Arriving in Cuba wasn't much different than what other traveling (the amount is not large tho I've had the chance to do more than many I suppose) I have done. The airport in Varadero was similar in size to the airport I left from here in Alberta. The customs officials were typical in surliness and lack of communication (other than barked directives which I always make the mistake of trying to ask clarification about...) and then I got my standard selection for "random" questioning/inspection. Oh well, it might happen every time I travel but at least I've never had to bend over in a dimly lit room (knock on wood).
Anyway, it really wasn't that big a deal but I did find it interesting that these people always seem to think that if I WAS a drug dealer or smuggler I'd give up that fact if only the question were repeated 3 times with increasing strenuousness.
So once the questions were done and the momentary nervousness/frustrated anger passed, out I went into the glorious heat of Cuban spring, joining my family once more...not to be hassled again throughout the entire stay. About 20 minutes later we reached our resort (Sol Palmeras All Inclusive - I recommend this place for sure) and younger brother, who had arranged the whole thing, greets us with Rum Punches at the check in desk.
That night consisted of meeting the non-relatives who were attending the ceremony and catching up with some old friends of my brother, as well as some relatives who had already made it there. It had been a few years since I had been near the equator ( I did 2 cruise ship contracts in the South Caribbean in 2002 and 2003) and it was delightful to be back in the heat, the warm ocean and hot sand just a few feet away, and the undescribably rejuvenating quality of the fresh ocean breeze. Even my father was fairly immediately relaxed and he was the furthest from his farm that he has ever been, and for the longest time ever.
The next morning, Monday morning, I woke up (at around 5 am of all the ridiculous times) to the sound of song birds just outside my window. The time might have been ridiculous, but the music made it impossible to be frustrated and I spent the next few hours just laying there alternating between reading and light snoozing. Most people want to be up making the most of their time as immediately as possible but I like to let the air of a new place kind of settle into my lungs if I can. Luckily time moves at about 1/2 pace in Cuba and my week really did feel like 2, or maybe even 3.
So, guessing at the time since I didn't take a watch along and didn't feel like dealing with cell phone or laptop or mp3 player, I snapped a few pictures of the suite and the view from the balcony (including the above picture) and then wandered downstairs to learn that it was just after 9 am and I had just missed the breakfast buffet. Oh well, I don't often eat breakfast anyway, and my appetite goes way down in the heat anyway, so off I go, out into the morning heat of a gloriously clear Cuban morning.
This first full day was spent catching up with family and making new friends with my brother's and his fiance's entourage. Lolled around all day, couple trips down to the beach but mostly just hanging out and drinking orange juice in the pool/sunbathing area.
I must make special mention of one new friend I made that Monday. My aunt had traveled with her good friend and roommate, who introduced me to a book that was published in the 70's yet remained unknown to me but which fit well with much of my thinking and with one of the main themes of this blog, that being a conscious blending of sociological development with ecological concerns. "Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston" by Ernest Callenbach may be familiar to some readers here, but it was delightfully new to me and I actually found that it mirrored parts of what I can only call the spirit of Cuba. I finished it over the next 3 days, a very quick and enjoyable read that I suggest to everyone. Thanks to Maria for introducing me.
That evening, more socialising morphed into the one night of the trip where your friendly neighbourhood SoapBoxTech got into a little too much Cerveza and Rum. This made for a fun night but a painful next morning as there was an 8am departure time for the group tour my brother had arranged for Havana. This tour was the first of what I am calling the cultural exploration aspect of this trip. I am going to cover this aspect of my trip in the next post so I'm not going to get into Havana right now anymore than to say the first few hours was incredibly painful but thank goodness I didn't make any messes or pass out anywhere.
Back to the vacation/wedding aspect...
By Wednesday it was clear that I was only going to have that Wednesday and the Saturday to do much personal exploring of the island, but it was also clear that I probably could not afford this exploring so I settled into relaxing and enjoying the resort as much as possible. After the long and somewhat painful Tuesday, I spent a good part of Wednesday reading and snoozing in a lightly shaded hammock down toward the beach. I cannot easily describe just how relaxing I found this environment, with few screaming children and many singing birds.
Thursday was wedding day and while I will write about one portion of this day in the next post about the cultural aspect of my trip, there isn't much else for me to share here. It was a beautiful day, however.
Friday was my mom's birthday and her brother and his wife's anniversary so all of mom's side of the family who made the trip, spent the day on a nice Catamaran tour. This was a nice day, but definitely full-on "vacation mode". The first part of the day was a jaunt to a facility where guests could swim with dolphins. I took part in this, and it was pretty cool, but I would have much preferred to be sharing the water with wild dolphins as opposed to trained.
After this stop, the catamaran tour made its way to a scuba diving location, but I sat that one out thanks to wearing glasses. More stunning scenery on the way though, including being accompanied by wild dolphins for a portion of the trip.
Then it was back en route to our lunch spot, a stunning and quiet stretch of white sand beach which also contained the obligatory restaurant/bar. Obviously this is an increasingly popular location as a 2nd pier was being put in as the picture shows. One of my little cousins found a starfish in the surf here and I got to show them I could tell it was alive by ever so slightly prying it open to reveal the moving hydraulic suckers that starfish use to move. I did find it a bit disconcerting that out of at least 10 adults in the vicinity I was the only one able to tell if the thing was alive.
After a couple hours here, it was time to head back to the main pier, then our bus back to the resort. Even with lots of sunscreen, this was a sunburn day for most everyone. Great day though, and I think a good birthday/anniversary. One last moment to share...at one point, I felt a little scritching at my elbow. Looking back, I discovered this little cutie grinning at me. I hope it wasn't me that turned the grin so quickly into the grimace.
And that, dear readers, about sums up the vacation aspect of my week in Cuba. Next up, the cultural exploration aspect of the trip, and it has been my intention to leave the best for last...at least in terms of what I found to be the best part of the trip (other than the wedding of course).
Until later. Peace and comfort folks...please be careful and good to each other in this recently even more scary, crazy, old world.
9 hours ago