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Cuba Libre - Off we go...

Day One & Two


I have a bucket list..a long one. I grew up with the mantra "work hard, play hard-enjoy your life"...I do.

Cuba has been on this bucket list for a long time,. On a rainy day in February, I decided to book our trip to Cuba for September, 2014. The Office of Foreign Assets Control granted certain travel agencies a license to provide people-to-people educational exchange travel to Cuba. Being a dual national, I could have travelled on my Swiss passport, but..I had my beloved in tow, so, I decided to take advantage of this exchange opportunity.

Day One...

No alarm clock has to wake me up in the morning, especially when I'm about to embark on an exciting adventure. I jump out of bed hours before the wheels go up on our flight and begin to wake my darling companion. He is not a morning person, is never in a hurry and claims to always arrive on time...well, not according to my Swiss watch...but that is another story. However, he is up and we are on our way. Check-in and security at the airport goes smooth, we grab a little breakfast and now we sit and wait for the flight. Well, I sit and wait while my travelling companion is already bored to tears and starts wandering the airport. Not a relaxing time for me as he seems to get himself, at times, into situations. That, too, is another story...or several. I have learned over the years to remind him to keep check of his passport, tell him the flight number and give him the date and time of MY return in case he misses the flight. I love him dearly.

Finally, we are on our way to Miami where we will stay at the Miami Crowne Plaza Hotel overnight and meet our American guide, Maria, who will brief us on the politics, courtesies, itinerary and the diplomats and experts we will be meeting. Having thoroughly researched Cuba before our trip, I am already informed that no credit cards or American currency is accepted in Cuba. I have also exchanged our money into Euros, thankfully, because the rate of exchange is in our favor; however, we also learn that the only allowable items to bring back to the United States are music, artwork and handicrafts. No rum, cigars, coffee or sugar. Introductions all around and the 11 people on this tour are ready to go.

We arrive at the airport and are in line...a long line with dollies stacked with televisions, car tires, bundles of clothes, boxes and bags stuffed full. Maria explains these are Cubans travelling to see their families and bringing them gifts which are not available to them in Cuba because of the Embargo. It is not long before we are on our plane and airborne.

Our flight attendant offers the usual assortment of beverages. Beloved starts his usual commentary with "hey pal". Well, "hey pal" and our flight attendant (Sergio) decides to sit next to him and chit chat on the less than 45 minute flight to Cuba. We learn that Miami to Cuba is closer than Miami to Disney World. Sergio is from Equador, very personable and as quick and witty as you know who. He informs us that when we land at the airfield, the flight crew cannot step foot on Cuban soil. The fact that this is a US aircraft and the crew are US citizens, they cannot disembark the plane. We literally take off, have a drink ( and a stop and chat with Sergio ) ..and we are landing. From my window seat on the plane I see the airport which consists of a building that looks like a storage unit with a (one) blacktop runway. Big hugs between Sergio and his new buddy. Off we go into the warehouse to retrieve our luggage. Once inside, we go thru their security check point, ask them not to stamp our passports and enter another room with a conveyor belt, 2 dogs and Cuban military guarding the exits. The luggage-sniffing dogs are running back and forth on the conveyor belt. Our group of 11 are gathering in an area, trying to stay together, making polite conversation and attempting to stay out of harms way...the televisions, tires, and big bundles of stuff. Finally our luggage starts coming thru on the conveyor. I guess their only form of security is literally going thru the luggage. Our TSA lock was lopped off, including the pulls that you put the lock thru (time for new luggage). My nicely ironed, neatly packed suitcase was unrecognizable. Everything was accounted for but it looked like it had been dumped upside down and the contents thrown back in.

Welcome to Cuba!!

Outside of the airport is a very nice air-conditioned bus that takes us to Cienfuegos. Maria informs us that we are to meet our Cuban guide, Nilda,
however, due to a flight delay on her end...we will be meeting her at our hotel. Therefore, there will be no commentary regarding Cuba on the way to the hotel. Only Cuban guides are allowed to hold the microphone. American guides cannot narrate or answer direct questions in Cuba without an official Cuban guide by their side. They are permitted to discuss amongst themselves but the Cuban guide is the official source of information.

Destination: Cienfuegos: La Perla del Sur (the Pearl of the South), located on the southern coast and one of the chief seaports of the country. This was an important trading post for sugar, tobacco and coffee. The historic center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its beautiful examples of eclectic architecture. And beautiful it is! We visit Teatro Terry and Parque Marti with a walk on the pedestrian Bulevar. We learn about Cuban currency and product supply limitations.

We arrive at our hotel on the lovely Bay of Cienfuegos. A beautiful dinner at an old casino with a welcome Cuba Libre, which...is really a lie...isn't it: Cuba Libre? Really?


Posted by Linda Fluckiger 16:00 Archived in Cuba Tagged airport cuba unesco miami cienfuegos

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