Tag Archives: havana travel

Jose Marti Airport is the Saddest Place in the World

Airports are a place of great emotion.  Like that scene in Love Actually, there’s an overwhelming amount of love in the hellos and goodbyes.

But Jose Marti is different.

Back in the 1960s, post-Revolution, there was the famous Fish Bowl, shown in the film Memorias de Subdesarollo (Memories of Underdevelopment.)  Those leaving the island had to go through security several hours in advance, leaving them in a glass waiting room, separated from their loved ones for their last precious hours.  For many of these people, that was the last time they ever saw each other alive.

There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of that kind of goodbye, despite its cruelty.  There’s no room for the distraction of words: just smiles, tears, basic sign language and straight emotions, unpolluted by imprecise language.

Fast-forward to 2010.

There is a crush of people waiting just outside the door, all pressing forward to get a glimpse of those they came to pick up.  Neighbors who went away for a cultural or academic reason.  Novios and novias waiting for an athlete to return from yet another trip to a world they may never see themselves.  A father waiting for a daughter he sent to America or Europe when things got rough a few long decades ago.  A grandmother waiting to meet her grown American granddaughter for the first time.

The people saying bon voyage may never be able to leave themselves, may never have left before.

The people leaving may never be able to come back.  If they’re Cubans Jumping Ship, they will have to wait five years before they return.  If they’re Cubano-Americanos, they may have to wait based on American restrictions, although those have been relaxed.  If they’re tourists, students or academics, they have their own restrictions.  And for all of these people, money is a huge issue.

It’s very expensive to go to and from the island.  And you better believe Uncle Sam is paying attention to who’s making that journey and how often.

Everything about Jose Marti Airport in Havana is a reminder of what Cubans and thier loved ones don’t have: mobility, money and options.

The thing about airports is that there are return tickets.  Not always so in the world of Cuba.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

…except not really on the fish, since that was pretty disgusting.

Cuba wakes up early and slow, and some mornings so do I.

I went for a walk around our little neighborhood to say goodbye early on Friday, and realized how pretty Cuba is in the morning light. Everyone knows Cuba for the blistering, gorgeous midday sun on the beaches, or the nightlife.  I wonder how many people know Cuba for the bright stars you can see so clearly, even in Havana.  But early morning?  Not many people see that side of Cuba.

This morning was strange and quiet.  No party, no music.  No street musicians, no peanut lady yelling, “Mani! Mani!”

I take the long way around the fountain, but the niños aren’t there; they’re in school.  Alex isn’t around either–he’s probably getting Diyani ready for school, or headed out to work.  I head towards the Residencia, walking down the Malecón.  I’m going to miss this place, with its slow pace and full personality.  I look up at that long view of our edificio and the walk to Habana Vieja, and I become vaguely aware that I’m separating from the Americans soon, too.  I know I’ll be back here someday, but without them it won’t be the–


In my reflective reverie, fell flat on my face in some algae and ocean slime. As I struggled to get up, I slid and fell again, sprawled out on hands and knees.

I laugh at myself, amazed I’m alone in that act.

You just couldn’t let me off easy, could you Havana?

‘ta luego, Cuba.

Things I Miss/Crave

I already wrote before I left about the things I thought I would miss, so here is what I cannot WAIT to have when I’m back in Amurica.  I’m sure I’ll be thrilled to have even more things (like a cell phone and the Celtics) that Cuba has just conditioned me out of thinking I need, at the moment.  Don’t worry, I’m sure that later on this week I’ll be posting about all the Cuban stuff I miss.  But for now, all I can think about is home home HOME!

  • honey bbq wings
  • honey mustard wings
  • bbq bacon cheeseburger
  • BMG and DMG
  • My giant family
  • New Baby Alexandra Murphy!  And Coming-Soon Baby Harrington!
  • Andrew Robert Brady
  • Chicken Lou’s TKO
  • cereal
  • milk
  • steak
  • thai food
  • REAL Italian, where the pasta isnt overcooked
  • Mondo buffalo pizza=my life force
  • really any meat that isn’t a mystery
  • hot showers
  • quiznos, $5 foot longs even moreso
  • comfortable beds
  • back rubs (because of the aforementioned lack of comfy beds)
  • American tv, sort of.  But that’s way down on the list.  I’d take the food, showers or bed over television any day
  • It’ll be nice to have more of my closet back, but I was doing just fine with what I packed
  • I WILL love the ease of laundry in the states, however
  • fast walkers
  • rapid restaurants (although I think I’ll be overwhelmed at first)
  • personal space
  • not being harassed by men on the street.  Yeah right, I live in Boston.  But Reading will be nice.

If you spent three months in a developing nation where food was scarce and not many people speak your first language, what would YOU miss?

I Am Not Breaking the Law

I kinda can’t believe I haven’t covered this yet, but I really should:

I am an American.

I am not in Cuba illegally.

Rules of Engagment

I don’t have an extra passport or Cuban family.  I flew directly from Miami to Havana.  Both governments know I’m here.  Northeastern University applied for the licenses for all eight students and our accompanying professors.  I have a visa, which has been renewed.  We’re required to be here for at least ten weeks because changes made by Bush jr., and we’re required by CASA’s schedule to only stay here twelve weeks.

I am allowed to bring home art, handicrafts and educational materials. No cigars, no rum. Cuba would let me–America will not.

Well, How Did I Get Here?

That being said, it’s not hard to come here illegally.  Many more Americans than you would suspect come and go.  And some just come–but that’s another story.  You can fly through Canada, Jamaica, Cancun, Haiti, the Bahamas or any other Caribbean country.  From what I’ve heard, Cuba won’t stamp your passport (my visa is removable), and illegal travelers talk of slipping some money in your passport upon return to

There are many ways to come here legally.  If you are a diplomat, an athlete, a student or a Cuban-American you can apply for specific visas.  Humanitarians and business people can also come, under certain circumstances.

The Travel Ban

There’s also the oft-overlooked fact that we are not actually banned from traveling here: we are only banned from spending money.  That, coupled with the fact that few airlines and travel agents can fly us here make it pretty impossible to show up without crossing the line.  The so-called “travel ban” is actually just an aspect of the economic embargo.  The whole ordeal falls to the US Treasury, not the Department of State.  So if you get into trouble, don’t hesitate to go to the US Special Interest Section–they promise not to report you to the treasury.

So if you’d like to come here, which I recommend doing at some point, see if you can apply for a visa legally.  It’s a little time consuming, but it means not having to worry about any problems with customs.  And if you do come illegally?

Don’t lie, don’t have any Cuban money on you, and just plead the 5th.

Foto Friday: Calle 13

Remember Foto Friday?  Me neither. Let’s see if we can work on that.

You’ve already heard about the blemish on my time at the Calle Trece concert, so how about the rest of it?  I think the pictures will do it more justice than my words.

The stage at the tribuna anti-imperialista, aka the demonstration plaza right behind the US Special Interest Section so the Cubans can protest at the drop of a hat
Calle Trece is from Puerto Rico--the US gave them permission to come, and made no comment about it
Kristina and I, up above the crowd on shoulders.
The crowd behind us. This is also where Cuba protested the Elian Gonzalez thing for weeks on end.
The crowd (including me in yellow) from above. Oh and hey, those are the guys who took my wallet.
Calle Trece with the Cuban and Puerto Rican flags. We eventually got up pretty close. Apparently the only concert that was bigger was Juanes.
The buildings alongside the tribunal. Streets were closed off for blocks around, and there were almost no event police. Even if there had been, they wouldn't have been able to get anywhere with that many people
Smile! Or, as we were told to say, "Whiskey!" This is us having 15 CUC worth of fun