As a Cuban American who left Cuba some forty-four years ago when I was 4 years old, I had no real memory of my homeland. I grew up hearing fascinating stories from my elders about how beautiful the island was, about my family that still lived there, and the struggles they went through to come to the U.S.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with my husband and daughter. It was an eye opening experience for all of us. Not only did it gave me a chance to connect with my family which I had never met, it also give me the opportunity to see where I was from.
Living in South Florida I think about how close we are to Cuba all the time. It saddens me to know how close but yet so far apart from my family we are.
I decided early this year that I wanted to revisit Cuba again and invited along my aunt and cousin who haven’t been back since we left Cuba. Although most American citizens are not permitted to travel freely in Cuba, Cuban-born Americans are allowed more freedom to travel. We are required to use a local agency here in Miami called Marazul to obtain our PE11 Visa to travel to Cuba. After waiting six weeks for the paperwork, our visa finally came. We were ready to go.
I spent several months collecting clothes and everyday items that were basic necessities for my family. We had over 250 pounds of luggage and since only 45 pounds were allowed per person, we had to pay $20 for each additional bag plus $2/pound for every pound we went over. It cost us a fortune but we knew it was going to be expensive bringing everything over.
The trip in itself is short. It took us 45 minutes to fly from Miami to Cienfuegos. We decided to travel to Cienfuegos instead of Havana because the airport is much smaller and it was closer to where my family lives. Another airport that we considered was Santa Clara. However, flights only ran two days a week to/from Santa Clara.
Once we got to Cienfuegos we collected our bags and they weighed them again at the airport. Since we went over on the weight we had to pay extra. In Cuba you are allowed to bring up to 66 pounds per person which includes food items as well. Any medicines and medical supplies have to be packed separately since these items are not weighed. In Cuba they charge you $5/pound for excess weight. You have to pay in Cuban pesos. They have counters at checkout where you can change American Dollars/Euros into Cuban pesos to pay the fee. I suggest you only change what is needed to pay the fee. The exchange rate is better in other places.
As we walked thru the exit doors we met up with my cousin who had been waiting for us. He went by himself to pick us up. I had warned him that we needed the room in the car for all our luggage. We packed his car to the rim leaving barely enough room in the back for my aunt and me to get in. I had a hard time closing my door.
We decided to stop in the town of Cienfuegos since we were already there to look around. The first thing we noticed were all the antique cars driving around and the old homes/buildings. People walking around in the streets enjoying their Saturday afternoon.
After our short visit to the town of Cienfuegos, we got back in the car and drove another hour and forty minutes to the town of Placetas, Cuba where we met up with my family who was waiting for us. Since we had such a rich experience, I’m breaking our trip to Cuba into several episodes. Next one, Reconnecting with my Cuban family – Part 1.