WHAT HAPPENS IN CUBA, STAYS IN CUBA … PART ONE

WHAT HAPPENED IN CUBA, STAYS IN CUBA

Part One

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

 

The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!

            On January 18th, we set out for a ten day vacation to Cuba. To say that I was overly excited would not be the truth. Sometimes going on a holiday is more stressful than staying home, and in my case, even more so. I had heard the food in Cuba was not great, depending on the resort one went to, and we were heading for a three star resort. Of course, because I am gluten free and mostly dairy free, I was worried. I packed my rice cakes, protein drink powders, peanut butter and jam, GF cookies and trail mix, raisins, and my probiotics, all of which took up a large portion of my oversized suitcase.

            On top of the food situation, my husband and I were going with a group of his friends, (all of whom I will refer to by first initial only, in order to maintain some anonymity in my article and to protect the innocent and guilty alike.) Of course, I knew all these people, and it wasn’t that they were not my friends, it was just that I didn’t actually know them––you understand, right. Well, just to set the record straight, so there is no misunderstanding, everyone got along quite well, and I now know these lovely people much better, and thoroughly enjoyed their company.

            Once we were finally airborne, the view from my window seat was breathtaking––a city of lights with ribbons of highways streaming throughout. I finished the novel I was reading, and the rest of the ride was taken up with snacking, eating supper, and being entertained by husband, Ed, who was in a jolly holiday mood.

            Upon our arrival in Cuba, we managed to get through Customs quickly, possibly due to the late hour and the fact the workers just wanted to go home. In Cuba, your picture is taken on the way in and on the way out; and, one better hope the pictures match, or they might have problems leaving the country, so I was informed. Ed and I had brought some bananas and apples with us, but had not had a chance to eat them on the plane. We were asked to put them in the garbage. We’ll know better next time.

            We retrieved our luggage and headed out to wait for the bus that would take us to our resort. Poor V found that he was without money and keys. He thought he had possibly left them in the tray back at Canada Customs! Despite that small glitch, things were moving along in party mode. The Cuban people greeted the tourists with beer (to purchase), and our group loaded up!

            We had a lovely young guide on the bus. She was a university student, and bore a charming smile that one could see for a mile. Strange, isn’t it, I saw dollar signs on her teeth––but she was pleasant and did her job well, despite the boisterous bunch our group of 13 was! The young woman told us how much Cubans love Canadians, but I wondered if it was us that they loved, or the pesos we spent while visiting their country. Possibly a combination of both. Of course, she mentioned that Cubans loved to be tipped, and it was only right and proper to do so for all services rendered.

            I believe we were the last group to be dropped at our hotel. On our second-to-last stop, a young fellow from Ottawa jumped on board our bus and began chatting us up. He was way past “three sheets to the wind,” and almost got stuck on our bus. His brother leapt on board just in time to recover his wayward sibling.

            Finally, we arrived at our hotel. I pushed forward, getting to the check-in counter first. B, who had flown in the day before, greeted our group with drinks. Sorry, B, I appreciated the gesture but left mine on the counter.

            I thought we were supposed to get a bungalow by the pool, but such was not the case. I also thought that the bungalows had an ocean view, but that was not the case either. I had been looking forward to possibly slipping out to the pool in the early morning while my hubby grabbed a few extra winks.

            I was put off that there was no access to bottled water in our room, and the only water we were able to procure at the time of the night we arrived was from the bar. They poured some into small plastic cups for us, and we had to carry those back to our room. This annoyed me––one could have all the alcoholic drinks they desired, but water! Definitely wrong––in my mind, anyway.

            On with the event…

Day one in Cuba…

            I would say I slept in, but I actually didn’t because our plane had been delayed two hours in Toronto, due to the snowy weather. We didn’t arrive at our resort until approximately 2:30 a.m. in the morning. Thank goodness there is no time change, eliminating the frustration of changing the hour on my digital watch.

            The first scene I beheld, as I peeked through my curtain, was a flash of white feathers––a chicken running free amongst a grove of palm trees. I cracked the door open and heard the faint melody of a cock crowing. Well, time was moving on, and I was getting hungry. Breakfast was served from 7:30 to 10:00, so Ed and I needed to get moving.

            I enjoyed a light breakfast of eggs, pineapple, grapefruit, and a protein drink in pineapple juice. After the meal, a group of us headed to town in order to change our Canadian money into pesos. The conversion rate at the bank would be much better than what we would get at the hotel. We also had some good news––V found his money and his keys. They had been stuffed into his coat pocket.

            V suggested we take the double-decker bus that ran up and down the highway along which the majority of the resorts were located. This gave us an opportunity to see some of the countryside, as well as view the other resorts. In Cuba, you can ride the bus for $5 for the entire day, getting off and on as many times as you like. When you arrive to your final destination, you are expected to hand in the chit you used for the day.

            I would like to tell you that I saw horrid living conditions along the route of hotels, but such was not the case. Cubans do not live along that strip, although, when I looked closer behind the odd walled area, I noticed some rundown semblances of apartment buildings. I was unable to get a clear shot of those, though.

            B was the only one of our group who had cashed money into pesos, yet, so we had to borrow our bus money from her. When we arrived to the plaza where the bank was, it was closed for lunch. B bailed us out again and bought a round of drinks at a cafe near the bank. At the looming time that the bank was going to open, I mentioned to Ed that he might want to get in the line-up that people had already started to form.

            In Canada, we are used to going into the bank and getting our money fairly quickly, unless it is rush hour at the end of the week; however, in Cuba they only allow two or three people inside the bank at a time. A guard stands at the door. On the day we were there, probably because it was a small bank, there was only one teller, and it took forever to get our money changed.

            Poor C … he had money from three others to get changed and C didn’t notice that the teller counted the money wrong ($100 short). It was the cause for quite a debate as to how to fix this problem.

Eventually, we all got back on the bus and headed into downtown Varadaro. Due to the lengthy amount of time it had taken to change our money, it was well past lunch, and I was starving. I snapped several pictures along the way, trying to capture the different layers of the Cuban world.

As we walked along the sidewalks of Varadaro, owners/workers of restaurants would try and entice us into their establishments. V knew of a good restaurant, though, and that is where we headed. The service was atrocious––so slow, and not accurate as to what we ordered. I had ordered lemonade, but never received it. Instead, I got C’s water, and he never received his water. And, it took K to go to the bar area and ask if we were ever going to get our drinks!

I ordered fish, but had no idea that it was going to be a whole fish––head, skin, fins, and tail all still attached! Ed was sweet, cutting the head off and putting it on his plate. The rest of the fish was not too terrible, even though it was slightly over fried!

Once our meals were served we settled into the joviality of socializing over food––something we humans are adept at doing. A group of musicians gathered around us and began playing, saying that the song they were going to play for us Canadians was their unique song just for us! “My Way” reverberated from the instruments, and C began to sing. Eventually, C was coerced into getting up and singing with the band. I got the entire song on video. When the band finished playing for us, they mentioned they had a CD. Ed and I bought a copy.

Safely back at the resort, I headed to our room to record in my journal the day’s happenings. Ed stayed with the gang at the main building as the party continued on.

One thing I took away from the first day in Cuba was watching the different modes of transportation and pondering on how the Cuban people truly felt about tourists! We are bussed around in modern up-to-date buses while Cubans are forced to ride in old, beat-up busses that appeared to be on their last tires. We are catered to, like kings and queens, while most of those who wait on us just eke out a living.

Food for thought … I was hungry to learn more about this country that has been so isolated from the world. If you are, please stay tuned for the next episode of “What Happens in Cuba, Stays in Cuba!”Image

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