My second journey to Cuba begins as did my first trip there, which I suspect is intended to acclimate the traveler to the phenomenon known as “island time.” My traveling companions and I arrive at Miami International Airport several hours before our scheduled departure, wait in line for the ticketing and baggage check people to do their work, are certified free of any tools of terrorism by TSA, and then wait for at least an hour while the background checks required by the Cuban government are completed.
We are all apparently deemed acceptable visitors, and board our jet along with Cuban-Americans going to the island to visit relatives, and Cuban-Cubans returning home after seeing family in the USA. I notice that the pilot tippy-toes down the Florida Keys as far as he can, then banks to the left for the almost anticlimactically-short hop across the Florida Straits, where Havana soon appears on the horizon.
Although I know what is coming this time, I am still delighted by the experience that is Jose Marti Airport: the island-inspired paint job on the main terminal building. Being able to walk across the ramp from the plane in December without the need of a jetway. The officious lines leading to the immigration booths. The female officers in their Soviet-inspired uniforms hemmed short over stockings decidedly un-Soviet like. Explaining my unusual large format camera gear and film holders to the customs people. And finally out into the tropical warmth, the cacophony of noise, and the throng of people awaiting the arrival of friends and family, all overseen by the images of Che, Fidel, and even Hugo Chavez on billboards ringing the parking lot. Although on this trip I will witness the beginning of changes that are coming to Cuba, I am glad that these things remain the same for now.