Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cut-Rate Cuba

Hello again dear reader.

If there is anyone who has been waiting with great anticipation for my next blog post, I do apologize for my absence. Likely, no one has noticed my non-presence anyway, but nonetheless, I have returned.

It has been another slow snow shoveling season. There is very little snow here in Minikin and the roads and sidewalks are as bare and dry as a naturist with a hangover.

So since I have nothing newsworthy on the topic of winter precipitation, I might as well tell you about our most recent trip to Cuba; that sunny and warm country of communism and American automobiles from the ‘50s.

My wife and I departed on Friday February 8th at 6:30 AM. A howling blizzard threatened to make us stay for at least one day at Toronto Pearson International Airport — not my idea of a winter getaway. But we did take off, and apparently just in time, for flight cancellations were the rule for the rest of that day.

Our destination was the resort island of Cayo Largo.

When we landed at Cayo Largo’s airport, I noticed a Cocker Spaniel having a nap in the late morning sun just off the airport tarmac. In Spanish speaking countries this is known as a siesta, which — if I can trust my knowledge of Spanish — is a combination of the words for yes (si) and this (esta). How this means “late morning nap” is beyond me. Only a Cuban Cocker Spaniel knows for sure.

Anyway, I thought, “How cute! This airport has a mascot.” But I was wrong. This was a serious working dog. In fact, there were several Cuban Cocker Spaniels which soon sprung into action and went to work. These weren’t garden variety house-adorning, lap-sitting, face-licking Cocker Spaniels. No siree! These were dope-sniffing Cocker Spaniels. I personally would think Bloodhounds, Bassett Hounds, and Beagles would be better suited for this kind of a job. But if I can rely on my knowledge of Spanish, Cocker Spaniel derives from the old Spanish meaning Coke-detecting Spaniard, or Spanish Cocaine Dog, or something like that, so these canines were well-suited for the task. They didn’t seem to find anything however. What would a Canadian be smuggling into Cuba anyway? Labbat Blue?

Woe betide those who try to smuggle Canadian beer past this beast!

Again, as in Mexico, we had to go through airport security with scanners, metal detectors, serious security agents et al. I still don’t understand this since we went through the same process on boarding the plane. Do the Cubans know something that Canadian security agents don’t? Did they think we were trying to smuggle pieces of metal that we ripped off of the plane’s body and wings to sell on Cuba’s thriving aluminum black market?

Anyway, after only a five minute ride from the airport we arrived at our resort, the Sol Pelicano. If my knowledge of Spanish is correct, I believe Sol Pelicano means Pelican of the Sun, or Sunny Pelican, or A Pelican named Sol, but I could be wrong on all accounts. It may translate as "one heckuva cheap, cut-rate, budget resort."

Much like the American automobiles in Havana, this place looked as if nothing had been done since the ‘50s. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a fine resort with empty fountains, an empty whirlpool spa, broken cobblestone pathways, crumbling sculptures, dried up gardens, dirty restrooms with faulty plumbing, and mysterious food choices. In short, a lovely and charming place.

All right, I’m being facetious. It really wasn’t all that bad, but it wasn’t all that great. However, I knew beforehand what we were in for since I read the reviews on TripAdvisor.

Keep in mind, when you visit Cuba, that you should not expect the amenities of the Waldorf-Astoria or even the Minikin Motor Court. Gear your expectations down to things like camping in the jungle or living out of your car for a week, and you will be delighted with your surroundings.

The food was a daily adventure. Most of the salads looked as if they were placed there by a Candid Camera type show to see if anyone would actually try them and then have their reactions filmed for the amusement of television audiences.

One restaurant had a vat of soup each day that was simply labelled “soup”. For all I know it could have been Cream of Iguana. In truth, I would have gladly tried some Cream of Iguana soup after a few days of the Pelicano’s cuisine.

By the end of the week, I was feeling less adventurous, and stuck with hard-boiled eggs and prunes for breakfast, white rice for lunch, and unadorned pasta for dinner.

Cayo Largo is an uninhabited island with long sandy beaches which sometimes disappear overnight depending on which way the wind blows. For us, the wind was mostly blowing directly into our faces at twice the velocity of exhaust from a jet engine. The water crashed onto shore, erasing the sandy beaches. So instead of white sand we had many miles of craggy rocks to walk on.

There was wildlife on our resort. We saw an abundance of stray cats who meowed around the buffet restaurant for scraps of food. It’s likely they never actually ate any, or else they wouldn’t have made such a fuss. I tried to pet some of them, but they ignored me even though I was saying in my best Spanish, “Aqui gato. Aqui. Gato, gato, gato.” Those dumb cats probably don’t even know there own language.

The other wildlife on the resort was an iguana the size of a Volkswagen. It would have made several vats of tasty soup. I didn’t need to call it, even though (if my knowledge of Spanish is reliable) I would have said, “Aqui Iguanatito. Aqui sopa ingrediente.” But this was a lazy lizard. I just reach out and petted his soft fur-less neck. He seemed to like it since he closed his eyes and looked quite content. Then again he was likely just happy I wasn’t going to make sopa out of him.

The ability to provide clean towels proved to be a real challenge for the resort. Clean beach towels were usually not available and our bathroom towels were, well, not necessarily something you would want to wipe your face with. My wife pointed out that one towel had, as she put it, “a rust spot, or...”.
I replied  “Or...” in an attempt to get her to elaborate, although I don’t think I really wanted her to finish her thought.

One of the best things about the trip was that we met some very nice people in Cuba; people from all over speaking a wide variety of languages. Most of them spoke their own lingo because they were not Spanish experts like me.

So in closing I would like to express gratitude, goodbyes, and thanks to our new-found Cuban friends. And I trust my Spanish is good enough to say, “Garcias und adieu kemosabes!”


  1. Welcome back to the blogosphere! I've missed your unique sense of humor.

    In spite of the questionable cuisine and lack of plush decor, I hope you and your wife had an outstanding time. (Having a sense of humor can make just about anyplace fun.) On the plus side, I KNOW you didn't have any snow while you were there...

    1. Thanks Susan. We actually did have a nice time. And it's a good thing we didn't have any "snow" down there. Those dope-sniffing Cocker Spaniels would have nabbed us for sure.

  2. Bad food is one thing but the beach being wiped out? That is beyond unacceptable! Please tell me that at least the beer was cold and tasty! Nice to read your words again Mr. Boston. I do like it when I can use the acronym "lol" and actually mean it!

    1. Thanks Angie. The beer WAS great! In fact it temporarily wiped out my memory of the beach being wiped out.