Saturday, April 2, 2016
Ahhh!!! The time has finally arrived! I feel like I’ve been planning this trip forever! When I first booked my trip Havana, it was for a few different reasons. One was because about a decade ago, I developed an interest in the complicated history of the country. Another was the U.S. told me I couldn’t. Last time I checked, I’s free. The last reason was cigars and rum. *shrugs* Now, I was walking into Cuba to understand if socialism works. I’m pretty sure I know the answer, but I need to see it with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears, taste it with my own tongue.
Getting to Cuba is becoming less and less strenuous for U.S. citizens, although it is still illegal for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for the purpose of tourism. I had two options for getting to Havana: either fly out of a US city that offers direct charter flights to Havana (like Miami) or fly out of a third country.
I chose the later option by flying out of the New Orleans airport nonstop to Panama City, Panama. Then I flew from Panama City, Panama nonstop to Havana. (Note: I did review the US Treasury guidelines, and it is completely legal to book a flight out of a third country.) Easy enough? I did have to book both round trip tickets separately via Copa Airlines since the US doesn’t allow connecting flights to Cuba yet. Going through Panama was the best option for me based on where I reside, the dates I wanted to travel, the flight times, and the overall cost of the flights.
I arrived in Panama from New Orleans after an uneventful plane ride, Since I booked my flights separately, I had to go through immigration and customs, then check in again for my flight to Havana. I quickly exited customs and took the escalators upstairs to the check-in counter to get a boarding pass for Havana. The woman at the counter asked me if I needed a tourist card before I had a chance to inquire, and after a few moments of confusion on her part, she directed me to get it at the gate counter. Fine by me. I head ed through security and grabbed some lunch at Air Margaritaville since Panama’s airport didn’t seem to have any restaurants that were authentic to the region. No empanadas? No arepas? No ceviche? I guess this turkey club sandwich and guava juice would have to do.
After stuffing my face, I headed to my gate and asked for a tourist card. The gate agent simply asked for $20 USD, took the Jackson when I handed it to her, and handed me the card in return. Right after, they made an announcement about the availability of the card for purchase by anyone who needed it. The required document had two parts – one for when I arrived in Cuba and one for when I departed. I filled it out quickly since it only asked for my name, date of birth, passport number, and country of citizenship. Yet another step to check off the list, and another step closer to Havana!
I was getting anxiety. Everything had gone smoothly so far, but I still hadn’t arrived. I was just worried about getting around without a map on my phone since I was usually dependent on phone data and Google maps for a smooth trip. These things weren’t as readily available in Cuba as it was in other countries, so I wa regretting not taking more time to find offline maps or buying one from the app store.
On the plane I checked out the scenery as we got close to landing in Havana. There wasn’t much to see, but I noticed there were several empty roadways. One or two Chevy’s every now and then, but mostly empty. I smiled at the thought I have arrived at Cuba – the one country I wanted to visit for several years.