Cuba: Day 9

December 7, 2010

On my last morning in Cuba, I experienced the country at its most frustrating.  After eating a delicious Cuban breakfast at our casa and saying our sad goodbyes to Sergio, Miriam, and their daughter, we departed for the airport.  We checked in with the airline and got through customs with no problem.  I wanted to get rid of as much evidence as I could of me being in Cuba before returning to the United States, so I spent my last few CUC$’s on a book (Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Year’s of Solitude” in Spanish) and a salsa DVD, only to find out five minutes later that our flight was going to be delayed for seven hours.  !Ay Dios mio!  Now, I was stuck at the airport with no money for food or drink and I was going to miss my connection in Cancun.  Normally I would not have been too distraught over a delayed flight, since I am a seasoned traveler and have accepted that this is a part of traveling, however I had my final exams of the semester of Graduate School scheduled for the next day and they could not be missed under any circumstances.  I excused myself from Kristin and some other Americans that we had befriended and went to sit alone for a while to regain my composure.  I calmed myself down by listening to Buena Vista Social Club on my iPod and reading my book of the trip that was fittingly named, “Es Cuba: Life and Love on the Illegal Island,” written by Lea Aschkenas.  Travel did not protect you from the dark side as you wished it would.  It merely allowed you to experience everything, the good and the bad, more fully and deeply.

After a while I came to terms with the fact that there was nothing I could do about the situation and I did not want to let it ruin my unforgettable time in Cuba.  Those seven hours in the airport afforded me a time to reflect on my trip.  The island was full of life and desperation at the same time.  Surrounded by tropical heat, the beat of salsa music, dilapidated architecture, and the constant presence of political unease; in Cuba I had the constant feeling that something was just about to occur, because in a place so full of uncertainty the only thing that was for sure was that something inevitably would happen!

As we were finally boarding our flight we discovered that the reason for the flight delay was due to the wheels of the plane catching on fire upon landing and they desperately had to search for new wheels to replace the charred ones.  If you find yourself on a Cubana flight in the future all I can say is buena suerte!

Prior to our trip, Kristin and I researched how to avoid getting our passport stamped twice in Mexico.  We both came to the conclusion from everything we had read and heard first-hand that the customs agents in Mexico would see our United States passports and know not to stamp them again.  Wow, were we wrong!  Apparently, you need to place at least 20USD$ in your passport when you hand it over to the agent as a bribe.  Neither of us had any money left and begged the agent to mercifully let us pass through without the stamp, but to her we were just two rich gringas that deserved a little lesson.  After much begging, she eventually let us choose which page the stamp would go on and we both chose pages that were covered in stamps in hope that the second stamp would go unnoticed by United States custom agents.

The United States State Department’s official policy has been that the embargo we have against Cuba is purely economic.  Therefore, it is not illegal to visit the country, rather it is only illegal to spend money there, which of course we did and is completely unavoidable.  There is a hefty fine and possible jail time for those caught.  I was convinced that everything would work out in the end and I tried my best to convince Kristen’s troubled mind as well.

Unfortunately, the Jetblue counter was closed by the time we reached Cancun.  Thus, we would have to wait until the morning to try and get on the next possible flight.  I was determined to have Cubana pay for our hotel room and although it took over an hour to get my wish, not only did Cubana pay for our hotel room, but they also paid for our dinner and breakfast the next day!

Afterward:  After the disaster we had the previous day, we needed good news and good news in abundance is what we got.  We left for the airport immediately after breakfast in order to be the first in line at the Jetblue counter.  For a small fine, we were able to get on the first flight out that day.  Miraculously, my cell phone, which never works in a foreign country, had a signal and I was also able to call my Graduate School and let them know that I would not be sitting for my exams.  I received a slap on the wrist, however they allowed me to make them up later in the week (and I passed!).  In the end, not only did the United States custom agents not see our two Mexico stamps, but I was able to smuggle in my 30 Cuban cigars without getting caught!

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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43 thoughts on “Cuba: Day 9

  1. Andrea

    I wonder whether you were more worried about your plane or getting caught by immigration/customs! Glad to hear you made it back ok and passed your exams! Sad that the series is over =(

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  3. latelunch

    I love that song so much, but they sure did play it ad nauseum. Anyone who had a guitar was doing their version. It was inescapable!

  4. John

    I love How persistent you are.Cuabana airlines normally wouldnt pay for any hotels or meals especially once you left cuba and werent waiting for a flight to cuba.I would say you were very lucky indeed!

  5. Morven

    sounds like you had an awesome time, albeit with a few problems, and I love the covertness of your departures, etc!

  6. Sarah

    Yikes, I would’ve been sooooooooooooo nervous about the stamps. But I am definitely not much of a rule breaker so when I do something like that I am always terrified that I’ll get caught. I’m impressed with how calm you managed to stay!

  7. Jc22ny

    I love your Travel Blog..It was very light and funny yet very informative and inspiring.I hope to read more of your travel adventures in the future.

  8. Emily

    Your trip looks amazing! I’m so sorry that you were delayed for so long but congrats on passing your exam. I hope to make it to Cuba before it changes.

  9. T-Roy

    Lucky Lucky girl! Some things just work out and glad they did for you. Wish I could say the same about my departure out of Cuba as well but I had the worse experience ever when leaving and it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth over it.

  10. Bess

    Wow! What a (beautiful) adventure! Your impressions were similar to mine, but I don’t remember it as vividly because I was a kid. My dad is British so maybe that’s how we went there and back without too much drama.

  11. Camels & Chocolate

    Hands down, one of the most stressful days of my life–and I wasn’t even the one with exams to return to! The plane fire and stamps and not making our connection in Cancun were enough to make any sane traveler loco, though!

  12. Emily

    I love Es Cuba! A friend gave it to me because of the international relationship aspect, and although Chile is not nearly as frustrating as Cuba (thank god) I do feel like I can relate to some of the madness.

  13. Kirsten Alana

    WOW!!!! After hearing your stories in person AND reading them here … it actually makes me that much more eager to travel to Cuba! But at the same time, I am thankful I’ve never been. A younger me would not have had the maturity to handle some of the things you experienced as well as you did. And I LOVE the quote you used about travel just after that first paragraph. It is PERFECT! (Just like your souvenirs … a book and cigars? Girl, we were destined to be besties!! hehe)

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  15. Laura

    Great closing to the series! Thanks so much for sharing your reflections; I’m sure the experiences in Cuba were completely different from any other place. Glad everything turned out ok!

  16. Louie Luhman

    The most difficult thing is to find a blog with unique and fresh content but i think you offer something different. Bravo!

  17. Roxanne

    Let me say this: You are NOT – I repeat NOT – allowed to write me a thoroughly kind email thanking me for my comments. You are getting married in, what, two weeks? Please enjoy life, love and your fiancee and let me enjoy your Cuba posts. Like you, I love Marquez and bought a copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera” at the Plaza de Armas last time I was there. And like you, I turn to the Buena Vista Social Club to calm down or dance around my living room.

    I love reading these stories; they are getting me excited for my next time in Cuba. Your blog makes for the best lunch break company in the world.

  18. Adeola

    wow! Lucky you! not only didn’t you go to jail, you also were able to postpone your exam to a later date! Thanks for this awesomely detailed and exciting post. now I can’t wait to go to Cuba. I can perceive feeling just as uncomfortable and guilty about the restrictions on locals. It’ll make me feel like i’m living in South Africa during Apartheid or in the U.S during the Civil Rights movement. Nevertheless, I look forward to my stay there, though I don’t think i’ll be staying as long as you guys did.
    Thanks again for the series 🙂


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