By Tom Groenewal
December 24 and 25
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I leave the James Bay Hotel in the Parliamentary area. After a little wandering, I end up at Paul’s Guest House, an international pension, a hostile, run by a retired pilot. Guests are drinking wickedly strong caffeinated coffee, so tea is my drink of choice. But I don’t like the tea, so I switch to coffee. I have a brain chemistry that is not helped by a spoonful of caffeine. It’s too late. My eyes are wide open and I grind my jaw. People ask me questions and I answer through clenched teeth.
Good bed, and the people are friendly and interesting. Some are from the U.K. and Australia, a couple from Hong Kong who wants to join me on a trip to the aquarium, a Japanese man, a Frenchman, a Dutch couple and a German. I join them for Christmas dinner and they volunteer me to carve two 20-pound turkeys. I’m suffering from a caffeine buzz and cut the turkey in record time. Too bad, it was so hacked up that it had to be served with a spoon instead of a fork. People said “It’s OK, kind of fluffy. We like it.”
Before I leave Victoria I stop at a cigar shop. Cuban cigars are illegal in the United States because of an embargo on Cuba which prevents trade with the U.S. The embargo with Cuba likely started in the 1950s when Kennedy and Khrushchev were bumping chests. Kennedy held tight and the Russians took their nuclear weapons and went home.
Cuba was siding with or allowing the Russians and allowed missiles on their soil pointed at the U.S. Cuba has always had invaders and they usually lose. The U.S. put the muscle on Cuba by blocking trade. Why bother? Cuba had nothing to trade at that time, maybe some sugar and tobacco.
My getting involved with the embargo is not a good idea, but I want the cigars and buy them anyway. Hopefully, U.S. Customs officials are not looking for illegal cigars from Cuba, though it might be profitable to be a smuggler.
I stand on the bow of the boat and light up a cigar, a Cuban, and smoke it across international boundaries. I think of my passport and that I want it hand stamped going into the U.S. They wouldn’t know I have cigars, would they?
I’m in Port Angeles USA and seem to be making it through my inspection without a hitch. Customs officials seem not to notice me. ‘Shh-h,’ I tell myself, don’t get noticed. But I turn and walk up to the nearest official and ask, “Hey, will you hand stamp my passport?” With a big smile he gets his ink pad. He opens to the correct page and the stamp smashes down and leaves its mark. If he only knew what I was carrying.