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The Nightmare Of Travel From Cuba To The USA For Foreigners

After a brief stay in New York we spent our 12th wedding anniversary in Havana, Cuba, before a conference in Miami

The 2023 annual Macular Society meeting was to be held in Miami and Anna would be making a presentation there. We were pretty excited for this trip, because a few of our friends that we hadn’t seen since before Covid would be attending and it gave us an opportunity to visit another new place for us; Cuba. We knew there would be some hurdles to jump through in order to be able to re-enter the US from Cuba, but Anna had done her usual meticulous research months in advance so we had our ESTAs (electronic Visas) sorted and we were off, however, it wouldn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023
We weren’t flying directly to Miami, but instead spending the first two nights in New York to begin our trip, our first time back since we left in 2016 after living there for 12 months. It may have been a 17-hour flight, but due to timezones we arrived only four hours after our departure. We tend to find that jet-lag on this leg of the trip isn’t as bad as opposed to returning to Singapore so we tried to coordinate how we slept on the plane with US EST, purchasing pre-sale tickets to see Ween for when we’re in New Orleans in April using the unreliable onboard wifi along the way, and we both felt pretty good when we arrived at JFK International Airport at around 7:00pm. There were people onboard that seemed to be on their first ever international flight, because the Singaporean pair seated behind us felt the need to film every aspect of the flight from boarding, to a walk-around of the cabin, to the serving of the inflight meals, and then panning the passengers again when everyone was disembarking, leading to me covering my face with my jacket so they would just stop. In fact, the only time the woman wasn’t filming was when she finally fell asleep while watching a stereotypically terrible Jack Neo film, Ah Girls Go Army Again, doing so with her overhead light shining into my seat, making sleeping a little difficult for me, but I managed to get some.
Once we had landed and were through immigration we caught a cab from the airport to our hotel, checked in, showered, and then went to meet Anna’s cousin, Emilie, at a restaurant for dinner and a few drinks. We had a great time catching up, but Emilie couldn’t stay out all night and it wasn’t until after she had left that we realised we had completely forgotten to take a picture with her, despite having not met up in several years. Afterwards Anna and myself settled into a bar near our hotel for a little while and just tried to stay up long enough so our bodies wouldn’t think too much of us being on the other side of the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2023
This was our only full day in New York and we weren’t up too early so we decided to revisit some of our old haunts after grabbing some coffee, the first being Housing Works, a massive thrift store I used to volunteer at on E23rd St. while I was waiting forever for my employment pass to be approved. The place was a little different to how I remembered it and I didn’t find anything particularly interesting so we kept walking and as we did so, something soon became abundantly clear — We could smell weed absolutely everywhere, a lot of the bodegas and small shops from when we were living there now operating as dispensaries and everyone was smoking it up. That’s some pretty fast uptake too, because, despite marijuana being decriminalised for recreational use in New York in 2021, the first legal sale from a dispensary had only occured about six weeks  prior on December 29, 2022, ironically from a dispensary owned by Housing Works, and now they were making the most of it as we continually passed people meandering down the street with a joint in their hand.

In the afternoon we split for a bit, Anna doing some shopping at Nordstrom Rack and some other places she likes in the Flatiron district while I went to check out some of my favourite old record stores, but the main one had a crew filming in there so I couldn’t go in. We met back up later and decided that we should probably make the most of where we were and grab a Reuben and a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel at Katz’s Deli, the guy essentially using a trowel to put the cheese on. For me, American food isn’t usually all that great, but these are a definite exception.
Our day up until that point:

Before long we had to be getting back, because Anna had a plan for that night; she had booked tickets for us to see the musical Hamilton at 7:00pm. This was one of those performances that I knew about, I just didn’t realise that the original Broadway production had won 11 Tony Awards, one shy of the record held by The Producers so it had to be worth a look.
We walked back to the hotel to wash all of the cream cheese of our faces, put on some slightly nicer clothes, and made our way down to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, having a couple of pre-show drinks along the way, however, our taxi got stuck in traffic and it looked like we were going to be late so we just paid, got out of the cab, and hoofed it the rest of the way. The show was incredible, I could definitely see what all of the hype was about, the only problem was that including the intermission, the performance ran for three hours and if you haven’t been to an old Broadway theatre before, the seats are really cramped with no legroom so towards the end I wanted more than anything to to be able to stand up, something the people behind me wouldn’t have been too happy about. I can only imagine how the guy I saw at the merchandise stand that towered over me was feeling. Once done the jet-lag had us wide awake so we found a little dive bar and hung out for a couple of hours before catching a cab home.
Inside and out of the Richard Rodgers Theatre:

Friday, February 10, 2023
The leg of the trip we were really looking forward to was here, we were flying out to Havana, Cuba, but we had to get to the airport early, because we were fairly certain this wasn’t going to be a straightforward process. To be fair it wasn’t the nightmare we were expecting, it’s just that the check-in desk for flights to Cuba wasn’t located with all of the others at JFK Airport, it was instead hidden behind a flight of stairs, out of the view of the public. But why is Cuba such a taboo location for traveling both to and from the USA? Well, it’s an extremely long story, but since Fidel Castro came into power in 1959, there has been constant turmoil between Cuba and the USA that has lasted for over 60 years, covering the reigns of now 13 US Presidents and has included a nuclear crisis, a US trade embargo, and constant hostilities between the two countries. Diplomatic relations between the two improved under Barack Obama, who decided it was time for a change. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,” Obama said in 2014 as he announced plans to normalise relations. It was a long process and things improved greatly.
However, Donald Trump at the end of his presidency decided in a last ditch effort to Make America Great Again to once again have the US State Department designate Cuba as a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ just nine days before Joe Biden was sworn in as President:

In an 11 January statement, [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo said that Cuba has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbour to terrorists”. He also alleged that Cuba had “fed, housed and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers and hijacker[s]” while, he said, “many Cubans were hungry, homeless and without basic medicine”.

The decision has the effect of subjecting Cuba to sanctions that penalise persons and countries engaging in trade with Cuba, restricts US foreign assistance, bans defence exports and sales, and imposes export controls on some dual use items. It also requires the US to oppose loans to Cuba by institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. For the most part the substance of the designation is academic, but it effectively chills relations, creates uncertainty for US and international investors, and makes more difficult the gradual easing of restrictions expected under the incoming Biden administration.

The battle is real

Sounds about right for a vindictive sociopath like Donald Trump, but we would learn during our time in Cuba that the portrayal of Cubans as “hungry and homeless” was largely untrue, especially when compared to New York.

Anyway, we had no problem getting through passport control, but there was a bit of a delay boarding our flight due to a baby walking down the aisle for some reason. As usual, once aboard I really struggled to fit in the toilet when I needed to (right), but a couple of hours later we were in Havana, Cuba:

Havana is the capital and largest city of Cuba. The heart of the La Habana Province, Havana is the country’s main port and commercial center. The city has a population of 2.3million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 728.26 km2 (281.18 sq mi) – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.

The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century. It served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, becoming a stopping point for Spanish galleons returning to Spain. Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of capital in 1607. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the city.

Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado and the newer suburban districts. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbors: Marimelena, Guanabacoa and Antares. The Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.

We would be staying in an Airbnb with our friend from New York who had relocated to Florida in recent years, Jesse McCann, someone we hadn’t seen since our trip together to Malaysia and Laos, and his partner, Corey, so we cleared immigration and jumped in a ride to take us to where we would be spending the next few nights. The image of classic cars in Cuba, the result of Castro’s 1960 trade embargo, is as synonymous with the country as cigars and Che Guevara and, despite there actually being relatively modern, Russian cars on the road as well, the classic is exactly what we got.
It took us a rather smokey 25 minutes to get to our Airbnb, located on the third floor of a large house with a shop in the bottom. We were led by a security guard up a very rickety staircase where we were greeted on arrival by the owner, some of her friends already preparing food for the four of us, Jesse and Corey having arrived earlier
Our first impressions of Havana, our car, and our Airbnb:

After meeting the crew and then freshening up it was about 5:30pm when we headed out, first just exploring the neighbourhood. We passed an area where the walls were painted with a mix of classic cartoon characters, but also rock, heavy metal, and corporate logos, as well as the occasional Jesus. Not far past the wall we found in an old building an outdoor bar that probably looked exactly how you’re picturing it so we pulled up a seat each and grabbed a couple of beers, soaking in the weird atmosphere of this place.
Once we were done at the bar we caught an extremely old, but pretty cool taxi into town, almost choking inside along the way as the fumes were sucked in through the air vents, catalytic converters obviously having not been invented until after our car was manufactured. We somehow managed to avoid asphyxiation and started to look for a place to eat, but this would normally take a little bit of planning, because most restaurants in Cuba are state-run due to the trade embargo and we had been told by several friends that the food is pretty bad in them so we had to try to find a “paladare“, a private, family-run restaurant that serves more traditional food. Of course, planning anything can be a little tough with no wifi so we just had to look at the menu and decide, which would be hit or miss, but we ultimately found something good.
It soon became clear that Havana was like being in a surreal, slightly modernised version of Happy Days set in the Caribbean; there were the 1950s cars, payphones, and diners, but some people also had smartphones so take a look around:

It was Friday night so it only seemed right that we do it properly so we got into another ancient taxi and were taken to different area of town and despite the fact that many of the buildings in Havana are in poor shape, it’s a really beautiful city
Our first stop of the night was one of Ernest Hemingway‘s favourite hangouts in Havana and “La Cuna del Daiquiri” or “The Cradle of the Daiquiri”, El Floridita. This place opened in 1817 as “La Piña de Plata” (The Silver Pineapple), but apparently almost 100 years later a huge amount of American tourists convinced the owner to change its name to “El Florida”. Once inside there was a ton of Hemingway memorabilia on the walls and even a life-size statue of him in what was apparently his favourite spot at the bar. There was a band playing and people dancing and doing conga lines, it all looked like a lot of fun so we started the night off with several rounds of daiquiris as well as some beers for a couple of hours before moving on to the next spot. We wound our way around several statues and past some stunning buildings including El Capitolio and the National Museum of Fine Arts before finding ourselves at a rooftop bar on the Telégrafo Axel Hotel, the oldest hotel in all of Cuba and one that bills itself as being “heterofriendly”. No, that doesn’t mean you have to be straight to enter, rather that Anna and myself were quite welcome, but we wouldn’t be the hotel’s target demographic. This became clear when we first saw the night’s entertainment, a trans dancer with several teeth missing that was twerking and dry-humping the floor, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture the more risqué parts of her act. We sat around with a couple of drinks, took in the incredible view from the rooftop, as well as the entertainment, but the jet-lag began to kick in again so we soon headed home.
Our first night out in Havana:

Saturday, February 11, 2023
After a great breakfast prepared for us by our cooks we walked into town to do a bit more exploring, passing some more cool buildings, a flea market, and a seemingly endless line for one of the handful of ATMs in the city along the way, but one of my regrets on this trip would be that we wouldn’t get to take a ride in one of the more bizarre taxis we saw. If you’ve been to Bangkok, Thailand you’d probably be familiar with tuk-tuks and autos in India are similar, so I guess these types of taxis are the Cuban equivalent. They are a bubble shape with plastic seats in the back and the front wheel is like that of a motorbike, they don’t look particularly comfortable, more like a ride from a children’s playground, but I still would’ve loved to have taken a ride in one.

Instead, today we’d be riding in something else. The plan was to take a tour of the city in yet another awesome, vintage car and we were to be collected from Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a beautiful, old hotel right on the waterfront, cannons that used to defend the coastline still in place. Fortunately a friend told us about the ATM situation so we had made sure we had plenty of cash for this leg of the trip and wouldn’t need to line up for hours so the four of us pulled up seats outdoors in the hotel garden and had some beers and cocktails served from an old Citroën truck. There were peacocks everywhere, one busting out its mating display to try to impress a hen, an act that goes on a lot longer than I expected. After our coffee and bird-dance we had a bit of time to spare so we took a look around the hotel, including a cigar bar called the Habanos Lounge that had a life-sized person made entirely out of tobacco leaves.
Definitely coming back to this hotel!:

Our ride and our guide were now here so the five of us squeezed in around the driver and were driven around some areas of Havana that we had yet to see and the first stop was Jaimanitas to view some works of José Rodríguez Fuster, a local artist specialising in ceramics, painting, drawing, and graphic design, but this area was unique because, not only was his incredible house located there, but he had decorated the entire neighbourhood!:

Fuster has made a major contribution over 10 years of work of rebuilding and decorating the fishing town of Jaimanitas in the outskirts of Havana, where he lives. Jaimanitas is now a unique work of public art where Fuster has decorated over 80 houses with ornate murals and domes to suit the personality of his neighbours, he has built a chess park with giant boards and tables, The Artists’ Wall composed of a quilt of dozens of tiles signed and donated by other Cuban artists, a theatre and public swimming pools.

His work might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it would definitely be cool to just live in a neighbourhood like this, let alone his crazy house, it was really something:

Once we were done with one of the trippiest communities I’ve ever set foot in we were back in the car touring around some other areas. This involved passing a line of cars the length of multiple blocks to get petrol in possibly the only queue longer than the wait at an ATM and stopping off at a cafe and bar where we had cocktails that consisted of liberally pouring our own rum into a hollowed out pineapple, two common ingredients in many cocktails here.
Once fully refreshed we were driven back to our Airbnb, passing some interesting buildings including those in Plaza de la Revolución Square, two of which paid homage to Cuban revolutionaries Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Once we arrived we just relaxed for a couple of hours on the balcony and had a homemade snack or two before making our way back into the city.

Dinner was upon us so we had to make a careful choice and we nailed it once again, this time at ChaChaChá, a place that had a lot of seafood and a lot of pork among other dishes to be eaten off old records. We ate well, scoffing down ceviche, octopus carpaccio, salami, and Serrano ham just to begin, followed by some lechón and some shredded beef.
The next plan of attack was to find a place to spend Jesse and Corey’s final night in Havana before they flew out the following morning. We found another rooftop bar and although the view was breathtaking, it was a little seedy, us noticing as soon as we had sat down and our drinks had arrived that a blonde woman in her 50s was making out and getting a fair bit of action under the table by a much younger, but substantially larger guy. However, we were just around the corner from Hotel Nacional and there was supposed to be a cabaret night on, but by the time we arrived it was already over. We had noticed that morning, however, that something was being constructed on the main beachside road behind the hotel, but what we didn’t realise was that there was going to be a performance that night attended by tens of thousands of people! We weren’t about to join in the celebrations down there, but it was a great atmosphere, plus it’s hard to complain about the seaside breeze on a warm, Caribbean night.
Looking back at our drive through the city, drinks, dinner, and the view from the rooftop bar:

And as for that massive performance on the freeway out the back of Hotel Nacional de Cuba, I wasn’t exaggerating the size of it, take a look for yourself:

Sunday, February 12, 2023
Our final couple of days in Havana were just going to be myself and Anna so we decided to spend them doing  a bit more wandering around, this time mostly Old Havana:

Old Havana is the city-center (downtown) and one of the 15 municipalities (or boroughs) forming Havana, Cuba. It has the second highest population density in the city and contains the core of the original city of Havana. The positions of the original Havana city walls are the modern boundaries of Old Havana.

In 1982, Old Havana was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, because of its unique Baroque and neoclassical architecture, its fortifications, and its historical importance as a stop on the route to the New World. A safeguarding campaign was launched a year later to restore the authentic character of the buildings.

The day started out the same as the previous one with a snack provided by our hosts, followed by us making our way down to Hotel Nacional for a coffee or two. The peafowl were out in full force once more, but on this occasion hotel staff were trying to cut the grass, yet the birds couldn’t care less so the gardeners were just resigned to trimming around them until they had moved.
The entire structure from the concert the previous night was being disassembled so we decided to take a walk down that coastal road and then venture into some different areas of the city and one thing became abundantly clear — Havana must’ve been a truly beautiful city back in the day. That’s not to say that it isn’t now, but it’s hard to maintain that previous shine when most of the country’s supplies have been cut off due to trade embargos. There were more than a handful of desolate, dilapidated buildings that you could picture being absolutely remarkable 80 years ago, though now just crumbling and overgrown.
Here’s just a few examples of some the structures we passed just at the beginning of our daylong stroll:

It was now mid-afternoon and we were getting a little peckish so we decided to find Dos Hermanos, one of the most famous bars and restaurants in town, specialising in seafood stews. Once there it looked busy, usually a good sign, but on this occasion it was a little too busy and there wasn’t enough space for us to eat, but the place had been enthusiastically recommended to us so we figured we might have to head back later for a drink

We continued on and found a La Pinta, a bar that ticked many boxes for us; it had a lot of antiques and retro stuff laying around everywhere — old record players, TVs, and radios, a lot of crap hanging from the walls with much of it written on. As well as a vintage cash register, there was even a decorative urinal in the outdoor area, near which another large turtle was eating from a plate on the ground. It looks like we’d found the next stop on our trek so we took a seat and were instantly serenaded by two men. We ordered our drink from the guy with the guitar that had been singing and when they he brought them over he stayed around and had a chat. He was funny and friendly, but soon he just had to vent about how frustrating it can be to live in Cuba and he held a deep resentment of the USA, but in our short time spent in Havana it was easy to see why one might harbour these feelings, it was hard not to sympathise.

We finished our chat and headed out again and because a Sunday Session is always fun, found ourselves in La Bodeguita del Medio, the birthplace of the mojito so a definite must-have for Anna:

La Bodeguita del Medio is a restaurant-bar in Havana, Cuba. La Bodeguita lays claim to being the birthplace of the Mojito cocktail, prepared in the bar since its opening in 1942, although this is disputed. It has been patronized by Salvador Allende, the poet Pablo Neruda, the artist Josignacio and many others. The rooms are full of curious objects, frames, photos, as well as the walls covered by signatures of famous or unknown customers, recounting the island’s past.

I’m by no means a mojito aficionado, but it would be an understatement to say that Anna was rather impressed by her beverage so we had a couple more, taking in the ambience of a bar that looks like it hasn’t changed since it was first built. Also, amongst those signatures on the walls was another by Ernest Hemingway, giving the impression that he probably did far more drinking than writing during his time in Cuba, although to be fair he claimed he “was out of business as a writer” during his second Havana stint.
A look around some of the same old areas, as well as some of the different ones we discovered while afternoon bar-hopping:

We had to stop the mojitos if we were to see more while the sun was still shining. Earlier we had noticed that there were old canons discretely placed everywhere throughout the the city, but it was when we approached Plaza de la Catedral that we saw them used as bollards. You can probably guess what it is by its name, but here’s a bit of background information about the Plaza de la Catedral:

Plaza de la Catedral is one of the four main squares in Old Havana and the site of the Cathedral of Havana from which it takes its name. Originally a swamp, it was later drained and used as a naval dockyard. Following the construction of the Cathedral in 1727, it became the site of some of the city’s grandest mansions. It is the site of the Museo del Arte Colonial (Colonial Art Museum) and a number of restaurants.

One of the buildings on the Plaza is the Palacio del Conde Lombillo, in front of which there is a statue of the flamenco dancer Antonio Gades.

Again, there is essentially zero wifi in Havana so we were either just stumbling upon these places or trying to locate them from memory, a goal that’s difficult to achieve when you factor in my brain being almost devoid of the ability to recollect and Anna’s severe lack of directional sense, but somehow we did it! we walked along the water opposite the La Cabaña fortress, cut through Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, and before long found ourselves back at Dos Hermanos. It was only about 5:30pm so it was too early for dinner and it would also be poor form to pull up a seat and sit on our drinks until we were hungry, but we could get a snack so we had a fantastic plate of lobster and rice before hitting the road again.

We wound through the streets and eventually I found myself being beckoned inside an old barbershop that still probably looked like it did the day it opened and although I had only recently had a haircut before this trip, one of the barbers was more than happy to draw a rather creepy caricature of me, for a price of course, which we gladly paid. We continued through the third square we would stumble upon, Plaza Vieja, a 500-year old site once used for the wealthiest Cubans to watch executions, processions, bullfights, and fiestas from the comfort of their balconies.

We found ourselves at another great restaurant that wasn’t state-run, the name of which I can’t recall, that gave us a couple of free espresso martinis after our meal once they found out that, despite how casually we were dressed, it was our 12th wedding anniversary, then down the road at another rooftop bar called Sibarita. This place was awesome, but Anna had started on the cocktails a little too early so we only had a couple more drinks before we had to go back to our Airbnb for an obligatory cigar, It would almost be sacrilege to come to Cuba and not buy one, and spent the remainder of the night discussing the 24-hour construction of the strange, nearby building that quite a few of the locals were a little skeptical about.
Some scenes from the rest of the day:

Monday, February 13, 2023
This was our last full day in Cuba and the plan was to take it relatively easy, just a continuation of the previous day, however, the shops would be open today so we had our breakfast while talking to one of the female chefs about the pitfalls of life as lesbian in Cuba, a very sobering story, and we were soon wrapping up our personal Caribbean journey.

We went back to Old Havana and whether it was naivety, stupidity, or a combination of the two, it had never really occured to us that the shopping wouldn’t be all that fantastic in a country that has had trading ties cut with almost all major markets on the planet, yet here we were. Don’t get me wrong, there were shops to look at, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of variety so after a while it really did begin to seem like we had seen it all when it came to retail. That doesn’t mean there still weren’t some great cafes and bars we hadn’t checked out so that’s how we spent the rest of our final day in town, just having coffee, a bit of bar-hopping, particularly another great bar called El Dandy, and just taking in the sights along the way.

Once done we had dinner at Ivan Chefs Justo, a place apparently run by Fidel Castro’s former personal chef for a fantastic final dinner, and before long we were back at the Airbnb.
Our last full day in Havana:

Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Today was the day we’d be leaving for Miami so we had our last breakfast and thanked our hosts for the past couple of days before killing a little time with some lunchtime drinks back at Hotel Nacional, but we couldn’t take too long. Despite our flight being at 3:40pm, we knew there would be more than a few hassles and we weren’t let down, thus the title of this blog. I present to you…

The Nightmare of Travel from Cuba to the USA for Foreigners

We got to José Martí International Airport more than three hours early but when we tried to check in, they couldn’t check our ESTAs (electronic Visas) so they sent us to the airline office. The officials in the airline office were able to check and approved them, and printed our boarding passes so we went back to check in again. The man behind the check-in counter insisted that only physical visas are accepted when traveling to the United States from Cuba, not ESTA, rendering our ESTAs that had allowed us to enter the US less than a week previously now invalid so what to do? Our only real option was to go to a different airline, but this time to book tickets to Cancun, Mexico instead so we wouldn’t be entering the US directly from Cuba, however, the office was now closed. An employee of that office who was nearby allowed us to use his phone to try to book tickets, but that didn’t help, because his Google was in Spanish so we returned to the check-in counter once again and asked the man there about getting on a one-way flight to Cancun, but in order to travel to Mexico we also needed a transit flight out of Mexico booked. We were now getting rather desperate and the complimentary wifi in the Havana airport was pretty much dead for us so we begged the man to let us borrow his phone to book those tickets, but to throw another spanner in the works the wifi cut out on his phone while trying to book tickets out of Cancun. The check-in man could see that we were getting more than a bit frantic and was kind enough to allow us to book the outbound flights when we landed in Mexico and would let us board if we were able to actually book flights into Cancun. Anna had managed to secure tickets to Cancun while I bought pre-paid internet access from a woman who didn’t speak English and she kept yelling at me after I purchased it for some reason, but I wasn’t in the mood for that so I just ignored her and walked back over to Anna. We still couldn’t get much life out of the internet access I had purchased, rendering a credit card ticket payment a non-option, in fact our cards probably wouldn’t have been accepted anyway, and we were just short of enough cash to pay for our tickets… until the angry woman I bought the pre-paid internet from came over with my change. I guess that’s what she was trying to tell me. We paid cash for our tickets to Cancun and while we waited for the flight we attempted once again to book flights online from Cancun to Miami while the internet kept dropping out, but it was redundant anyway, because the American Airlines site only accepted United States credit cards and for some reason the American Airlines Singapore website is blocked in Cuba. By now we had lost track of time and also as it turned out we had been told to wait at the wrong gate for our flight to Mexico so after our names were called over the intercom we ran to the correct gate and did the walk of shame down the aisle to our seats once we were on board, but we were finally on our flight out of Cuba.

We eventually landed in Cancun, Mexico and were more than a little stressed while lining up at immigration, because we still didn’t have a flight out of the country. Although not as bad as in Cuba, the internet in Cancun International Airport was still spotty and Anna continued to have trouble booking those flights while standing in line, because we were not using a United States credit card for payment. Instead she logged onto the American Airlines Singapore site, however, it just kept reloading and cancelling all of the information she had entered each time, but she came up with an ingenious plan; Anna went back to the original American Airlines site, entered a Singapore credit card number and fooled the site by stating that Singapore was in Florida, using the Miami postal code for the address of the hotel we’d be staying in. It was too late to get a flight for that day so naturally we booked for the following day, managing to complete the transaction with just one person now remaining before us in the immigration queue, although we hadn’t even needed to worry — the woman checking our passports didn’t even ask to see any proof of a flight out of the country.
We were now through the gates and on Mexican soil and had to fill out our arrival forms in Spanish using an English translation stuck up on the wall, but we pulled it off. Although our next flights were for the following day, once we had collected our luggage we knew we still had 10 minutes to make it from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 for the next departing flight so we jumped in a taxi, got there just in the nick of time to plead with someone at the American Airlines counter to change our tickets to the final flight of that day. Incredibly, we somehow managed to pull it off, rushed to our gate where we were asked by an immigration official how long we had been in Cancun and he was a little curious when we replied “An hour and a half”, but he let it go so we boarded our plane to Miami and, although a child behind me kept kicking the back of my seat the entire way, we managed to touch down at Miami International Airport just five hours behind schedule.

Not exactly a direct route, but it got us there in the end

So that was the first leg of our trip. It was interesting being back in New York, seeing how much the place had changed since we were last there seven years ago, and Hamilton was definitely worth the price of admission. We loved Havana, it is a weird mix of the old and the new, but also with some incredibly friendly and happy people, despite their circumstances. It’s not the fault of the Cuban people that getting from their country to the US is so difficult and confusing, I definitely recommend anyone to visit Havana, just don’t try to enter the United States immediately afterward!

Stay tuned, because in my next post I’ll be looking back at those four days in Miami.

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