My mom and I headed to the airport on January 5th for a 6:00 flight out of Philadelphia to Miami. After arriving in Miami, grabbing our huge, insanely heavy bags, we waited for the hotel van to pick us up. It was already 10:00 p.m, by that point and we needed to be back at the airport at 6:00 a.m for our flight from Miami to Cuba!
Once at the hotel, we needed to move some of my stuff into her bag and some of her things into my bag. Between the two of us, we were taking very few personal items and we were actually carrying almost 90 pounds of things that my uncle Pepe and his wife, Yolanda, needed and they can’t find in Cuba. We had bags of beans, coffee, shoes, garlic, medicine and spices. We are permitted to bring our personal items and “some gifts”, so we moved things around to look like we had a coffee, etc. as gifts.
Fast forward to the next morning!
We had a 5 a.m. wake up call, showered, and headed to the hotel breakfast where we quickly scarfed down some food before jumping in the hotel van, yet again.
As soon as we arrived at the airport, we had our bags weighed and wrapped in bright green shrink wrap. Everyone in line to check in for the Cuba flight had this done as well. Since there is such a need for certain items in Cuba, it is possible that your bag could be opened and items could be taken. To stay on the safe side, we had our bags wrapped so that nothing could be stolen. The shrink wrap can only be easily removed with a box cutter!
We waited in one line, then another, then another. In typical Cuban fashion, there were a lot of lines and little direction to get you through. Once we got through the line to get our ticket, we needed to get through the line to have our bags checked and weighed. No wonder they tell you to get there 4 hours ahead of time! Once at the counter to have the bags weighed, we were told that we needed to pay around $40 for the two of us. We looked at each other and then we looked at him..what? So after some explanation, he explained that our carry on bags were overweight and we needed to pay for the extra pounds. We were told you can take up to 10 pounds in carry on-wrong. Apparently, it’s 5 pounds. Instead of paying for it, my mom and I moved to the back, unloaded our carry on bags and moved various items around and put things in our pockets. such as fish oil and a lot of granola bars (because that isn’t suspicious) and ended up weighing in at less than 5 pounds each.
So, finally, we made it onto our 45 minute flight.
It felt like the flight took off and then landed again. I don’t do too well with motion, so I felt a bit sick, but was happy to see that we were finally in Cuba! Once we landed, everyone was clapping. It’s funny, everyone clapped when we landed in the United States, as well. The woman that was sitting next to us on our return flight said, “It’s the only place in the world where people clap going there and coming back”. You’ll see why that is in upcoming posts
Wow, what a change in scenery from flying out of the United States!
We quickly went through customs and border control, and then finally got to walk outside and find Pepe and Yolanda waiting for us in the crowd. Walking out of the airport in Cuba made me feel like a celebrity because there is a HUGE crowd waiting there to see who will walk out of the airport.
We quickly found Pepe and Yolanda and after hugs and warm words of welcome, we were picked up by Wilbur, our taxi driver. Check out that car! Get used to seeing them. Old fashioned cars are all over Cuba, and we rode in a number of them!
Once back at Yolanda’s, we quickly sat down to lunch because we were starving!
The food was delicious, but little did I know, this would be a very common meal during our stay in Cuba! We had flan for dessert. My mom makes flan at home, but this one was different from the one she makes. For one thing, it was a lot sweeter, but even better than that, it was so dense! I loved it!
After lunch, we changed and headed to the synagogue for a party, and that it was!
The local synagogue hosts parties pretty often, but this was one of their bigger ones for the year. Before sitting down to hear singing by a woman with a beautiful voice, we reunited with my mom’s cousin, Juanito. We listened to this woman sing and then they passed out some food- A mini cheese sandwich, some tamale, some tuna fish sort of thing, something fried, and a some rum cake.
I ate everything that wasn’t mysterious, as in, I didn’t eat the fried thing or the tuna stuff.
After food, came the drinks and the DANCING! Pepe said to my mom, “Life may be hard in Cuba, but we always find a reason to have a party”. I’ll talk more about this in another post, but life in Cuba seems to be anything but easy for most people. Every day is exhausting, but they don’t let life bring them down. They started up the music, passed out rum and beer and got that party going! They played a mix of salsa music and the equivalent of rap here in the U.S. Everyone was dancing, from the young kids, to the young people, to the elderly people that had trouble walking! There was one very tall and thin man there that could barely walk, yet he got up there, shaking his bones (literally) and looked like he was having a great tine!
I recorded so many videos that I will post on here as soon as I can get them on You Tube. That party really just showed me that with some close friends and family, a bottle of rum, and some loud music, everyone will have an awesome time.
I had so much fun dancing with everyone, even though I felt kind of shy and out of place. That passed after a little while. Here is a fun fact: When Pepe came to the United States for the first time a few years ago, he tried teaching me to Salsa dance. After a few minutes, he stopped and said that dancing with me was like trying to dance with a set of drawers. It scarred me for life!
After dancing for a while, my mom and I got to see the Synagogue’s Holocaust exhibit. It was really interesting to see, although much of it was closed off. We got to see a photo that my uncle got the be a part of, as well as a cousin that I have only met once. Pepe is on the right hand side.
We watching more dancing and then headed back to Yolanda’s. My mom and I went to sleep pretty early because of our early morning and day of traveling. I fell asleep excited for the next day, ready to see parts of Havana and live the Cuban lifestyle…for ten days, at least!
Day Two-Exchanging Money and Booking Excursions, coming up shortly!