Havana, Cuba

The morning was full of birdsong when we awoke. Matt went to go see the sunrise while I got ready for the day. We had a big day ahead of us. Today we were going to Havana!

Photo from inside a car driving down a street in Havana
Photo by Matt Steeves.

Drive to Havana

Our driver met us at the hotel lobby. There we found out that our original driver, Domingo with the classic 1950’s car hadn’t work out. So we had been assigned Gilbert instead, who had a 1998 Peugeot car from France. We were disappointed that we wouldn’t get to ride in a classic car, but saw some benefits in it: AC and a more comfortable ride! (No seat belts though)

Gilbert walked us outside of the resort to where he was parked. We confirmed the price of 120 CUC for the day and he said to pay at the end, joking if we don’t like the tour we don’t have to pay him anything! He wore a Blue Jays baseball cap. We wondered to ourselves if he wore that because he knew we were Canadian.

We drove down the ‘White Road” built before the revolution by the mafia. Behind the trees that lined the road where oil rigs for local electricity. There were large patches of charred land too – apparently brush fires have been a real problem this year do to the drought.

There were lots of hitchhikers. Everywhere there were people trying to hitch rides into town – women, children, and men. Horses and cattle grazing along the roadside and turkey vultures flying overhead. There were banana sellers beside banana fields and oxen pulling wooden carts with tired old men.

Gilbert pointed out the different license plates along the way. A green stripe meant it was a government car, a P was a private car like his, and a T was a tourist rental car. The streets were a lot less busy on the weekends as most cars in Cuba were government cars and had to be parked after the work day was over. To buy a car in Cuba was very expensive, more than a house, but the public transit was so bad that it was worth at.

Matanzas

As we drove into Matanzas, I asked Gilbert when most of the houses were built. He said it was 1950’s Miami style, built by rich people when Cuba was the Las Vegas of America. The city of Matanzas was known as the Athens of Cuba as so many famous writers and artists had come from there. It was also known as the City of Bridges due to all the bridges. These nicknames were far more appealing than the English translation of Matanzas – Masacre – as this was were the Spanish killed many natives a long time ago.

I enjoyed driving through the town. It was very busy with locals going about their daily business, kids running around with sticks, and of course, hitchhiking. There indeed lots of bridges – one of which we saw boys jumping off from, very high up on the top of the iron suspension into the water. That took guts!

Photo of a horse drawn carriage driving over a bridge over a forested valley

Bancunayagoa

We made a stop half way to Havana at a place called Bancuyagoa, a lookout over a big valley. It was the highest bridge in all of Cuba – I think Gilbert said it was 112m high. The land was lush with green palm trees and brush with flat topped mountains in the distance.

Gilbert said they made the best piña colada here. You’d get a hollowed out pineapple with 7 year old rum. Even at 10am it looked very tempting, but we wanted to save our money for Havana. We were running low on funds.

Back in the car, I asked Gilbert how to spell where we just were. As it’s a bit of a difficult one even in Spanish, he got out his phone and started typing away while driving. Apparently Cubans aren’t as strict as Canadians of phone use while driving! I decided not to ask him how to spell things while he was driving again… this was in addition to phone calls he took too!

Photo of a white marble statue of Christ

Havana

Outskirts of Havana

Our first stop in Havana was a giant statue of Christ overlooking the city. It sat next to some old fortifications and a museum of Che. Gilbert said not to bother with that music – it wasn’t very good. We took some pictures then headed to our next destination: the exhibition of the missile crisis!

Matt was very intrigued by all the nuclear warheads (replicas) on display. They even had parts of the US spy plane that was shot down on display, with the part of the wing with USA written on it turned up for all to see. In the bushes was an army personnel sitting in the shade, watching us look around. I wandered over to the fortifications and took some pictures, trying to catch a bird perched on the top of a missile.

Photo of the exhibition of the missile crisis next to ruins of an old fort
The tunnel into Havana was closed, so we had to take an alternative route into the city. We passed run down buildings, an oil refinery and banana trees almost side by side! I began to see Art Deco buildings, some run down and in ruins, others painted in baby blue, burnt orange, soft turquoise, and yellow.

Photo of a metal mural of Che on a wall

Revolution Square

We stopped in Revolution Square which Matt was eager to see. There was a large steel mural of Che and a monument of a philosopher with government communication buildings behind. Apparently up to a million people would gather in this square to hear speeches.

The place was an absolute zoo with tour buses and colourful 1950’s cars. Tourists were snapping pictures and cars were honking at one another. Popular place.

Photo of tourists taking photos and a classic car driving by Revolution Square

Cigar Factory

Gilbert took us to the Romeo and Juliet Cigar Factory. As it was Sunday, the factory was closed, but the factory store was open. Here you could buy cigars in bulk, but I didn’t have enough money for that. They had run though. Gilbert pointed out his favourites that we couldn’t get in Canada. We bought a bottle each to take home.

Parking in Cuba

Outside he paid an old man sitting on the curb. Car theft is a problem in Cuba, so you need to pay people to watch your car – even for a small period of time! This included parking lots too. Everywhere we went he was paying people and chatting with friends.

El Tablao de Pancho

Gilbert dropped us off at El Tablao de Pancho for lunch. He described it as very clean with real Cuban food made with spices. There was live music too! It didn’t look like anything from the outside, but once inside we found ourselves in a tiki bar atmosphere with red curtains and high ceilings where wagon wheel lights hung. The waitresses were white mini dresses and mini straw cowboy hats. As far as I could tell, everyone eating there were tourists.

Matt had a guajiro cocktail while I had a mojito – it was much better than on the resort! We ordered black bean soup, black beans and rice, Tamil with short ribs and plantains, and two mystery deep fried dishes we ordered off the menu just because they sounded interesting. The food all came at once with a little side salad.

Although most entrees were 16-18 CUC, our self made tapa style meal came to 25.85 CUC with tip. We were in and out in under a hour and got to enjoy a live concert of energetic Cuban music – far better than we had at the resort! It was an experience!

Photo of run down buildings and classic car

Old Havana

Gilbert dropped us off in Old Havana to wander around for two hours. I had imagined Havana to be very colourful, but the colourful paint was so grimy that everything looked drab. It smelt like a sewer and was very dirty. We could see why people of our hometown Toronto call our home so clean!

Ernest Hemingway

We went to the bar where Ernest Hemingway used to frequent most in Havana. There was a life size bronze statue of him sitting at the bar. The place was jam packed of people – definitely not a place you’d want to stop and have a relaxing drink nowadays. Matt took a couple pics before we elbowed our way out. I didn’t even bother to get my camera out. It was far too crowded and dim.

We went to the hotel where Ernest Hemingway spent much of his time in Cuba. Unfortunately the museum, his rooms, were closed as it was Sunday, but we got to walk around and admire this beautiful old hotel. It was gorgeous with cream and green tile floors and walls, black ironwork, and a vintage elevator. Each floor was lit by a large skylight at the hotel’s centre where green vines hung down fed by the light. It was like going back in time!

Photo of a man in a straw fedora standing next to a classic car

Visiting the Plaza

We went to various Plaza in Old Havana: Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza Vieja, and Plaza Cathedral and probably some others too. There were lots of squares with waiters trying relentlessly to get you into their patio restaurants.

The Modern City of Havana

We drove down 23rd Street which was lined with old grand mansions, now apartments, then up Avenida de Los Predidentes. Our guide took us to Capitoli, a replica of DC’s Capitol building. From there we walked through Parque Central and down streets with run down buildings next to beautifully restored hotels. There are lots of stark contrasts in Cuba.

Photo of Capitoli covered in scaffolding

The Dogs of Cuba

We saw lots of happy dogs. They were all quite small, like mini labs or wiener dogs. Apparently the dogs we saw out and about belong to people – they just walk themselves! The dogs have no collars and wonder the streets freely, returning to their homes whenever they fancy. It was amazing! And to think these free roaming dogs are better behaved than many at home. All they want is too sleep in the sun, eat, and get belly rubs. I enjoyed seeing their wagging tails and how they’d just flop down in the middle of the street to rest wherever they fancied.

Malecón

We ended our visit to Havana was a walk down the Malecon, a seafront boulevard. There was an old stone lighthouse, a little park with a statue, fishing boats moored for the day, and families out fishing. It was lovely to hear the lap of the water on the wall beneath us – sound of tranquility after the noise of the city.

The Drive Home

We sat in silence for much of the drive back to the resort. Matt nodded off in the seat next to me as I flipped through my guidebook making notes of the names of the places we’d seen.

Mirador de Bacunauagnua

We stopped at the lookout over Vancuyagoa again on our way home for pina coladas where there was a cafe, bar, and gift shop under a big red sign that read Mirador de Bacunauagnua in white script writing. We were happy to stretch our legs – but most importantly, try the impressive looking pineapple drinks!

The bar tender used a milkshake maker to mix up real coconut milk, pineapple juice, 7 year Havana rum, and ice then poured it into a carved out pineapple topped finished with a colourful straw he handled with silver tongs. There was coconut to snack on and bottle of rum to top up your drink with. Each elaborate drink cost 5 CUC and were the best pina coladas we’d ever had – just like Gilbert said they would be!

We sat and enjoyed our pine apples on the patio. It was much less crowded at this time of day, but very windy! We watched the palm trees blow in the breeze as vultures drifted overhead just as they had in the morning, only the sun was different at this time of day making everything look extra green. It was a beautiful end to an epic day!

Back at the resort

We paid our driver 120 CUC for the day and thanked him. He didn’t check the money, just took it and wished us well. After we dropped our bags in our room, we headed out to the bar to sample the different rums available to take home to Canada.

We did a tasting of different Cuban rums: Havana Reserva, Havana Selection Special, Havana 7 year rum, and Legendare Elixir de Rum with our new favourite creme de rum to finish! We walked down to the beach to watch one more sunset before dinner, then headed off to the restaurant.

El Romantico

For our last night in Cuba, we had dinner at El Romantico. There were no serenading minstrels like on other evenings we’d walked by (which was a mixed blessing), but the waiter was excellent! I had shrimp cocktail to begin, followed by lobster bisque, then lobster flambé with roasted eggplant and tomato with ginger, with pear in a ‘wine’ sauce for dessert. Matt had the tuna with mushroom crepes and the pear for dessert. We left stuffed!

Preparing for the end

We had an evening drink at the bar before heading back to the room to pack. It’s never as fun packing up from a trip than packing for one!

Photo of a coffee cup with sun rise in the background

Going Home

We checked out at 7:00. The bus was scheduled for 7:30 but didn’t arrive until closer to 8 so we got to leisurely enjoy two cups of coffee.

Matt tried to check us into our Sunwing flight online in the morning, but sadly you cannot pre-check in on the flight home! Once we got the airport, we waited 40 hours in a relatively short line to do so. Matt was not impressed. Fortunately getting through Cuban immigration and security was much faster – ten minutes!

Shopping at the Duty Free

The Varadero airport had lots of shops selling alcohol, tobacco products, and souvenirs. The rum was about the same price as at the resort. At the duty free, we found the 15 year old rum that Matt had been searching for the whole trip – turned out it was 140 CUC! There was also a 1700 CUC bottle of rum for purchase – wowee! Needless to say, we didn’t buy any. Despite the vast selection of alcohol, we didn’t see the yellow creme de rum (Aeldao?) we’d come to love at the resort.

I bought a little pack of cigarillos that came in a nice tin. It would be my souvenir from the trip. I bought it for the tin primarily – ever since I was a child, I have a soft spot for little boxes. The tobacconist couldn’t take my VISA, but took Canadian cash, giving us CUC coins in change. We had 0.60 CUC left to spend, so walked around trying to find a postcard or something to buy with it. Matt found a man selling cookies and chocolate for 0.25 CUC, so we got some random Cuban sweets for the plane!

Photo of sky and coast outside a Sunwing plane window

The flight home

The flight left a few minutes early. We were given a Sunwing customer survey card and our Canadian customs card to fill out. Near the end of the flight we got complimentary tea and coffee which we ate with our airport sweets. There was no complimentary snacks on board, so I had a granola bar from my purse for brunch. Matt settled into an episode of Black Mirror while I edited down my iPhone vacation pics and wrote postcards.

We arrived home to Toronto to sunshine, blue skies, and balmy springtime weather. Green shoots of flowers were poking up from the garden and buds were showing on some of the trees! Matt and I were very happy to be home – counting our blessings for the City of Toronto’s clean tap water! It’s such a joy to drink water from the tap once again!

Goodbye Cuba! Hello home. We’re happy to be back and look forward to getting back to work tomorrow.

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Varadero Beyond the Resort

We got up in time to watch the sunrise. After breakfast, we sat in the lobby researching cheap ways to Havana. Apparently there was a bus from Varadero to Havana for 20 CUC, but it took 3 hours each way. We weren’t too keen on spending the bulk of our day on the milk run.

Horse, bicycle, and old car driving by in Cuba

Varadero Beach Tour Bus

Nonetheless, we took the first bus into the town of Varadero. It was the “Varadero Beach Tour Bus” that did the circuit between resorts into town for 5 CUC for the day. The resort had instilled fear in us for leaving the resort, so we only brought one iPhone and my old Canon camera – money in a money belt. However, that all turned out to be overkill once we got there.

The bus stop was easy to find. At the end of the driveway cornered to the highway was the brightly coloured blue and red bus stop. The bus came soon after 9:30. We paid the lady sitting behind the bus driver and hopped on.

We went to the top deck to find a seat, but it was so crowded that we had to stand in the aisles! I had one hand on the railing with my other hand holding onto my hat for dear life! It felt very precarious in the wind, going around big curves!

We rode the bus to the end of its circuit. There was a twenty minute break where we walked along the canal and bought postcards at a little shop. We then rode the bus back the way we came, getting off near the edge of town to walk back in. Most people had gotten off at the City Centre so we had a front row seat on the top deck all to ourselves!

Photo of rum down homes in Cuba

The Town of Varadero

The town looked like it had all been built in the 1950’s and painting over in the 70’s. The horse drawn carriages for tourists and old 1950’s cars added to the nostalgia. Matt said it was like going back in time.

Varadero was very touristy but also very poor. We visited a grocery store and were surprised at the difference between the local currency and CUC – one tip can get a staff person a long way in Cuba! The price on rum and honey wants much better than at the resort either.

We walked around for a bit, but Matt was feeling tired, so he hopped back on the bus and headed back into the resort. I continued walking around the town with my camera snapping pictures.

I stayed to main streets mostly, only veering down side streets momentarily. The residential streets were most fascinating to me, but it didn’t feel right blatantly taking pictures of people’s homes with my big camera. That’s just rude!

I walked down to the public beach. The blue of the ocean water through the tree leaves was in sharp contrast to the sandy beige of the town. I made my way through the line of trees between the road and the beach. The leafy floor was alive with tiny lizards hopping between the dry fallen tree leaves.

I took lots of pictures of old cars and horse drawn carriages. I stumbled across an old playground and a space-age plaza that was like 1950’s saucers made of concretes with ferns and Wonder Bread paint. I was tempted to get an ice cream cone, but resisted – I had all the ice cream I wanted back at the resort.

Old blue car in Cuba

Back at the Resort

Once I’d walked around most of town and drank all the water in my bottle, I hopped back on the bus and returned to the resort. I had only been in the room a couple of minutes when Matt came in exclaiming he’d booked us a trip to Havana! I was amazed – I had given up hope on that. He had spoken to the lifeguard on the beach and got him down to 120 CUC for a private tour to Havana – the same rate we’d get if we’d done the bus tour with the resort. Our tour was booked for Sunday – our last full day in Cuba.

Matt and I walked down to the beach together. He settled into his Rubik’s cube and I went to get a beach burger for lunch – it was almost 2:00pm after all! I got a pork skewer with my burger and sat by the beach enjoying my meal. I swear the best food on the resort comes from the jolly beach burger chef – he’s such a gent!

I went to wash my hands off in the ocean. As soon as my toes felt the water, I felt the waves beckoning to me! They are irresistible… but I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit and my sunscreen needed reapplying. So, I sat on the beach instead.

It was very windy, giving me goosebumps all over! Once I finished the morning’s blog post and drained my beer, I headed back to the room where I had a nap. When I awoke, Matt was asleep next to me. We headed down to dinner together and walked down to the beach to watch the sunset.

photo of wild dogs running along the beach at sunet
There was a pack of wild dogs running along the beach with their tails high. We hadn’t seen so many at once before! They were chasing another dog, who jumped into the waves to escape from them. The dogs dispersed with a victorious look on their faces only to return when the dog came out of the water. The chase continued out of sight. It reminded me of the book Fifteen Dogs.

We returned to the room where Matt flipped through the TV channels. He found the the Man Who Knew Infinity on an English channel about the mathematician from India which I had never seen. Matt went for walk around the perimeter of the resort by himself, so I stayed watching the TV.

When he returned and the movie was over, we went to sit on the balcony. We lit two cigars and sipped Cuban rum, chatting as the breeze rustled in the trees and the crickets chirped. No music played – just the sounds of nature tonight…

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Taking it easy in Cuba

I never considered myself a resort person. The idea of sitting on a beach for days on end surrounded by other tourists just never appealed to me… until now. It maybe age, it maybe work, or it maybe love.

My partner Matt is a beach person. Every weekend in the summer, he takes the ferry to Toronto Island to bask in the sun on the sandy shores of Lake Ontario. He’s done the resort thing in Cuba twice before and loved it! So, we booked a resort he’d enjoyed before with SellOffVacations.ca, I got books out from the library on Cuba, and a little over a month later we packed our bags and headed to Pearson Airport.

Neither the UP Express train nor the TTC was ran before 5am, so we had to take an airport taxi. It was a pleasant luxury to be picked up from home and dropped off right at our terminal! Even at 4am in the airport was swarming with people!

Flight to Cuba

We checked our bags and swiftly got through security. We were flying Sunwing, which apparently had complimentary ‘champagne’ service. To my surprise, this perk was still honoured at 7am. I guess Canadian law doesn’t extend this far up in the air… or it’s non-alcoholic. Either way, it helped make up for the cramped seating and lack of electrical outlets on the plane.

I settled into Company Town, a Canada Reads finalist as Matt tracked our flight progress and speed. We were handed tourist visas and a customs declaration card for entry, with a stern warning not to make any errors or else we’d be charged $20 for a new one!

Photo of items on an aeroplane tray: A 11 Y T O water bottle, Cuba travel guide, a Canada Reads book, and a glass of sparkling wine

Varadero Airport

Customs was slow and disorganized. Then we had to go through security, which seemed a bit odd coming into the country. Past security, we found our bags all lined up. Airport personnel were playing catch amongst the suitcases with a spaniel. Suitcases gathered, we handed our customs declaration card off and exited the airport.

Outside was a line of buses, taxis, and people directing the human traffic. We lined up to exchange our money for the CUC, which unfortunately was 1.39 CAD. As we waited in line, we watched spectacular 1950’s cars drive by as palm trees waved in the breeze against a soft blue sky.

We got 149 CUC for $200 CAD. Matt really wanted to get beers for the bus, so we got Cristal beers for 2.50 CUC each from a cart seller. Beer pretty much costs the same as at home – just less flavour. It’s still very refreshing.

can of beer by a bus window in Cuba

Bus to the resort

We found our bus, which to our embarrassment had been waiting for us. The drive was full of lost photo opportunities. Aqua water crashing on the shore, colourful apartment buildings, horse drawn carts and old cars, bikes, aloe plants and palm trees. It was stunning – so different from anywhere I’d been before!

The bus had a MC chatting up the guests. He was warm and friendly, gave the bus a quick Spanish lesson and reminded us to tip everyone. This motivated us to give an extra big tip to the bus driver out of guilt of holding everyone up.

Arrival at Melias Las Antillas

We were greeted with a sparkling fruit wine with a pineapple taste to it. We filled out some paperwork and handed over our luggage to the bellboy before making our way over to the cafe for coffee with liquor. Sparrows were singing throughout the lobby, fluttering around people’s tables. It was lovely to watch and listen to them!

Our First afternoon at Melias

Once we were settled into our room, we went exploring. We surveyed the pool, the buffet, and the beach. I was instantly drawn towards the waves, jumping into the blue waters as soon as I got my chance! I only came out when I started to worry about sunburn… then I started to worry about all the ocean water I had ingested. If I get sick, I’ll have only myself to blame!

photo of a sunset over the ocean waves

First evening at Melias

After dinner, we walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. Once dark fell, the trees were alive with the sounds of insects – across between a cicadas and cricket. Matt and found a hammock under the palm trees, swaying gently in the breeze as we sipped pina-coladas. Once I started drifting, we went back to the hotel room where Matt got his binoculars to study the full moon and Jupiter. I had a bad case of the hiccups and took photos of the moon through the palm trees in a torrent of comical convulsions.

We sat and watched a pop concert until I started nodding off on Matt’s shoulder (we had been up since 3am after all). Sleepy, we made our way back to the hotel room where Matt put on Groeland to listen to before we fell asleep.

Photo of waves crashing on black rock cliffs

Day two: our first full day at the resort

We set an alarm to go want the sunrise on the beach, but it was cloudy so we decided to sleep in instead. After breakfast, we went for a long walk up to the cliffs.

The cliffs were very exciting! They were made up of porous volcanic rock with green brush and red lichen growing on top. As the waves crashed against the black rock, the sound of thunder erupted around us! The dark cliffs were beautiful contrast to the aqua blue waters and white foam against a blue sky. We walked back to the hotel with our sandals in our hands, enjoying the sand between our toes.

People watching on the beach was fun – there seemed to be every sort of person from tattooed bikini babes to old men with beer bellies in speedos. We always enjoy the diversity of bodies – everyone wearing whatever they feel comfortable in! There were lots of cute toddlers and kids building sand castles too – and a chubby baby observing the waves for the first time. I thought he was particularly cute – but then I have babies on the brain after spending a wonderful weekend with my cousin’s triplets two weeks ago.

We had a coffee at the cafe, watching the sparrows hop from table to table pruning themselves. Back at our hotel room, I sat on our patio enjoying the breeze in the palm trees and birdsong with Cuban music as a backdrop coming from the speakers inside. It was very peaceful.

An Afternoon at Melias

We did a short weight routine in the gym. To my delight, there was a sauna too – and pitchers of fruit infused water. This was a place I could hangout!

After a ‘resort orientation’ with an unpleasant Nexus rep and an icky at the Cuban restaurant, we went down to the beach to sit in the sun. Matt listened to Beirut as I finished my book and did some sketching.

There are lots of wild dogs and cats on the property. One dog decided to have a snooze right behind Matt’s chair. It was nice to think that of all the places to nap, the dog thought beside us was a safe and comfortable place to sleep.

With the loud disco music at the pool bar turned off, we cuddled up under one of the white gazebo beds. Matt eventually fell asleep and I sat reading a new book, listening to the birds, admiring the white curtains blow in the breeze with the green palm leaves as slate grey clouds rolled in overhead. It was beautiful.

Photo of beach huts at sunset

Second Evening at Melias

It really started to cool down with the sun setting. There were dogs barking on the beach as the wind picked up again, adding drama to the scenery.

We walked down to the beach to watch the sun set. Golden light seeped through the dense tree tops as we made our way down the sandy boardwalk. We found a spot on the grass, leaning on one another as we watched the sun descend behind the horizon.

We continued to sit there until a light rain began to fall. The sound of crickets filled the grass behind us. As we made our way back to the resort, I struggled to describe the new scent that surrounded us. Matt smelled the sea and rain. I was reminded of trees in early summer – the sweet scent of green leaves.

I chose a huge skewer of chicken and eggplant for dinner. We watched as it was cooked in front of us over a fiery grill. It was very good! We sat at a table outside, sipping glasses of white wine as crickets chirped and the sound of music drifted over from the bandshell at the centre of the resort.

Cats were making their rounds as each table begging for scraps. Back at our room, Matt watched a kitten hunt and eat a lizard right in front of him! Nature.

The evening’s entertainment was synchronized swimming followed by a fiddler accompanying 1990’s disco music. I had trouble putting aside my theatre expectations, so we walked down to the beach to look at the stars. There was the Big Dipper, the North Star, Orion, and Jupiter with wisps of clouds lit by the full moon. It was the ideal end to our first full day in Cuba!
bird on a fence at sunrise

Day Two: a Stereotypical Resort Day

We got up at 6:30 to watch the sun rise. We climbed the stairs to the top of the resort to watch it from the fifth floor. To the east was the highway. Buses and taxis rumbled by as sparrows gliding between our heads.

In the field beyond our resort were two camels grazing. Once I’d had my fill of the peach morning sun rays seeping through the clouds, I scurried on down to take their picture. Matt followed closely behind, saying “See the sunrise, stay to the camels!”

Photo of a camel tethered to a pole in a field.
After I’d taken some pictures through the fence, we went back in for breakfast. Our aspirations to have a light breakfast when out the window once we saw the buffet. There were pancakes with molasses, all sorts of cereals, eggs, cheese, and meats. I had some hot chocolate and made myself a mango lassi by mixing mango jam with a glass of thin yogurt. What with all the other things I piled onto my plate, I was stuffed!

We decided to walk off the carbs on the beach. I was so hot in my jeans and hoody (Matt likes the AC high so I always anticipate the outside world being much cooler than it is) that we turned back part way to change into beachwear. We claimed some beach chairs along the way, setting down our towels and my book. Apparently that’s the way to do it on resorts.

I changed into my green string bikini back at the room and we picked up some postcards and stamps at the resort’s post office (1.70 for international stamps AND postcard!) which was run by a very nice lady. Once on the beach, Matt put on his headphones and I set about writing my cards. I quite enjoy writing postcards – it’s like a condensed blog post!

It started to rain when I went to refill our Bubba cups. Light at first, then a torrential downpour before switching back to light again – then the sun came out again, all in a matter of fifteen minutes.

Once the rain cleared, I went for a swim. I chased waves all across the resort! Time is meaningless when dancing among the waves. I couldn’t get enough – kept on going back in for more!

While I dried off, he went to get us each a burger from the beach BBQ. The burger really hit the spot! After one last run in the waves, we went back to the room for a nap. We woke up just before dinner, surprised to find we both had bad sunburns. Inevitable.

We walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. Once it had dipped behind the horizon, we walked back to the resort. A skinny black dog ran across the beach and down to the water. He looked so happy and free.

We went to the Cuban restaurant for dinner. I had lobster and Matt had chicken with plantains topped with meat and vegetables. After dinner we laid in the hammocks between the palm trees before going for a stroll around the perimeter of the resort, stargazing. I enjoy the quiet of the far corners of the resort.

Back at our room, Matt turned on the news while I scrambled his Rubik’s cubes (he brought three!) for. We fell asleep as bass thumped in the distance with the white noise of the AC unit…

Photo of the moon silhouetted by palm tree leaves at night

Day Three: Getting Antsy at the Resort

Matt got up to watch the sunrise while I snoozed in bed. I met him at the cafe in the lobby and we walked down to the breakfast buffet together. I resisted temptation this morning, keeping to a yogurt smoothie, muesli and a poached egg. The waitress gave me a rose crafted from a paper napkin and a cigar for Matt. I thought of my friend Kitty back home as I held the rose – she’s very good at floral paper crafts too! My friend Caitlin would be going nuts over the cats everywhere on the resort. Cat lover’s heaven!

After breakfast, we went for a long walk to the other end of the resort beach where there was a white colonial style gazebo with white curtains fluttering in the breeze. We passed some lovely looking resorts along the way – some with beds on the beach and others with two story cottages that reminded me of the waterside apartments of Montreal.

Photo of an elevated beach hut
We got caught in the rain along the way, taking refuge in an elevated palm leaf roofed lifeguard hut. We watched the dark clouds over the waves as water dripped from the dry palm leaves overhead. Once the rain stopped, we continued our walk where we saw dark coloured seagulls, a pelican, and crab. I stopped to examine shells and coral washed up along the shore, admiring all the small delights along the way.

The sun came out once we reached the gazebo. Neither of us had any sunscreen on, so hurried back. We took our sandals off and walked barefoot through the wet sand as waves lapped at our ankles.

Photo of a white gazebo overlooking the ocean
Back at the resort, we had a cup of espresso. Matt discovered that Wifi was only 2 CUC for 1 hour, so I hastily updated my Instagram accounts, Facebook, and blog, trying to leave enough for Matt to check his stocks and CBC news later. Matt teased me that I was a true millennial after all – can’t stay disconnected for too long!

Photo of porous rock next to aqua sea water

A Lazy Afternoon

We went to the beach BBQ for lunch where the chef cooked us up a chicken and beef burger topped with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and cucumber. The cook wore a tall chef hat with a colourful polkadot apron. He was a very jolly man, calling us “the Prince and Princess” with a huge smile.

After our delicious hamburgers, we went for a stroll before parting ways at the pool. I went and made myself comfortable in a hammock strung up between two palm trees while Matt went to read on the terrace. I then spent some time in the sauna, returning to the room where I found Matt watching Black Mirror.

Matt had gone from “Next time we do this, we should stay for two weeks!” this morning to “I want to go home.” in the afternoon. We walked together to the Cuban restaurant for an afternoon snack where we discussed possible activities. In the end, we decided to go our separate ways this afternoon.

It was another windy day at the beach. I found a spare chair under a palm leaf umbrella where I worked on the day’s blog post before going for a stroll down the beach to the cliffs. I studied the shapes the sea foam made around my feet, the little clouds of sand and dappled sunlight in the clear water, and how bubbles would blow across the wet sand with the wind.

There were lots of shells and coral fragments to admire. I saw a tiny crab and more black capped seagulls. I passed a beach wedding surrounded by bikini-clad onlookers with cameras with pink and white polyester blowing from the arbour and chairs set up for the guests. There were children making sand castles, bobbing in the waves wearing red wading wings, and couples of all ages cuddling at the waters edge. I enjoyed the many sights on my walk.

I returned to the room to find the place reeking of disinfectant. Matt had reported the ant problem in our room and it smelt as if they’d sprayed Raid everywhere! I quickly changed out of my swimsuit and into a cotton dress. I had planned to have a nap, but instead I walked the perimeter of the resort, gazing over the chain link fence. The camels were gone, but there were lots of colourful flowers to admire and stop to smell.

Photo of a yellow wall lined with bushes next to a palm tree

An evening to ourselves

I came to a rest in a hammock. Not long after, Matt came into view having spent some time sitting on the beach. We walked back to the room together. Matt was not impressed with the fumes or persistent ants in our room, so called the resort manager. The manager had gone for the day, but another rep spoke to us. At first they said they couldn’t change our room as the resort was all booked up, but Matt used his magic to get us a new room on the second floor.

Our new room was much nicer. It had a private balcony, some more furniture, fancier soap, and most importantly – no insects! One we’d unpacked, we hurried down to the beach to catch the tail end of the sunset. We visited the buffet where I filled my plate with spinach and rice with a bowl of spinach soup on the side. I was quite pleased with all my spinach.

After dinner, we sat on our new balcony and perused my Cuba travel book. We were both feeling concerned about finding an affordable way into Havana. Train and bus might be an option, but if all else fails we can take the tourist bus into the city of Varadero to get a taste of real Cuba. There also appeared to be a historical sugar plantation near by. We have two fall back plans if Havana doesn’t work out.

We sat on the balcony in silence mostly, sipping Cuban rum as we looked out at the stars and the palm trees against the night sky. Disco music and laughter spread over the landscape from the “Disco Fun Pub” (I kid you not, this is the actual name of the place) with crickets singing in the grass below our balcony. I felt quite content to sit still and quiet in our little oasis. There’s something so special about being in a balcony – our own little balcony at that! It was the ideal way to spend the evening.

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