Ravings and Rantings

Welcome to my cloud! It's got a nice silver lining somewhere.....Some ranting, some raving--mostly positive stuff,lots of jokes (I can't stay serious). Nothing going on here that a pina colada or mohito can't fix.

Monday, October 31, 2005

I Can Always Find My Cuban Skies In Rosalinda's Eyes

Zombieslayer asked me to write about Cuba and my trip there because Us-sians aren't allowed to visit there.

Actually they are. You're just not allowed to spend money there (they changed that policy).

It's quite a poor country. There are no highs and lows in terms of income. Everyone's poor and that's it.

I went there with a good friend (Doris) who had just left our office (run by idiots) and before she'd gone to her new job. Doris being the thorough soul that she is booked us into a 4 star all inclusive place called Breezes Jibacoa.

Let me tell you, never consider going lower than a 4 star there.

But I digress. We heard ahead of time to bring things to leave with people. Money doesn't cut it. Clothes, books, paper, soap (especially soap), things like that are very valued. So we brought colored pencils, dictionaries, anything we could fit into the suitcases including T shirts to leave. We didn't know that soap was an issue or we would have brought lots.

You can't go anywhere without hearing about Che Guevera. I mean NOWHERE. The U.S. doesn't have any figure to compare except perhaps A. Lincoln or (my personal fave) JFK, but these folks are mad about Che. Every tour, every building--it's inescapable.

There are lots of historical sites to see, and there is what looks like rain forest. The beaches are combed every day by machine, so if you like to collect shells like I do, forget it, it isn't happening. The water was quite blue, and very shallow for at least a quarter of a mile out. All you have to do to see brightly colored tropical fish is stand still. They swim up to you. Tangs, grunts, sargeants, parrot-fish--tons of them. The sand isn't white, it's brown.

The plumbing (in this resort) is Russian, and quite old. It works well considering it dates probably to the 50s or 60s. Cars? You aren't allowed to drive anywhere and don't go off the beaten path either. I have no idea why but the police will definitely keep you on the straight and narrow.

Energy is ancient. There is no solar power, many deserted gas stations/gas lines. Much has fallen into rack and ruin. Occasionally someone will blame the U.S. but I didn't hear much of that. In fact, only heard it once in a week.

There are tons of Canadians there. About 90% of the tourists are Canadian with a sprinkling of American, German and French. Over 90% of the island's income is from tourism, so tourists are well-treated.

This resort had food that put Club Med to shame (it was exceptional). I hate eggs with a passion, but the average Cuban family might have an egg a week or a month. There were so many egg dishes I felt really guilty just looking at it, and it's hard to make me feel that way. Tipping was officially discouraged but definitely expected, even in the all-inclusive. I didn't travel at all except once--to Havana. It reminded me of the deep South in the U.S., right down to the gorgeous (yes gorgeous) cemetaries. Part of the trip included an open air bazaar, and many women were begging for soap. I didn't even realize that they were talking to me until someone came along and chased them away. You don't see much livestock there and the few around are very skinny (like many Caribbean countries). The people were friendly. They tended to stick to themselves, and were not allowed on the beach of the resort (it turns out that's a good thing due to the begging). The staff at the resort stuck to themselves. They did allow in artists during the week that we were there, all of whom were eager to chat about their work, family, etc. Some of the stuff they sold was fantastic (paintings in bright oils, muted water colors; wooden or black coral jewellery) and some was junky. Rum was cheap, cigars cost the earth. Ridiculously expensive. Clothes were quite reasonable and I wish I could remember the details (i.e. what counts as reasonable--let's say $7 for a T shirt) and tourist-y. It would be hard to distinguish between the tourist shop in Breezes Jibicoa and one in say, Grand Bahama Island.

It's strange being in a place that lives that much on tourism. In North America, walking down a main drag in any city, you see folks going about working mostly. In Cuba that just isn't the case. No one's anywhere. Mostly lounging on corners if anywhere at all, but mostly no one's around. The buildings are for the most part grey cementy things or downtown, brightly colored but in obvious structural distress--extremely so. Cars you don't see that often, but you don't see people riding on animals either. Bikes I guess.

I think that the chief attraction of Cuba is it's inexpensiveness and nearness to North America. Our trip was about $1200 if I remember right (each) and that was a few years ago. The place that we went to was not 'the party place', Verradero. There weren't loud parties or that kind of thing. Did see kids in the dining room but not many on the beach, etc. Odd.

Lots of people that I know of in Canada love Cuba. I am not one of them-- found it depressing and sad. Good place to go for a week but certainly no longer than that. You hear a LOT about the old days, when (so we were told) the Mafia built Havana up as a hot spot (nightclubs, gambling) and to be honest, I think that many of the people living there long for those days. There are many stories of famous actors (etc.) who used to hang out there in the 'good old days', now at least 50 years gone. It must be very hard on these older folks remembering much better times, and even worse for the younger ones who don't have the memories of a better time.

The majority of the people I saw were in their middle age (40s and 50s) with younger kids. Not all that many older people. Not many teenagers. Of course no fast food places and no 'dance halls' that I saw. Some restaurants but again, in the tourist areas. An island trying to feed itself with not much of an agricultural resource base (like water) isn't going to do much growing of anything. The 'national dish' is black beans on white rice. It symbolizes the mixing of the cultures. Not just black and white but Aztec, Spanish, you name it. Same goes for the Cuba Libre drink (it's a mix of black and white liqueurs). There are many stories to be told, and Cubans are a story-telling folk.

When I go away somewhere, it's because I"m desperate for quiet/sun and sand. I don't visit to learn about other cultures (moving 13 times in 16 years definitely cured me of that). Sorry if that's shallow but by the tmie I manage to get my big white butt out of the office, things are in really rough shape rest-and-relaxation-wise. But you can't help but notice what's around you, or in this case, what wasn't.

There's an artistic spirit and a 'keep trying-ness' too about these folks despite the conditions. Frankly there are places closer to home that could use more of that attitude.

Bridg

8 Comments:

  • At 10/31/2005 09:28:00 PM, Blogger tshsmom said…

    WOW, that was an incredible description! For a warm climate, it sounds very cold there. Sorta like a twisted Dr. Seuss book.
    I think there is something sinister about a place that doesn't have children running around.

     
  • At 10/31/2005 10:29:00 PM, Blogger Bridget Jones said…

    Me too, Tshsmom. A very sad place.

     
  • At 11/01/2005 12:38:00 AM, Blogger jipzeecab said…

    Having lived within 90 miles for 13 years but never seeing it I was captivated by your every word...thanks for relating it....nothing describes a visit better than a non filtered first person experience.

     
  • At 11/01/2005 12:46:00 AM, Blogger jipzeecab said…

    I'm a big fan of cuban food..black beans and white rice have been the standard staples of the Cuban diet since the mid 19th century when chinese workers were imported there by the Spanish rulers to construct the national railroad system there..

     
  • At 11/01/2005 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Bridget Jones said…

    jipzee, sounds like they took a leaf from the U.S.' book!

     
  • At 11/01/2005 11:31:00 PM, Blogger The Zombieslayer said…

    Love that post. Thanks so much.

    I've done a 180 about opening relations to Cuba. It really sickens me that we have no relations with Cuba, yet everyone's trying to be buddy buddy with China. It's so hypocritical.

    or (my personal fave) JFK,

    I loved JFK. Such a shame. He's my fav president in the last 50 years by far.

    Back to Cuba, my buddy who went wrote a book and it was wonderful, but very, very sad.

     
  • At 11/03/2005 11:11:00 PM, Blogger Bridget Jones said…

    Zombieslayer, I lived in Boston during JFK's regieme. It was a magic time (mind you I was, umm, 10). But still remember clearly what it was like to be there.

    As a 5th grade project, we were putting together a newspaper edition. I interviewed a neighbor about what it was like to live in Cuba before the revolution. I barely remember most of what was said, they talked of parks, flamingos running around everywhere, and in general the beauty of the place, while hearing muffled noises of guns and cannons. Of course they left eventually. Funny thing was that these neighbors were Canadian.

    Anyway, on the way out the door, he mentioned a new thing he'd worked on/seen. A missle launched from beneath the water to targets on land.

    Decided to write both articles up and let the teacher choose.

    She picked the SAM article, a bit dumbfounded, and it was the lead in the edition we did.

    Weird, huh?

    Glad you liked the post, ZS and Jipzee. It was once quite pretty, you could see that, but the beauty had long long ago crumbled.

     
  • At 11/03/2005 11:13:00 PM, Blogger Bridget Jones said…

    p.s. Zomb we were also there when JFK died. It was horrible, but would not have wanted to be anywhere else.

    I think that the world lost a real leader that day. And then to be followed by Robert...

     

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