As I have for the past two years, I will be covering the Festival de Habano XX in Havana, Cuba over the next six days.
My custom has been to start traveling early and this year was no exception, as I woke up at 4 a.m. to get to the airport by 5:30 a.m. The security line was not to bad, so I was able to sit down at the Admiral’s Club and get some work done before my flight left. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed a bit for maintenance issues, but we eventually took off headed to Miami.
Having already received my visa from the Cuban consulate in Washington D.C., all I had to do in Miami was show up to the gate, which I did about an hour before the flight left. I have learned a few things over the years of going to Cuba and one of the most important is to never arrive at the airport in Havana hungry, so I sat down and had a meal just before boarding.
Thankfully, there were no issues with the plane to Havana and we landed 15 minutes early. After walking off the plane, everyone was herded down some stairs to Customs, where were promptly ran into amass of humanity that consisted of at least 700 people in 18 lines waiting to get into the country.
In fact it took a little less than two hours—one hour and 48 minutes to be exact—but really, it was my fault. There is actually a service you can purchase for very little money that will allow you to skip the line for the most part—or at the very least, reduce the amount of time significantly—and you get to wait in a “VIP lounge” while someone takes care of your customs forms and finds your luggage for you. I took advantage of the service the first year I visited, but forgot this year and it ended up costing me a bit of time.
Eventually, I made it through customs and into the main part of the airport. There were sights there that would make an avid people watcher envious: people from a number of different countries speaking a number of different languages and dressed in different clothing. There were also a number of things you don’t often see in U.S. airports, including live chickens, a group of nuns and even a family carrying a four-pack of car tires. After waiting another hour and a half for my luggage, I exited the airport and quickly found a taxi. I had some Cuban CUCs—which stands for Cuban Convertible Peso—left over from my last trip, so did not have to wait in yet another line to convert money.
It was then a 20 minute ride to my Casa Particular which is located literally 10 feet from the ocean, where I was able to sit down and relax for the first time with a Presidente beer and a Partagas Serie D No. 5 before turning in early to get some sleep before the madness starts in the morning.