Cuba, one of the last single party socialist countries in the world. It is also the arch rival of USA.
An American who wishes to tour Cuba should be really careful. Especially with the newly imposed travel restrictions by Donald Trump.
This traveler who had visited 45 states and 36 countries wanted to visit Cuba before the travel ban was fully imposed. Call it ignorance or reckless behavior but her return to the USA wasn’t easy.
Her entire trip was filled with ecstasy and amazing experiences. Cuba is a country that is still in the 70s with regards to it’s architecture. The serenity and peace is hard to find.
She had her fears about her money being robbed or there would be a purse snatching. Nothing of that sort had happened.
Her trip was pleasant and fruitful but the ending wasn’t going to be so smooth.
She had exchanged her dollars for Cuban currency.
” I learned that Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban peso, which is used by locals, and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which was introduced in 1994 as a currency specifically for tourists to replace the American dollar that was currently in circulation. The CUC trades at about one-to-one on the dollar, but there is a 10 percent fee to change dollars into CUC in Cuba. To avoid that fee, I took out euros from my local bank, which I brought to Cuba and changed into CUC at the airport upon arrival.”
Upon the end of her journey she retrieved her last 800 CUC and left early to check in for the flight. She even inquired her local US bank if she had to convert the currency before leaving the country but they said, that would’t be necessary and it would be cheaper if she converted it after she reached the US.
With little internet access in Cuba, the airport check had to be done manually as there was no option of a web check in. She arrived three hours earlier, keeping this in mind. Fortunately, this extra time was extremely helpful.
She was pulled aside for screening at passport control. She was then taken for a secondary screening and her passport was taken away from her. She didn’t panic as she thought it was a routine.
Her body was scanned and her bags were completely checked. Unfortunately all her optimism ended when an officer opened her wallet, saw the currency, confiscated it and took her to a sort of detainment cell.
In the cell, the officers questioned her in harsh tone and she couldn’t answer them with her poor Spanish skills. She couldn’t see her husband, her luggage and passport were gone. They moved on to making phone calls and her name and passport number was repeated often over the call.
She knew something was clearly not right. This kind of behavior was not to be expected when it was just a routine customs check.
“After about an hour, an English-speaking officer came in to question me. She wanted to know why I was in Cuba, where I had stayed, what areas I visited at what times. She repeatedly asked me why I was in Cuba, and if I was traveling alone, and I repeatedly told her I was there with my husband to vacation and maybe write a travel story about the lovely country. I started to get the feeling they thought I was doing something illegal — but what?”
She was told that she had committed a crime. She panicked. She saw her husband facing her and mouthed him to call the embassy which he said he already did. She got a feeling that she might not be leaving Cuba.
She had a phone on her and she messaged her lawyer friend who told her that she would contact the embassy as well. She was then asked to switch off her phone.
“After more confusion, officers coming in and out conversing in Spanish in hushed, serious tones, and glaring at me, my crime was revealed to me: I had attempted to leave the country with Cuban Convertible Pesos.”
Yes, this was her crime, an honest mistake on her part. Something didn’t add up. There was a change office at the terminal itself but she wasn’t allowed to change because she had already been pulled up, while she saw the others changing their currency.
Whatever it was, she just wanted to leave Cuba now.
By some stroke of luck or some unknown efforts of the embassy, she was allowed to board the flight just before it’s departure. She was made to sign a bunch of papers that were in Spanish, she did them without giving a second thought because she was being released. It didn’t matter to her what the papers contained.
The money was confiscated and her passport was returned.She was then allowed to board the plane. It was only after the flight was ready for take off that she had some relief. She was still however confused as to how her husband had hundreds of CUC in his pocket but didn’t have to worry about all of this. Besides them there were many others too, unfortunately she was the only one who was pulled out. In her words-
“It’s easy to use search engines to find travel blogs, suggested itineraries, and hotel and activity reviews. But the most important thing you can do before leaving for any foreign destination is to read the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories. If I had done that, I would have been clear on this particular law and not opened myself up to potential detention in a foreign jail.”
What do you think about this incident? Share your opinion in the comments.
Author: The Brown Nomad
Also published on Medium.