Saturday, March 08, 2008

Jibacoa (updated)

Jibacoa Beach is situated almost exactly between the Cuban tourist mecca of Varadero and the capital city, Havana. It's immediately bordered to the east by Matanzas and to the west by Santa Cruz del Norte, the closest town and the home of many of the employees who worked at the handful of resorts and campgrounds in the region.

These included a number of Campismo Populars, the public campgrounds used by Cubans when they vacation.

<= A nearby Campismo Popular, a resort / camping area for Cubans.

The proximity to the towns and the campismos meant there was a lot more opportunity to mix with ordinary Cubans, including on the grounds of the resort where we were staying, as opposed to the isolated Covarrubias, where the only Cubans we met were generally resort staffers.

The physical environment was much different that the flat region we visited last time, and lush hills surrounded our hotel. Impossibly tall palm trees towered over us. The bushes and trees were alive with birds, moving with birds; woodpeckers, hummingbirds, blackbirds, tiny tropical dilletantes; they sang incessantly.

<= The beautiful, beautiful beach.

As they do in the south, great sober turkey buzzards circled slowly overhead, very high up; I got a much better look at these impressive and creepy creatures one day at dusk, when I walked past three of the great ugly things having some sort of a consult under some palm trees. (They are massive things close up, probably coming to my mid-thigh or higher. ) It was evident that these three were standing in a circle around... something, a recently deceased rodent or bird or somesuch; and none of them quite had the nerve to out-and-out claim the prize and risk the consequences, so they just stood there, eyeing each other and their treasure jealously; every few minutes, one would screw up his courage and sort of make a feint for the coveted item, whereupon there would be much screaming and flapping of huge black wings, and everyone would fall back, the bluff having failed, and the prize still unclaimed. And that's how I left them, glaring at each other, wondering who would win this peculiar Cuban standoff.

<= Our Villa. The rooms were comfortable and scrupulously clean and once again we could only marvel at the modern European fixtures designed to save water. This is the second time we've come back from Cuba vowing to do some major renovations that take advantage of what we continue to learn there about conservation. (Each villa had solar-heated water collectors on the roof.) (Our first reminder that we were undoubtedly back in Cuba was during dinner the first night when ... the power went out. We must have been a fairly seasoned group of Cuba travellers; there was not even much of a group expression of surprise, more a collective sigh of resignation. Then everyone pulled out any light-producing source they had, and very shortly the waitresses were good-naturedly serving wine under LED flashlights and novelty glowsticks provided by their guests. It was the damndest thing. And after a few minutes, well, the lights came on again. They always do, don't they?)

The people in the area were like all the Cubans we've met - intelligent (they are some of the most quick-witted people I've ever met), funny, warm, creative, curious and proud.

The young woman who made up our room quickly upped the ante on the "towel art" game played in Caribbean hotels, using found objects in the room to create fabric sculptures that made us howl with laughter when we returned in the evening.

There were two outstanding experiences on this trip - the snorkeling, and our trip to Havana, the latter the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for each of us. Each deserves its own dedicated post, so that I don't drown you in pictures.

Before we leave, however, let me introduce you to two of the resort's several felines. Unlike Las Tunas, where all the stray cats have d/evolved into tabbies, on this end of the island many cats still bear distinctive markings, and several dominant ones rule specific territories on the resort. This big calico ran the lobby and the lobby bar. When not sitting up at one of the tables at the lobby bar as if waiting for her drink to be served, she could be found sunning herself on the patio or wandering between tables, deigning to accept scritches and pats from her subjects. A large orange and white striped tomcat similarly lorded over the pool bar and patio at the other end of the resort.

This is Roof Cat. Roof Cat spends most of his time on the roof of one of the resort restaurants, waiting for people to (I kid you not) throw food up to him. Which they do. (Air conditioning units and a stucco wall provide a handy path up and down.) He is ferociously vocal, and I had many long conversations with him, although we stuck to our policy of not feeding the local strays. Roof Cat (word is still out on whether he is Ceiling Cat's Caribbean cousin) has a pretty sweet schtick going and appears to be making out like a bandit.

The whole trip is still being processed by both of us physically and mentally (we both slept through our first day back; Husband had to return to work but I slept through much of three more days). But I hope that's an attempt to give a sense of place, from which we jumped off into some remarkable sights and sounds.

UPDATE: Mike reminded me, in the comments thread, that I'd neglected to mention what the mix of fellow-tourists was this time around. It slipped my mind mostly because there really was no mix; all the other guests at the resort without exception seemed to be Canadian. I'm not sure why, except that a couple of related Canadian tour companies, Nolitour and Transat, seemed to have the whole place booked up. This was a slight disappointment, for while Canadians are nice fellow-travelers as a rule, and while we met people from Ontario and Vancouver and PEI and elsewhere, it's always more fun when you're meeting people from around the world. It was fun to get to Havana and feel yourself in the middle of a distinctly international vibe.

The nature of Cuba's business and tourism interests can be gauged by the satellite television stations available at any given time in the hotels. This year we had Dutch, German, French, Italian, French-Canadian (TVA), English-Canadian (CTV), and a couple of Cuban domestic channels; HBO, CNN and ESPN in English and Spanish; and no less than four different Chinese state (CCTV) channels, reflective, I think, of the degree of Chinese investment and involvement in Cuba right now. We saw a lot of Chinese flags on the industrial developments outside the town centres.


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Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

These are absolutely wonderful images, ronnie, and I've looked them over carefully (and a tad enviously) since you posted them earlier today.

The one at the beach makes me want to crawl into my monitor, and it could be a scene from one of those great Mexican beer commercials. The cats, of course, are eye-catchers for me. The hilly nature of the backgrounds are for some reason surprising, but I don't know where my idea came from that Cuba (a place I have never visited) wouldn't have hills!

Your Villa looks really... strange. That odd roofline reminds me of Baldo's hairstyle -- does that central dent intrude into the living space? Still, it is where it is and, as you say, it's managed well, so what it looks like doesn't so much matter.

But the topper of this bunch for me was the "towel art" -- what a hoot!

I'm really looking forward to some more.

3:43 a.m.  
Blogger Mike said...

Echoing Sherwood -- much thanks for the travelogue. Maybe someday Americans will be able to do the same?

Question: What was the mix of tourists, aside from Canadians? Germans, Russians, Spaniards, English? Or is that for a further chapter?

9:44 a.m.  
Blogger Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

What a great idea, to visit a different part of the island this time! And you can drown me with pictures like that any time. 8~)

12:09 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Hi Sherwood - according to an article Husband read online about the resort, the curved 'v's of the villa roofs are meant to evoke both the wings of the birds that are everywhere around the place, and the waves of the ocean nearby. They do arc down into the rooms but the ceiling is quite a bit higher than the photo would suggest - I'm not sure you could even touch the bottom of the 'v' while standing on a chair. At least, I couldn't.

Mike, you point out a rather glaring omission in my post - which I've now corrected with an update. Thanks!

Ruth, yes, traveling to a new part of the island each time is a conscious strategy, but one it's hard to stick to when we keep falling in love with each place we visit. Jibacoa is going to be a definite return-to someday; if there snorkeling wasn't enough - and it is - there's the fantastic access to Havana!


2:52 p.m.  
Blogger Xtreme English said...

What a treat to find these posts at the end of the day....i don't know which i like better, the photographs or the poetry of your descriptions.

and there's more to come, you say?

thanks for letting the rest of us see cuba through friendly eyes....

1:42 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really envy you for your visit to Cuba. Perhaps someday my country will come to its senses and lift the pointless embargo.

Cuba is one of the places I want to visit before I die.


1:24 a.m.  

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