. It truly is "stuck-in time", many of the cars, buildings, roads, etc. are all from eras prior to the revolution in Cuba. Many of the cars are from the 1950's and 60's, appearing pre-historic to the team. The bus-ride to the hotel was eye-opening, the ride featured the effects of a communist government and the immense poverty across Cuba.
At the heart of Havana sits Parque Central Hotel, one of the most prestigious hotels in Cuba according to the tour guide. The inside of the hotel was spectacular. It featured a picturesque lobby with live music, dining areas, and native floral plants.
Then, it was time to go out and explore Havana. The streets were filled with welcoming locals who always introduced themselves and smiled. It was a great experience to see that not having all the wealth and technology we have in America, doesn't affect their happiness. Last, we ate dinner at the hotel. The dinner was buffet and featured a variety of authentic Cuban dishes. Now, it's time to get some rest and focus on the game tomorrow afternoon.
Thanks for reading and Go Chants.
After spending nearly 12 hours traveling, including three-plus hours of delays caused by inclement weather, the Chanticleers arrived at the Tampa Airport Marriott around 11:30 p.m. Thursday. The team and travel party filled their stomachs on a college staple -- pizza -- before retiring to their room for the night.
Friday morning the team convened at the hotel restaurant for breakfast before heading down to a lower level of the airport to check in for their flight to Havana. But checking in was not a purely simple process, despite completing numerous documents before leaving campus, the travel party had to fill out one more before receiving their tickets and proceeding through security.
Once through security and on the flight, all seemed like a normal basketball trip save for the Spanish announcements preceding the same in English by the flight attendants. That sense of normalcy evaporated quickly as soon as the plane's wheels made contact with the tarmac in Havana. With that first screech of the rubber contacting cement, there was an equally loud applause and ruckus from the passengers on board. That's was the moment that several team members realized that those were emotions of joy as native Cubans were returning to their homeland to visit their families -- some for the first time since leaving the island.
Once in the airport there was yet another form to fill out -- a declaration of goods for the Cuban customs agents -- before going through security and awaiting the luggage. Although the luggage service was not swift, the delay allowed the team travel party to observe some of the items that their fellow passengers were bringing into the country. The items, all of which were shrink wrapped at the Tampa airport, ranged from pillows to bicycles to flat screen televisions to track lighting fixtures.
Once all the luggage was collected the Chants filed onto a bus destined for the Parque Central, the team hotel. Along the route to the hotel the bus passed the Sports City arena that will host the games of the foreign tour along with several additional eye-catching structures, including hospitals and the city's primary square where Fidel Castro spoke to the country during his rule and the site of Pope St. Francis' visit this fall.
Upon arrival at the hotel the team was briefed on the evening's itinerary by head coach Cliff Ellis before placing their items in their rooms. All student-athletes and most members of the coaching and support staff then met in the lobby where each was given 50 Cuban pesos -- equivalent to roughly $4 -- to go out and spend on a snack at street vendors near the hotel.
The task of getting a snack with Cuban pesos was much easier in theory than practice. Not only was the team easily identifiable in the crowd due to their matching Russell Athletic polos, the sight of nine men 6-foot-3 or taller drew attention from both native Cubans as well as tourists from other countries.
Despite the attention drawn by the student-athletes due to their size all were able to have their own experiences spending their Cuban pesos on items such as pizza, ice cream and slush drinks.
The team then returned to the Parque Central and readied for dinner. The Chants' first authentic Cuban dinner featured numerous types of chicken, assorted premium cold cuts and cheeses, several cold salads and pasta dishes. And to quote freshman Kevin Holmes, Jr. "all the food was delicious and very fresh." Dinner closed with a two-man ensemble playing guitars.
The night's remaining activity includes a walk down to the famed Malecon before heading to bed for a good night's rest in preparation for Saturday's first game.