Will returning to Antigua be easier than visiting Cuba?

It’s nearly Christmas and life is a bit crazy, with family events and all the details of getting ready to close up the house and head back to Antigua and Pandora.

And, speaking of Pandora, my friend Bill sent me this photo, taken from his room at the Admiral’s Inn in English Harbor earlier this week, of Pandora safe and sound on her mooring, awaiting our return.  Our plans for heading back to Antigua have us getting a rental car on the 29th and heading into NYC to visit our son Christopher and his partner Melody before going to JFK the next day to fly out.

And, speaking of Chris and Melody, who have lived with us here in CT for much of the pandemic, decided not to move back to San Francisco and instead moved into NYC a few weeks ago.  Yahoo!  So great and they actually have a two bedroom place so we can visit, and NEVER LEAVE!.

So back to Antigua.  Some months ago I noticed that my passport expires in May but with all the delays caused by the pandemic, I didn’t worry much about that, knowing that I would be heading home to the US with Pandora, in the spring, about the time that my passport will expire.  I figured that if I arrived in the US aboard Pandora with a nearly expired passport, I’d be Ok.  What would they do?  Send me back?  Not likely and then I would be in the US anyway and could get my passport renewed. 

Wrong!  The problem with all this is that I didn’t even think about the  plan to visit other islands in the Caribbean this winter, all of which require a passport to be some 5-6 months from expiration, which it won’t be.   Don’t ask how I got confused about all this, I just did.  Now, not so confused.  Well, not on this topic anyway.

This is now a LOT more urgent as we will likely leave Pandora in Trinidad this summer and there is no way that I will be able to clear in with a passport that will expire within a few weeks of my arrival.

So, on Monday, a few days ag0,  I focused on trying to find a way to “expedite” the renewal.  No simple feat, as these days, in an age of Covid, it takes months to renew unless you are able to use the “life or death emergency” option.  “Officer, it’s life or death as I really need to get back to my boat in the Caribbean, you know, where it’s warm when you are freezing in the north.  Yes, I need to see fireworks.  I’ll die if I don’t.”  Hmm…  I’ll have to work on the message.

So, in a near panic, I began to search online and discovered that there are plenty of services that purport to be able to get a passport renewed in just a few days, for a price.  Well, that price, it turns out, is upwards of $1,000 including government charges.   Not a trifling number but I’m desperate.

So, I picked one, www.govworks.com, and began to fill out a series of questions.  Oddly, the first step was to put in my credit card number before I had even applied.  I should have seen that one coming and bailed immediately.  However, I stuck with it.  After a long list of questions including email addresses, birthdate and contact info for Brenda too, they asked for my SS number.  RED FLAG!  Alert! Alert!  Danger Will Robinson, Danger Will Robinson!!! NO WAY, so I bailed and tried to undo what I had started.  No such luck and a short while later, a charge to my credit card of $700.   It’s going to be fun to get that charge removed from my Visa account.  I do love a challenge.

Ok, so that service was a bad idea.  What next?  I had no idea so I called the office of our town First Selectman and they recommended that I call our state senator, Chris Murphy.

Bingo!   One of Senator Murphy’s aids called me back and said that he would personally expedite my request.  I guess he likes fireworks.  Actually, I didn’t say anything about that but my tale of woe seemed to be enough to inspire him to help.  I did own up that I had voted for the Senator, a democrat, in the last election and likely would again.  I also mentioned that I am registered as a republican, albeit a disenchanted one just to confirm that I was a constituent worth helping in my hour of need.

Anyway, my new best friend Claude, the senator’s aid, said he was going to bat for me and get an appointment.

Of course, passports apply to all sorts of international travel, both by boat and jet but for me, the bulk of passport use involves Pandora.  With all the island to island travel over the last decade, I have a good number of pages in my passport full of entry and exit stamps, including from Cuba in 2016.

How’s that for an awkward segue?  Cuba?  It makes sense to me as I am reminded of the last time I had to really think hard about the complexities of traveling outside of the US, in 2016 when we visited Cuba.

If you were to look at all the stamps in my soon-to-expire passport, you’d see a very faint stamp from Cuba.  I mention the fact that my passport has a stamp from Cuba in it as the standard when an American visits Cuba is for the officer to insert a piece of paper into the passport and stamp that, instead of stamping a page in the book itself, lest a US official will see that we visited Cuba.   Of course, that’s because Americans are not supposed to visit Cuba.  In our case, we were there legally so I was sure to make them stamp my book.  Sadly, the stamp is so faint you can hardly read it.

Things have changed a lot since that brief moment in time when Cuba was open to US citizens. and once again I am focused on all that goes into international travel, if for different reasons.  When we went to Cuba we were visiting an “enemy state” and now just about everywhere you might go, you are visiting “enemy territory” compliments of Covid-19.

I can still remember the surreal experience of clearing into Santiago de Cuba, all bleary eyed from our long three day run from Georgetown Great Exuma. in the Bahamas.  We were very exhausted, and a bit overwhelmed, with the more than two hour process, meeting with multiple officials who had all the time in the world to spend with us as they had so few visiting boats to process.

All of this conjures up some wonderful memories.  The experience of clearing into Santiago de Cuba is a story worth revisiting so check out this post.  The photo below is of the medical officer that visited us in quarantine, flaming red hair and all.

Everyone flies a Q flag when clearing into a country but it’s not a formality in Cuba where we were instructed to head to a far away corner of the harbor.  And, certainly not these days when “Q” as in quarantine is taken seriously, with the risk of importing yet another case of Covid.  Back then, in Cuba, it was all about yellow fever.

Quarantine or not, formalities completed, we shared a beer with the medical officer.  For us, a first, not before or since…Meeting a medical officer with punk style red hair was nothing to compare to seeing the Rolling Stones play in Havana.  Perhaps yet another random segue but since I brought it up here’s a link to a post about that amazing experience.

It’s hard to imagine a time when being in crowds like this will ever feel normal again.
To say that this was a unique, once in a lifetime, experience doesn’t begin to describe what it was like to be there, on a sultry night in Havana with a million fans.  It was crazy.  Think of a mosh pit covering acres and acres and you get the idea.

This short clip below gives a feel for what it was like that night.  The Stones opened with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a song that they first sang at concert in 1968.  It’s still a great tune decades later.

You can watch the entire “Havana nights” concert on YouTube but this short clip captures the feeling of that night when they opened with their first song.
In spite of the massive crowds that night, The Stones actually played to a larger crowd when the did a free concert in Rio de Janeiro in 2006 reported to be more than 1,600,000.   That was their largest concert ever and perhaps the largest in history for any group.

I mention our visit to Cuba as it was the last time that I had to hustle to get paperwork for any trip, as visiting Cuba, even then, when things were fairly open, took months to put together.

I had explored visiting Cuba earlier in 2015 but abandoned the idea as it was just too complicated. However, when I ran into problems in running Pandora to the BVI that fall (another story) and had to abandon my run, I became determined to revisited the idea.

As with my current passport issues, I doubt that I would have ever been able to get all the details in place without the personal assistance of someone in government.   Visiting Cuba, open or not, was complex as I had to get approvals from the State Department, Commerce Department and the US Coastguard.

It wasn’t until a few days before we were scheduled to leave Georgetown Great Exuma for Santiago de Cuba in early March, 2016 that I was finally able to get everything in place to go was finally in place.

So, here I am again, scrambling to get ready to head back to Antigua and Pandora.  Last time it was an enemy of the state, now, in part, it’s an enemy of humanity, Covid-19.

Fingers crossed as I await to hear back from my new best friend, Claude and I guess I’ll find out soon if heading back to Antigua will be easier than visiting Cuba.

At least there isn’t much of a risk of testing positive for Yellow Fever.  It could be worse.





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