1 September 2011

A Cuban Experience

Cuba, April 2008 (Varadero, Part III)

To maximize this Cuban experience, I'll have to ask that you leave the mesmerizing beaches of Varadero where I left you in Part II, just for a minute, while I share these less adventurous bits of information with you.

The currency in Cuba is the CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos or ‘tourist pesos’). You can only purchase them once you get there (there are lots of conversion websites for you to search on Google if you're interested in knowing the exchange rate).  The rates did vary every day (slightly) but we were lucky enough that our resort did the exchange on site. 
Feel like getting out?  Cuba is incredibly safe.  Taxis are very cheap and very efficient and there's also Double-Decked tour buses that make several stops along the Varadero peninsula (for really cheap).

And after it was too late for me to check this place out, I did learn of Calle 64 in town.  It's the disco where everyone, vacationers and locals, meet in Varadero for music, cervezas (at a cost, because it's not all-inclusive once you leave resort) and dancing (open every night for your entertainment...or so I'm told). *sigh*

As part of our trip, we had to make a one day trip to visit five other resorts.  This one day adventure to the Melia chain of accommodations was absolutely incredible.  We saw Cuba's only golf course, took the "tram train" between three resorts (it's a free trolley service for those staying in the Melia family of close proximity), tried fresh coconut, ate lunch with the nicest guy at the Tryp resort (his name started with"Y" but I couldn't pronounce it, he was super nice and so informative) and listened to numerous live bands playing authentic Cuban music.   Just like this one...

Here's a little Cuban Flavour for you :) 

After visiting the final resort (Paradisus Princesa del Mar), I vowed that should I ever marry, Cuba would be the place we honeymoon -everything about this place is romantic!  Then top it off with a five star spa-cation!? Yes, why wouldn't you? In my opinion, every couple needs to visit "postcard Cuba" for starting (or rekindling) their love.

Of the many things that I learned, I'm still astonished that males (optional for women) had to join the military for 2 years at the age of 18 and that everyone in Cuba could attend university (everyone was so well educated). Most would choose tourism studies and languages over degrees for medical doctors (this would pay the same upon completion, but doctors wouldn't receive gratuities, crazy eh?). 

And for the first time in history, Cubans would just now be able to vacation and stay in the same hotels and resorts as those visiting from all over the world (except for residents of the United States, who unfortunately still aren't permitted to visit as history will tell you) had been enjoying for years and years.

There were times when I wondered if Quinn and I were the only English speaking visitors there (aside from the staff, I'm pretty certain we were).  This makes it a wee bit difficult to make new friends.  Although we did meet a really nice couple from Quebec (who were bilingual).

I don't ever recall in my whole life seeing so many Speedos ("I wear short shorts" hahah) in one central area, as I did on those beaches!  They seemed to have formed their own club and any male wearing a black Speedo could join, but they had to be interested in playing bocce ball. :) Seems I'd always find myself in the front row once the game started (how does this happen?  Come on, I was seated there first...I didn’t relocate either lol).

I found the food to be delicious ... but I eat anything with few complaints regardless. The customer service was amazing.  I smile as I remember the security guards, front lobby desk attendants, bartenders, our servers and those booking our excursions with Cubanana Tours, all of them were amazing!  My Cuban "Heidy" was so genuine and friendly.  She and I kept in touch for the longest time after I returned home (I hope to reunite with her again one day).  

Heidy was no different than any of the others we spoke to who worked here, most could really speak five (or more) languages.  How incredible!!  The results from the Weekly Survey Question:  how many languages do you speak?  72% of you are the same as me, only able to communicate in one language.  As for the rest of you, 16% of you speak (or attempt to) 2-3 languages, while 12% of you are fully bilingual.  How wonderful! The more languages you can speak obviously means the more friends you have the potential to make. I'm so envious.

During this vacation, I did learn how to dance the merengue on the beach (which was very entertaining).  I enjoyed trying the dancing as much as the frozen mojito drinks (fresh mint, rum, sugar, lime and club soda) of which I had waited all week before trying...what the?!

Both were about as dangerous and fun as the thousands of Cuban cigars I puffed on all week long.

Gosh, you only have to be away on vacation to realize how fast seven days can go by.  Quinn and I had decided early in the week that we'd like to take the tour to Habana (most know it was "Havana", Cuba's Capital).  We booked with a very cheerful and happy Isabella (from Cubanana Tours).  She was very excited to be sending us out to experience the sights and sounds of the Capital and explore Cuba's terrain during our two hour bus ride to get there. 

The next post entitled "Habana Bound - we've saved your seat" will conclude our Cuban adventure.  I hope you're ready for a slightly rough (yet interesting) ride until we get back home ;)

Share your comments, your stories, your travel advice etc. in the section below (comments or reaction section) and give your answer to the weekly survey (top right of the blog page).  No sign up necessary, just a simple click :)  A little shy?!  Why not send me an email instead: holidayheidi@hotmail.ca

~Holiday Heidi

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