At 4 a.m. the next day, we left the hotel, accompanied at all times, until we were back in the airport terminal transit lounge for our departing flights.
The rules say you can stay a maximum of 24 hours in the transit lounge and then must leave on a flight. We did.
But Snowden has apparently been in the lounge for nearly three weeks. How does he do it? I would need a second trip to find out more.
A few days later, I was back, this time alone. On the second trip, you begin to feel like something of an authority on the transit lounge.
Snowden reportedly is traveling with several laptop computers. If they're heavy, he's got a problem. So did I. There are hardly any luggage carts in the transit lounge. I finally found one, and then a woman from India followed me around until I was done with it.
I searched again, up and down, and when it got to be 12:30 a.m. -- when there are no flights for several hours -- I checked into the Capsule hotel in Terminal E, renting a tiny room for the minimum four hours. Didn't see Snowden there either, nor back in the terminal, starting at 5 a.m..
I figured the best shot was the Havana flight, leaving at 2:05 p.m. It's no secret that observers are closely watching that flight. I went quite early to the boarding gate, number 22 in Terminal D. A couple of guys with beards looked vaguely like Snowden. But no, one turned out to be Danish, the other Russian. I approached both. They laughed. The Danish man said I was the second person to ask him that.
It was boarding time. A veteran Russian photographer and I were working the scene. There was a lot to monitor -- the passengers getting on at the gate, the stairway from the tarmac up to the boarding walkway, for crew and possibly someone else, and a terminal elevator, inside the secure zone, from which someone might be hustled aboard down the walkway.
Watching all this -- and, it also turns out, watching us -- was a mysterious, middle-aged burly man. As the boarding was in progress, he made a mobile phone call, reporting back to someone -- in Spanish -- that two photographers were taking pictures.
After the boarding finished, and the plane was about to push back with no sign of Snowden, I approached the burly man. I asked him, in clear Spanish, if Snowden was aboard. He pretended not to understand. I repeated the question in Spanish. He again feigned inability to speak Spanish. So I asked him in English. He replied that he didn't know.
Could he have been from Venezuela or Cuba? He didn't say.
At least I could see and talk to the burly man. So far, I haven't been able to do that with Snowden.