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Journal Entries for 2016-06 Cuba-Family (MJ) Part 5 of 5

Part 1: We spent two weeks (May 11th to May 25th) in Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.
Part 2: We flew to Atlanta and drove to Dana's in Brasstown, NC (May 26th to May 30th) and then went to Devil's Fork State Park (May 31st to June 2nd) (see Family Albums/2016-05 Dana & Marcia).
Part 3: We stayed at Devil's Fork State Park (June 3rd to June 5th) and spent time with Don, Ginny, Michael, Laicie & Tillman (see Family Albums/2016-06 Don, Michael & Tillman).
Part 4: We flew from Greenville, SC to Miami (June 6th to June 11th) and drove to Key Largo (see Adventures in the USA/2016-06 Key Largo).
Part 5: We met up with Mary Jean and the NatGeo group (June 11th to June 21st) and went to Cuba (see Adventures in Foreign Countries/2016-06 Cuba).

Summary: We went to Havana, Cuba.

Saturday, June 11th: We arrived at the Pullman Hotel from Key Largo by 2:30pm and checked in. We got settled in and went to dinner. Mary Jean's plane arrived at 6:10pm and she caught the 7:15pm shuttle from the airport to the hotel. We were so excited to finally meet up with her. She checked into a room two doors down from us. We chatted a bit, probably too long, and then called it a night.

Sunday, June 12th: We woke up with the alarm clock at 5:00am. We had coffee and met Mary Jean in the lobby. The airport shuttle left at 6:00am. Carol, our NatGeo Expert, was in the lobby waiting for the shuttle to the airport also. Carol knew exactly where we were going to meet at the airport (in front of Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs in the American Airlines Main area). We met Jorge, our NatGeo Expedition Leader and Yanet, our local guide. There were lots of other people there and we started meeting them. We gave Jorge our passports so that he could check us in as a group. They wanted us to check our wheelies, so Mary Jean and I checked our bags while Carl hung onto his. We had some time to visit and have a bite to eat. At 7:30am we met up again with the group. Jorge gave us our passports, tickets, health form, agriculture form and visas. We went individually through TSA. Mary Jean and I were TSA pre-approved, but Carl had to go through the long line. It really wasn't that bad. We boarded our plane about 9:00am and left at 9:30am. We had a short 1-hour flight from Miami to Havana.

When we arrived in Havana, we went through customs and immigration and then we went to the baggage claim area. While we were waiting for our bags, we noticed a lot of blue plastic-wrapped packages, TVs in original boxes and car tires coming down the baggage ramp. Later Carol told us that while there is still an embargo on U.S. goods to Cuba, people have been able to go to the U.S. and purchase items for their family and bring them into Cuba. However, this has now gone a step further and merchants have made it a business to take orders from people (not just family members), go to the U.S. and bring back the requested items. Many times the people collecting these item from the conveyor belt were escorted out, not going through any further checks or procedures.

It took awhile, but finally our bags came through and as we walked to the bus, we watched the old cars drive around the parking lot. They were all over the place. We boarded our bus, but then we waited and waited for one last bag to be unloaded from the plane. Finally, we left for lunch.

We had lunch at Il Divino, our first paladar or in-home restaurant, about 1:00pm. While we were eating lunch, we saw a guy with his bird wanting money for taking pictures with the bird. Well, all three of us had our picture taken. Later, we noticed that he had a snake and other tourists were getting their pictures taken with the snake. This must be a common tour group stop.

Il Divino is located on the outskirts of Havana and is a community project as well as a restaurant. After lunch about 2:30pm, we had a 45-minute tour of Finca Yoandra, an urban organic farm. Il Divino utilizes Finca Yoandra's fresh ingredients. We learned about the farm's community outreach program and the plants and trees as we walked around. There were four beehives in one corner of the garden called apis melipona. These are smaller bees and they don't have a stinger. They have a guardian at the doorway of the hive to protect the hive.

0012-Map of Cuba.jpg

0018-Blue wrapped bags from USA, Havana Airport.JPG

0026-Old cars in parking lot, Havana Airport.JPG

0028-Yanet meeting us, Havana Airport.JPG

0056-Carl & bird, Il Divino, Havana.JPG

0075-Guardian bee, Finca Yoandra, Il Divino, Havana.JPG

0068-Finca Yoandra, Il Divino, Havana.JPG
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