Cuba cruise passengers pack a lot more than bathing suits

U.S. cruise ship makes historic arrival in Havana
us cruise ship arrives in cuba oppmann _00001408

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U.S. cruise ship makes historic arrival in Havana 01:54

Story highlights

  • Some passengers on the U.S.-Cuba cruise brought gifts with them
  • One man brought baseball cards and spark plugs for 1950s Chevrolets
  • A woman gives away her American flag, soap from the ship

Cojimar, Cuba (CNN)As a gaggle of tourists approached him, Victor Soto Martini knew what he wanted.

"I am asking for a pen," he told them. "I enjoy writing, and to buy a pen is very difficult here in Cuba."
    The 64-year-old lives in the fishing village where Ernest Hemingway wrote "The Old Man and the Sea." He crossed paths Tuesday with passengers touring the area after arriving on the first U.S. cruise to come to Cuba in decades.
    Before long, he held a black pen in his hand.
    It's no surprise that passengers on the historic cruise are eager to bring souvenirs back with them.
    But here's something you might not expect: Some of them arrived in the island nation with items to hand out on the streets of Havana.
    Giving gifts to strangers on the street is something some travel guides discourage. But some tourists say it's a way to spread goodwill as they travel.
    Passengers on this trip weren't advised to bring gifts before the ship set sail, Fathom cruise line President Tara Russell said. "Our goal," she said, "was a rich cultural immersion."
    Here's a look at some of the things tourists on this cruise carried:

    Spark plugs, hair ties and baseball cards

    Rob Young smiled as he opened up his backpack and pulled out one of the items he brought: spark plugs for Chevrolets from the 1950s, cars that can still be commonly seen on the streets of Cuba.
    "Just something to help people out," said the 50-year-old from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
    "They've opened up their country to us and they have no parts here," he said "They just piece everything together."
    He plans to give them out to whoever needs them while he visits Cuba on the cruise this week.
    Young and his wife have also been handing out baseball cards and hair ties to children.
    "People to people exchange," he said. "That's what this cruise is supposed to be."

    Money

    Cheri Jorgenson of Idaho and Susan Levesque of Quebec smiled as they chatted with a man, Aston, on the street after their first day of sightseeing in Cuba.
    Jorgensen, 53, handed Aston money, something she said she had been doing to many people she met that day.
    "I want to give them something," she said.
    Levesque handed out Canadian dollars all day after she ran out of Cuban money.

    Pens, soap and a flag

    Carol Peterson gave out five pens during her first day of sightseeing in Havana.
    "Most people asked for soap or gum or shampoo -- but really anything," the 67-year-old from Minnesota said.
    Peterson gave away her American flag to a Cuban who welcomed her off the ship, but worries that may have been illegal and hopes she didn't get anyone in trouble.
    On Tuesday, she was in a group of passengers from the cruise visiting smaller villages on the outskirts of Havana.
    "I brought the soap from the ship," Peterson said.