A Visit to Cuba


As most already know, Cuban relations with the US had been severed in 1960 after a threat from Russia and Cuba on our country. In the time period since then, the Cuban people did suffer the consequences as our nation imposed an embargo on Cuba, that, among other things forbade US citizens to visit there and for US made vehicles to be delivered to that country. As a consequence, the Cubans were, by necessity, forced to keep the “old” cars of the era functional and dependable. Over the years they have used their decidedly ingenious methods to maintain these cars and trucks and which they have adoringly come to cherish. As the entry of parts were forbidden and the Cubans were forced to remain stuck in time, over the years the people there resorted to many means to keep their beloved vehicles on the roads. After all the repairs that could be done to many engines and other mechanicals, they converted to other brands of vehicle engines, retrofitting them to make drivetrains that allowed for continued use. Many of these vehicles have been passed down through family generations and have become parts of these families. Some are impressively restored, as these have become treasures to, not only them, but to foreigners who visit there. Now, still roadworthy and in daily use, are multitudes of old cars with Toyota, Mercedes, Land Rover and other makes (almost entirely diesel) engines and mechanicals. Newer cars and trucks do also share the roadways, but the mix of American made 40’s, 50’s, some very early 60’s (and some 30’s) vehicles are truly a sight to behold.

Now that relations have begun to thaw, US tourism is allowed directly and we are allowed to more easily see and experience a country that has managed to keep a heritage alive that others can now come to see for themselves. Though there are newer vehicles that ply the roads, the “old” American cars are very prevalent and transport visitors back in time.

Stuck in time, in a time warp, whatever terms come to mind, the sight of all these fantastic cars do permit everyone of us, now, to begin reliving a time that, by today’s standards, was simpler.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The pitter-patter of raindrops outside awoke me this morning. As predicted, rain had once again arrived as part of another winter storm front that had first hit California, hard, and drifted eastward across Arizona. Although a rainy start to a new journey and adventure might dampen some peoples’ spirits, this rain was welcome here in the desert, where it is typically dry and moisture is welcome to help us through a prolonged drought.

So, despite the nice shower we were experiencing, I was excited to have this day take root. Mark, my traveling companion, was to arrive by 8 a.m. and Frank to be here at that same time so that he could drive us to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. All went according to plan and by 8:30 that Saturday morning we had arrived at the airport, where the lines through the TSA checkpoints were a bit longer than I had imagined, but moved along quite quickly. Mark started his check through another security line and as I was gathering up my belongings, putting shoes and belt back on, Mark still was not through his line. 

Things were about to become interesting.

In time, Mark came through his line. However, a security check person called out, as they held up a backpack, for it’s owner. Well, wouldn’t you know, it was Mark’s. They asked Mark to follow them to a far line and asked permission to search his pack, to which Mark, of course, agreed, though we both were a bit perplexed at having to submit to a special search of the pack's contents. The security person was friendly throughout this somewhat of a setback, and when Mark asked, was told something in his belongings had set off an alert as containing something flammable.

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As Mark was asked to empty his pockets, I stood nearby, somewhat amused that our adventure was already becoming just that, an adventure. As another security person arrived, they, still very cordial and friendly, explained what was about to happen as they searched through his possessions. They found that he had many Medifast snack bars that, they explained, as with other snack/power bars sometimes set off an alarm. They knew not why this sometimes happens, but, in their duty they were required to conduct this investigation. Careful in my comments, and finding humor in Mark’s predicament, the two security people rolled with the tide and started to swab EVERY one of the 20 some bars, then testing those swabs in a device to assure the bars were NOT flammable. I had had my cell phone camera out soon after they began this search and they seemed to be quite aware that I had begun my documentation of this event. At least three police officers were nearby, but not involved in this. No one really protested or told me to cease and desist, as I was getting a kick out of this (but not being unsympathetic) and Mark, though I knew he was concerned, was also appearing to be calm and at least somewhat jovial about this delay.

 When the security officer, after completing the contents investigation, then told Mark they wanted to conduct a body search, this revealed some interesting photos, to which I found very humorus and to which everyone who views them have their own particular comments.

In due time, probably 20 minutes or so, they had completed their assessment and sent us on our way to the departing gate. As we walked away from the extra search, I commented that it was good that we had arrived 2 hours prior to takeoff. Maybe I would have been flying to Cuba and Mark would have been in some hoosegow in Phoenix (or heaven forbid, being fast tracked to Cuba at Guantanamo). I am sure, as this has happened to other good standing US citizens; they all think, “What, do I look like I am a threat or a terrorist?”

Our little episode with TSA (well, to be exact, MARK’S) actually set us (me) in a funny mode, but we both saw it as humorous despite the seriousness of the TSA’s responsibility and possible dangers of threats to everyone’s jetting off to their destinations.

As Mark also knows, photos I took were not malicious or intended to cause embarrassment or disrespect. But, it was funny to have our trip start out on such a, umm, memorable note. 

(Later on however, the tables were turned as I was singled out for my own inspection upon our re-entry into the US. Mark would get the last laugh on that count).

On our way to the departure gate, we found our third Phoenix traveling partner, Brenda Priddy, who has been to Cuba over 5 times. She is a spy photographer and automotive journalist who has had photos and stories published in several publications. The airport, although being very busy and crowded, still allowed us to catch up and, of course, tell the TSA tale of Mark’s now renamed Medi-BLAST snack bars.

Once onboard, we were fortunate enough to be able to sit together for the flight to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where we overnighted and connected with John, from Detroit (a longtime friend of Mark’s)

The Ft. Lauderdale airport was, in my opinion, a madhouse. But after some further chaos, we finally boarded our hotel’s shuttle to our night’s lodging and waited for John’s slightly later arrival. A quick dinner and off to bed ended this first leg of our excursion to Cuba. We all were excited to experience travel into a Communist country, but especially to see all of the old vehicles that were reportedly roaming about all over this island nation.

We were not to be disappointed.

End of Chapter 1. 

u   kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012