The Cuban Transit Operation

„Espere un momento“, „Sólo un rato“, „Un momento por favor“ – I heard the different Spanish versions of “Wait a sec” for several times after arriving at the International Airport in Havana, Cuba. Actually, it was just a transit stop for me on my way from Europe to Panama. And yet, things can get always more interesting than anticipated. In that case, the situation seemed somehow (disturbingly) homely, well, assuming that you spent your childhood in the People´s Republic of Poland and afterwards lived through the implosion of the German Democratic Republic (although waaay too young –sic!- to remember all the details).
The first part – the getting out of the plane – worked as smooth as at any other airport. The problems started when I decided to follow the “Transit passengers” arrows which separated me from the bulk of the passengers headed for immigration. Actually, I found myself quite alone in front of the according door. The Cuban Customs officer wanted to send me on the tracks of my fellow travelers, but I succeeded in convincing him that I belonged there. The man sat in front of a disabled X-ray machine and didn´t know what to do with me, so he decided to continue reading his newspaper. Meanwhile, a simple, friendly, highly frequented glass door and a less friendly looking female customs officer separated me from my objective – the Transit Area. The female customs officer took her job really seriously. In fact, an officer appeared, showed to her his ID and talked to the man standing beside her…just to show her ,once more, his ID before leaving again through the magic glass door (without any sign of irritation). Maybe the three star general running around there had to do something with it. After a few more “espere un momento” a woman appeared and asked me to follow her – unfortunately away from the Transit Area. She led me to the immigration zone where some serious looking officers seemed to be debating my fate. All the time everyone stayed really civilized, but it was obvious that the procedure wasn´t working as it did at the other international hubs. And finally, I had to undergo the ultimate test of confidence – one of the things every traveler fears most – I was asked to hand over my passport and boarding pass. I decided to follow the procedure and handed the documents to the woman – just to see them being handed over to an unknown man.  Fortunately, everything worked as it should (I suppose) and I was allowed to pass on to the Transit Area. There was just one little detail – which way.

The friendly woman looked puzzled and decided to go back the way we came – generally not a biggy, but… There were moving stairs going down which we had to go… upstairs. “Please, stand beside me and wait for the stairs to stop, then we´ll avoid the sensor and go upstairs hoping that no one comes from above and activates the stairs meanwhile we try to walk them.” In this moment I came to the conclusion that it couldn´t be the standard procedure…
After that it seemed only a small detail that there were birds flying around in the Transit Area, stealing food of the restaurant tables as soon as a passenger turned around. While searching a seat that didn´t suffer too hard from the little birds´ bomb raids, I passed four women from the cleaning personnel sitting around and obviously discussing some urgent matters. Maybe they were wondering how the airport management could permit the seats to get so dirty, I don´t know…
At least the local beer prices for gringos fulfilled all international standards – 3.45 USD for a small one. And then I received a message from my telecommunications provider – “Welcome to Cuba! Outgoing calls cost 5.63 Euros/ minute, incoming: 1.84 Euros.” Autsch.

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