Everything you need to know about the country happens between the jetway and ground transportation.
Everyone, it seems, applauds when the plane gently touches the tarmac again. Maybe it’s a locals thing – some kind of thrill of being home, or some kind of jubilant prayer to a god no traveler is ever ready to understand. No one waits for the plane to stop before seat belts come off and overhead bins are opened up. No one seems to care if objects have shifted during flight.
Most of the people on this plane care about one thing: not getting robbed. Their carry-on luggage isn’t filled with overnight essentials or two changes of clothing or a used swimsuit. Instead, imagine the 30 pack of paper towels you’d get from Costco. Or a duffel bag full of clothing with the tags still attached all delicately wrapped around brand new glasswares or new lightbulbs. Imagine all of the things you sanction off Saturday mornings for to go to the store to restock on. This is the carry-on luggage of a Cuban.
Down the jetway and through customs the Cuban international airport is something from the mind of a Stalinist. Hard lines, solid colors, florescent lighting. One at a time through customs, please. Approach the desk and remove your glasses, look right into the camera.
Have you been to Brazil?
It’s surprisingly easy. There’s no anxiety about who is coming into this country because they know every person in will only benefit their ultimate cause – to return the country to the global stage. As a result there is no real representation of security – not at least how an American would know it: sniffing dogs, kevlar wrapped humans strapped to assault rifles, no nonsense, ex-military guards who would have done anything to just be in a uniform again. The security of this airport is more akin to someone you’d see at the register behind any retail establishment anywhere. The uniform is more burlesque than institutional, and every guard just looks good doing what she’s doing.
All those who jumped out of their seat to grab their carryons hustled to the baggage claim. Carts in hand they line up bumper to bumper around the carousel ready to grab their goods. Not their belongings, but their goods. In Cancun the ticket counter was wrapped long with bags stacking up in the 50-100kg line – nondescript black duffels wrapped ten times around with plastic and loaded with who-knows what. Flat screen TVs, DVD players, computers, diapers, socks – the general inventory of your local Target store wrapped up and checked as luggage.
And if you, weary tourist, also happen to check a bag – plan on waiting an hour for it to show up through the flood of consumer goods you were shipped with.
If you have anything to declare, they might care. Or the lady at the door will make a passive counting of your bags and send you on your way. Few residents of Cuba are compensated on their efforts.
Then, be ready for another line, because here you’ll need to change your money for Cuba Pesos if you want a cab out of this place. Your US dollars will get knocked down 10% right off the bat, then other fees might be applied. Mexican Pesos survive the tax. Everyone everywhere will accept CUCs but they all seem to apply their own, altruistic value to it depending on where it is spent. This line is easily another hour. Fortunately you will have someone offering you a cab ride before you reach the end of it. Don’t worry, they’ll wait for you. Thanks to the currency line no one is going anywhere very quickly.