NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Travel to Cuba is no longer restricted to dignitaries.
Americans can now travel to Cuba on what they call "people-to-people" trips.
Two Nacogdoches women just returned from there Monday. They barely missed being in the country at the same time as President Barack Obama.
As Obama's entourage was arriving in Cuba, Karen Lostracco-Austin and Connie Howe were leaving Cuba after nine days on the largest island of the Caribbean.
"The airway closed down for the president's touchdown, which we were able to see. It was really exciting," LoStracco-Austin said.
"It felt like you were part of history, you know with this meeting," Howe said.
The women say it was a perfect way to end their "people to people" trip, so far the only way to visit Cuba.
"We saw all different statuses in their society," LoStracco-Austin said. We saw people who were very needy to those who were very comfortable."
Via charter jets tourists visit with ordinary Cubans thru a planned educational itinerary. Karen and Connie shared the trip with 22 others. Two weeks ago the travel plan was opened up to individuals.
"The Cuban people suffered and starved because they had nothing. And they endured," Howe said.
Karen, an artist, was drawn to the Cuban's creativity. Connie, with a military background, absorbed the country's history.
"The first thing out of my mind was Bay of Pigs, and I couldn't wait to see that, but the adventure, like Karen said, was going to someplace that we couldn't really go to before," Howe said.
Aside from education, there were tourist stops, such as Havana's classic cars and purchases of Cuban rum and cigars.
"We had plenty of Cuban mojitos," Howe said.
The women now have a better understanding why Cubans are so glad to see tourists and most definitely the president. They are signs of a better future.
"Even with our problems we're probably the best place to live," LoStracco-Austin said.
"Definitely," Howe agreed. "We were glad to get back to Texas."
Officials say organized "people-to-people" trips cost between $2,500 and $4,000. Ordinary tourism is expected to become available, as restrictions between Cuba and the United States are lifted.