We drove past many empty streets and I saw one accident for the first time in my travel to Cuba. Not sure if it was fatal. The only place that had any people at that hour was the central bus station. Was interesting chatting to the taxi driver who was married and has two children. He was saying life is starting to get better in Cuba after a period of hardship. His wife is an accountant with the government and he drives a taxi - has been doing this since 2003. He lives in a state house and is unable to move to a better place as houses are not easy to come by and are relatively expensive. He said he was determined to make sure his two children have a better life.
My last complication of this trip to Cuba is about to take place, clearing my bags in the United States. I arrive at the airport and I learn that the airport in Cuba is not that small after all as I initially thought. There are three terminals - terminal one is for domestic flights, terminal two for special chartered flights from the US and terminal three for international flights, to which I am now in.
The queue has already formed and there are three flights to Panama this morning and my flight is the third of the three. I show my Star Alliance Gold Card and managed to jump the queue to the premier row which is at the moment relatively short. After a short wait I get processed. The lady at the counter asked me if I wanted to check my bags all the way to Auckland so that I can bypass US customs. I said yes and she tagged my bags to Auckland. I was surprised that you can actually do that. I asked her again just so I am clear and she repeated that I do not have to collect my bags in Los Angeles. Until I clear Los Angeles and get my boarding pass for my next sector, I am still nt convinced.
After a relatively short flight we arrive in Panama. In order to prove, at least to some extent, that I was in Panama, I thought of getting out of the airport and get back on. At least that way, I have a stamp on my passport that I was in Panama. There is no stamp on my passport that I have been to Cuba. It is strange that you go to a country and you need a passport but nothing is stamped on your passport. Unfortunately, there was not enough time and could not do that.
After the long 7 hour flight, I arrive in Los Angeles. After clearing immigration, I was asked to collect my bags. I did not state that I was in Cuba on my arrival card, hoping that I will not get into trouble. The customs officer asked me if there was anything I needed to declare and I said no as I was in transit. He asked me to go through the green lane and I was home free.
Checking into Air New Zealand was no drama. When I checked in, I was told I got upgraded to Business, which was a nice surprise. I had a shower at the Koru lounge and relaxed before the 17 hour flight back home. On the way here I gained a day and now I will be loosing a day.