[Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog]
Feb 12 –
I am returning to Havana to visit my relatives again. This is my second trip back since I left many years ago at the age of six.
There are many more flights from the U.S. to Cuba now than there were two years ago. Several airlines now fly to various cities in Cuba from various cities in the U.S. Different airlines use different travel agents. The travel agents must be licensed by U.S. in order to ascertain that travelers meet U.S. restrictions, and also must be able to obtain the Cuban visa. Most do not handle obtaining the special permit that Cuba requires before a Cuban-born person can enter the country, but I found one that will.
U.S. now allows a number of different types of group travel, for education, religious and other purposes. It also still allows Americans to visit family without restriction. For U.S. purposes, when visiting family, one simply signs an affidavit, and does not have to obtain a special permit. The travel agent is responsible for making sure the traveler qualifies.
I had to be at the Miami airport, in the baggage area (i.e. one floor below departures), at the end last concourse at 5 a.m. Why – I have no idea. I didn’t even have to go through security until 8 and boarding was at 8:20, for a 9 a.m. flight. Few people were there that early.
The composition of passengers on my flight was completely opposite of my prior flights. There were a couple of Cubans and mostly, white, American missionaries. Last time, I had felt out of synch with the others because I had a regular suitcase, whereas everybody else had black duffel bags. This time, I brought a black duffel bag, but 95% of the flight consists of Americans, not of Cuban heritage.
I met an old man, like a farmer, who actually was visiting the U.S. from Cuba. He had bought a fancy trout fishing pole and was wearing two cowboy hats. He didn’t seem to have ever flown – didn’t have a clue what to do. I helped him out. Later I asked Oswardo how somebody like him could travel. He said he had to have come from a family that had money, or been related to a diplomat or something.
Most of the travelers were missionaries. I spoke to some of the guys from one of the missionary trips. He said they were from Kentucky. Their church worked with Cubans who created little church groups in their private homes. He said there were regulations against too many Cubans getting together so that’s how they did it. I suppose that the government worries about people putting together a revolution, and that’s why they restrict the numbers in such groups.
The flight was uneventful except some poor guy got locked in the bathroom for 20 minutes.
I was starting to get a bit nervous about immigration and customs. I found a short immigration line, and a woman admitted me. It was a little nerve-racking because she looked into a computer forever before stamping.
When I exited there, there was security, just like before getting on a plane. Bags and everything out of pocket, walking through detector, wanding. Then I waited for a long time for my bag. I had had it wrapped Cuban style with bright yellow plastic in Miami.
I walked up to the two women in uniform with insignia saying Aduana, who seemed to be a final check as people left the baggage area, and a man in uniform came up to me and requested my passport. I think he may have been the same one who interrogated me the last time I arrived here. He said, “Are you traveling alone?” “Yes.” “Is this your first time to Cuba?” “My second. I came two years ago to visit family, my wife’s cousin.” “What is your wife’s name?” I gave her full maiden name. He handed me my passport and waived his hand towards the exit door.
I could see a throng of people outside the exit door looking in, just like last time. I saw a cubicle that seemed to talk about a tax, but apparently it was an exit tax. But at the same time, this was the money exchange. I exchanged $100 of my Canadian money. Oswardo had told me they probably charged more here, and I should just exchange enough, and then exchange more at a hotel.
As I exited, Oswardo yelled, “Franklin.” I waved and he motioned for the exit. This time, there was a barrier so travelers could actually get out past the large group of people waiting. We embraced. He asked me whether I wanted to go to his house first, or whether it would be better to go to mine, and empty my things and then go to his. I said the majority of what I had was for his family, and it was on the top of the bag, above my things. He found a taxi. He negotiated a $25 fee to go to his apartment in Centro Havana.
We had talked by e-mail, and he had told me his mother wanted to feed me. I had answered that today might be a good time, since I would be hungry when I arrived and had no plans. But they had not really planned on that. Anyway, it was early. It wasn’t even 11 a.m. yet. So we went.