Submitted By: Susan Gerle
Taking a vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Cuba can be a new experience for many. Here is a journal account of what you could expect.
Day 1 was a non-event as we simply drove to the Marriott hotel in Toronto in prep for an early departure the next morning. Our only issue was having to drive slowly behind a couple of snowplows for what seemed forever.
Day 2 started off well with a prompt departure from the Marriott to Pearson airport thanks to a great bus driver but then things changed when we reached the airport. The check in with Air Canada was fine with a very friendly, helpful hostess but then we hit security.
While I sailed through the procedure myself it appeared it was my wife’s turn to be literally harassed by the security forces. She was searched, scanned, and had to remove her shoes while they were scanned separately. Then her case was swabbed for explosives and finally her toothpaste and mouthwash were confiscated as being suspicious yet the corkscrew and huge toe clippers were allowed to pass demonstrating how absurd this entire process has become.
Air Canada insisted we arrive 3 hours early for our 7am departure yet after going though the security process and having paid for Executive Class tickets we discovered the Maple Leaf lounge we were allowed to use rather than sitting for hours at the gate was closed.
The flight to Cuba was fine. The in-flight breakfast omelet was ice cold but the crew was cheerful and the coffee was hot.
When we arrived in Cuba there were only 2 couples going to Sandals Resort so we each were put in cabs and had a great ride the length of the island to the resort past more antique vehicles than any person could see in a lifetime.
We were told we would be checked upon entry for medical and customs and if we didn’t have the correct insurance we would have to buy it here. None of this happened. No one bothered us at all. We just sailed through and were on our way to the resort.
Sandals check in was easy and because we booked the concierge room we received extra perks for our stay.
I do have some comments on Sandals so far, they are:
– the coffee is so strong you can stand on it.
– the beds are so hard the ceramic floors look more inviting.
– the food is different than we are used to but it’s still good. When I requested potatoes to go with my chicken for supper no matter what, I would receive pasta.
– They advertise they have satellite TV, which is true but with the exception of CNN, ESPN,and CTV it is all in Spanish. It’s bizarre when you consider those who stay there don’t speak Spanish and are mostly English speaking.
– Sandals purchased really nice Samsung flatscreen TV’s for the rooms but then put them, (at least in our room) on a dresser with high sides and too small to accommodate the TV. The result was the TV at an odd angle and the eye for the remote hidden by the wooden sides meaning you have to walk up to the TV and peek the remote over the edge of the dresser to change the channel… To yet another Spanish channel.
– the staff is really friendly and helpful.
Day 3: up at 9am and off to breakfast. Buffet, all the usual; eggs, bacon, coffee… Great..!!
Today we have our welcome meeting with our tour rep. who told us everything we already knew. Then lunch on the beach and then sit on our butt in the sand and be entertained by the young folks romping on the beach. I remember when I had that much energy.
Some foot notes:
As an official geezer I have the chance to sit quietly and observe the couples who all arrived, unmarried, arm in arm, all in love but I now I see most are no longer so involved with each other. I can only assume many now see that their partner is not what they thought they would be. Maybe that’s a good thing. If only more had this opportunity.
The US would have us think Cuba is backwards and suffering. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cellphones are everywhere as is wireless Internet. While many retain their old historic vehicles new ones are available from Korean and Japanese manufacturers. Even Mack trucks and International from the US are common.
Cuba obviously has it’s own oil too as we see oil rigs which dot the landscape. This must really tick off the US. The roads are in good shape and houses are brightly painted although they appear a bit dull. This appears to be more sun burnt than run down. I imagine it gets really hot here in the summer.
Prior to our arrival we were cautioned about many things.
– don’t drive. You could end up in jail.
– when you go shopping you’ll be hassled by people trying to sell you stuff.
– crime is high so be careful.
None of this appears to be true. Today we jumped in a cab and went downtown. The taxi driver asked if he could service us for the day so I said sure and we negotiated 24 P for the day. He stayed by us for the entire trip parking close and guiding us to the best shopping places. We were never bothered by anyone and items we purchased seemed very cheap compared to Canada. We found shop owners and even the police were very polite and helpful. We had a wonderful day visiting three markets and purchased several items without issue.
I really don’t smoke but since it’s Cuba I just had to try a cigar. It was actually very nice and mild but it may take a week to get the taste out of my mouth.
One issue we did encounter was the electric power. The power supply to my iPad blew up.. literally when connected to the hotel’s own converter, so be sure you carry your own converter and it had better be a good one.
Tonight they threw a special party for us and then off to supper. Seafood, which so far has been some of the best we’ve ever had. Wonderful lobster, red snapper, grouper.
Today we ventured off into Habana. Yes it’s Habana not Havana. What a wonderful city. Cuba is rebuilding all it can. Many of the old buildings which have fallen into ruin are being rebuilt and the city now looks wonderful. Magnificent architecture preserved any way it can be. Lots of pictures of the old streets and the folks who live in the city.
The people in Habana were also wonderful. Kind, helpful. We had some people in native dress offer to have their pictures taken with us for a price. Otherwise we were not bothered at all. Antique cars are everywhere… They’d be millionaires if they could only sell them in North America.
I discovered that Cuba now has enough natural gas and propane that it can provide 98% of it’s own electric needs and remaining 2% are diesel from old Russian power plants which are being converted by Canada.
72% of the doctors, teachers and nurses are all female. Also high tech jobs are mostly female. The men work in construction and the tour industry.
All buses are Yutong from China and they are just like our buses. Air conditioned, comfy seats, lots of room. Good thing, it took 2 hours to get to Habana. The road is a 4-lane highway in great shape.
Mercedes Benz has a factory here… Who knew..!
Today we rented 4×4 vehicles and went out roaming the outback of Cuba. We visited an underwater cave, went horseback riding, went on a motorboat trip up some river, (I can’t remember the name of) and drove through more dusty villages than I care to remember. The usual friendly people prevailed. Everywhere we went folks waved and were helpful.
I learned that most of those old vehicles we see have had their engines removed and replaced with diesel engines. It turns out that the old cars only get maybe 6 kms to a litre of fuel, but the diesel engine they use, either a Yanmar from Holland, or a Volvo engine can get around 20 kms to a litre. Also gas is expensive yet diesel is cheaper. I also found that each person is allowed a specific amount of gas monthly but the bus and truck companies are not tracked and thus there is a large black market in diesel fuel through these companies at 25 cents a litre.
The 4×4 vehicles we used, some Suzuki and some Zotkye (made in China) are only rented out to tourists like me for 2 years then new vehicles are purchased and the old one are crushed and recycled usually with only 25 to 30 thousand kms on them. The Government, who owns everything, refuses to sell them used.
After thinking that Cubans don’t have the same things we do I discovered boats with big Yamaha engines on them. (we rented one) They also have Seadoos, and Wave Runners, also sail-boats and catamarans.
Day 6: The rains moved in so did the wind. Boring day spent hiding indoors.
Day 7: On our way home. As we are in Executive Class on Air Canada we are booked into the VIP lounge as we wait for the flight. Quiet in here. Only 3 couples.
Our day ended with Air Canada losing our luggage and horrible traffic while trying to get out of Toronto airport…. typical Canada…. I want to go back to Cuba.
Susan Gerle has been writing and publishing since 1998. Her passion is traveling. Even though Susan normally writes her own travel pieces this is an article taken from a friend’s journal. She was asked to submit it because guest contributor “Geezer Michael” wanted to share his information.