Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A series of (un)fortunate events - Days 6 & 7

You'll have to wait for Husband to post his own account of his trip right across the island of Cuba, 4 hours each way, from the Atlantic shoreline nearly to the Carribean Sea, from Cayo Santa Maria to Sierra del Escambray. Transport changed from a large air-conditioned bus, to an army truck, to a jeep, to foot as the road got more rugged. He and another fellow - a very interesting Austrian - were the only two on the tour, giving them the guide's undivided attention. It was a good story - should make good reading when he gets around to it. Right now he's soldering circuitboards, so who knows?

For me, the day was spent on the beach, reading and sunning and slipping up to the beach bar for ice-cold Cristal and the universally excellent Cuban bread bread dipped in delicious homemade hummous. (Who would've expected?)

The leg was still swollen but nearly painless. On Thursday, I was pretty much ready to begin my Cuban vacation.

Friday was our last full day, and we spent it together on the beach all day. Yes - I was definitely ready to start my Cuban vacation.

Before we leave Cayo Santa Maria, let me share with you some of my favourite things about the place - like the floor-to-ceiling windows in the shower, that allowed you - depending on your villa's location and your modesty - to shower while gazing out over the lush foliage and gorgeous water, stark naked.

(Note the low-flow toilet. Every toilet we've seen in Cuba has been like this. Hot water comes from solar-panel-heated storage tanks on the villa roofs. This too is standard at the resorts.)

Oh! Or the statues of strangely menacing pelicans that were scattered around the grounds. We saw many pelicans fishing at the beach, and none of them looked like a refugee from an Insane Clown Posse video shoot.

The disco had me even before I noticed its uncompromising "no Speedos" stance.

(This reminds me of a sign in a building at Cayo Largo, which just said "DANGER", with nothing remotely dangerous anywhere within close inspection. Because we looked. Hard.)

And although Cuba is all about delivering the national drink, ron (rum), into tourists and locals as quickly, cheaply and efficiently as possible, this still stopped me in my tracks: tetra pack Mojitos.

With straws. Yes, for a mere 90 centavos you too can have an ultra-portable, quick-serve shot of alcohol through a bendy straw. I've brought back four and haven't had the heart to drink one, so I don't know how good - or terribly bad - they are.

There were also Cubitos, a tomato-juice and rum cocktail which sounds absolutely disgusting and which I've never tried, and straight rum. What a country.

And how I miss it.


(One final, disturbing note: for the first time, to take this trip, we had to submit to our names and passport numbers being turned over to US authorities as we were flying over US airspace to get from Toronto to Cuba. Given the US's stubborn insistance on classifying Cuba a state which sponsors terrorism, this is not knowledge that I am particularly comfortable with the States collecting about Canadian citizens. Or, more pointedly, me. Right now, a planned trip to Maine has been shelved. Sad - I've visited the States many times - but with the hysteria right now, I just don't want to go there, literally or figuratively.

Paranoid? Probably. The problem is, so are they.)



Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

I have loved this series and this entry in particular -- great photos, great stories.

But why are you denying yourself a short trip to Maine?

I can absolutely understand your indignation with my country's behavior around your trip. Next summer, I'll be flying over part of Canada on my way to a country with a real recent history of terrorism -- but I'd be pissed off to the point of letting people know about it in consulates and State departments if Canada demanded my name and passport number just because my route from here to there will take me over the Maritimes.

Like your planned trip to Maine, we have tentative plans later in the year to visit friends on Vancouver Island -- but I wouldn't think of denying myself that trip because of some idiot thing the Canadian central government might have done.

I'm not trying to change your mind, not at all. First, it's not my place to do that, and, second, I really don't have any stake in the matter. But I am curious -- can you expand a little bit on why you think you should avoid travel to the US?

4:56 a.m.  
Blogger Carl said...

Interestingly, I'm currently afraid to go to Canada, since your provinces are now licensing naturopaths ("Not Actually Doctors") to prescribe. If I'm hospitalized here, I'll pay way too much money, but at least I won't get treated by quacks.


5:32 p.m.  
Blogger Xtreme English said...

hey...i think you and husband should offer TOURS of cuba!!! i'd sure as hell sign up. my ex-husband has been to cuba at least THREE times! i wanna go, but i have no idea how to get there or wot to do or.....c'mon. a bloggers' tour of cuba!! wet's do it!!!

7:29 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Hi Sherwood -
I don't want to go to the US because anyone checking our passports there, from a border guard to a cop if we have a traffic accident, now potentially has access to the information that we have been in Cuba - a country the US just recently reiterated that it considers a state sponsor of terrorism and singled out for special transportation screening - at least once. They may also for all I know have access to the information that we've been there 5 times. And the whole country is just so paranoid and freaked out right now, I just don't want to risk dealing with the extreme possibilities at the end of the worst-case scenario.

Carl, please don't judge us by British Columbia! Note that they are the ONLY province to have gone this insane route. As you may know, British Columbia is our version of California. Canadians may be known to say "They tipped the country on its end, and all the fruits and nuts rolled to B.C." They probably license psychics to prescribe.

7:53 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

M.E., many Americans just fly to Mexico and book a flight from there. Others go via Canada. The fines, if you are caught, can be hefty though, and a couple of years ago the Bush administration was aggressively hunting down people who went this route and fining them. I remember a scuba diving tour group who all got hit with big ($10,000+) fines.

With the Obama administration, buzz has been to expect the travel restrictions on US citizens to be slackened or lifted within a year or two. The fact that people travelling from Cuba will be subject to body pat-downs as of a couple of days ago, due to its designation as a state sponsor of terror, has doubtless put the chill back on any progress that was made. (The reason for Cuba's inclusion on the list: it doesn't support or cooperate with the US 'War on Terror', and its government associates with states such as Syria and Yemen.)

But if we can sneak you in, hell yes! I'm up for it! Bloggers' tour of Cuba

7:58 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Oh - one final note on the Cuba/US thing.

When you clear Immigration in Cuba, they don't stamp your passport. They give you a visa card, but don't stamp your passport.

This is because they know that visiting Cuba can be problematic for people who must also travel to the US.

So, in spite of the fact that we've been to Cuba 5 times now, a check of our passport would not reveal that information to a US border guard.

Now, however, if they look up the information the US has about us online, they'll know that we traveled to Cuba because Air Canada had to report it the last time we flew there.

It's a significant change for people flying to Cuba over US airspace (which can include Europeans as well as Canadians).

For Americans, who used to fly to Cuba regularly from Canadian airports, it's a disaster.

9:28 p.m.  
Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

Thanks for the very clear response to my question, ronnie -- I can be pretty dense sometimes, and miss what may be obvious to others.

What a damned sad state we've let a few criminal freaks get us into.

3:39 a.m.  
Blogger Xtreme English said...

BLOGGERS' TOUR OF CUBA...YES!!!! c'mon...it'd be great fun. mr. flush terlit, the cartoonist (hey, he could draw pitchers of the whole thing), you and husbunt an the kidz/catz, whoever else, an me. if nowt else, we could share a jail cell!!!!

8:00 p.m.  
Blogger Hank Gillette said...


My guess is that the U.S. government is more interested in finding U.S. citizens who are trying to get around the U.S. prohibition of traveling to Cuba or finding people from other countries of interest who are traveling to Cuba (or both).

I doubt they would be that interested in law-abiding Canadian citizens who traveled to Cuba as tourists. Of course, I could be wrong.

I don't suppose there are any Canada-Cuba flights that don't overfly U.S. airspace.

5:31 p.m.  
Blogger Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Oddly, i just learned some things about my parents that i never knew, one of which is that my dad has been to Cuba. Only, in 1938, at age 11, when his doctor father took the family to a medical conference. What does he remember? Nothing -nice beach. Any photos?! None! But i envy you, and all who could enjoy a trip there back when it was allowed. This law appalls me.

6:42 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Thanks to everyone for the interesting thread!

Hank - I have no doubt that's a key motive behind the collection of this data. What else they'll do with it...?? I don't care. I just don't want them to HAVE IT.

Interestingly, I'm pretty sure our first trip to Cuba, from Fredericton direct to Holguin, did not literally pass over the US at any point. But we could see the US coastline in the far distance - in fact we could pick out urban areas like Boston & New York (flying at night) and see the Florida panhandle - how far out constitutes airspace, I wonder?

Ruth - what a shame your Dad remembers nothing of his visit! Let's cross fingers for a day when you and I and our SOs can toast each other with Cuba Libres on the beach with everything free and legal and above-board.

10:45 p.m.  

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