Saturday, January 24, 2009


On last week's episode of "Ronniecat and Husband's December Vacation", Ronniecat and Husband had been invited to spend their last two nights in Cuba at Paradisus Rio de Oro, currently the only five-star resort on the island. Despite some misgivings, they decide to pack everything up yet again and move to the new Vacation Headquarters. And now...

The first thing we did after checking in (the room was gorgeous but nobody else wants to see pictures of your hotel room, so why do people insist on posting pictures of them?) the first thing we naturally did was check out the beach.

The property has access to Playa Esmerelda, a really excellent beach, but if you're adventurous and willing to trek along some rough trails, you can find yourself in a place like this. It's referred to as "the Private Beach" (in the sense that it is isolated - all beaches in Cuba are public) and a friendly security guard directed us to it our first evening there. There was but one other soul around - a small and curious crab skittering around. I took this snapshot of Husband in his natural habitat.

These cosy spots are scattered around the resort.

A dozing statue looks positively peaceful.

I really loved this modernist statue of a female figure in the middle of the grounds.

More sculpture - a flock of seagulls scuds past a cliff wall.

Part of the vast lobby of the resort.

More statuary - this group is meant to represent an indigenous family.

At the lobby bar were two large murals, one of Señor Leonardo de Gamboa...

...and one of Señorita Cecilia Valdez.

One afternoon, at loose ends, I stopped by the bar for a drink. There was but one other customer. It was about 4 pm, and the sun had begun going down outside the large, open-air lobby.

After the bartender brought my drink, I gestured towards the murals. "Who are they?" I asked.

"Oh," he said, smiling. "Very sad story. They are characters in Cuba's literature. It is a terribly tragic story."

"Really?" I said.

"Yes," he said. "Very sad. Like Cuban Shakespeare." Then he returned to his work. Turned out, after I was back in Canada with internet access, it's very much like Cuban Shakespeare.

Our two days at the resort were very interesting. Everything about the place is beautiful, and luxurious, and sumptious. Our check-in consisted of us being invited to sit down, being handed a cool towel and a glass of champagne, a polite request for our passports, then the return of our passports along with the presentation of a card we were asked to sign. Then we were taken to our villa on a golf-cart-type vehicle. Our luggage vanished the minute we arrived, only to be magically in our room when we arrived there. The buffet restaurant was huge. There was champagne at breakfast. There were Japanese, Mediterranean and Cuban resturants on the grounds - all part of the all-inclusive deal, just make reservations. The mini-bar was stocked and re-stocked daily. The nightly entertainment was worthy of the Tropicana. The grounds were immaculate, and I've only shown a tiny sample of the statuary, features and fountains. The public toilets all had seats, all flushed, and all were stocked with toilet paper. At the currency exchange one day, I couldn't help but overhear the gentleman in front of me request the conversion of 45,000 Euros into Cuban Convertible Pesos. "I'm sorry it's so much," he said apologetically to the cashier, "I'm settling our bill." (I'm assuming he was staying at an ultra-exclusive part of the resort, which is gated, and which consists of "Garden Villas" costing something like $2500 CUC a night according to a price list posted at the lobby desk.)

And yet... all that was a bit part of the problem. The staff were exceptionally competent, helpful, friendly and polite - but they would not speak to you in Spanish, even if you persisted in trying. Women dressed in cocktail dresses and high heels for the after-dinner entertainment. (Stilettos? For tourists? In Cuba?)

On our second day there, Husband put his finger on what was wrong. "We could be anywhere," he said. "This isn't Cuba. This is a generic resort in any Caribbean or South American or Mediterranean or South Pacific country in the world. It's all completely generic."

Not that it didn't have its moments. The clientele - perhaps because of that very, 5-star, generic quality - were a complete mixed bag of Europeans (we met the absolutely sweetest young couple from Birmingham) and Canadians. Husband was standing at the bar one evening when a rather tipsy British woman struck up a conversation with him. "Oh, you're Canadian!" she said. "I heard on the telly that your government's just tippled." That caused some minor consternation - things were looking liquid when we left, and we had no access to news from home - but as we expected, things weren't quite as bad as all that.

A fascinating experience to be sure, but we both agreed that if we went back, we'd much rather go back to Sol Rio Luna y Mares with the regular folk, and use the time we spent packing and moving to visit one of the local towns. Turns out the first taste of cocaine doesn't take in 100 percent of cases.

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Blogger Carl said...

This can't be a story from ronniecat. There are no semiferal cats in it.

3:00 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

There were no semiferal cats at Paradisus.

Yet another reason not to return.

4:33 p.m.  
Blogger Mike said...

A long way to go to visit a generic resort, even a fancy one -- much better to visit someplace real. Your judgment, as always, seems impeccable.

(Really. I tried pecking at it. Nothing.)

6:32 a.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

I thought I felt something...

10:03 p.m.  

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