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Tips for Passport Holders Traveling to Cuba

Jan David

 Passport Control Center Cuba CustomsFor a passport holder of the united states, surprises might await you when traveling to Cuba.  I went to Cuba a few years back and to my surprise, they wouldn't stamp my passport.  We got off the plane and walked across the tarmac to the terminal.  The first thing I noticed was the smell.  It was like most third world countries—a heavy smell of diesel and petroleum in the air.  It was smoggy too.  It was so exciting to be there, I was taking it all in as we walked through customs into lines where we had to show our passports.  I got up to the window and handed my passport book to the woman behind the glass.  She looked at it, then handed it back, smiling. I didn't speak spanish, so I thought it might be because my passport was in a passport holder and they didn't trust it.  Even after I took it out of the passport holder, the girl with shiny brown eyes, smiled and said no, I can't, laughing softly.  Of course, you might think, duh! That's a good thing.  Well if you're traveling without a proper visa then it could be a good thing, however I had a valid visa and permission to go on a humanitarian mission and I wanted that stamp on my passport like a badge of honor!  I spent two weeks in Cuba and completely forgot about my passport.  It's a beautiful country, although very humid, the smells and tastes are unforgettable.  On the way home I remembered the passport and vowed to get it stamped.  I got up to the window and the girl there said no, she wouldn't stamp it.  I waved my hand as if to say, "it's okay, I want you to."  Again, the woman, an older version of the brown-eyed girl I saw on the way in, refused.  Rather than push the issue, I sat down to wait for the flight.  I couldn't help but rustle up a conversation with the woman next to me.  I told her of my plight.  She told me I was lucky that they didn't stamp it.  "Careful what you wish for." she said.  She seemed to think that whether or not I had permission to visit Cuba, if I went through U.S. customs some other time and they saw the Cuban stamp they might haul me in for questioning.  I guess it was fine.  Truth be told I didn't go international again before my passport expired, so I could have had it stamped and it'd have been my trophy.  I guess all I have is my memories!  I’d like to visit Cuba again, but I’ve been told they’re very strict about the humanitarian and artistic visas these days.  When I went it was back in 2003 and things weren’t so strict.  I spoke to a few people visiting Cuba back then without a visa.  I’ll tell you about that in a later article.

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