Saturday, November 24, 2001
4am – alarm goes off. Why am I going to Cuba?
By 5am I on the way to the airport for the 6:10am flight to Toronto. At the airport, every second piece of carry-on is hand-searched. It doesn’t even go through the x-ray machine. Therefore, it takes 20 minutes to pass through security.
The flight to Toronto is 25 minutes late landing. The couple next to me are on a flight to Bermuda (poor souls) that is leaving 15 minutes after we land in Toronto – good luck!! I have 2½ hours, so there’s lots of time to relax.
Finally the flight to Varadero leaves and we are on our way. The sky is clear, so the pilot takes it upon himself to be our tour guide – on your left is Disneyworld, on the right side is Cape Canaveral…
Once the plane lands, we are shuttled, one by one, through customs – close the door behind you, it locks, and the customs person must buzz the door so that you can move through the cattle shuttle. The friendly folks from Air Canada are there, and tell me what bus to board.
On the bus ride to the resort – Beaches Varadero, run by the folks at Sandals – we pass many rusty vehicles and army paraphernalia (tanks, weapons) off the side of the road and in the ditches, small shabby homes and lots of construction of new concrete homes.
There does not seem to be much damage from Hurricane Michelle, only three weeks earlier.
Upon arrival at the resort, we give our passports and tourist cards to the desk clerk. Without these little gems we cannot leave the resort – we are told to pick them up tomorrow morning. So we are held captive for the night.
1½ hours later I still am waiting in the lobby – apparently my room is not yet cleaned and they cannot give me anywhere else to go. Two other travelers are also waiting. When the Air Canada Rep shows up, he can not do anything to help. Finally, at 5:30pm (2½ hours after I received, and 3 hours after stated check in time), I am given a replacement room, which is placed directly above the dumpster for the restaurants. Nice smells!! My view consists of the top of a restaurant and a fan. The room is called a "Gardenview Jr. Suite" – where is the garden? Behind the restaurant roof!!
I settle into my room, change and then meet a few people for dinner. Our "pack" is formed that night – Anne Marie, Carey, Janet and myself – they’re all from Toronto. We’re all there by ourselves, but find that we know people in common and spend most of the beach/pool time together. It’s Spanish Night so there’s always rice. Food will become the bane of the entire vacation. Cubans use little spice, undercook their chicken and overcook everything else. We become obsessed with food and the lack of good food at the resort. We are excited when mashed potatoes are served. Yum!!
OK – I’ve traveled all day – I’m tired and cranky. Things will look better in the morning. I head back to the room to discover that the satellite TV included Showtime, HBO, and CNN – Nurse Betty puts me to sleep.
Sunday, November 25, 2001
I wake up. The clock says 7am. I decide to be lazy and lounge around until 9am. Gee it stays dark late here. The sun finally peeks up at 8:30am. I head out to the lobby, see a clock and realize that somehow my clock has added two hours to its time through the night. It’s actually 7am, when my room reports it to be 9am!! So 7am, the restaurant doesn’t open until 7:30 – what should I do? I decide that I’ll spend $2 bribing the desk clerk for a room that is nowhere near the dumpster. I win – the bellboy takes away my bags and I meet him at the room.
My new room is very close to the beach, the pool, the bar, I think paradise!! Of course, it’s also near the show that goes on until midnight with dancing girls in feathers, poor singers, and cheesy music. If I turn up the TV loud enough, I can almost block out the show noise.
The beach is beautiful – white sand as far as you can see, lots of lounges, turquoise water. Beautiful!! The pool is beautiful – lots of lounges, the usual aquarobics classes, and lots of women with no tops on. Just the Canadians were tops – there are no Americans and all the Europeans are naked from the waist up.
All I do for the majority of the vacation is lay a) on the beach, b) by the pool, c) in the pool on a floaty thing while waiters bring a never-ending supply of a) banana mamas, b) lemonade slush with coconut rum, c) pineapple juice with coconut rum. It was a tough trip!!
Monday, November 26, 2001
Today is the most active of the vacation – off to Havana for the day.
We leave the resort at 8am and drive for 2 hours to Havana. The sights on the way are saddening. The poverty is overwhelming – just remember, no matter how hard these people choose to work, they will never have more money, they will never have a better life. The small houses have running water and electricity, but that’s about it. The houses are crumbling, the cars (the families lucky enough to have a car) are rusting and from the 50s, the people’s clothing is old and stained.
We start off with a 3 hour walking tour of many famous squares in Old Havana. The sights are amazing. A lot of buildings are being reconstructed to bring them back to original condition. They look nice, but you have to wonder if that’s where the government should be putting its money. The walking tour ends with a trip to the national museum – quite boring so I head outside and people watch.
Then it’s off to lunch – undercooked chicken anyone? The restaurant is right next to the "Floridita" – Hemingway’s favorite bar & birthplace of the daiquiri, so we go inside to gawk. Very classy place, you can get a $6US drink here, where the average monthly wage is $40US.
We stop at the "flea market" for some shopping. I have brought along a few t-shirts, bars of soap, and gum, so I bargain myself free mugs and musical instruments!! I also purchase a wall hanging and pottery piece.
We continue on – this time driving through Havana – see the art deco buildings (are you sure we’re not in Miami?), see the water, see how the water has eaten away at the art deco buildings. We hit the hot spots – the rum factory, the cigar factory, the building with Che somebody or other (fought in a war with Castro) painted on it, revolution tower and Revolution Square. We see the boat that Castro called Gramma – OK, I’m not a history buff – but I guess it’s important to the Cubans.
During the tour, I buddy up with the Tour Guide, Carlos, and ask questions. I learn:
- The government does a 5-year plan to decide the numbers needed for professions.
- School is compulsory to grade 12 – there is no such thing as quitting high school.
- When you are in grade 12, you get a card to check off what your job preference is. If your grades are good, you get to do what you want (if they need 10 doctors in a province, the 10 kids with the highest grades who choose doctor get to be a doctor).
- All workers receive the same salary from the government each month – equivalent to $40US. Everyone is given a house to live in, which is 10% of the monthly salary of everyone living in the house. BONUS PAY – doctors get a car because they have emergencies.
- You are required to work in your field of education for 5 years. After that most people move into tourism, where they get tips.
YOu can see more photos at http://www.pbase.com/kiml/varadero_cuba__dry_land