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 is because about a decade ago, I developed an interest in the complicated history of the country. Another is that 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’m 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 arrive in Panama from New Orleans after an uneventful plane ride, Since I booked my flights separately, I have to go through immigration and customs, then check in again for my flight to Havana. I quickly exit customs and take the escalators upstairs to the check-in counter to get a boarding pass for Havana. The woman at the counter asks me if I need a tourist card before I have a chance to inquire, and after a few moments of confusion on her part, she directs me to get it at the gate counter. Fine by me. I head through security and grab some lunch at Air Margaritaville since Panama’s airport doesn’t seem to have any restaurants that are authentic to the region. No empanadas? No arepas? No ceviche? I guess this turkey club sandwich and guava juice will have to do.
After stuffing my face, I head to my gate and ask for a tourist card. The gate agent simply asks for $20 USD, takes the Jackson when I hand it to her, and hands me the card in return. Right after, they make an announcement about the availability of the card for purchase by anyone who needs it. The required document has two parts – one for when I arrive in Cuba and one for when I depart. I fill it out quickly since it only asks 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’m getting anxiety now. Everything has gone smoothly so far, but I still haven’t arrived. I think I’m just worried about getting around without a map on my phone. I’m dependent on phone data and Google maps for a smooth trip. These things aren’t as readily available in Cuba as it is in other countries, so now I’m regretting not taking more time to find offline maps or buying one from the app store.
On the plane I check out the scenery as we get close to landing in Havana. There isn’t much to see, but I notice that there are several empty roadways. One or two Chevy’s every now and then, but mostly empty. I smile at the thought that I have arrived at Cuba – the one country I’ve wanted to visit for several years.