Cuba: Part 2

Cuba: Part 2

Cuba’s all-inclusive resorts seem to exist for one reason – too keep tourists completely isolated from anything threatening to be interpreted as actual Cuba.

Originally I had no intent on going to such a place, but my Casa Particular owner in Havana, Delia, put me in touch with her sister, a local travel agent, who offered me a stay at one of these places at the Cuban Price – which worked out at 75% off. So for $60 a night, I got to stay at the Five Star Melia Dunas Resort, which included all meals and alcohol. I figured I could at least drink twice the cost of that in a day.

With 925 rooms, Las Dunas lives up to its description as a super resort. There are also two gigantic pool areas, 10 bars, 7 restaurants, a nightclub and Santa Maria beach itself – which to be fair – is a really nice beach. It’s also a great place to meet Canadians, who make up a good 95% of everyone there.

The food continued to be uninspiring, but after the ordeals of struggling to do the most basic things everywhere else in the country, I enjoyed it more than I thought. I had 3 days here, spending most of it at the pool bar with Quebec people and Mojitos. There were also enough people there to make the nights fun.

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Ultimately though, the resort softened me up and drained my appetite for going back out into the real Cuba where I had to deal with constant lunacy. The original plan was to continue on to the colonial town of Trinidad, but the connections from where I was were extremely taxing – so I decided to make a compromise. I would return to Havana (which had grown on me) for a few days and then spend the rest of my designated Cuban tenure in the colonial city of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic instead. It was a ridiculous detour, but then my life to date is but a series of ridiculous detours so it actually sat pretty well.

I’ll talk about Santo Domingo another time, but it is worth touching on Cuban airlines – the carrier that took me there and back from Havana. Despite it being a two hour flight, the Russian made Antonov-158 had to make a ‘service’ stop in the western Cuban city of Santiago half way through. I’m not sure good it did since the plane continued to lurch and chug through the sky as opposed to something resembling cruising. Both landings were accompanied by a dramatic crunch with whiplash thrown in for good measure. I didn’t really want to fly back to Havana with them, and almost didn’t thanks to an eleven-hour delay for the return flight, ensuring I arrived back in Havana at 2am. I was flying out to Bogota that same afternoon at 4:50pm, and therefore had one more day to enjoy the city.

That last day was pretty much a microcosm of everything I’d experienced in Cuba to date. I got up early and had a big breakfast courtesy of Delia’s Casa Particular, then went off too meet up with my Havana Novia (who I met at Cayo Santo Maria), Geidy for a coffee at Hotel Inglaterra on the Prado, before hanging out at my room for one last time. I hated saying goodbye to her. I hate to brag, but I didn’t see another girl in Cuba who could even hold a candle to her. She was absolutely fucking stunning and had the sweetest smile and mannerisms. She didn’t know a sentence of English, but I loved our simple, smoldering conversations in Spanish. After we said our goodbyes, Cuba did what Cuba did best and pushed me from one emotion spike to another.

Before I could get to the airport I had to go to the bank and withdraw a few more CUC to pay for the cab and hefty departure tax. I’d already gone through this process four times in Cuba, but it wasn’t until I was in a slight hurry to get to the airport that they made it as painful as possible. Today, they only had one counter catering to foreign withdrawals, and that one person was on their lunch break, with no given time of return. Thirty minutes in I started to panic. 50 minutes later, the woman, a grubby she version of Jabba the Hutt, waddled back into the bank from the back office and got behind the counter, still chowing down on a box of rice and beans. With two hours till my flight and anxiety reaching boiling point, I frantically explained that I needed to catch a plane, like, NOW. She glacially slumped back into her workstation and then went about the cash withdrawal process as if she gave a shit. Ten signatures later, she presented the cash in front of me. I snatched it and sped out of bank into the first taxi I saw.

Poetically, it was only natural that I mindlessly picked the vehicle least likely to get me to the airport – a 1965 Soviet Moskovitch that had deteriated to little more than a thin shell of rust. Once out of Havana central and on to the open roads, the car began to make all sorts of worrying noises and stuttered along at an alarmingly slow pace.  Just as I could see Josi Marti airport on the horizon, the taxista dying drifted us over to a service shop and ran inside. A second later he emerged with a bucket of water, flung open the bonnet, emptied it over a hissing the engine, got back in, kicked down on the clutch as if he were curb stomping a sworn enemy, and the Soviet artifact spluttered back to life. All this done with the associated mannerisms to suggest that this was only the fifth time he’d had to do this today. And with that we arrived at the airport, just in time for me to board my flight with Avianca.

I’m glad I went to Cuba. It was a frequently exhausting experience, but one that satiated my curiosity for the place. In spite of the hustlers, most people are very friendly and honest, and are master optimists at bringing vibrancy and excitement to any area of life that hasn’t been sterilized by the regime or embargo. Most famously that’s through dance and music, but you can also see it in the faithful restorations of the cars, and family heirlooms within the various Casa’s that I stayed in. But Cuba as it’s known isn’t going to stay like this forever. Both Castro and his brother Raul – who took over the presidency in 2006 – are into their 90’s and the regime has already beginning to ease restrictions on free enterprise and open up internationally. Cubans that I spoke too said that things are markedly different even from 2011. In ten years time it may not even be recognizable. If you’ve always wanted to experience a Latin communist dictatorship stuck in the 1950’s, the last call just went.

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