Trip to Cuba 10 years ago was unexpected for many reasons. We were newly married. At the time I was still a Permanent Resident in Canada and needed to get Visa to go to another country. Application process could take weeks and we thought hassles of paperwork is unnecessary for getting away just for a week. Second, we were saving to buy our first home and was cautious about spending. So, in the beginning, we settled for a three days trip to Quebec and Montreal.
But two days prior to the trip, everything changed. Hubs happened to read an article in travel section of our local Newspaper which gave useful information on the tour packages to Cuba and few other all inclusive vacation spots. Next, he consulted with few travel agencies and the Cuban Embassy making sure that, I after all, don’t need a Visa but only my passport and the Permanent Resident Card. We made the decision to fly to Cuba the next day, doing some hasty shopping to be beach ready. I was so happy beyond imagination because never in my life I thought that I could enjoy the magnificence and splendor of an exotic place like Cuba. Neither of us could sleep well on the night before the much awaited vacation flight.
Early morning the next day, my father-in-law dropped us off at the Airport and we made our way to the counter for our tickets which will take us to Cuba. Domestic Airline of Canada, Canjet was on time and on board we were served coffee, other beverages and breakfast. Flight was pleasant and we flew over New York, North Carolina, Florida, Miami to name a few. It took three hours and twenty minutes altogether and shortly before landing, the majestic Atlantic Ocean came into sight revealing its vastness and the depth of sparkling blue. By the time we touched our feet on the ground, my mind was serene and my heart was filled with unrelenting happiness. All the passengers were clapping their hands with joy, welcoming Cuba to their hearts!
Cuba is always hot and we all sensed it the moment we stepped out of the flight. A wave of heat washed against my face reminding me that this vacation is not going to be easy after all…but I was ready for anything…anything Cuba could offer me…
We went through all the procedures in the Cuban airport, got our baggage and boarded the buses of Tour Package Company. We had a guide in the bus who welcomed all Tourists in Spanish (spoken language of the land), and we shouted back the same with laughter and cheer.
The fun has begun!
I looked out of the window and saw a green land on the shores of a mighty ocean. Sun is always strong and probably will stay the same till around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I could see local Cubans on the road either walking or traveling in buses or riding bicycles. Most Cubans possess cars, but only 1950 models or much older than that!
Only the tourists are allowed and offered much newer versions of automobiles like Hyundai, Toyota or Nissan. In a way, Cuba was a reflection of the Indian landscape filled with palm trees, vegetation, cattle and the typical hot weather. We could see the buildings and houses or apartments of Cubans built in concrete and in the stucco pattern which is also very similar to Indian style of construction.
The beautiful blue ocean loomed large over the land than ever before, welcoming me and others gracefully. I heard our guide giving out the basic details of Cuba and everyone was listening to him intently.
La Republica de Cuba is the largest island in the Greater Antilles. It is 140 km from the Bahamas, 180 km from Florida, 210 km from Cancun and 146 km from Jamaica. Havana (La Ciudad La Habana) is the capital. Most Cuban people are mixed races. Spanish is the official language of Cuba though English is also spoken in the tourist areas.
The name of the hotel that we stayed was “Tuxpan” (I don’t know what the name means). We checked in. Our room was in the ground floor and we both were not happy about it as we couldn’t see the ocean from our balcony and had to be satisfied with the bushes and trees surrounding the hotel. The hotel was in its full capacity at the time due to the peak season of tourists. “Tuxpan” holds four restaurants of its own and out of it, two were “ale carte”. We could dine anywhere we want! The hotel has its own swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs. There is a pool bar near it and another bar in the hotel lobby. We are to be served unlimited drinks! I was officially convinced that we are in heaven! Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of drinks and neither is my husband. But the prospect of having any kind of drinks you want- be it rum, vodka, cocktail, whisky, brandy- you name it… anytime of the day could be kind of unreal and very tempting for many. I remember having Screw diver, Bloody Ceaser and Vodka few times… See, I am not even a regular drinker in ordinary life….
Without doubt, one of the biggest attraction of visitors to Cuba is its fine luxury products. Real Cuban cigars are well known as the best money can buy, the Arabica coffee is rich and sought after, and Cuban rum is simply legendary. These luxury products can be an integral part of your holiday in Cuba! While on our trip to Havana, we were lucky enough to stop at fertile tobacco fields, and see the cigars as they are hand rolled in real Cuban cigar factories.
Cuban rum production has become an art form – made by distilling the products derived from local sugarcane, and then aged for up to 15 years! Cuba’s holiday makers enjoying the local rum can be sure that their drink has not been rushed. There are many brands of local rum, and a popular Cuban activity is sampling each one – either neat or as part of the island’s famous cocktails.
Cuba has produced fine coffee for over two centuries, and although it doesn’t have the reputation of Cuba’s rum and cigars, it has a flavor which matches the excitement and passion of its people! While we were not able to get hold of some Cuban coffee, we did manage to bring some Cuban Rum and Cigars for our friends and family which really made them happy and special.
We reserved an entire day to visit Habana, the capital of Cuba. The tour company arranged for a group of people, the bus, a guide and food to accompany what would be a perfect day out in the city! Habana is a one-off. Sitting pretty as the Caribbean’s largest and most vivacious city, its romantic atmosphere and infectious energy are legendary At the forefront of modern Latino culture, Habana has spawned salsa and mambo, Havana Club rum and Cohiba cigars, mural painting and Che Guevara iconography… And the list goes on.
We walked along the small and winding streets of Habana to see the Habaneros bustling along with their lives, occasionally smiling at the tourists like us who is wandering leisurely around. We saw a small wedding party at a local church where the ceremony of sacrament was about to begin. The photographer was taking pictures of the bride who is adorned in a white gown to begin the journey of a lifetime. She would look at these pictures later on in years to come and wonder at the beauty and divinity glowing on her face and shook her very being with happiness on that special day.
We saw a musician playing a bugle in the street and entertaining a small crowd around him for a daily living. I went over a gave him a peso and he rewarded me with a smile and I saw few broken teeth in his mouth. In the center square, we saw flower girls. These are women who dress colorfully in bright costumes and flowers decorated on them, in their hair, their wrists and neck. They make a daily living by posing for the tourists and visitors to take photographs. We saw children playing every where in the busy streets and pathways and grown ups playing the game “Dominos” in every shade. We stopped at a fine looking hotel for our lunch. We had continental food and some drinks. It was very hot and by the end of the day, my cloths were clinging on to me all drenched in sweat. We saw the parliament building and a huge picture of Che Guvera but couldn’t get a closer look at it as it was raining down heavily by then. Hubs tried to take a picture from the bus but it didn’t turn out well.
Our hotel was at Varadero. It is a small town along the coast of Atlantic ocean. The hotel is situated very close to the ocean which made it easier for us to wander away to the water often.
Both of us are not so good in swimming but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the water. There were signs and land marks in the water as to how far we could go and which part is dangerous to swim and so forth. There were coast guards on duty all the time and this provided a safe environment for the tourists. One of them told me, majority of the tourists who come to Cuba doesn’t know how to swim but that doesn’t stop them from going into the water and limiting them from enjoying what a seasoned swimmer would enjoy under the same circumstances. We took a double decker bus trip to see the city of Varadero and we made it a point to sit at the top deck which will bring us closer to the festive mood that absorb this city all the time.
Cuba’s biggest treasure has always been its marvelous beach, but this isn’t all it has to offer. You can explore its caves and escarpments, a necklace of virgin caves that are easy to get to and the carefully preserved natural landscape at the northeastern end of the peninsula.
Soon it was time for us to leave and the realization washed us in a fresh wave of nostalgia. By that time I had already made friends at the hotel we were staying for that glorious one week. My Spanish teacher (yes, indeed! I learned few Spanish words from this kind lady even though I don’t remember one word out of it now…), the beautiful waitresses in the restaurants of the hotel, fellow tourists and this girl, Geni, who was no more than eighteen and a student in a University in Taiwan, who is visiting the country alone for the first time. She told us she likes to travel and major share of her income once she starts working will go to this passion of hers. I secretly wished to trade places with her since visiting exotic places and enjoying magnificent sights was my dream too, always. Once settled in our seats in the air plane which will take us back to our home, I felt guilty about thinking of trading places with the girl in Taiwan. Yes, I want to travel. But I want Hubs as my travel companion so that we could share these good times of life together and look forward to yet another journey where we will discover more treasures of beautiful sights, experiences and pictures unseen together. Now, that is romantic! I began plotting about the prospect and chances of another vacation while Hubs looked up at me questioningly. With a million fabulous ideas to plan the next trip, I beamed at him happily…
***Originally appeared in MomLess Mom in May 2013****