Monday, April 23, 2007

Being There

The instant we got to the resort, of course, we headed straight for the beach. That was, after all, what the trip was all about - the beach. It didn't disappoint. It was astonishingly clear, with just a hint of turquoise that deepened as the water itself deepened, and was warm enough for bathing from early mid-morning. By late evening, it was as warm as a soothing bath.

Something I had never realized - but I should've - is that there are colours that you have never seen before. I mean, you'd think with the dizzying array of consumer goods and manufactured and natural things we have on offer for us every second of every day, you'd assume that you'd seen every colour that existed, right? At some point? But standing that afternoon on the beach, looking at the bands of different colours in the water, I suddenly realized that there was a colour in there that I had never, ever laid eyes on before that second. What an amazing feeling.

The resort was just as you'd imagine it in your wildest Parrothead dreams. The beach bar, one of four on-site, was particularly charming.

It was the kind of place where you could dreamily imagine Hemingway drinking Cuba Libres (ironically, rum and Coca-cola, although these days the local KoCola has to do).

If there is one piece of advice I'd give someone traveling to Cuba, it would be "Expect the unexpected, and be patient." North American and European stressed-out conventions about punctuality, formality and conformity don't hold much power in a country where everyone gets around by hitchhiking and what was abundantly available two weeks ago might be as scarce as yellow diamonds this week. The Cubans we met have a strong work ethic - the resort staff obviously work very hard - but it is fairly loosely tied to formal schedules or structures.

A good example was my trip to a kiosk in the resort one morning in order to buy stamps for postcards. The place seemed to be closed. I looked at the official license in the kiosk's window.

8:30 am - 16:30 pm
Todas los dias

Hm. Coulda swore today was one of todas los dias. I went into the gift shop next door.

"Perdone, do you know when the stamp lady will be open?" I asked.

She nodded sagely. "Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow" is also when the artisans' shop selling local arts and crafts seemed to be open. I joked to Husband that I fully expected to see a sign on one of the local shops before we left that said:

8:30 am - 16:30 pm

Fortunately, we did catch the artisans' shop on one of the "tomorrows" and were able to get some nice gifts and souvenirs.

But who cares, anyway? As soon as we were able to let go of our own expectations that opening times were precise and not estimates, and understand that you struck while the iron was hot because you might miss an opportunity to do or buy something until "tomorrow", we didn't mind at all. When in Cuba, you learn to do things the Cubans' way.

The Cubans have some significant challenges to deal with, in terms of resources and infrastructure. We learned to do things their way.

And they've learned to do things well. An example is the ubiquitous cola, the queue, the line. Cubans line up forever for everything, from bus tickets to movie tickets to service in government offices to lines to get into shops to... well, you name it. And they've struck one of the most sensible ways I've ever heard of to manage life with colas.

Rather than "take a number" in a country where paper is scarce, or standing uncomfortably in line, Cubans have developed a relatively comfortable system of fair queue management. When you arrive at a place with a queue, you inquire, "¿Último?" ("Last [one in line]?") The last person to arrive before you identifies him- or her-self. Then you become "último" and make yourself comfortable somewhere, and when the next person arrives at the cola, and says "¿Ultimo?", you identify yourself. All you need to remember is who was in front of you when the bus arrives.

How positively civilized.

There is a colony of semi-feral cats that roam the resort freely, tolerated for their value as exterminators, one would presume. They are lean but not starving, and I suppose as far as feral cat-life goes, these fellows have it pretty good. I say "semi-feral" because they have the run of the place and will sit right next to your chair, but will back off if directly approached. One night after the main restaurant closed we saw a staff person come out and give them some food. As the photo shows, they gather at sunset outside the restaurant waiting for the big event. One night I counted 7 sitting here, with many more roaming nearby.

As for feeding them or giving them treats, no matter how tempting we did not, since going from "hanging around" to "actively begging from tourists" would no doubt spell disastrous consequences for them.

However, there is one cat, appropriately named "Lucky" who was adopted as a small kitten by Isela, who works in the resort's towel exchange hut (where you can also drop off your finished paperback beach reading and borrow another from the extensive library she's collected over time). We'd learned about Lucky from a Canadian woman I'd been corresponding with who'd reviewed the resort on, so went to drop off some kitty treats Mojo and Ronnie had sent him and to meet him and Isela on our second day there. Lucky has food, clean water, and his own towel for sleeping, plus Isela's care, so you can see why Lucky is an apt moniker indeed for this little guy.

Well, Lucky clearly knows cat people when he sees them, because not only did he take warmly to us, he followed us all the way back to our bungalow, in spite of us trying to shoo him back. I got rather alarmed because I don't know how far he is used to roaming from the resort center. Then imagine my horror when I opened the door of the room - Lucky was at the bottom of the porch steps on the front walk, next to Husband - and Lucky zipped past me like a gunshot into the room! I started screaming, "Oh my god, oh my god, he's in the room! Oh my god, he'll hide somewhere, we'll never get him out, they'll think we let him in here on purpose!" Sure enough, he holed up under the bed, and I had nightmarish thoughts of being clawed to ribbons as we tried to pull him out.

Eventually, with all the panache of a cat, he strolled out on his own and coquettishly posed for us for awhile. Then, pleased with all the commotion he'd caused, he followed us right back to his towel hut where he had some breakfast.

From there, our days settled into a blissful pattern of food, drink (the local beer, Cristal, brewed nearby in Holguin, is excelente), beach, snorkeling, kayaking, beach, sleep, Cuban music, beach...

Our neighbours were mostly Canadians (English and French), Germans, Dutch and Italians, with a surprising (again, to my naive eyes) number of Latin Americans. And why not? It was probably a very affordable vacation and change of scenery for a family from a nearby country. There was one very sweet family of Latin Americans, Mama, Papa, Grandma, and five bambinos ranging from babies to a girl of about thirteen. The whole family was so happy and demonstrative they were a joy to watch, from the teenager proudly marching her charge of little ones to the washrooms behind her like a string of ducklings to the whole family watching the Cuban band playing at 10:30 pm, the littlest ones wrapped in beach towels and asleep in the grown-ups' arms. (On our last night there, Papa gamely took part in the ridiculously cheesy and campy "Mr. Covarrubias Competition", and the whole family nearly collapsed from hysterical amusement and laughter watching him onstage.) The language barrier is non-existent here. "¡Hola!" works for everyone, and everyone greets everyone, 'cause everyone's so happy to be here in paradise for a little while.

And naturally, my second night there I end up sitting at the bar next to a guy from Newfoundland. "We're like cockroaches," I said cheerfully. "Ubiquitous. After the nuclear holocaust, there's gonna be left cockroaches, twinkies, and us."

Well, he'd drink to that. You'd drink to most about anything, here, wouldn't you?
more later,



Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

How cool! You guys had Lucky, we had the Bothy Cat -- enough to make you think that the big Feline in the sky is sending agents to keep an eye on us while we're away from our own. I like that idea so much that I think I'll keep it, even though it doesn't make any sense.

More great pictures -- keep 'em coming, please -- but this batch provides only the same size images (not the hoped-for bigger ones) when clicked on. Was that by design to save storage space on Blogger?

1:59 a.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

You're right, Sherwood - the Celestial Dept. of Felines must send cats to take care of cat people when we wander far from home, lest we lose our way.

As for the photos, Bloggers' uploading system and sizing system is a bit of a mystery to me still, but I did make these photos purposefully small for fear of overwhelming people with slower connections when they downloaded the blog post. I haven't figured out yet how one uploads larger pics and puts smaller linked versions in the post, despite having done so accidentally a number of times!

I actually intend to put these and many more up of Flickr eventually and they'll be much larger then. I'll mention in the blog when they're online.


2:33 p.m.  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home