Travel is something ‘we do’ but not something 'we all' in the same way.
Travel unique locations a lesser number of us do, and then travel to unique locations with your own vehicle the number reduces dramatically.
Cuba has two ways of arriving by air or by sea, I arrived by sea, months before arranging passage on a German non-profit sailing ship that mostly lives between Panama and Colombia has over the last few years added Cuba to its list destinations, and it is one of the few ways you can get a motorcycle to the island legally...but its not as simple as it sounds.It is just not a case of arrive, jump on your bike and go for a ride.
On arrival by sea you are not immediately allowed on land until a doctor checks you. He comes on board and takes every persons temperature and has a quick look at you, if one is sick all can be considered sick. The reasons are obvious, its an island they don't know where we have been and what sickness we might be bringing in!
We are cleared, notice I say 'we', not us and our bikes...not just yet.
"The customs lady will be here at 8am", bellows Captain Ludwig who is affectionately known as Lulu.
We sit and wait, it’s around 7am and time for some breakfast, as I am taking my first mouthful when an official looking guy in tan uniform appears and said, "bring one bike". Lulu looks down at the deck and I’m the easiest to get on land, this is where the process begins, three other riders are on the boat and now excited. I crush there hopes and tell them it could take another 10 hours before we are legal, so basically todays possible ride is not going to happen.
I wheel my bike to main gate where I am met by 5 or so people all dressed in the same tan uniform with varying numbers of stripes and gold on them. I smile and say hello, as I do one man announces, "She's here!”
Everybody stands other tan uniform people appear from nowhere and everyone gets away from the doorway so she can enter. I had forgotten about her, a very imposing woman who arrived by motorcycle as a passenger sitting sidesaddle. As she enters the building she appears to survey now growing number of tan uniforms, a few quick words I didn't catch and six women immediately follow her. I now know the process is beginning and this is my look inside the Cubans official process for vehicle import.
I am ushered into the office and surrounded by seven women, the 'boss lady' or 'jefa' in Spanish sits opposite me and asks for paperwork, I'm prepared and hand it over. From here on she does nothing but direct. The other ladies like workers bees circle around her with a few words everybody has a task, there is lots of writing, duplicate papers, 6 copies of each paper all hand written, all checked and double checked, when the worker bees think they have everything right they lay it all in front of her. She does a thorough viual check and spots one mistake...With her little pinky finger nail she indicates at a word, I strain to see what she is pointing at - someone had forgotten to dot an i...welcome to Cuban bureaucracy, its going to be a long day!
Once my paperwork is complete I send a message to the boat to tell the next rider to bring their motorcycle. The second in command, an older Cuban man approaches and smiles, he introduces himself and asks to see three numbers on the motorcycle – the VIN, the engine and the license plate. He confirms that the ladies inside have done their job correctly, and then perplexed he has a sticker in his hand, it is to go inside of a clear windshield, I don’t have one.
We come to an agreement that I will keep it in my pocket, he smiles and announces – “done!”
Its 8.25am, and I wheel my bike out of the gate, it is officially on Cuban soil, after another hour there are four motorcycles side by side. I lead them for their first ride thru Cuba; it’s a short one of about 3km to the transit police, what we call the DMV. I let the other riders know, we WILL be here all day.
The remainder of the its more of the same, paperwork, number checking and lot and lots of waiting. We are not given special treatment; we are not given harsh treatment, we are in line like every other person in this office. At the end of the day around 5pm we are told we are now officially Cuban…for the next 30 days anyway!
We hold import papers, import stickers, Cuban license plates and Cuban driving license, the cost for all of this - approximately $15.
Tomorrow we ride, for real…