Cubans stranded in Costa Rica were one stop closer to making it to their final destination on American soil Tuesday as they prepared for their first flights out of the country.
The first group participating in the pilot program was asked to meet at a park in La Cruz and will board buses which will take them to Liberia Airport to begin their journey.
After nearly two months living in a Costa Rican shelter, Raul Hernandez was counting down the hours to make it to the United States. His final destination is Miami, and he's almost on his way, haircut and all.
"I'm just doing things so time can pass quickly," Hernandez said. "Crazy about getting on that airplane already."
There were months of uncertainty and now a glimpse of hope thanks to a recent deal struck by several Central American leaders. The first group of Cuban migrants participating in the pilot program will fly from Costa Rica to El Salvador. Then take a bus to the Guatemalan border with Mexico. Once they reach Mexico, each person has to find their way to the U.S. within a 20-day period.
"I'm unsure about how I'm going to get through Mexico, I'm almost out of money, and will probably need to ask some friends for help," said Orestes Arias.
Hernandez said he's saddened to hear Senator Marco Rubio introduced companion legislation to Congressman Carlos Curbelo's bill that would terminate the automatic eligibility for federal public assistance for Cubans.
"It hurts to see that people from the same culture as you do this to you," he said.
Some Costa Ricans have opened their hearts and even their homes to the Cuban people, making Tuesday night's departure bitter sweet for those who appreciate the hospitality.
"We've made a lot of great friends here in Costa Rica. I'm grateful for their help," said Randi Salabarria.
The shelters, housing approximately 8,000 Cubans, are scattered across the country. A school in the town of La Cruz was one of the first to become a temporary safe haven in November when they were not allowed to enter Nicaragua to continue their route north.
The Cubans have been trying to make the best of the time, playing dominoes, basketball, cooking meals, and talking about the journey ahead.
"I'm so happy, the day is finally here," Hernandez said. "A day I've dreamt about for many years, to leave Cuba and make it to the United States."
The first flight takes off from Liberia, Costa Rica at 10:25 p.m.