The twenty minute vacation

I guess my cop soft-harassment was divination.

There were minor hassles — a first for me — by the TSA-types in Toronto, but things really got hard to handle after we sat next to a screaming baby for three hours. The mother seemed to have complete apathy for her infant and was doing nothing to comfort it, so it’s screeching was pretty bad. I thought the über-bitchy stereotypical bad-attitude future wannabe-MILF sitting in front of her was going to attack the mother, but she kept it to loudly cursing her with various profanities. But when we landed in Cuba, after coasting over and idyllic looking series of islands, the nightmare began.

After being treated like drug dealers for the jars of spices that we bought and brought along to give as tips/gifts to the hotel staff, trying to be nice — and my saying that I didn’t even drink alcohol to their accusations just made them assume I was a druggie even more — the customs officials, who clearly had a problem with the way I looked (you think tattoo prejudice is bad, big beard prejudice is even worse) and were making it really obvious that I was a “suspect”, pulled me into a room where they accused me of being in the country to deal drugs (apparently having been in Panama earlier in the year made us both especially suspicious — Caitlin was accused a little more lightly outside the room), and then had a “doctor” come in and explain to them that my prescription medication — with all appropriate prescriptions with me — were a “drug” and that if I was actually in pain that I’d be taking ibuprofen instead. The “doctor” even said that for all he knew I could have faked the scars from my surgeries and that without x-rays and copies of my medical transcripts that they were going to have assume that I was a drug trafficker. I can’t imagine a more unpleasant way to have our Christmas vacation canceled.

It was very hard, and we both left the country with tears in our eyes, the early morning rise and sleep we sacrificed to make the plane making it even harder to keep it together. The topping on the cake was some middle aged chain-smoking slag shouting at us that we were assholes for delaying the plane (which was held back for all of five minutes to expedite throwing us out of the country).

The bright side is that at least we’ll get to watch the Survivor finale, and, most importantly, I will still be spending the time with Caitlin, and that’s really what counts.

And in the style of Perez, the only souvenir of the trip.



  1. Seraphynae wrote:

    Wow, that is an enormous bowl of Shitty-O’s. Makes me thankful I live in a very liberal area of the U.S.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  2. nikk wrote:

    very brutal man, I’m sorry to hear about the harassment. I can sympathize with the beard prejudice.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  3. estrojenn wrote:

    i am sad to say that i am not at all surprised. cuba customs and immigration are brutal and totally corrupt. i have been to cuba 14 times. the one and only time i had my tattoos showing (which always do when i cross borders, but i was with my mother and father in law on this trip and it was obviously a family vacation), i was harassed, told that my scuba diving bag had tested positive for drugs by their drug sniffing dogs and questioned about what exactly i did for work in canada. luckily it all worked out (because they have incredible scuba diving there), but i told my dive masters about it and they were not surprised at all.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  4. PatrickB wrote:

    I presume that Fidel’s face fungus was never noticed in Cuba?

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  5. Gillian wrote:

    Wow, I’m sad for you guys!! :(

    I guess I got off lucky just being accused of having a gun in my luggage when leaving the country.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  6. Shannon wrote:

    Jenn, they pulled the drug sniffing dog scam on us as well, even though (a) there were no drugs to sniff, and (b) the dog obviously didn’t react.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Elizabeth wrote:


    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
  8. Matt Volatile wrote:

    Woah… what a shame, Shannon. :( One to chalk up to experience?

    I thinking that taking jars of spices probably wasn’t a smart move. It’s depressing and absurd that this is the world that we’ve created for ourselves as a society – a world with borders run by suspicious, self-important jackasses on a power trip, but as that’s partly political and partly part of the human condition, we need to pragmatically do what we can to mitigate the risks of being treated like scum by those on the borders.

    The game is rigged, but sometimes we just gotta play it.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  9. Shannon wrote:

    Matt, that’s actually a recommended thing — because in Cuba it’s hard to get a lot of stuff like that, the tour companies recommend bringing stuff like that as tips. We did it last time as well and it was really recommended.

    Never been treated like this on any other vacation…

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  10. Sarah wrote:

    that’s terrible!

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  11. estrojenn wrote:

    there wasn’t even a dog in the airport when they accused me of having the “dogs” react to my bag. i said, well…i do have 3 dogs…maybe this “dog” smelled my dogs? i then told them they were welcome to strip search me, and go through all of my possessions. i’d already cleared official customs, so i just started walking towards the bus to the hotel and the guy didn’t push it.

    i assume you won’t get a refund either…

    out of curiosity, which airport in Cuba did you fly into? the airport for santa lucia is notorious…

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  12. starbadger wrote:

    enjoy T.O.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink
  13. Caitlin wrote:

    Jen: Cayo Coco. I can’t remember what airport we flew to last time, but it being our second trip in a year may have set off their ‘alarms’ too.

    Their sniffer dogs were spaniels, the one that sniffed our bags a cocker spaniel, sort of weird.

    All the gifts I packed will be donated to my local women’s shelter-hopefully they can use spices, cooking utensils, children’s toys and LOTS of good makeup.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  14. scienkoptic wrote:

    So surreal! Carting trinkets along on your vacation to Cuba.

    I think I know why…. Cuba is still a Communist country where people suffer under the thumb of the Castro Brothers.

    Don’t you feel dirty? even slightly?

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  15. estrojenn wrote:

    Scienkoptic – the Cuban gov’t encourages and makes huge allowances for tourists to bring “gifts” to Cuba…particularly medical supplies (bandages/first aid kits etc) as well as OTC drugs like ibuprofen/asprin/gravol etc. Anything like soap, toothpaste, makeup goes a long way. they have nothing for the locals to purchase. I met a group of nurses from Albert a few years back who brought suitacases full of IV bags to donate and they were given VIP treatment at customs. they didn’t mention that they had packed a bunch of them for themselves to cure their hangovers (literally drank until they were falling down, then hooked themselves up to an IV in their hotel rooms to fix themselves up).

    caitlin – its probably less about your second trip and more about past travel/appearance from what i gather from people i’ve met there. cayo coco is “high end” cuba now…and they are likely getting more strict with tourists going there (because a lot of “high end” tourists are travelling there and spending more money and being more picky about who they see at their 4 star resort. holguin or cienfuegos, on the other hand are where people actually travel to visit family).

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  16. Rosie wrote:

    that really, really blows. Sorry to hear it :(

    Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink
  17. Andrew wrote:

    It saddens me to read this post, I’m so sorry that your trip ended this way.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 1:20 am | Permalink
  18. Ed wrote:

    Shannon and Caitlin,

    That sucks royally. But – the bright isde is that BOTH of you were allowed to leave. I have never been to Cuba – but with all the movies I watch – it makes me think that – without warning one (or both ) of you could have been detained on a more permanent basis – and never heard from again. So, while the mini vacation didn’t go well, I am very happy both of you made it out of there safely.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 1:40 am | Permalink
  19. Steph wrote:

    un-fucking-real! It is true though, a friend of mine was going to Cuba and we went shopping for “tip gifts” because its better to do that then give them money.
    That’s really shitty that you couldn’t go but I have to agree with ED, thankfully your both home safe in Canada!

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  20. Mark Kramer wrote:

    Definitely you’ve earned 2009’s Platinum Rucksack award for Most Nightmarish Travel Tale…. Only consolation: It could have been worse.
    That said—Happy Holidays to the magnificent Larratts!

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  21. Shannon wrote:

    Ed, it’s true — at one point I said to them something like “fine, if you’re not letting me into Cuba then I’ll go back to Canada”, and they started pulling a “oh, you’re not going anywhere” thing that was pretty threatening.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  22. Owen wrote:

    could you image how bad it would be if you didn’t have the force of your canadian currency behind you? Could you imagine living there? Married to a cuban woman it saddens me that I may never meet that part of her family, but i won’t go there to support that kind of government.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  23. Shannon wrote:

    Owen, I agree completely. Last time I was there, earlier this year, was a huge culture shock and very depressing. It’s really terrible what oppressive communism has done. Communism might have some nice ideals on paper, but it’s a complete nightmare whenever it gets applied, and Cuba is a prime example. I would never want to live there, and for the sake of their population, I look forward to the day that government crumbles.

    And yes, they did some things right — literacy and lots of doctors — but at what cost? I hate it when people hold up Cuba as a shining example because of the few things they got right…

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:27 am | Permalink
  24. starbadger wrote:

    Give it a rest people

    thanX estrojenn for the best “guess” what that was about – but yeah – get over it – don’t spend much time thinking about it … my guess – almost identical to yours as expressed in your 15.

    Far from it being communism and the castro brother’s it’s business just business.

    Love you Shannon. It’s all part of the journey. Count yourself blessed.

    Richard Larratt
    Ordinary Member
    Founding Director
    Knights of Ignorance

    Of what you’ve been a victim is why I love America – if one coffee shop is shirt and tie there is another across the mall that does not care if you’ve got shoes on or not.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  25. peteD3 wrote:

    DAMN! that sucks, but at least your out of Cuba and not in one of thier torture cells…

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  26. Indigo wrote:

    That really sucks. However, togetherness is what counts, so at least you have that, as you pointed out.

    Caitlin, I’m sure your donations of your travel goodies will be appreciated immensely by those in need. That’s a very sweet and thoughtful gesture, especially in light of the circumstances.

    Monday, December 21, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  27. Fucking bummer about the trip, but I’m glad to hear you weren’t detained any longer than that.

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 1:03 am | Permalink
  28. Owen wrote:

    Hey sorry if i came off wrong in my comment, I’m sorry that your vacation sucked and i hope that all is well and you guys can make the best of it.

    :D happy holidays

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  29. Ryan wrote:

    is shannon related to starbadger?

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink
  30. Ryan wrote:

    oh, and totally fuck cuba!

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Notorious C.J.T. › Cuba, farewell on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    […] the Cuban authorities had other ideas about our vacation (Shannon called it 20 minutes, but it was really closer to an hour total on the ground there), I’ve had to figure out other […]

  2. […] of their contents. The letter was thankfully still readable and we didn’t have a repeat of my Cuban horror story, but it meant that I was on a reduced medication load. We still had a great time although on the […]

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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