Since I started my trip in early May, there have been little to no tricky situations in terms of travel. This all changed when I started to make my way to Cuba, all the way from South Africa. I had a flight with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, with a nice twenty-hour layover so I could spend some time to see Istanbul. After reading through several travel blogs and airline websites, I made the mistake of assuming most airlines provided the Cuban Tourist Card to their passengers upon boarding the final flight to Havana, Cuba. Being the "best airline in Europe", I assumed Turkish would go along with the groove of the other airlines. I was sorely mistaken.
Initially, I was not allowed to board my flight from Cape Town to Istanbul, as I did not have proof that I could reach Cuba. However, I managed to convince them that they could not block my travel to Istanbul, so they let me on the flight. After arriving into Istanbul, I was told by Turkish Airline representatives that it was possible to obtain the tourist card in Istanbul itself, at one of the various travel agencies dotting the city. Before doing so, I took advantage of Turkish Airlines free Istanbul City tour, stopping off at the incredible Blue Mosque (pictured above) and the Hagia Sophia. Istanbul was such a vibrant city to experience, and I will definitely try to return for more than twenty hours.
The fact was that I was not able to obtain a tourist card from these agencies, as I was not a Turkish resident. I was astounded at the amount of red tape, so, utterly frustrated, I returned to the airport to figure out my situation. With further research, I learned that it was possible to obtain a tourist card upon arrival in Havana. Turkish Airlines did not agree and refused to let me board the plane. Stuck, I had no choice but to buy another ticket to Cuba with a different airline that had a slightly better notion of what they were doing regarding my final destination.
I was due to meet three Irish friends in Havana that were traveling via Toronto with Air Canada. This airline provided all necessary documents to enter Cuba, so I went online to book a ticket. My new itinerary was Istanbul - London - Toronto - Havana, making the current forty four hour journey even longer. Upon check in, I was told by Turkish Airlines (Air Canada's partner in Turkey) that I did not have a valid ticket. Twenty minutes of holding and phone calls later, I was issued a ticket by Air Canada and rushed through security to make the flight. It was all stressful, to say the least!
Luckily, I had made new London friends during my time in Morocco. Alex, my desert trip companion, picked me up at the tube and put me up for the night. After a few hours of rest, I was on my way to Toronto. Shortly after arrival into Canada, I was finally on the final leg of my journey to Havana. Tourist Cards were provided on the flight and were merely a small landing card that you had to present at immigration. It was a lot of hassle for such a small card, but I was glad to arrive in Cuba almost seventy hours after my departure from Cape Town. The long way to Cuba, indeed.