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Changing rooms in Castro’s Cuba

Funny how when you first decide on taking a holiday there is great excitement and anticipation when the idea first occurs to you, then there is a period of time leading up to departure where you don’t (or at least I don’t) think much about it then suddenly, you’re on your way. Well, it’s 9:30 AM and we’re on our way. When does the flight leave – 4:10 PM – no problem. I love mindless waiting – right! The plane arrived around 3:30 and the flight crew boarded at about 3:45 so I knew there was no chance we were leaving by 4:10. We had now been waiting for a longer length of time than the flight will be – maybe longer than the vacation will be.

The swine flu scare has certainly taken its toll here. Just before we landed the captain announced, “The airplane is going to be fumigated – it is non-toxic.” That’s different; usually they just tell you you’ll be landing in a few minutes. Once we were off the plane, all the customs and baggage people were wearing masks. Welcome to Cuba where paranoia runs deep.

When we arrived Karen said she knew we were somewhere but it didn’t feel like Cuba. Now we’ve never been here so I’m not sure what that comment was based on. We are travelling with friends so when we got to the hotel the ladies lined up and Murray and I sat with our bags. As I looked around the hotel lobby it was humid and it was hot and I felt great joy in the realization that I was now in Cuba. An hour later we were ready for dinner – at 9:55 PM!

As we sat down to eat we raised our glasses and toasted our finally making it here together as we have been talking about this for some time now. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “I wonder what will be wrong with our room this time?”

A little bit of background is called for at this point. My wife and I have been travelling together for over 35 years now and it is a rare occasion that we check into a hotel or motel and end up not changing rooms. It can be triggered by any of our five senses; sight, sound, smell, touch or taste. It can be something as innocent as a watermelon and a lawn chair floating in the pool, or a group of southern gentlemen sitting in the back of a pickup truck drinking beer outside our window, to weevils eating their way through the headboard of our bed. There might be a shattered ashtray in the bathroom leaving glass shards potentially disastrous to every step taken or there may just be blood on the bed sheets. Location is of no consequence. This can happen anywhere, from a Manhattan hotel in Times Square to the jungles of the Amazon. Suffice to say, there is usually something that causes me to holler, “Karen, phone the front desk!”

Eric's 'Cassita' room

With that in mind you can understand my hesitation and decided lack of confidence when I discovered that Murray and his wife Karen would be staying in the main hotel and we would be in a cassita away from the main hotel down by the beach. It is a quaint little European style cottage-type of room and it reminds me a lot of the room where we spent our first night in the Cinque Terre in Italy last year. However, it took us about 5 minutes walking to get to it; it is a long way from the main hotel area – I think it’s in Puerto Rico. Midnight – good night.

It didn’t take long for the pieces to fall into place. This has got to be one of the noisiest places we have stayed in quite some time. To begin with we went to bed at midnight with the air conditioner going full blast because it was as hot as hell in August in the room, even though it is only May. Five minutes after the lights went out it was light enough in the room to read a book. The bed is just an old mattress and I mean it is old – I think Che Guevara used it last. Comfortable does not appear anywhere in its product description. Unless something really unusual happens it appears that I won’t be sleeping tonight so let’s see how the ambient noise works out.

Well, by 12:45 AM I’m not sure if I had even closed my eyes much less slept because all I can hear is people talking. They’re not talking particularly loud but they’re on the porch right outside our window. My usual defense against this sort of thing is to turn up the air conditioning and drown out the noise with a more agreeable noise. Well, as luck would have it, the air conditioner is the only thing in the room that was built in this century and, naturally, it is whisper quiet. So at my urging Karen called the front desk to explain that it was nearly 1 AM and we were trying to sleep but the voices were carrying and these people were disturbing us. They said they would get security to look into it right away.

Karen at the cassita: guard shusher

By 1 AM the voices persisted so Karen looked out the window. She decided to get dressed and go visit the two guys herself. You are probably wondering why I would let my wife embark on such a potentially dangerous investigation. If I thought there was any real danger apparent, of course, I would not let it happen. The process here is that Karen is very calm and persuasive talking to people in situations like this. I, on the other hand, would be very confrontational and abrasive and would quite likely make the situation worse and get shot doing so. I thought it odd that security had seemingly ignored our plea until Karen returned and informed me that the two guys in question were in fact two security guards. That explains why they were slow to respond to our complaint. Part of the noise we were hearing was them talking on their radios to the front desk – about our complaint!

Finally, quiet, time to sleep. 1:30 AM – the first group of vacationers returns to the cassita and of course they are very respectful of other guests and take care to be quiet so as not to disturb them. Yeah, right! Yelling and banging doors they arrive with the fanfare of a New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. Sleep? Who are you kidding? 2:00 AM – the second group returns just as noisy, just as respectful. Now can I sleep? 3:00 AM – just outside our window we hear one incredibly loud WHOO-HOOO! Yeah yeah, we know, you’re in Cuba you Neanderthal. So, dare I say it, it looks like the Whiteheads are about to change rooms as soon as day breaks.

It’s really too bad because the cassita area of the hotel is really quite charming. It is on a residential street and has an ambiance all its own. The street is lined with beautiful palms and numerous blossoming flowers. Some of the units back right onto the beach. Unfortunately even breathtaking visual stimuli cannot reverse the aggravation of invasive auditory signals.

Finally, it is time to change rooms. The front desk was very co-operative once our tour rep explained to them that we were already booked in the hotel. At first they said there were no rooms available as they thought we had just arrived at their door with nothing pre-arranged. It took just a bit of repacking, then into our new digs, two doors down from Karen and Murray. The room is on the end of the hotel, away from the pool and the road and the elevators. I’m sure it will be quiet and I guarantee it will be better than party central in the cassita.

I don’t think that I am difficult to please, it’s just that when I hear words like, “We’ll put you in one of our special rooms,” that I become suspicious and expect the worst – and I often get just that!

More by Eric Whitehead in his book ‘Then there Was One‘.

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