On the afternoon of Monday, August 10th, 2015, Cubana flight #153 from Cancun, Mexico landed at Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí in La Habana, Cuba. A feeling of excitement and intrigue kicked in once I realized where I was, the land of Cuban brothers that has been the forbidden fruit to all Americans and Puerto Ricans for over 50 years. Due to the US embargo Americans, including Puerto Ricans, are still not allowed to travel free of restrictions into Cuba. Fortunately, the US embargo laws are slowly loosening and certain US residents that meet a pretty vague set of requirements are now allowed to fly from the mainland (but at a steep cost). At the airport Andrea and I waited for my Puerto Rican friends Eric and Yaneris to arrive from the Panama airport. Because no American technology works in Cuba, including cell phones and credit/debit cards, Andrea and I had to do a lot of running around in Arrivals to make sure we didn’t miss our travel partners. If we didn’t find each other at the airport, there was no way to contact each other and meet up during the rest of the trip. After an hour or two of waiting and watching we finally saw Eric and Yaneris coming through the gate, much to our relief.
Eric had contacted a taxi driver he learned about from a friend who was supposed to pick us up at the airport, but the driver “nos dejó’ arrollaos’! Luckily, finding a taxi in Cuba is incredibly easy as they are in huge abundance. A taxi driver is one of the best paid jobs in Cuba due to their interactions with (and tips from) tourists. Once we got together at the airport, shared hugs, made introductions and exchanged all of our Canadian dollars (the Cuban government imposes a 10% exchange tax on US dollars) into CUCs (a.k.a Cuban Peso Convertible), we were off to La Habana!