Pre-Cuba: Packing and meeting the group in Cancun

Pre-Cuba // Packing:  December 8, 2010

Packing for a trip to Cuba is a careful endeavor. There are the gifts to take, and the necessities, and the cameras and lenses, and of course, the clothes. But there’s a weight restriction of 66 lbs total…no more than 22 lbs carry-on. I’ve spent the last couple of days piling up the things to go, weighing, reweighing and then making hard choices of what stays and what goes.

Packing the camera gear for Cuba
Packing the camera gear for Cuba

In my bag:
A bag of Snickers and a bag of M&Ms (intended as gifts, but a constant temptation…)
Box of Tylenol (gift)
2 boxes of Band-Aids (gift)
10 tealights (gift)
10 bars of little soaps (gift)
10 Hot Wheels (gift)
20 Little Pet Shop figures (gift, they are the cutest little things!)
10 peanut snack bars (para me, between meals)
1 pack of shortbread cookies (para me)
3 pills for diarrhea (just in case…)
$1,500 cash
ATM and credit card (for Mexico…U.S. issued cards won’t work in Cuba)
Nikon D700
50mm f/1.4
20mm f/2.8
105mm f 2.8
24-70mm f 2.8
Holga + 7 rolls of film
Sony Cybershot for video
10 memory cards
2 extra Nikon batteries
MacBook Pro
A mile of chargers and cords
Hopefully the right adaptors
Blackberry and charger for Mexico (our cellphones won’t work in Cuba)
2 pairs of jeans
2 pairs of travel pants
1 pair of linen pants
tennis shoes
Finn comfort clogs
Teva sandals
10 tops (combination of long/short sleeve)
rain jacket (pockets are stuffed to reduce the carry-on bag weight)
undergarments + socks
shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush/paste/floss, deodorant
Brush, hairties
Trip insurance paperwork
Medical insurance paperwork
Journal, pens
Moon handbook to Cuba
Spanish cards

The carry-on camera bag alone weighs 25 lbs, not the 22 requested (so I’ll be stuffing some things in my pockets :) The big bag is at 38 lbs. 66 total is the limit.

Oh…and it’s 12 degrees in Chicago.

Pre-Cuba // Meeting the group in Cancun, Mexico:  December 9, 2010

The American flight landed early yesterday…just after skimming low over the most beautiful seafoam-turquoise-ink colored waters you can imagine.

Flying into Cancun
Flying into Cancun

Immigration–baggage claim (mine was one of the first out!)–customs and out into the throngs of people touting time-shares, rides, tours…They’ll do just about anything to stop you.  “We must check your voucher here please”, “Here we are, waiting for you!”, “Ride to the hotel?”, “Welcome to Mexico.  Let me help you”,  “Do you know where you are staying?”…blah, blah, blah.

You walk–quickly, confidently, and with a smile, past the obstacles–a bit like a video game, going around them when they step directly in front of you.  Once past the hurdles, the doors automatically open–there’s a mariachi band in black playing the Frito Bandito song, a bar, and another herd of drivers holding signs with everyone’s name.  And it’s warm, humid, a smell of that air that can only be hot climates near the sea.

Reid from Santa Fe Photo Workshops was waiting by the Marriott Shuttle spot–guarding someone’s luggage and greeting us.  He dolled out my $230 pesos with instructions to take the airport shuttle from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2 and get my Cuban Tourist Visa from a lady in white next to the Air Cubana counter there.  That was the “normal” terminal–not full of tourists.  Starbucks, regular lines of regular people doing regular airport things.

The lady at the counter spoke to me in Spanish–but I understood she was asking if I had pesos–I replied “Si, pesos.”  She had on wedge heels–how long would she stand there today I wondered?  She was filling out visa forms pulled from her purse–and sitting alongside her rubbermaid of peppers for lunch.  Visa done.  Easy peazy.

Turista Visa para Republica de Cuba
Turista Visa para Republica de Cuba

Met Angelina and Larry back at the shuttle area and we piled in for the short drive to the hotel.  Checked in (room 449 for me, $149/night) and met back in the lobby for quesadillas and margaritas.  Conversation about “our photography”–what do you shoot, what do you do with photography, what camera did you bring?  Lenses?  And the same concerns about weight and bag limitations.

Back to the room for a bit of a nap and some reorganizing of stuff.  Down to the lobby again around 7 to meet the folks returning from Cuba… talked to a couple of ladies and Dinah & Barry; heard about rice and beans, exchanged $40 U.S. for $40 C.U.C.   They were still in awe.  We watched their photo slideshow of their week–stunning.  The light, the faces, the eyes, the decay…  One lady described it as very European, but not–it’s decayed, dirty, neglected.  3rd world.  She said she couldn’t even describe the feeling she had on the first day–the depth of culture shock.  I can’t wait!  Shaking with anticipation.

Talked to Nancy–someone I met in 2008 at Nevada Wier’s workshop in Santa Fe.  We think we’re roommates on this journey–and made a pact to get up early, stay up late, and go to the Tropicana :)

So now, it’s 8:15a–I slept good, I’ve made my second pot of coffee in my room, had breakfast downstairs, had a shower, and have repacked yet again…moving chocolates to my carry-on for snacks and for gifts, loading up my pockets so that the raincoat weighs about 10lbs–relieving the carry-on.  Crowded House’s “Always Take the Weather” came on the iPod shuffle–good advice!  I’ve called home…and sit ready.  I can feel my heart beating in my skin.  CUBA!

We will meet downstairs at 9a for an orientation.  And head out to the airport at 10:30 to deal with check-in and the cultural visas (that came in last night).  Flight is at 2:35p.

Stepping on to my first flight to Cuba.
Stepping on to my first flight to Cuba.


As I am moving old TravelPod entries over to my blog almost 7 years later, I came across this first trip to Cuba, and the entries that abruptly stop before I even get on the plane. Of course, now I know.  Now, after 7 trips to beautiful Cuba, I know how shocking those first days are. Now I know that packing is indeed a careful endeavor.  You’d better pack anything you might need, because you are not likely to find it there if you’ve forgotten it. “It’s not like I’m packing for Cuba,” has become a standard “don’t worry” statement when I pack now for all other trips.  I also know now that these flights TO Cuba are the heaviest flights ever.  Seriously, it’s a wonder that the planes can leave the ground.  Coming back, without all the gifts, the bags are less than a third full, but the memory cards are bursting.  :)

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