the way back

Aug 9th

My vacation in Cuba felt like it ended 3 days early. That’s because I had 3 straight days of being on the move, making connections etc. The morning of the 9th, I took the bus from Cienfuegos back to Havana. In Havana, I wanted to stay at the same place where I stayed last time, but they ended up being full, so I stayed at Yuri’s brother’s house across the street. it was my last day in Cuba, and here I was back in Havana, Cuba’s most amazing city. Unfortunately, it ended up raining a ton that day, but I still got to spend a decent amount of time wandering around tow, seeing some places I hadn’t checked out yet, and hanging out by the sea.

One of my main concerns at this point was money. I had pretty much none left. I just needed my cash to stretch till I got back to Cancun tomorrow. I needed to have 25$ dollars for the airport tax on the way out. I also wanted to buy 2 cigars. I was worried about bringing *anything* back to the US, but I thought that just 2 measly small cigars might be ok. I also hoped to buy a few postcards to send home. Buying just these few last odds and ends left me practically broke. The last problem was that the airport was hella far from Havana and taxis usually cost 20$. I just didn’t have 20$. But maybe, if I played all my cards right, I might just scrape by to get one of the cheaper taxis. If I couldn’t, I’d have to take one of those heinous camel buses, and be crushed along w/ my backpack for a whole hour. Ugh. So, I pinched pennies like crazy, ate the cheapest of the cheap food, bought the postcards and cigars, had a last mojito, and hoped that I’d have enough $ for cab fare the next day.

Aug 10th

I got lucky. I asked a cab guy if he’d take me to the airport for $13.75, and he said yes. Phew. So lucky!! The flight back to Cancun aboard the Fokker 100 (oddly named plane, eh?) was only an hour. Just before we landed, the plane attendants walked through the cabin and sprayed everything with some weird insecticide. Landing in Cancun, I had to go through immigration, and I was really hoping to not get my passport stamped. If I got no Mexican stamp here, my passport would be clean, and there would be no proof of me going anywhere. I walk up to the guy, and he asks for my passport. I hand him my birth certificate, and hope that this will work. He glares at me… “I said, give me your *passport*!!”. Crap. I start stammering something about US citizens being able to use their birth certificates to get into Mexico, but he cuts me off mid-sentence…”when you come from America, you can use this one, but now, you come from *Cuba* so, give me YOUR PASSPORT. And.. don’t put any money inside PLEASE!” doh!! One of the common ways of not getting a passport stamp is to slide a $20 into your passport as a bribe. I guess this guy wasn’t down. Sadly, I got the stamp.

I took the shuttle to the cheapest hotel I could find. It was SO weird to be in Cancun. All of a sudden I was surrounded by McDonald’s, bubba gumps, and burger kings. This place was like the exact opposite of the relaxed untouristy Cuba that I had just been in. it’s so weird to me that people from America would rush to come to Cancun, in a foreign country, and surround themselves with everything that they already have plenty of back in the US.

I was getting pretty stressed about going back home. What if they somehow knew that I had been to Cuba? What if they found the 2 cigars I had, then got suspicious and searched me, and found the passport w/ the bad stamp? I kept thinking about the possible $250,00 fine. Yikes! Of course, the fine was usually dropped to $7,000, but still… even that’s a ton of cash. I finally came up with an idea: I would FedEx my passport back home from Cancun. This way, I wouldn’t have any evidence on me except for the 2 cigars… and I could claim that I had just bought the Cuban cigars in Cancun. At night, I searched my backpack to be sure to get rid of absolutely anything that was Cuba related including any receipts or anything. As I looked through my pack, I found an envelope, and opened it finding $100 inside. Holy crap!!! I had brought it with me as a secret cash reserve and had forgotten all a bout it. DAMN. I thought back to how many times I was strapped for cash, and to how I was pretty much counting pennies on my last day in Havana. the whole time, I had an extra $100 on me. Sheez.

Aug 11th

In the morning, I mailed my postcards from the post office, sent my passport home, and headed to the airport. Sheez, I was SO nervous. Also, this was the day after the alleged terrorist attack was discovered, so searches would be extra good. I was nervous as hell for the whole flight to Houston. I knew that the chances of being caught were pretty much zero, but still it was nerve racking. On one hand, without the passport, there was no way anyone could really prove anything. Having Cuban cigars doesn’t necessarily mean you were in Cuba. but still, I worried that somehow they might start asking me questions and I’d mess up somehow. Would I be able to answer them if they asked me what I did in Cancun,. What hotel I stayed at, which beaches I went to, etc?

We landed in Houston. I hid my one Cuban bill in my sock. Here goes nothing. First I got to immigration. The guy didn’t look too happy about me using a birth certificate instead of passport. He kept looking up at me, typing, looking at me again, and typing some more. I was starting to feel panicky. Did he know something? What did he know? Finally, he asks “are you bringing in any tobacco, food, or fruits?”. Oh crap! He must know!! Sheez. Finally, he lets me through. My heart had been racing the whole time.

Next was customs. I handed my customs form to the agent. He glances at it, and tells me to go on. I walk forward and follow everyone to the left. Looking around, I find myself in a small room. A guy points some people to a line w/ a green arrow, and me to a line w/ a red arrow. Uh-oh. Red arrow?? What does that mean? Crap, I’m going to be searched, right? When I get to the front though, it turns out that I wasn’t supposed to have gone into this room at all. I had accidentally gone into the search room. Well, they let me just leave. PHEW!!! Holy crap. I couldn’t believe it.

So that was that. I had made it back from Cuba, without getting caught.

1 thought on “the way back”

  1. I wonder if they really did earmark you … not many Americans travel internationally these days w/out a passport. You probably just squeaked by. Sweet.

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