Saturday, August 15, 2009

No Return, Part 2

I was on a familiarization junket for travel agents in Mexico. It was a week of being treated well, eating well, and traveling well and a little ho-hum in the exciting department save exploring a few Mayan Ruins. It occurred to me that if the Mexican Department of Tourism purchased my flight ticket, I might well be able to call the airline and extend my return date for a week of travel on my own. Sure enough, my reservation information must have indicated something along the lines of "let him do anything he wants" because there were no questions asked and my ticket was re-issued for a delayed return to Los Angeles.

With that hurdle crossed, I began to imagine what kind of adventure I was up for. My new idea was presented right in front of my face when I passed by a travel agency in the airport hotel. It was a large poster of a red tiled stone tower advertising trips to Cuba. It was a nervous, halting entrance I made into the agency to inquire about flying to Havana.

I had heard, of course, that the fine for a U.S. citizen caught going to Cuba was $250,000. I also heard that you could ask not to have your passport stamped whereby customs in the U.S. wouldn't know you had been. It was as if this trip was tailor-made for me offering some measure of chance and unknown adventure. As the travel agent explained, the only way Cuba was accepting tourists was on an organized, pre-planned itinerary. Food and hotel were included and a choice of optional tours paid for once there.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control enforces economic and trade sanctions on Cuba. So the restriction on travel to Cuba was not against actually traveling there, but the spending of any money there. Did paying for my entire trip in Mexico allow me legal entry to Cuba even though I knew I would be buying Cuba Libres, a cigar or two, and anything else I couldn't get at home? The short answer is "no". U.S. citizens must be licensed for travel in Cuba and licenses are only issued to organizations like healthcare, arts exchange, baseball players, reporters, and so on.

So I entered the country illegally and asked, "Favor de no estampar el passaporte mio". From this point forward I did not hear another word of English.

1 comment:

  1. Daniel, I'm loving your blog. This is being sent from our cool, sun-dappled campsite in Ashland thru the miracle of satellite technology. Keep writing. Irene