Cuba Part 1: Border Controlla.
Remarkable architecture, street dancing, snazzy cars and beaches - I didn’t really need more selling points. I was sold. Cuba had been on my list for a minute, but with all the country restrictions, it kept getting pushed further down.
But now all of a sudden, it seemed like the absolute, perfect time. Two of my friends were determined to go and had started a “Cuba, it’s going down” email thread, complete with a Whatsapp group - so clearly we had to find a way to make it happen. I was already planning a 4 city US trip sooo I thought, eh why not toss in another trip?
$$$. Because it costs money, that’s why.
But shhh, I had already been sucked in. So my only request now was that we ball so hard… within a budget. Seriously.
Although most restrictions have been lifted, flying in from the US to Cuba can still be a little tricky. Tourism is technically illegal in Cuba so we had to choose a "meaningful reason" to visit.
We chose the “people to people” category, did some research and planned an itinerary that would cover almost every hour spent on Cuban grounds.
Because very few airports within the US fly directly to Havana, we figured we’d squeeze in another mini vacay between the vacay (smh) and booked our flights through Cancun to stay a couple of extra nights. We planned to get our Cuban visas from Cancun. (One of my friends flew directly from Miami to Havana and got her visa in DC first for $70, so that’s also another option).
Getting our visas in Cancun was rather straightforward.
We literally just told the airline rep at the ticket counter where we were going – Havana – and showed them our passports. We then paid 20 bucks for the visa slip. And that was it. No stamps. Nothing else. We were good to go.
The Interjet flight from Cancun to Havana was short and sweet (About an hour). As we waited in line to cross the border, my friend Ife and I started going over our carefully written plan on what to say to the officers. For real, we had a whole speech memorized and everything.
No one wants to get deported, abeg!
After a few minutes in line, it's finally my turn to speak to the immigration officer. She looks up at me, and asks what I'm doing in Cuba. I start my rehearsed lines, "Good afternoon. I am an architect interested in…." And she cuts me off.
I'm over there thinking omg that was easy. I'm such a G, they don't even need to ask me anything!
But no. The party in my mind is shut down as she continues, "Have you been to Africa in the last 30 days?"
Kai! Nigeria is about to ruin everything.
What does she mean 30 days? I just came from Lagos last week! It's like she could still smell Murtala Mohammed Airport on me. 😩😩
I thought about lying and disowning Naij, but ugh… I love my country too much and answered boldly, "Yes. Yes, I have."
And then asked sheepishly, "Whyyyyy?"
She ignored me and continued, "To Liberia?"
"To Sierra Leone?"
"What about Guinea?"
"Ok you're free to go. Welcome to Cuba!"
Ah! Nigeria was not on the X list!
I felt like I had just received an award and quickly responded "Gracias Señora!"
I considered asking her why she asked about those countries, but then stopped myself. I didn’t want any story about how she forgot to mention Nigeria. Loool
I later checked and found out that they still ask questions because of Ebola. So for any of you that have been to those countries recently, umm... Good luck!
JK. All they do is take you to another room for additional screening, but you should be ok.
Great, so I was in.
I got my luggage fast and got a taxi from one of the airport vendors. They were relatively cheap, but in hindsight, we should probably have gone outside and hailed a taxi.
As we drove into town, I was in awe. Havana is definitely one of the most unique cities I have ever visited.
Everything outside the car window was insanely colorful.
The grass appeared greener and even the clouds seemed to be a more vibrant blue.
Could this be what it's like to live in High Definition?
I was mind-blown!
We had only been in Havana for about an hour, but I was already convinced, “Cuba, it’s going down!”