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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cuba: Day One

I've somewhat struggled with how to write about Cuba.

Our time in Cuba was extraordinary, which means that no ordinary blog post could do it justice. So do I write more or less about our time there?

Complicating matters, I travelled to Cuba without a journal for recording my thoughts. I suppose it didn't matter all that much in the end, since I didn't have much time for writing. However, it's made mentally reconstructing our time in Cuba somewhat difficult.

For lack of a better method, I thought I'd write about our trip day-by-day, relying on our photos to illustrate what we experienced. I'll wrap our trip with some overall thoughts on what God taught us and where we think He's pointing us moving forward.

I met up with Kelly and the rest of our group late Thursday evening in Miami. There were 12 of us in total - 10 participants including the two Hayleys and our two leaders. Five of the team members were from the San Francisco area, six were from the Dallas area and one was from Florida.

We had a bit of orientation over dinner, then headed off to get some sleep because we needed to leave for the airport at 5:15 the next morning.

It seemed a little crazy to me to need to get to the airport so early for our 9:30 flight - until we got to the airport, that is. Our international flight experience definitely began in Miami. The level of chaos rivaled anything that Kelly and I have experienced in third world countries' airports.

After a couple of hours of effort by our agent, we finally had tickets and visas in hand.

Then it was off to the charter flight terminal to wait. And wait. And wait.

Our 9:30 flight left at 12:30.

While on our short 45 minute tarmac-to-tarmac flight, we filled out the customary customs paperwork. Though I must admit that the Cuban translated instructions made us laugh.

Finally we landed in Cuba and worked our way through passport control and the obligatory random questioning while we waited (eternally) for our luggage.

The airport was also the first spotting of old American automobiles - soon to be an all-too-common sight. I eventually had to refrain from taking photos of old cars and crumbling buildings, fearing they would be my Cuba-version of safari zebra photos. Those who've travelled to or lived in Africa will understand what I mean.

It was a couple of hours before we found ourselves headed, via a tour guide-staffed bus, to our tourist hotel, the Comodoro.

Our hotel was definitely tourist-focused, with a full buffet, assortment of restaurants and air-conditioned rooms (a HUGE benefit). What our room lacked was cleanliness - plenty of evidence of the prior occupants remained.

Oh well. We still had plenty to do before bedtime, so the Hayleys tossed their luggage in the room and headed out again.

Where we headed to was Calvary Baptist Church in downtown Havana.

It's a truly gorgeous church, located very near Cuba's capital building. For Baptist history buffs, the building was originally purchased with funds from the Annie Armstrong Mission offering.

We carefully walked up a flight of stairs to the pastor's office - I called it "the upper room" because it honestly was. Complete with too many people crammed in to talk about our upcoming mission efforts.

Our upper room didn't have any railings either - I was in perpetual fear of someone falling over the edge.

However, we managed to get completely through our meeting without anyone taking a plunge from the upper room. A miracle to start the trip, I'd say.
From there, we headed back to Comodoro for dinner (pizza) and a cautious look into our room.

Thankfully, it was clean. A good way to end a very long day of travel and cultural adjustment.

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