Well, we’re here – safe and sound in Havana (but why do we call it Havana with a ‘v’ when all of the signs here in the city and all of the locals call it “Habana” with a ‘b’?)! I think I prefer to call it what the locals do – with the ‘b’.

I met Lora at the airport bright and early at 4:45 a.m. I didn’t sleep too well the night before because I was both nervous and excited about the trip: What would happen when I passed through customs? Would they stamp my passport, thereby incriminating me? Would Lora and I get along after 1.5 years of not seeing one another? Yeah, so I basically tossed and turned from midnight (when I put head to pillow) until at least 1:30 just trying to calm my brain and also force my body to rest. After 20 hours of flying from Nicaragua to Toronto, you would guess my whole self was out of whack.

Lora and I did a lot of catching up on the flight down, chatting about what we wanted to do. She was clearly far more prepared than me, as on the flight she was carefully poring through her Lonely Planet Cuba book, underlining and flagging pages and information meticulously as any good English teacher would do. When we landed, the whole plane cheered. Everyone was excited to be in Castro country, ready to sun their pale Canadian bodies, whether that would be in Varadero (where we landed) or Havana.

Sunwing Airlines, our airline of choice, seems to provide some pretty reasonable packages for Canadian travelers. The flight included a glass of champagne, a drink of choice, as well as a full breakfast. Lora’s roundtrip airfare and seven night stay at the Melia Habana, including transport to and from the Varadero airport (about 2 hours from Habana), came to a mere $500 U.S. I’m staying 7 days longer (the extra week is without accommodation) and my package is just $300 more! That’s really not a bad deal at all – and you’ll see why…

First, CUSTOMS: The first true test of the trip. Lora basically shoved me in front of her into line #11, signaling that I should go first. The customs agent was a woman my age with a neatly braided ponytail. She began speaking to me in English, but I wanted to practice/show off my Spanish (maybe it would earn me points?), so I proceeded to converse with her in my best, formal, Cuban Espanol. She asked me many questions, she took my photo, she checked twice to make sure Hawaii was in the U.S. I answered all of the questions honestly. She even asked if I got permission to come here and I flat out told her “No.” Soon after that she left her little stall and asked the neighboring agent a question, came back and stamped something (I couldn’t see what). Before she let me leave, she made sure to tell me my Spanish was quite good. I felt pretty good about that, and then she let me go. I was a little nervous with my passport in hand. I flipped through quickly to see if she had stamped a page in my passport (thinking, “please, God, no!”). At this point, with my passport expiring in less than a year, it is twice as thick as a normal one (because I ran out of pages in Vientiane two years ago) and there were a lot of stamps to look through to find the Cuba one. Then I noticed that she had stamped my departure card, as I had been told they do. With great relief, I waited for Lora to emerge through door #11.

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