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  1. #1

    My illegal trip to Cuba

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    I left New York for Canada around 2 am. Weather conditions during my nine-hour drive were bad – constant rain and then snow. Once I got to Canada, I realized that our northern neighbors’ understanding of what necessitates snowplows is a lot different from that of New Yorkers. Apparently, five inches of snow in Canada goes unanswered by the cleaning crews. The bigger problem, however, was the suddenly useless GPS in my smart phone. Smart phone GPS cannot function without mobile internet and my data plan stopped working once I crossed into Canada. As a result, I spent an extra hour looking for my hotel where I parked my car for the next two weeks.

    At the airport I exchanged U.S. currency into Canadian dollars since the former receive a 10 percent tax penalty when exchanged in Cuba. Getting through security was a breeze – no fingering by TSA agents and I got to keep my shoes on. The plane had a delay so off to the bar I went. There, I met an Iraqi residing permanently in Toronto on his way to Cuba to spend time with his girlfriend. Apparently, such relationships are very common and many of them do end in marriage.

    The flight itself was very quick. I think we even managed to make up some time. A row of light-brown immigration booths spans the entire width of the arrivals hall in Varadero, Cuba. My immigration officer, a beautiful but too serious woman of about 40-years inspected my documents and took my picture. She also told me that I have to buy health insurance and directed me to go back to purchase one. It cost me about $40 for two weeks.

    Once I started heading back to my beautiful immigration lady I was stopped by a civilian with a thick mustache who began checking my documents and asking me a ton of questions such as what is the purpose of my visit, where I am from, where do I live, where will I stay in Cuba and for how long, etc. I had to give him an address or two of places I would stay. He was disappointed that I cannot give him information on more than two first nights. I explained I only had reservations for the first two days and was going to wing it after that. The guy took a lot of notes and finally let me go. My beautiful immigration official finished her paperwork and I got buzzed in through the door to the other side.

    Since I was one of the last few people at the terminal, locating my backpack was a breeze. However, just as I was going to head to the street I got stopped by another guy with a mustache who started asking the same questions and taking notes. He then told me bring my backpack so they can screen it. I was not worried about the content of my backpack since I had brought nothing interesting other than some medicines and a few pairs of reading glasses that I had brought as gifts. As my fellow undercover security officer scanned my backpack, I could not turn my eyes away from the long legs dressed in fish net stalking that belonged to a female customs agent who was sitting next to me.

    When I finally got outside, I exchanged a little money enough for a cab fare and hailed an old Moskvitch made in the U.S.S.R. to take me to my casa particular in the city of Matanzas. A casa particular is a private lodging rented to tourists. Upon arrival, my host Armando welcomed me with a wonderful lobster dinner and good cold Cuban beer. I spent the rest of the night drinking beer and rum with other guests of Casa Armando, including a dude from Vancouver and a nice mother and daughter couple from Toronto. Tired after 24 hours without sleep and too much beer and Havana Club rum, I went to the rooftop where I had decided to spend my first night in Cuba under the stars.

    To be continued...
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    "Always look at the bright side of life"

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  4. #2
    Outdoor Guru Byron's Avatar
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    Nice. I've traveled quite a bit myself. I must say, I'm getting a bit tired of the third world stuff. I always figured when (and if) it gets "easy" for us to fly there from the mainland I'd go. The last third world harrah for me, perhaps? Been to some jacked up places but never had the gustapo checking my papers outside the airport...by all means, I look forward to more of your report.

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