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That time Cuba stamped my passport. Part 1.

Last night in Oaxaca. Enjoy a bittersweet last night out with a few of my favorite new friends. One of them is particularly impressed at how laid back and easy going I am about traveling to Cuba. Me, laid back and easy going? You know this doesn't end well.

Arrive in Mexico City. Visit a friend from Spanish school at his girlfriend's French bakery (yum). After some wandering, spend the rest of the evening eating and drinking and reading at a great restaurant on a great roundabout.

Spend about 30 minutes researching how to get into Cuba, which obviously I should have done earlier. After some last minute jitters and messages to friends, rest easy knowing everything will be fine because they won't stamp my passport.

They stamped my passport.

Commence in-airport freakout. No idea what to do or what might happen, or how to find out what to do or what might happen. Repeatedly replay the interaction with the immigration officer in my head - why didn't I ask her not to stamp it???

Try to talk myself out of stressing about it. At the worst, it will probably just be a fine. It could be really high, but it's just money. They probably don't put nice public school teachers in jail for going to Cuba, do they?

Man, I hope I can still get to Bolivia on time.

Remind myself that no matter what, I can't let this ruin my time in Cuba. If I'm going to go to jail for this, I better make sure it's worth it! But they probably don't put nice public school teachers in jail for this... Right? Could I even afford the fine? Are they going to put a lien on my condo??

Forget my fears much more easily than expected. Turns out, Cuba is every bit as amazing as they say. Enjoy a private acoustic guitar show in a rooftop restaurant. Stumble upon an amazing female-led band with the violinist, flautist, guitarist, and vocalist all somehow dancing along to their own music.

Wander dirt roads filled with curvy women and shirtless men and adorable energetic children, all eating and drinking and dancing to the loud music from huge speakers outside their doorways. Pure joy. Run into the guys who worked at the first restaurant, who invite us to join their party. Become slightly disappointed (but also thrilled at our lucky timing) when we learn that the streets are not always this raucous - we happened to arrive on the anniversary of the Revolution! Enjoy getting to know more locals under the light of the super-rare Super Moon.

Join in the street dancing, complete actual conversations in Spanish, learn about the difficulties of a new Cuban friend. Recently single after an abusive relationship, she is having trouble making ends meet because the financial situation is so difficult. Sees as her best option taking a 68-year-old boyfriend who can help with some of her expenses. Even this proves difficult for her as a black woman, because the men she meets are all looking for blonde women. Her uncle corroborates that this is what the men want.

Feast on our host family's delicious breakfast of fresh tropical fruits, creamy eggs and bread, and the best coffee I've ever had.

Meet Australian guests who ask how we were able to travel here. Tell our story, which seems to make them nervous and baffled. Remember to be scared.

Forget again when we wander toward the fancier buildings closer to the bay, a neighborhood with a different sort of charm, but no less vibrancy. Take tons of photos. Get a little giddy at every classic car and Cuban flag. Listen to even more live music. Return home in time for another amazing feast -- rice and fried plantains and avocado and cabbage and cucumbers and squash and flan, everything seasoned perfectly. Ask for the cabbage recipe, which supposedly is just garlic and onion. Am skeptical.

Decide to document all of this. If I do go to jail or lose my condo, at least a log of the real-time emotions will make it a better story.

Wake up to a beautiful table set in the semi-outdoor courtyard area in the middle of the house. Feel bad that we didn't clarify earlier that we wouldn't be having breakfast with them. Head out to Che Guevera's house, now a museum, in a pink car from the 50's. Have the whole house to ourselves, and talk on and on with the curator about Che's life and his work. Leave informed and inspired. Catch a bici-taxi down the hill, driven by our favorite driver yet, who secretively shows us the building that houses Fidel's special forces, U.S.S.R. military relics, and the wings of a U.S. plane shot down during the Missile Crisis.

Head straight to the Havana Club rum factory, where we listen to more amazing live music while waiting for our tour. How does everyone here dance so well while simultaneously playing such difficult instruments?? I really don't get it. Tour, sample, then more music.

Take a coco taxi to Hotel Nacional to meet a friend of a friend, who gives us some of the history of the place. Having visited Cuba for work for the past 10 years, she comes off as totally trustworthy when she assures us that customs will be easy. I more than meet the requirements for an educational visa, I didn't need to get it in advance, and it's no big deal anyway. First remember that I was worried about this, then promptly stop worrying.

Proceed to a lovely rooftop back in Old Havana (more live music, obviously), then to Hemingway's old haunt on the way home. Go to sleep without a care in the world.

To be continued.....


  1. Looking forward to the second part of this story!

    1. Thanks so much Michelle! Finally done! :-)

  2. I wonder if they still stamp passports nowadays or at least when requested...


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