Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Day 7: Goodbye, Cuba!

March 21: It was time to part ways with Cuba, and we'd have a long way to get home to Seattle before the end of the day! But our travels wouldn't begin until 9:00 in the morning when a taxi would arrive to whisk us off to the Havana airport.

Before then, I headed into town just to look around and stretch my legs a bit. I knew we wouldn't be able to stretch our legs much later in the day! So I took the opportunity when I could.

I found this "sweat shop" while wandering around town in the morning. I hadn't noticed it during my earlier wanderings!

When I arrived back to the house where we had been staying--ten minutes before 9:00, I might add--the taxi driver had already arrived and we were ready to go. Our driver was on the ball! His name was Tomas.

Amanda asked if we could make a quick stop at a viewpoint just outside of town, which he had no problem with, so we stopped for a couple of minutes admiring a commanding view overlooking Vinales and the mogotes in the area, then headed back to the car for the long, two-hour drive back to the Havana airport.

Thomas was a friendly guy and mentioned having another job as a doctor.

"A doctor?" we asked, surprised. "A doctor of what?"

Some sort of heart surgeon and helping out heart attack victims and such.

In my head, I was thinking, "What the hell are you driving a taxi for?! You're better educated than I am!" Out loud, I just said, "Well, having you around would be very handy if I have a heart attack during the drive." =)

He also played a few different CDs in his car, including one from the Buena Vista Social Club which he gave me. I'd never heard of them before and enjoyed the CD, but I was surprised when he popped it out and offered it to me at no cost. And immediately, I knew I wanted to turn my video clips into a music video featuring a song from this CD. =)

I take photos from a nice viewpoint above Vinales.

The drive itself was uneventful, and we arrived at the Havana airport a couple of hours later. We thanked Tomas for the CD, paid for the ride, and he drove off. I wondered briefly if he was going to pick up another ride, or check in at a local hospital to perform a heart surgery. Who knows?! It's Cuba! There's definitely something wrong with an economic system that has doctors driving taxis in their spare time, though.

At the airport, we had to wait a bit before they would let us check in. A flight to Charlotte was boarding and they weren't checking in anyone except people on that flight. We were scheduled on a Miami flight a couple of hours later. While waiting, however, we met a guy who had just come in from that plane and had left his iPhone on it. He was well outside of security, through customs and immigration and had absolutely no way to get back to the plane or even the gate, and eventually found an employee who said they'd go and look for it.

In the meantime, he waited around and chatted with passengers like us who were checking in.

I said something to the effect that if he had a wife or something he was traveling with, she could be exchanging money while he was waiting to see if they found his phone. Those lines for exchanging money were slow!

"Yes, I'm with my wife," he told us, "and she is steamed at me right now! But it's an iPhone! Those aren't cheap!" Amanda and I laughed. We could imagine. The wife was nowhere around at the moment, though, and we wondered what she was doing if it wasn't exchanging money.

The man stood around for the better part of an hour before they found his phone and got it back to him. I love a happy ending. =)

Yep, there's our flight--to Miami at 3:30, and it's on time! Yes! (I also found it interesting that the headers for each column were all in English. I'd have expected them to be in Spanish.)
We couldn't go through security yet, though. Being stand-by passengers, they didn't want us going through security until just before boarding. I don't think they wanted us going through customs and immigration unless they felt pretty confident that the stand-by passengers would get on the flight. We were told to return about an hour before the flight was scheduled to depart.

So Amanda and I wandered around the airport a bit, looking for ways to blow the $40 of Cuban money we still had on us. Souvenirs! T-shirts! Food! Whatever! We had money to blow! The line to convert money back to euros (or even US dollars) was horrendously long and slow and neither of us wanted to deal with that. We'd rather just spend the Cuban money we had left, and that's what we tried to do.

We didn't actually do too well at it, though, only spending about half of it on sandwiches, drinks and souvenirs. Amanda wanted to get rum to take back to the states, but we didn't want to do that while still outside of security. Liquids, you know? Maybe she could buy some after we got through security, although there wouldn't be much time for shopping on the other side of security since they wouldn't let us through until the last minute.

At the allotted time, we headed back to the check-in desk and were officially issued tickets for the flight. We checked the checked bags, then rushed through security.

I lost Amanda in security. We had been in the same line waiting to talk to a customs agent. I went through, no problem, then turned around and saw Amanda talking to the same guy I had just talked to. I took off my shoes and was getting ready to go through security, but turned around to wait for Amanda and.... Amanda was gone.

Lots of people checking in for flights out of Cuba

I looked around for her, confused. I swear I saw her not five seconds earlier, but it was as if the ground opened up and swallowed her. She wasn't taking to the customs guy anymore, but I didn't see her at the security checkpoint.

One of the guards at the security checkpoint noticed the look of confusion on my face and said I needed to put everything through the X-ray machine including my shoes. She must have thought I didn't know what to do at security, not realizing that I had just lost my companion.

"But...." I looked around for Amanda. Oh, we were in Cuba. This person probably only knew Spanish. "Buscando para... mi.... novia?"

I was holding up the line and now becoming a distraction to everyone and went ahead through security. On the other side, I finally spotted Amanda walking up from a custom agent on the entire other side of the room. After Amanda made it through security, I asked her what had happened. She was there one second, then poof! Gone!

When she talked to the custom agent, he told her she had to go to the booth at the far end of the room. She didn't know why, but I had to guess it was her passport that was the problem. The name on her passport didn't match the name on her airline ticket. Anyhow, she finally made it through.

It was only a few minutes before our flight started to board. We boarded, taxied, took off, and I waved goodbye to Cuba.

The plane flew over the Florida Keys--beautiful, clear views of the Florida Keys this time, although I couldn't pinpoint the exact location from memory. It wasn't the 7-Mile Bridge down there, although I saw some very long bridges. After reaching the mainland of Florida, the trail banked right and I had a great view of the highway I remembered walking along connecting the Florida Keys with the Florida Trail. I could see the airboat trails through the swamp. I looked for the ValuJet Flight 592 memorial along the side of the highway. I knew it was down there somewhere, but I didn't see it so I figured it must have been on the other side of the plane.

Great views flying over the Florida Keys today! You can see Highway 1 stretching from the bottom of the photo to the top of of the photo where it fades out of view. Off the top of my head, however, I couldn't identify exactly where in the Florida Keys this was. (Later, I looked it up, and the town of Marathon is at the very bottom of the photo, and this is looking east towards Long Key.) Yep, I've walked that road. Twice! It's the first time I've seen it from the air, though. =)

The plane touched down and we were back on American soil, but we still had to make it back through customs and immigration before we were officially back in the United States.

I had no trouble going through, but once again, Amanda caused more problems. There are machines that ask the routine questions that customs and immigration officials used to ask. Automating stuff to make it more efficient. I did it and had no problem. Amanda did it and it printed a giant X on her receipt, which meant she had to go through a much longer, slower line for additional screening. I was directed in another direction and took all of about five seconds to get through. Since Amanda and I had to split into two separate lines, we agreed to meet at the baggage claim.

I arrived, picked up our bags, then waited for about a half hour before Amanda exited the byzantine maze of corridors. So far as we knew, the only reason for her extra screening was the discrepancy between the name on her passport and the name on her ticket. I joked that I blamed her parents for her current troubles. Why would someone give their child a first name, then call them by their middle name their entire life?! "If they wanted to call you Amanda, why didn't they make Amanda your first name? I don't get it?! I blame your parents," I told her, nodding my head vigorously. =)

We followed more signs, re-checking our bags the rest of the way to Seattle and going through security again to make sure we didn't pick up anything from our checked luggage that shouldn't be with us on our carry-on luggage.

And finally, we made it through the last of the checkpoints and walked into terminal D of the Miami International Airport. America! Even the air smelled free! =)

We got dinner at TGIF--we had a couple of hours before our flight to Seattle would leave--and eventually made our way to our flight, boarded, and continued on to Seattle.

The Seattle flight was uneventful, landed a little after midnight (a little after 3:00am eastern time, which is what we were still working on), and after picking up our checked luggage, made it home another hour later. Cuba was done!

But don't think this blog is done.... a week later, I'd be flying off to Poland (yes, Poland!) and will undoubtedly be sharing some of my Polish adventures with my next post in two days. ;o)

Viewpoint from near Vinales
The long drive to the Havana airport wasn't all that exciting.
Still not exciting!
Eating lunch at the Havana airport. Ham and cheese sandwich. Somewhat surprisingly, there weren't a lot of food options at the airport, but the sandwich was good! =)
I took this photo while waiting for our flight to board.
Taxing for take-off! That's the Havana airport.
My last view of Cuba, fading off in the distance....

Amanda really liked these decorations at the Miami airport. =)

I created this video of our flight taking off from the Havana airport as we say goodbye to Cuba.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Every trip I've taken out of the USA, it's stressed that the name on your airline ticket matches the name on your passport. Now I see what happens when the names don't match! Thanks for the real life lesson, Amanda!

Ryan, I love these blogs and really love all the details we don't get on walking4fun. Then the addition of Cuba! And now Poland!