We got up around 3 am this morning so that we would be ready to be picked up at 4 am. We had a very early flight and needed to be at the airport early enough to have time to check in, get through security and customs, and board the plane.
It got to be 4:10, then 4:20 and the van still hadn’t arrived to pick me up. There is virtually no traffic in Santo Domingo at 4 am and we all lived within a couple blocks of the school, so it shouldn’t even take 20 minutes to pick everyone up. I started to get a little worried that I had been forgotten, when the van finally showed up at 4:40 am. To my surprise, I was only the second one being picked up.
Apparently, something happened to the normal van that we used so they had to quickly get another one to use and get the trailer for the luggage hooked onto the new van. We finally got everyone and headed to the airport around 5:15 am. We hurried in and made it through check-in, security, and customs/immigration with just enough time to get on the plane. The plane was pretty much entirely boarded by the time we all got through—the flight had been moved up 10 minutes to 6:45 am and we got to the airport later than we anticipated. We all made it on and because the plane wasn’t very full, we were able to spread out and have seats in between us.
We got into Miami a little after 8 am and made it through US customs in an efficient manner. After we got our baggage and went through another checkpoint, we had to exit the area, as our flight wasn’t technically a connecting flight. The reason that we had to go back to Miami is that our visas and everything we needed for our flight to Cuba were there. Our flight to Havana wasn’t until 4:30 pm and we couldn’t get our tickets our anything until the check-in process began at 12:30 pm. We ended up walking all through the airport, trying to find the counter we would check in at but everyone we asked told us the counter was in a different place.
We eventually found the area that it was in and just decided to camp out there. We set all our stuff down and sat on the ground while we waited for our check-in time. We took turns going to the bathroom and getting food so that there was always someone there with our luggage. It was a lot of waiting and it made us all even more exhausted.
When the check-in time rolled around, we went over to stand in the long line of people. We waited in line for almost 2 hours to get our documents for travel and check our luggage. It was amazing to see what people were waiting in line with on their carts that they were sending to Cuba. There were so many flat-screen TVs, computers, bedspreads, and other things all wrapped up in plastic wrap, ready to send on the plane.
There are some things that you just can’t get in Cuba, so people come to the United States and buy it. They send it back on the plane with them and in addition to paying a fee for sending it on the plane, they pay the Cuban government duty tax when they get back into the country. It was fascinating to see—I have never seen anything like what I saw in that line in my life!
After finally getting through the line and getting our tickets, we headed back through security and to our gate. We waited there for another couple hours before boarding the plane to Havana. The flight was really quick—a little less than an hour—and then we got off on the tarmac and made our way inside to go through customs/immigration again.
To get in, we just had to show our passport, take a picture, and give them our tourist visa. After that, we had to go through metal detectors one more time and pass our bags, etc. through screening. We made our way outside after getting our luggage and met Professor Estenoz and our tour guide, William. They brought us to our bus and we headed to the hotel, Hotel Riviera.
Once we got to the hotel, we checked in and brought our stuff to our rooms quickly. Then we went back downstairs for dinner, which was in a restaurant in the hotel and was included in our package. The dinner was good, but it took forever to get all of our food. That is one thing I have noticed—the service in this country is not very good, but they still expect tips.
After dinner, we all went back to our rooms and crashed for the night. We were all so tired from our early morning that we were barely functioning by the time dinner was over, so we went to bed early.