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Held captive in Cuba’s all-inclusive hell

Cuba is stress free, though only for the tourism workers, certainly not for you.

Quickly you learn to wait. First you chalk it up to island time, maybe it’s good because we need to learn to relax and not be so caught up in the rat race. Then you realize you are just being ignored and this has nothing to do with a relaxed island atmosphere. It’s communist resort work ethic, though even this seems tolerable when compared to the food.

First a word about currency, see apparently Cuban pesos are the world’s strongest currency, at least according to the Cuban’s.

There is a reason why the Cuban Convertible Peso is not recognized as anything more then paper outside of the country, because Fidel makes up its worth on a daily basis.

The Canadian dollar was worth 60 cents. So the $200 CAN in my wallet became 120 Convertible pesos. Got Euro’s? Too bad you still come up short. If you’re lucky you may get par for British pounds on a good day.
Here is a good reason to choose say Mexico over Cuba.

Also a side note. The convertible Peso (which tourists are forced to use) is worth 25 National Pesos (which the locals use)….. Riiiiiiiiight! Want to take a tour bus to Havana… 40 tourist Pesos, rent a Yugo for a day? 120 pesos… That’s $200 Canadian dollars per day.

Ok so let me paint a picture. We arrive, I’m second in line at reception at the Kawama resort in Veradero. There are six staff behind the desk, five are discussing how they are going to spend our money in Spanish, the other one looks thoroughly pissed off. She is the one dealing with customers…. In Matrix Bullet time, only that time is going normal speed, it’s just the resort workers moving in slow motion.

A half hour later we get our room key. The room is nice enough but my pull out couch at home is more comfy then this bed.

We go to the Buffet and there is not a clean bit of cutlery or cup anywhere. We spot four waitresses sitting down talking together in the middle of the restaurant. As I approach, one cleans her armpits with a napkin. Eventually I get a slightly less dirty fork then what is on the table.

Now I was told the food in Cuba was bad… This is an understatement. Everything tastes vaguely of food poisoning. After mastering the national sport of spitting up into napkins we decide maybe the snack bar is the way to go.

The snack bar guy is nice enough. Apparently everyone has come to the same conclusion about the buffet because he has a lineup of thirty people. He is cooking hamburgers and ham and cheese sandwiches. His grill is about 1 ½ feet by 3 feet. He takes one person’s order, cooks it with about 95% open grill around it… gives it to said customer, and then takes the next order. The word multitask doesn’t translate here. Twenty minutes later we go to get a drink, same pace at the bar. It’s all inclusive so you have lots of options…. Rum or beer, they are out of everything else!

Perhaps a better breakfast

The next day we go to the breakfast Buffet. The omelet stand looks decent so I see the cook make a few tiny omelets for the people ahead of me, again one at a time. Now, thinking this may be all I eat today I ask for a large one. Of course I get the same small one as the others (Part of the communist equality belief system I guess) I’m still hungry so I go for some cereal but when I tried to pour my commios out of the cereal bin I must have disturbed the nest of mites living inside because they came out with a vengeance.

It’s like this for the rest of the trip while in Veradero. In fact it got worse when we went to leave. Our luggage was held in a locked closet after we checked out. Our shuttle to the airport was to leave at 6pm. At 5:45 we come to get our luggage and are told that the security guy is on lunch and should be back in 5 minutes. Also he is the only one with a key.

He didn’t show up until 6:45, which is ok because the shuttle didn’t arrive till 7:10.

At the airport the check-in takes an hour, now this is only a problem because they moved up the flight time. However, no Canadians know this because the resorts didn’t bother to post the change and we all thought we had plenty of time. Not that it would have mattered since we were at the mercy of the Cuban airport shuttle in the first place. With the help of some other travelers we manage to run out on the tarmac and make the flight.

OK so the good part of the trip.

Havana! In their capital city the old architecture was great, the old city had many nice hotels with connections to Hemmingway and the people were very friendly. Now sure most of the people are trying to hustle you and make you feel obligated to give them something but to be honest I didn’t mind. They are poor and they are desperate but they have a lot of well earned pride. They are lovely people and I assume this is what people come to Cuba for. The food was great, the Plaza de Vieja is a must and the Coco taxi (Scooter cab) is so much fun I wanted to buy one and bring it home to start driving Coco cab in Toronto. The old cars are great, the music fantastic. Havana is a must see.

Coming back to Toronto with people begging for cash makes me honestly miss Havana. The people there are down on their luck too but they are all trying to be as industrious as possible to earn a handout. They are all too happy to be your makeshift tour guide, take your picture, anything in their means to merit a tip which is the total opposite of Varedero. The souvenirs were more affordable in Havana as well.

If you want to see Cuban culture and get a glimpse of the communist system booking a hotel in or around Havana would be my recommendation. If you’re looking for a cheap sunny getaway with value, forget Varadero and go to Dominican or some other destination instead.

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