Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cuba, Part 3

Danielle and I paid for the tickets to Havana and headed over to the airport bar. There was a large window looking out onto the tarmac. It looked as if it were about to rain, and there were no airplanes in sight. Just a set of metal stairs sitting in the middle of the runway, leading to the clouds. It made for a great picture.

We sat down and waited for someone to come over and take our order. The bar was pretty much full. I wondered if all these people were going to Cuba.

"Can you believe she said that?" I asked Danielle, referring to the ticket lady's comment that Cuban planes might land 'whenever they felt like it.'

"It did seem a bit on the casual side," Danielle laughed.

"It's a good thing we're not in a hurry," Danielle added.

"That's true." I agreed.

The waitress came over and we ordered a couple of margaritas with salt.

While we were chatting, a girl sat down at the table next to us. She looked to be about 21. I guessed that she was a student.

"Hi, I'm Melanie," she said, introducing herself. She probably felt she had to do that because the tables were so close together.

"Hello! I'm Scott, and this is Danielle. Join us for a margarita! We heard it could be a while."

"Oh, it will," Melanie affirmed.

Danielle and I looked at each other and she spoke first.

"Were we the only ones not to get the memo on Cuban planes always being late?"

"It's a well known problem," Melanie remarked.

Well known to whom? I thought to myself. She was just a kid!

"What else do we have to watch out for?" I asked her.

"You guys are going illegally, aren't you?" she asked.


"I don't know much about that because I've always gone legally. I'm doing research for school, so I can get special permission from the government. And...(and here she actually blushed a little bit), my boyfriend lives in Havana."

"You've been to Cuba before?" Danielle asked, surprised.

"This is my third time."

"Wow." I said.

Melanie talked about her boyfriend for a while, and shared the story of how they'd met, and she gave us some advice on places to see in Havana, and before we all knew it, four hours had passed and we were all sauced from the rounds of margaritas. The sky was getting darker through the window as we waited. A storm was brewing. Our plane was already two hours late, as advertised, so we made the best of it and continued chatting. Melanie was good company.

Finally, six hours after we had sat down, a small Soviet plane rolled slowly onto the tarmac with the Cubana Airlines logo painted on the side. It was an old wartime prop plane. It almost looked like a toy out there with nothing else around it. Our flight number was called over the loudspeaker, and I started to get a little nervous. it was really happening! We were going to Cuba!

About twenty of us filtered thru the door and walked across the tarmac to the little plane, rolling our suitcases. Two men pushed the flight of stairs I had seen earlier, up against the plane so that everyone could board.

As we entered the aircraft and prepared to sit down, I had the distinct feeling that this metal rat trap was held together with chewing gum and clothes hangers. I never get nervous boarding planes. I simply don't have any fear of them. But this time, I did. This thing was old and rickety!

Danielle and I sat next to each other, of course, and I studied her face for any sign of nervousness, but there wasn't a trace of concern. Perhaps I didn't know her as well as I thought. One of the passengers probably could have jumped into the aisle with a machine gun, threatening to take over the plane, and Danielle would have calmly gotten out of her seat and dispatched him with a karate chop or two, and thrown him thru the hatch and onto the runway, wiping her hands together a few times for added aplomb.

After everyone was settled, the captain announced Havana as our destination, and the plane took off, a little skittishly, the propeller blaring, window glass vibrating madly against the plastic framework, but everything held together and it seemed as if we'd make it without landing in the drink.

Throughout the flight, I kept practicing the phrase "I'm American. Please don't stamp my passport!" in Spanish. It was only a few words, but I had a lot riding on that sentence. If the customs official in Havana stamped my passport it would be game over. But I made myself relax and forget about all that. After all, I didn't go on this vacation to worry about what could go wrong the whole time.

I pushed my seat back further, and prepared for the unknown...



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