Thursday, January 12, 2023

2023 Holguin, Cuba - Fresh Mango, the Walk of Shame, and a Long Trip Home

Sunday. Last day. The bus was not scheduled to pick us up until 5:30 so we had nearly a full day left. It was again a clear, sunny, and hot day with a nice south-east wind blowing. The daytime temperature has been a consistent 30 all week, with it dropping to 22 at nights so we couldn’t have asked for anything better.

At breakfast I chopped up the mango and we all tried it out – absolutely delicious and incredibly sweet considering mangos weren’t even in season yet. Magnus hadn’t joined us for too many early meals, preferring to sleep in and come on his own later, but we all ate together today for our final breakfast. As we were eating we decided that we would each take $50 and give it to one of the resort staff members. During these trips there are always a few of the staff who you tend to make a connection with so it wasn’t hard to find recipients.

After a day lounging mainly at the beach we returned to the room, packed our things, put on our jeans and shirts, carried our jackets, and started upon the Walk of Shame. Fortunately, we were able to order up a golf cart to help us with our luggage, so the Walk of Shame was replaced with a Ride of Shame, and this was much faster and less shameful than trudging up the concrete pathways getting boiled as your drag your roller bags and pass everybody else going the other direction in beach wear with beers in their hands.

The trip home was awful. Our bus arrived an hour and a half late. When we finally arrived at the Holguin airport it was utter chaos – there were so many people there that the line to check in extended right outside the terminal and snaked around the building. There were at least four or maybe more flights leaving at the same time. After a torturous wait we finally got checked in, through security, and into the gate area which was also jammed, but we managed to board fairly quickly. The flight was further delayed with a slow manifest and other problems so I don’t even know what time we left. We pulled up to the gate in Hamilton airport at 2:50am and were rifled quickly through security into the baggage area. There we waited. And waited. Some people fell asleep on the floor. Others against a wall. After an hour and forty-five minutes the bags finally started coming out to massive groans of relief from the gathered crowd. Our bags were nearly last to come out, and by the time we loaded up the van, dropped the Borges folks at their house in Brantford, and drove to Paris, it was 5:30 am and work and school was just a few hours away.

But I’m not complaining. At least we made it there and back, which cannot be said for so many people this Christmas whose flights and plans were cancelled because of the terrible weather.

This was our first family trip with Ana's folks since we last took them to Cuba exactly three years ago, to Holguin, but in a different resort, fortunately right before the Covid pandemic began. As they rapidly wind down their 70's and approach a new decade, we are trying to spend as much time as possible with them and invite them on vacations, as it won't belong before it just won't be feasible for them anymore because of spiraling travel insurance costs and general mobility issues. Because of the size of the resort, we all walked a lot, and they did well, but it was tough on them some days, and I think being out of your home comfort zone probably gets a lot harder as you age. We had a lot of fun with them and are very happy they joined us, and I think they had fun too, especially spending time on the beach and in the water and hanging out in the lobby playing cards for hours. It is particularly nice that our kids got to spend extended amounts of time with them as that doesn't often happen much anymore during this busy time in their young lives. I know we will all look back and appreciate these trips and the fun we had together.

And thus ends the 2023 Cuba trip.

2023 Holguin, Cuba - Spider Attack, Windsurfing, and Glamour Shots

The end of the trip was growing near – only two breakfasts left, so I refrained from holding back once again and had a three egg omelet with everything on it. On the side of that I had eggplant fried in bbq sauce, toast, a pile of bacon, then after I demolished that mound I filled my plate back up with papaya and a spot of rice pudding and ate that too. Magnus had permanently checked out of breakfast with his family so we didn’t even ask him anymore, but the rest of us had a lovely and leisurely meal before returning to the rooms for a quick wardrobe change then over to the beach and got the same awesome spot that we had the day before – in the shade of a big tree in the company of dozens of lizards.

I grabbed a windsurfer from the nautical centre and went for a ride. The wind has been consistently strong all week, but what is not consistently strong are my arms and hands. When I was a kid I used to spend hours on my windsurfer at Fishing Lake, and I got pretty good after doing it for a few summers. I still have the knack now, but after spending 30 or 40 minutes zipping around in the bay, my hands literally curled into a permanent bend and stopped working so I sailed the rig back in and relinquished the remaining time of my one hour booking.

After chilling out at the beach base for a while, we packed up and headed over to Boulevard – this cool string of small restaurants and shops which are a part of the resort, but feel like a little village. We sat down at our favourite tapas bar for a fried chicken wing snack and drinks. We also ordered two plates of “sausages” but when they came out they sure looked like sliced-up hot dogs, which was an exciting development as a Cuban hot dog would be a welcome addition to the meal repertoire. After that we walked across the path to the ice cream shop and were served paper cups of ice cream, but they had run out of spoons so we just licked and sucked it straight out. Worked just fine.

One of the remaining things on Stella’s “to do” list was to use the swim-up bar at the pool, so while the others relaxed in poolside chairs, she and I paddled up to the bar, found two underwater stools, and figured out what to order. While there was plenty of booze, the available mixers were severely limited. The barkeep reported he had cola, strawberry slushie, and vanilla slushie. None of those piqued Stella’s interest, so instead of the previously planned alcoholic drink, she opted for a cola and ice while I had a small glass of beer. Check.

Everybody was up for a final visit to the plaza so we paid ten bucks for a classy horse carriage ride over there. In the only shop that was open, Magnus bought more min-cigars (and promised me these were going to be the last cigars he purchased until he next returned to Cuba), John bought some rum and, incredibly, sneakers that fit him perfectly. Ana browsed the scant clothing selection hard but could find nothing suitable.

The bar at the bowling alley was full of locals, enjoying their Saturday afternoon, but sadly the lanes were closed, so the hotly anticipated grudge match between Magnus and Stella would have to wait for another time. In their previous visit to the bowling alley earlier in the week, one of them scored two points higher than the other after a dismal start and triumphant finish. I won’t say which one.

Just before dusk, Stella reminded me that we had agreed upon a sunset photo shoot on the beach. So as lead photographer, I used her phone to capture a series of Insta-worthy shots. Stella playing with her hair, Stella walking the beach, Stella pondering the sunset, Stella with head cocked sideways staring serious into the camera. She found two she liked out of the 300 I captured. Job well done. On the way back to our rooms we stopped to admire a big mango tree and Stella found a nice ripe mango lying on the ground. We picked it up and stashed it away for tomorrow’s breakfast.

At 6:30 we walked into the beachside Cuban a-la-carte – our second and final for the trip. The meal was nothing like the previous day’s extravaganza, but it was still good. I was thinking Stella would get into the wine again, but she had picked up a bit of a cold and could barely keep her eyes open at the table. During dinner, Magnus and us had a rousing discussion on the value of history – studying it, understanding it, and trying to apply it to the events happening in our world today. Back in the early days of taking the kids to Cuba, dinner conversations usually centered around Dora the Explorer, lizards, and whose turn it was to change a diaper. I liked this better.

Upon returning to the room, Magnus and Stella discovered a gigantic spider living under their washroom trash bin so I was called over to relocate the beast. It was big and hairy and intimidating. With a combination of bathroom utensils, I was able to corral the 8-legger into a coffee cup then cap it and fling him over the balcony onto the grass, where I hope he lives out a long and purposeful life.

2023 Holguin, Cuba - Premium Toilets, Boomer Sandwich, and Lobster for Dinner

During Walking Club I like to sneak into neighbouring resorts to check them out. It’s quite easy, all you need to do is carry a towel or your shirt draped over the arm wearing your all-inclusive wristband. The resorts use different coloured bands but the Cuban guards at the entrances aren’t particularly diligent at checking these, so I just walk right in there like I own the place and am rarely challenged. Today I explored Playa Premium, a separate section of our resort that is reserved for high rollers (i.e. people that paid an extra couple hundred bucks for their trip.) The grounds were lovely, the atmosphere serene, and I didn’t see a single other person besides one lady in the lobby playing on her phone. I found their exclusive pool and, better, the classy men’s washroom which was pristine - recently cleaned, smelled lovely, fully stocked with paper, so I just had to use it. It was dreamy.

After a stomach-bursting breakfast, then an intensive 8-minute workout at the fitness centre with Stella (she had to check this off her list), we went down to the beach and I rented us some sea kayaks. I took the single and Ana and Stella took the double, and had a hell of a time synchronizing their paddling. When I couldn’t stand the yelling and screaming anymore, I slowed down and swapped places with Ana and Stella and I were able to figure it out. We paddled west across the water to a small tidal river that I’d crossed many times on a bridge during my walks, but had never been there on the water. The tide was going out so we had to struggle against the current, but we did make it under the bridge and up into the shallow river a short ways. By that time, Ana had tweaked something in her back, and mine wasn’t feeling so hot either, so we turned and worked our way back to the resort against a strengthened wind which took a while.

After lunch at the beachside restaurant Ana and I returned to the beach while everybody else scattered – Stella back to the room to do some schoolwork (I know, she’s weird), Magnus to the lobby to read and drink his 17th to 23rd coffees of the day, and John and Maria back to their room to catch up on more 70’s overdubbed action movies. Ana and I had a lovely time. We talked about this week’s experiment with the “Boomer Sandwich”, where you are taking care of elderly parents and kids at the same time. Then we immediately switched to talk of retirement, which was far more pleasing. I spend a lot of time and energy pondering this topic. This week I had found a perfect place for landing our dingy when we sail our boat down here. An integral part of our retirement plan is having a large inventory of plastic resort bracelets in a variety of colours that we can use to sneak into resorts while our boat is safely at anchor. It’s going to be easy. We cruise into the bay under sail in SeaLight then get anchored within range of my high-powered binoculars, with which I can see what colour of bracelet everybody’s wearing. Then, just before dawn, we launch the dingy, blast into shore, and stash it in the bushes, out of sight. We then snap on the correct colour bracelets and march straight into the resort and find the breakfast buffet and order 6-egg omelets and proceed to stuff ourselves silly, then we do the same at lunch and dinner and between those we hang out on the beach with all the rest of the happy Canadian tourists. Except that we’re way happier since we’re not paying for it and will continue to do this for weeks at dozens of resorts as we circumnavigate Cuba. By then we’ll have mastered the technique so will continue these victimless thefts across the entire Caribbean until we have visited every single all-inclusive resort. Watch for my upcoming ebook, “Scamming Your Way into Retirement”.

We all met back at the room later in the afternoon and Magnus continued his cigar apprenticeship by joining me on the balcony for a larger stogie. He had a mid-sized Montecristo and I had one of my Romeo Y Juliet number twos. I showed him how to properly cut the cap to leave a ring of it intact to hold the cigar together as you smoke it. I showed him how to evenly toast the foot of the cigar with double matches, after letting the sulphur burn off so as not to taint the flavour of the cigar. I also showed him how to use a cedar strip to light a cigar. He made it about halfway through his then sought permission to abandon it when he was starting to turn green. I smoked mine down to the nub, enjoying every puff. There’s nothing quite like smoking a Cuban cigar in Cuba.

Today was our first of two a-la-carte reservations. Imagine our surprise when we showed up at “El Romantico” restaurant just before 8pm and found a beautifully decorated, high-end restaurant with a man in a tuxedo playing piano on a stage. It was quiet, luxurious, classy, and there was Caribbean lobster on the menu. After being shown to our table, the professional waiter brought out bottles of red and white, opened them, then poured us glasses and left the white in an ice chiller between John and Stella. After the waiter left John poured Stella a sizeable glass and with a mischievous smile she drank it with glee.

The food was amazing. Soup course, salad course, main, and dessert. They used primarily the same ingredients that we’d had at the buffet, but exquisitely cooked, flavoured, and presented. The lobster was simply amazing and I don’t even remember the last time I’d eaten one. Partway through the meal Stella reported that she was getting a bit dizzy, so John topped her up and told her it was all part of the experience. Grandfathers are the best!

2023 Holguin, Cuba - Bowling, Busted Fillings, and Tom Jones Speaking Spanish

Groundhog day.

You hit that point in the trip where things start to meld together and it’s hard to tell one day from the next. That was today. Big morning walk, kids slept in, breakfast with John and Maria, long snorkeling session with Ana and Stella, uninspiring lunch and dinner, evening Uno in the lobby. The only things of note today were that Ana, Maria and the kids went bowling at the nearby plaza while I stayed back with John to do some writing as he watched a 1970’s Tom Jones action movie overdubbed in Spanish. Oh, one more thing, the caps on the bottles of the water the resort supplies are extremely tight so as I was using my back teeth to hold the cap while twisting the bottle, there was a crunching noise and a big filling on one of my molars cracked apart. I think the pieces may have fallen into one of Stella’s Adidas sneakers so I told her to watch for pebbles in her shoe. Fortunately, the exposed part of my tooth didn’t even hurt so it was probably one of them wily dentists giving me a filling I didn’t need.

2023 Holguin, Cuba - Uno, Paddleboating, and an Abundance of Sardines

Portuguese people cannot pay cards. I don’t know if they are all colour blind, or number-confused, or if they just don’t pay attention, but something in their cultural make up does not jive with card games. We’ve been playing Uno with Ana’s folks. She explained the rules to them at the start, but they didn’t stick, and I get that – learning a new card game takes time. During our 10th game, which we just played here in the lobby near the end of the evening, here’s what happened after Ana dealt and flipped up a red 6 for her mom Maria:

“I need to pick one up,” Maria said in Portuguese.

“What?” Ana said, “You don’t have a red card or a 6?”

“I have a 6, but it’s not red.”

“Mom, I told you, it doesn’t have to be the same colour. You need to match either the colour or the number.”

“Ohhhhhhhhh, ok,” Maria said as she dropped a yellow 9 on the pile.

“Mom, that’s not a 6, it’s a 9 – see the little line underneath it?”

“Ohhhhhhhh, ok, well I have a 6 too,” she said as she sorted through her cards and dropped it on the pile.

It was John’s turn. After Ana prompted him to go, he laid down a green 5.

“Dad, you can’t play that,” Ana said.

“Why not?” John asked.

“Well, because it’s not yellow and it’s not a 6.”

“OK,” he said as he picked his card back up. “Well I don’t have those. But I do have this,” he said as he dropped a black pick-up-4 wild card then laughed wildly.

I was the recipient of the punishing play so I picked four cards off the pile, huffing. Then we all sat there for a bit looking around.

“Ana?” I said.


“It’s your turn. John, what colour do you want?”

“Eh? I’ve got blue and red.”

“Don’t tell us what you have, you get to pick a colour, remember? Wild card.” I said tapping on the black pick-up-4 card.

“Blue,” he said.

“Crap,” Ana said as she laid down a pick-up-4 wild card of her own. “Sorry Mom.”

“That’s okay,” said Maria she put down a yellow 2.

“Mom, you can’t play on that. You need to pick up 4.”

“I thought I could pay anything on that one.”

“No Mom. You miss your tun too. Dad, your turn, the colour is red.”

“Ha!” he said as he played a yellow pick-up-2.”

“You have to play a red, Dad.”

“Maria played a yellow. Now I’m playing one.”

“She shouldn’t have, she had to pick that one back up.”

“Uno,” said Maria.

“Mom, you don’t have Uno – look at all the cards in you hand. You only say that when you have one card left. And it’s not even your turn,” Ana said.

“Ohhhhhhhhh, ok,” Maria said.

“Whose turn?” I said. Everyone looked around wide eyed and confused. “I’ll go,” I said then dropped a red reverse card. Everything stopped. “John?” I said.


“Are you going to play?” I asked. Portuguese will not take their turn until they have been personally invited by another player.

“Oh, my turn? Ok. Bingo!” said John as he played a red 2.

“Bingo? You mean Uno?” I said.

“Yeah, Uno.”

“But you just had three cards. Where did the other one go?”

“I must have dropped it,” he said.

Portuguese Uno is actually much more fun than normal uno because every round is such a surprise. And it takes all night to play like two games so can really burn away the hours at resorts where the evenings often move at a glacial pace.

When in Cuba, I run this thing called Walking Club. The idea is very simple. I get up at dawn and ask Ana and the kids if they want to go for a walk, and they almost always say no. I then get my flip flops and hat and walk down to the pre-arranged meeting area, meet myself, then go for a long beach walk. There have been times when other people have joined us on vacation and actually met me in the morning for Walking Club so I didn’t feel like such a loser. But I don’t mind the solitude.

But today, Stella had surprised me and joined me for Walking Club and we enjoyed a lovely beach walk as we talked, picked up shells, and leisurely explored the area. By the time we returned, it was off to breakfast. The morning buffet was calm and tranquil which was welcome after the events of the previous night. John has type 2 diabetes so has to consistently watch his sugar intake…except for when we go on vacation then he throws caution to the wind and supercharges that blood sugar level up by day drinking with me and raiding the dessert tray after every meal. Well yesterday his body completely shut down. First his vision started to go and the world became blurry. Then after lunch he threw up and fell into a weak stupor and was sent to bed and just laid there for hours, shivering a bit, and making frequent dashes to the bathroom.

We went to dinner in two shifts so somebody could stay with him and by the end of the evening he was starting to feel a little better. He had a decent breakfast but we did catch him hovering over the dessert platter eyeing the morning cake, but Maria threw him a stink eye and he wisely abandoned that idea.

Breakfast has been good – eggs, pancakes, fresh papaya, fresh bread, various types of pork.  But lunch and dinner have been lacking in ingredients if not imagination. We normally try to go to the a la carte restaurants but we were only able to get a single booking for Saturday because the resort is so busy. Ana then bribed us into another one for Friday, but until then it’s all buffet. The normally expansive menu items have been decimated, and the dishes have been varying creative combinations of the following: cabbage, tomatoes, pork, sweet potatoes, papaya, sardines, and canned tuna. I have never seen so many combinations of sardine dishes. In the morning they have display cases full of sardine plates - some in tomatoes, some in cabbage, some floating in oil, some all mashed up. We had fish soup one day at lunch, and it was sardine fish soup. One dinner specialty is seafood rice, guess what’s in there? Sardines and tuna. A lot of the food ubiquitous to Cuban buffets is simply absent – no beans, no bananas, no potatoes, no plantains, no beef, no fish (other than sardines). Thank God for pork. Those Cuban pigs really deliver. We’ve eaten twenty different styles of pork. Fried, ribbed, roasted, stretched, reduced, smoked, sausaged. I don’t know if it’s just this resort, but we’re hearing from friends in Canada and other ones are the same – many shortages. We’re back to 1990’s style Cuban resort cuisine after decades of progress.

We rented a paddleboat and all went out for a big tour around the bay, which was great until we stopped for some snorkeling and met a group of Quebecers on the reef who had somewhere found a long spear and were trying their best to spear tropical fish, no doubt making a mess of what remained of the living coral. I wanted to pull the snorkel out of my mouth and give them a verbal thrashing, but they were the ones holding the spear and those Quebecers are unpredictable.

Lunch was enjoyed at the tapas bar – fried fish chunks, which were sardines of course, and a small amount of fried plantains, which was a welcome surprise.

Because of the massive size of the resort there is a little diesel train that zips around all day, delivering guests here and there. We went for a nice long ride on the train and ended up at the sports club, where we played ping pong and checkers. The sports club was by far the best one we’ve ever seen; besides the three ping pong tables they also had archery, two pool tables, sand pits for horseshoes or bocce, shuffleboard, then a series of courts for volleyball, badminton, basketball, soccer, and tennis. Incredibly, all the equipment was in fantastic shape.

At dinner I discovered a condiment station, so I put yellow hot dog mustard and oil on everything. That helped. I also tried out one of the stuffed tomatoes. It was stuffed with cabbage and sardines.

After some drinks in the lobby bar and the Uno, we walked John and Maria back to the room then Ana, Stella, and I went for an evening beach walk under a full moon. Lovely.

2023 Holguin, Cuba - Deodorant Theft, Guardalavaca,and Cigar Smoking Lessons


“Have you seen my deodorant?” Ana asked after I returned from my early morning walk.

“Nope. What’s it look like?”

“It’s a smaller stick. Smells great. Really expensive stuff. It was just here on the counter last night,” she said pointing to the bathroom sink.

We looked all through the bathroom, then the rest of the room, in the suitcases, in jacket pockets, under the bed, and on top of the TV. It was nowhere to be found.

“The maid must have stolen it,” she decided.

“You think the maid stole your deodorant? Didn’t you leave a nice gift pack for her yesterday?” In advance of these trips Ana puts together a little gift pack for each day which she leaves for the cleaners.

“I sure did, that’s why I’m so pissed off. I’m not leaving the gifts anymore.”

“Are you sure? I don’t think the maid would have taken it.”

“Well, it’s gone.”

At that point I just got out of the way and went for a shower. When I finished and came out Ana was all smiles.

“I found it!”

“Great! Where was it?”

“In the safe. With the other valuables. I must have put it in there last night. I’ll leave her the gift pack.”

Disaster averted. I was then able to move onto the rest of my 7-minute morning routine.

When we vacation, we always leave the electric toothbrushes at home. I think it’s good to give your gums a good manual grinding occasionally and bleed them out. Rebelling against the advice of your dentist just feels good too. Those dentists are so smug. They make us feel bad about not flossing. They give us tips on our brushing technique for the hundredth time despite knowing we will simply never change. They ask us about the frequency of our coffee, black tea, and red wine consumption (constant, duh.) And the worst part is the more we ignore their advice, the more goddamn money they make off us as we continually return to have them repair the damage. It’s like reverse psychology. When they say “don’t do this” they know damn well we’re going to do it anyway, which puts us back in the robotic leather chair 8 months later getting drilled, filled, and billed as we watch some awful Disney moving on those ceiling mounted TVs.

As I approached the sink, I realized that Ana had packed us two green toothbrushes. I barely even noticed the identical toothbrushes last night as I was so excited to be on vacation so probably just grabbed the one that was less wet. Look, Ana and I share practically everything, but sharing a toothbrush is going too far. It's too intimate. It's almost as bad as trying to use somebody else's Excel spreadsheet. I rectified the situation by tying a strand of dental floss around Ana’s, as she’s the regular flosser in the family. I was rewarded with a little shot of dopamine for already solving a tricky problem so early in the day.

As I shifted from giddy arrival excitement to regular vacation glee, I noticed one other issue with the packing. She didn’t sufficiently hide the snacks we brought long, and as a result Magnus has found them and is devouring the nuts, chips, and candy at a worrying rate. Other than that, the packing is perfect. Ana starts packing about two months before our trips and the suitcases lie open in our rooms as she packs, unpacks, repacks, does fashions shows for her mirror reflection at nights to fine tune the outfit selections, test outs various configurations of footwear (none of which ever seem comfortable enough to walk long distances in….but that’s the nature of ladies fashion I guess), then manages the contents right up to the last ounce of available weight limit. I imagine it’s a sight to behold, but I try to keep out of it and just get involved for 10 minutes the evening before we leave after weeks of ignored suggestions that I start packing my junk. I haphazardly throw some stuff in the case, then she comes in later and pulls most of it out and replaces it with more appropriate vacation wear. I don’t mind, and I wouldn’t be able to remember what I originally chose anyway. Plus, I usually wear the same pair of shorts the whole week.

Today we took two fifties-era Chevy classic car taxis to Guardalavaca, a town 18 kilometers away from our resort. It was a depressing journey. We’ve been there before and know the area so wandered through the small craft market near the Club Amigo hotel, then tried to check out the shops in the nearby plaza but they were all closed, save one whose shelves held only cigarettes, Havana Club rum, canned beans, canned mushrooms, Tabasco sauce, and a few ladies bras. The cigar shop around the corner was open but had very little for sale. Fortunately, they did have some boxes of Romeo Y Julieta number two tubos so I bought one (for a hell of a lot more than I paid three years ago when we last visited). The Boulevard leading to the public beach did have some restaurants open but there was hardly anybody there and the place was really beaten up. Down at the beach we stopped at the Pirate Bar for a drink. They only had two drinks: beer or pina coladas. No water, no pop, nothing else. We did order beer and pina coladas – the former were fine but the latter were made with a jug of water, some ice, then a scoop each from these two bags of powder lying behind the bar, then the ingredients were dumped into a blender held together with many wraps of brown duct tape. The last time we were here the place was hopping – full of locals drinking and having fun, families on the beach, and food flying out of the kitchen.

The pandemic has not been good for Cuba. But the Cubans have been here before, facing disasters so many times in the past, and always finding a way through. They will this time too.

Back at the hotel we hit the beach, did some snorkeling, had some beers in these nice big reusable plastic cups Ana had brought along, then went back to the rooms for a chill out session. Magnus had set his sights on buying cigars so had picked up a pack of mini-Montecristos in Guardalavaca and asked me to show him how to smoke one as it would be his first. Well, I was happy to oblige though Ana wasn’t particularly happy that the boy was picking up a punishingly expensive new hobby. We each smoked a mini cigar on the balcony overlooking the small pasture with horses grazing and the ocean in the background. Since he managed not to vomit, I’d say it was an outstanding success.

2023 Holguin, Cuba - Why Do We Love Cuba?

After a three-year, pandemic inflicted break we are back in Cuba. Playa Pesquero, in Holguin to be exact.

What do we like about Cuba? I’ll tell you a story.

Our flight from Hamilton yesterday was delayed due to a scarcity of baggage handlers, so we didn’t make it to the resort until around 11:30pm. After standing in line at reception check-in for a while, then catching a 6-man electric golf cart ride to my in-laws room to unload them and their baggage, then a final run in the golf cart to our room (which is adjoined to Magnus and Stella room) on the other end of the resort, then some rapid unpacking, quick brush of the teeth, speedy underarm deodorant swipes, visit to the 24 hour buffet for a sardine/yuca/rice/sausage/red wine snack, then a couple of wobbly-pops in the lobby bar to the soothing sounds of the drunken Quebecers getting nutty, we didn’t get to sleep until sometime after 2 or maybe 3am. So by the time we got up this morning, somehow tracked down Ana’s folks after forgetting to note their room number (it’s a massive resort and the black Cuban nights offer little in the way of landmarks), waited forever for the kids to get up, then found a suitable table for six in the busy breakfast buffet, there had already been a thousand people through one of the egg-cooking stations.

Which brings me to my story. As I waited in line for an omelet, I relearned that the Cubans who work in the resorts are simply amazing. By the time I reached the front of the queue, the lovely middle-aged Cuban lady sweating behind the smoking hot grill, skillfully cooking no less than five sizzling and dancing breakfast omelets at a time, was still smiling. And I don’t mean one of those phony retail smiles that the cagey, affectionless dude racking clothes at Winners spears you with when you ask where the gift cards are at as you’re impatiently trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. I mean like a nice smile where she looks into your eyes and reminds you of an aunt or grandma or maybe a friend of either or both of those. Cubans have an endless supply of patience and an ability to shirk off the sometimes revolting behavior of entitled foreigners. It makes you want to become best friends and perhaps Godparent one of their children or them yours. At one point during the day we counted up our previous trips and I think this is our 12th visit to Cuba, stretching over about 23 years. We love it here.

Besides the people, we love the Cuban winter weather. No scraping ice off windows, no furnaces, no ice storms, and no toques/mittens/scarves/boots. No shirt required. No shoes required. Just sun, beach, sand, and warm salty ocean water.

It’s different than the rest of the Caribbean. I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve been under the thick thumb of Fidelisimo dictatorship for over 60 years or that the economic embargo prevents many Americans from showing up here, but it is very much unlike anywhere else you may visit in these parts. There’s no crime, no obnoxious and culturally-vacant franchises, no suicidal drivers, no drugs, and few squint-eyed hucksters flogging local craftwork on the beaches. Of course, the Cubans have no freedom and there’s military dudes and cops everywhere eyeballing them at all times, but that’s a small price to pay for us foreigners to be able to swoop in and enjoy the culture in 7 day, all—inclusive increments at a very reasonable price.

What’s the last thing we like about Cuba? Oh yeah, the cigars! Sadly, today at the resort orientation meeting we were told that the Covid supply chain issues have affected Cuba severely, plus one or more of the recent hurricanes that seem to reliably hit Cuba every season, ripped the prime tobacco fields to shreds, so the cigar supply has been severely curtailed. In fact, we went into the onsite cigar shop today and their humidor was empty, save for a bunch of cartons of grubby Marlboro cigarettes, some cigarillos, and bottles of premium Havana Club rum, unsurprisingly unsold at over two grand a bottle.

It was a fine first day and gave us a chance to get a feel for the resort. Playa Pesquero is a huge place, definitely the largest one we’ve been to in Holguin and probably as large or larger than some of the big ones we visited in Cayo Santa Maria. At its opening in 2003 it was the largest resort in Cuba and has more than 900 rooms. It is located in a sheltered bay which provides calm waters for swimming and snorkeling the sizeable reef, and the beach is simply perfect. It’s going to be a great week.