Day 7, and time to go home. Logistically, this was a pretty straightforward process, but cognitively, it was deeply weird.
Our flight home was scheduled to leave the Havana airport about 225p. We decided that a 9am pickup time would give us enough time to get all our stuff loaded, get to the airport, and struggle through whatever challenges might be imposed there. Julio had flown home the day and gave us some useful feedback about the amount of time required. Of course, before we could go anywhere, we had to marshal all of our gear and get it down the frighteningly narrow steps to the street. There was a lot of last-minute swearing and horse trading as we all looked for errant pieces of gear (Tony ended up with my Garmin charger and my cycling kit, for example) and scoured the apartment to make sure we weren’t accidentally leaving anything behind. We had the gear stacked by about 9am, so it was time for one more shot of Tia’s coffee:
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a driver. Eventually Eric, our guide from day 1, showed up.. in his Plymouth.. which was useless, as we couldn’t fit all of our people or luggage in it. A long series of negotiations, with some arguing, then ensued. I couldn’t follow it all, but the eventual result was that Juan Carlos showed up in this beauty, with its original engine intact:
Shortly thereafter, two dudes in a stake-bed truck showed up. We loaded up the luggage, and off we went.
It took about 35min to drive from the apartment to the airport. I was much more aware of my surroundings than I had been on the inbound drive, so I noticed more of the details as we moved between areas of the city. Apparently there is very little zoning law in Cuba– it reminded me of Houston in the way that you’d see residential, commercial, and heavy industrial space cheek by jowl. The typical Cuban mix of ugly Cold War-era buildings, graceful but crumbling older buildings, and improvised vehicles and structures held my attention throughout the drive.
Now, here’s the thing about the airport: it’s like every other airport you’ve been to, except it isn’t. For example, there are ticket counters for the various airlines that serve Havana. The Delta counter has the same Sky Priority signs and so on that you’d see in Europe or the US. But the ticket agent didn’t want to hassle with making the computer accept the $150 bike fee that Delta normally charges, so, with a casual wave, we were beckoned around the corner to the freight elevator and our bikes flew free. Of course, there’s no online checkin (at least for Delta), nor is there any wifi on the land side of the terminal… although there are pay phones, something I haven’t seen at a US airport in ages.
The basic workflow is the same as at US airports: check in, drop off your bags, go through security and immigration, and go to the gate. The immigration part is interesting because you are required to turn in the second half of your tourist card. Hypothetically speaking, if you lost it, you could be detained for further questioning or just hassled, unless a bored and irritated immigration agent decided to let you pass without it… hypothetically.
Immediately past immigration, the first thing you come to on the air side is the duty free shop. It was packed. No surprise, since the prices for rum and coffee are set by the government and identical to what you’d pay out in town. We all loaded up with more rum and coffee; I think Warren also bought some more cigars.
The name of our game overall was “spend all your CUC” since there’s no feasible way to change it back in the US. There is a cadeca on the air side, along with a row of small shops (kiosks, really) selling random crap– a far cry from the typical excess of US airport shops. There are two places to buy food– a small coffee shop downstairs and a weird sort of hamburger place in the main concourse. The gates, chairs, and so on all looked essentially the same as in a US airport, but the mix of airlines serving the airport is very different than what you’re probably used to. Aeroflot and Air China are both prominent, for example (I really wanted to take a picture with an Aeroflot flight crew but they were gone before we got to the gate). I had a ham sandwich at the coffee shop, bought some sodas, and settled in with the boys to wait for our flight. There’s (government) wifi in the terminal, so that helped kill some time, but I spent most of it people watching.
The rest of the trip, to be honest, was anticlimax. Being on a Delta airplane in Havana is just like being on one in Houston, Heathrow, Huntsville. Lance and I got upgraded so we immediately asked for Diet Coke– something that just doesn’t exist in Cuba. Our flight was uneventful, the in-flight wifi worked flawlessly, and soon enough, we were touching down in Atlanta. I had previously signed up for Global Entry and it was magnificent– a quick stop at the kiosk and I was through customs in about 2 minutes total. We all had to do the bag drag to get our bikes and checked bags (most of which had serious quantities of liquor and coffee therein) to the drop off. After that, it was just like every other time I’ve changed planes in Atlanta (well, except that Tony immediately started hunting Pokémon). I had a turkey burger, walked the concourse a few times, and happily boarded our homebound flight. Teri and Theresa met us at the airport, and we happily chatted as we waited for our luggage. Once it arrived, Lance gave me a ride home, I dragged all my crap inside, and that was that… except for Pancake spending the next two hours dogging my heels and/or leaving cat hair on every item I’d brought back. The unpacking and general recovery took me the next few days; I think I’ve put everything where it belongs.
¡Cuba Libre !