On January 3rd, 2019, Day 1 of our trip, we all arrived at the RDU airport around 4:30am. We were all sleepy and ready for this long journey that we had ahead of us. We were finally introduced to Mitch, who was enthusiastic about working with us and promptly took over hauling around one of our large boxes of camera equipment. The lines in Terminal 2 were steadily growing longer, and we couldn’t wait to get onto the plane. This would be Josh’s first airplane ride (he handled it well!), and the first trip out of the country for Katie (and others?).
When we arrived at Fort Lauderdale, it was around 9:20am. We expected at least an hour of layover before we began to board our flight, and thought that we had time to get a snack and walk around. Some of us went to find another Starbucks, because the one next to our gate had a long line, but that one was packed, too. When part of the group came back to the gate, Professor Piland told us that the plane was boarding right then. Those present jumped in line and tried to get ahold of the others who were roaming around the airport, but when we scanned our tickets we were all told to go back to the service desk to get a stamp on our tickets. Ben and Josh were the last to arrive and board, and they were forced to decide between gate checking their own backpacks or the backpacks that held our cameras (there was room!). They brought the cameras on board; a noble sacrifice.
We were given our visas and multiple customs forms, and frantically filled them out on the way to Cuba. The hour-and-a-half long flight went by like a blink amidst all of the questions and confusion.
The other passengers on the flight applauded when we landed in Cuba.
After a long wait at baggage claim, it took having a conversation with an employee to recover Ben and Josh’s backpacks — they didn’t come out with the rest of the cargo. Customs checks were surprisingly easy. A few of us had to get our equipment cases scanned before leaving the airport, but even this was fairly quick. When we finally got outside, we met Linette – our tour guide and translator – and exchanged our money into CUCs, the Cuban tourist currency matched 1:1 with the US Dollar, before grabbing lunch from a sandwich stand outside.
Once we were on the bus, we had a brief driving tour of Havana. Then, on the long drive to our hotel, most of us fell asleep. Travel is exhausting.