I began my adventure to Cuba with the most important tool I could identify: an iPod. The concept of group travel has caused lost sleep for months – it brings to mind those days in England where 50 recent high school graduates ate at McDonald’s repeatedly and blocked streets with our camera-toting tourist ways. (As you'll learn if you read details of the rest of my trip, the group dynamic actually became an amazing part of the time in Cuba - so much for negative assumptions.) With an iPod, I hoped I could enter my normal travel routine that involves ignoring everyone at the airport and settling in for a long day of solitude. And to my surprise, it worked. I was the first of the group to check in at the airport, which is undeniably due to the fact that I arrived at 4:46 for a 7:06 flight. God bless my sister, who loves me enough to chauffer me that early without ever saying anything like “WHY are you camping out at the airport like it’s the night before a big concert?” And I got to see my favorite thing: a sunrise at an airport. Nothing so perfectly captures hopes and dreams like this sight.
I recognized other members of the group but for the most part, we were in our separate worlds until we arrived in Fort Lauderdale. Then began the group drama, which plays out across every nationality and gender. What is it about humans that makes it so easy for us to become lemmings? Two very clever baggage carriers took advantage of our nametag-wearing confusion and began piling our luggage (easily identified because of the blue and orange "belts" surrounding each bag to identify which tour bus it belonged on) onto carts. And like lemmings, we all dutifully piled our bags on...only to realize moments later that this was not a part of the group plan and there was no telling where our bags would go once placed on that cart. Enter chaos.
Baggage disaster averted, all 50+ travelers piled onto a bus for our orientation while we drove to the Miami airport hotel. The quickest way to overcome any annoyance with too many people and too much uncertainty: an envelope with this photo on it.
I had great intentions of catching a cab into Miami with some of the new friends I'd already found, but thankfully better judgment kicked in. There's nothing like travel to form friendships in a way you never can in an average day - something about the separation from reality makes it easier to share your stories, to rest and enjoy the moment, to identify kindred spirits. My reputation was locked in that night when I confessed to taking photographs of the outfits I'd packed for each day - and don't judge, it's helpful!
I didn't even want to sleep, I was so excited about the trip ahead...but I managed. These wonderful papers provided all the material I needed for dreams of what the coming days would hold.