Friday, January 10, 2020
January 1, 2020 - Arrival. Departure. Arrival
To me, we broke through to the new decade in the best way possible - in bed by 10 pm then up at 1:30 am to be at the airport for our 6 am flight to Holguin, Cuba. Our original plan was to vacation in the Camaguey region of Cuba, but the charter company called a week before our departure day to tell us all flights to that destination had been cancelled and that we had to choose between a few other options. Ana had scrutinized the available resorts and chosen the one in Camaguey based on its location and excellent traveler reviews. The alternate option we took was the Club Amigo resort in Holguin but had to decide on very short notice so couldn’t research it at thoroughly as we normally do.
After an effortless check-in in Toronto, breezy flight, and the fastest and easiest entry through Cuban immigration in the ten years we’ve been coming here, we arrived at Club Amigo and were immediately struck by the busted up facade, shabby entrance, cracked concrete, and hornet nest of frenzied activity going on in the cigarette smoke filled lobby. Strangely, the guests were almost entirely Cuban locals instead of the typical Quebecois, Russians, French and English Canadians.
The check-in process was slow and awful because of the all the noise and yelling and people budding into the line, but primarily because their ancient photocopier broke down as our passports were being scanned, so the staff had no option but to hand write all the passport information on scraps of paper. We asked about upgrading our rooms to a bungalow, but were told they were completely full, and all they had available were rooms near the lobby and pool area. Finally, we broke through the finish line and were awarded wrist bracelets and keys for one room, where we could store all our bags until the other rooms were available. We piled into the room, sweaty and hangry, and found a barebones layout with awful beds and blaring noise coming from the masses of people and thumping reggaeton just outside the full-sized window overlooking the pool. This is going to be awful, I thought. Ana’s dad is a very light sleeper and I had no doubt there was going to be an epic 3am party happening here every night.
Sometimes hanger can cloud your judgement and impressions, so we dumped the bags, put on shorts, and headed over to the buffet to find a lineup of 50 people waiting to get in. So we waited. And waited. And 45 minutes later we were finally let in. How was the lunch? Well, the big platter of shrimp Magnus thought he had spotted through the glass was, in fact, a plate of underripe watermelon covered in fruit flies. The main course was big tray of greyish shredded fish, but if you didn’t like that then there was the secondary main - a tray of charred hot dog pieces splattered with a suspicious white sauce, accompanied by a big bowl of foul smelling, melted cheese. There was a small salad section but it was totally ripped apart with only shreds of saucy, limp lettuce and cabbage remaining. In the far corner there was a man cooking chunks of pork on a grill, but you had to fist fight fit young Cuban men to get anywhere close to it. We did find a small section of bread and I grabbed a piece, but it was stale, grey and tasted even worse when the rank butter was applied. The whole scene was awful, everybody in our group looked miserable and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that this was going to be a very bad week.
We picked up the additional room keys from the front desk and sent the gang there while Ana and I went to see the Suning representative to see if there was anything we could do. We told him our story, and how we had booked a different resort but were sent here instead. “Last year,” I began, “we stayed at a resort near here called the Fiesta Americana Costa Verde Playa Pesquera…or something like that.”
“OK, just now you said the name of at least three different hotels,“ the Sunwing rep said, laughing.
“It definitely had Fiesta in the name.”
“Let me call Fiesta Americana to see if they have rooms and what the differential will be.”
It seems to me that the Cuban government has a random name generator they use when naming these resorts. It works like this: they take fifty nice words that have a real summertime vibe, like Costa, Playa, Bonita, Bahia, Fiesta, Verde, Sol, Azul and write them on scraps on paper, put them in a military hat, then the Minister of Tourism picks out four or five words and strings them together to name each new hotel. It’s a system that produces names that are not just impressively lackluster, but also exceedingly difficult to remember.
In less than 20 minutes the Sunwing man (our new best friend) had moved our reservation to the Fiesta Americana, which cost only $600 for the six of us - much cheaper than it would have been booking that hotel from Canada. I ran back to the rooms and told the gang to grab their bags because we were getting the hell out of here, and I’ve never seen Stella so happy. We grabbed two taxis and arrived at the new hotel just after 4 pm, which was enough time to get checked in, throw on the swimsuits and go for a swim in the beautiful, warm ocean, washing off all that nasty travel funk and even partaking in an epic seaweed fight. Our moods were greatly improved.
We dined at the Cuban-themed a la carte and it was simply delicious. My four courses included a fish starter, a bowl of tasty and creamy Cuban soup, a main pork dish with fragrant rice and vegetables, followed by mango pie, all served with a bottomless glass of red house plonk, which tasted just fine. With full bellies, we wandered over to the main lobby for a coffee then retired to our respective rooms. Ours and the kids’ rooms were next to each other while John and Maria had been given a gigantic suite at the quiet end of the hall - perfect.
As we were getting settled in after a very busy day there was a frantic knock on our door and we opened it to find Stella standing there saying a cat had infiltrated their room and they couldn’t get it out. Sure enough, their feline friend had squeezed in through the slightly ajar door and encamped itself under the bed and was not looking to leave. The cat looked surprisingly healthy, quite unlike most of the nasty feral cats we’d previously seen in Cuba. After 30 minutes, two tennis rackets, a box of crackers, and the coordinated efforts of all four of us, we managed to kindly evict the cat which put the wraps on our first day in Cuba.