COM0014 Blog #1: Visiting Cuba made me uncomfortable

By Cindy Macdonald

Just prior to the coronavirus shutdown of global travel, my husband and I took our first vacation to a Caribbean all-inclusive resort. We have taken Caribbean cruises a few times, but decided this was the year to try a beach vacay.

I was worried about being bored, with seven days at the beach and by the pool, so we chose Varadero, Cuba because if offered the possibility of some cultural learning in addition to beach time. We took a day trip into Havana and another venture off-resort to hear a local band. Boredom averted.

The architecture and ambiance of Old Havana was a little less colorful than I had hoped, but still enjoyable. The spectacular stonework, wrought-iron balconies and awe-inspiring churches definitely had a tropical, colonial feel.

Check out the video (here) and photos of Old Havana.

Old Havana, February 2020
Old Havana, February 2020

The quality of service, food and accommodations at our resort in Varadero was well below what we are accustomed to on cruises, but then, so was the price.

When choosing our vacation destination, one of my concerns was how we would deal with the dramatic lifestyle gap between us as middle-class North Americans and the poor local Cuban population. There’s a brief history of Cuba here, which states:

“Life in contemporary Cuba is thus challenging, given the limited access to food, transportation, electrical power, and other necessities.

brittanica.com

The problem is, life is not challenging for the tourists who flock to the island’s resorts. They get the best the island has to offer, and that has to create resentment, doesn’t it?

Pool at a Sandals resort. By Ashley Burton, Wikimedia Commons

I have been part of the working class in a town dependent on rich summer residents. During that time, I did not have favorable feelings toward my upper-class employers. In my imagination, the feelings of working-class Cubans toward vacationers must be similar, or even stronger, given Cuba’s socialist/communist roots. Therefore, it struck me as false when the servers and cleaners were overly friendly toward their clients. Servers would give some vacationers hugs each morning at breakfast. My husband took it as genuine friendliness. I perceived it as currying favor for tips. It made me uncomfortable.

One of our servers even gave us cheap little souvenirs, and that made me uncomfortable, because I felt an implied expectation to give her something in return.

When I caved to popular protocol and left “gifts” of cosmetics and toiletries for our cleaner, she was not overly thankful, and seemed to want to avoid conversation about it. It made both of us uncomfortable.

I’m curious. Has anybody else experienced that discomfort when visiting a poorer nation? Let me know in the comments.

Obviously, not everyone shares my reservations about Cuba. More than one million Canadians visited Cuba in 2018. For good reason: It is cheap, accessible, beautiful and safe. The cultural differences just made me uneasy and put a damper on a sunny, tropical get-away.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

COM0014 Blog #1 – A wonderful Getaway!

With summer just around the corner, but snow falling, it is difficult to remember what summer and warm weather is like. My last vacation, only four short months ago, was a Caribbean cruise with lots of heat! Although I can’t remember what the heat feels like, I can certainly reminisce about the warm weather.

Our cruise on the Norwegian Getaway was a seven-day cruise out of Miami with stops in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Mexico and the Bahamas. The weather was wonderful, the drinks were cold and the adventure was amazing!

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In Grand Cayman and the Bahamas, we spent a majority of the time enjoying the beach and the local cuisine. The weather in the Bahamas was cold… about 15 degrees celsius, which is not what you are expecting in the Caribbean, so it was difficult to enjoy the beach that day, but for the rest of the trip we had wonderful weather.

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In Jamaica however we stepped out of our comfort zones and went on an adventure, river tubing and zip lining through the Jamaican rainforest. The river tubing was a blast, quite leisurely in speed but still enough of an adrenaline rush when going through the rapids. The zip lining on the other hand was very fast! I’d never been zip lining before and although I was terrified, the journey was well worth it.

The highlight of our trip, or at least the most interesting part, was on our way to Mexico. During the night the boat came to a complete stop and the Captain came over the loud speaker to say we were investigating something in the water that was spotted. Everyone was very concerned about what could be in the water and rumours started to swirl about the possibility of someone falling overboard.

The Captain then came over the loud speaker again to say that we had picked up a life raft of refugees and we would be on the move to Mexico soon. The Captain also let us know that these people had been in the water since Dec. 24. Our cruise was mid-January which meant that these people had been in the water for nearly three full weeks. These people were heading from Cuba to America, and somehow managed to get swept way off course. It didn’t really hit how off course until I saw a map of where they were trying to go and where we had picked them up.

Picking up some extra passengers was something we never expected on our vacation, and it was certainly something to witness trying to watch them rescue these people. It certainly made an impact on our vacation and left us, and the refugees with a story to tell.

COM0014 – Blog 1 – What I Did on My Vacation – Visiting an Heirloom of an Island – Beautiful Barbados

You often see advertisements for trips to the sunny Caribbean parts of the world. In my case Barbados hit home for me as the number one choice of destination. My Dad’s family is from there. Born and raised in Barbados he immigrated to Canada at age 18 and thus naturally when the opportunity to travel there came to being – I took it!

When I was young I went there with my parents and at 5 years old had many memories but at 26 years I decided to visit family alone and it was one of many good decisions in my life. Just the act of booking a trip just for me felt great and the act of seeing family, priceless.

what i did on my vacation 1

I stayed in Christchurch which is the southern part of Barbados at my Aunt’s house and the beauty of being able to wake up and go into the ocean 15 minutes after waking up was a luxury I will never forget.

The air smells beautiful there, a mixture of sea salt, hibiscus and sugar cane. The sweet smell greeted me when I made my way out of the plane. The walk was also serenaded with a steel drum band welcoming people to the island. It was a picture right out of the movies.

During my stay I enjoyed Barbados flying fish, crab cakes and roti. Along with that of course enjoyed Rum Punch. There is a rhyme to making rum punch. It’s a recipe put to a rhyme. It goes as follows.

what i did on my vacation 2

Now to understand the ingredients I will explain. The classic ingredients are Lime, Sugar, Rum and Water. The recipe then is one part lime, two parts sugar, three parts rum and four parts water. It also is a great addition to add freshly grated nutmeg and serve over ice. With a recipe like that how can one go wrong?

Some places I went to while there were the Atlantis Submarines Barbados, Harrison’s Cave, and a tour of the island with my cousin who brought me to the inside of the Island and a visit to the Atlantic ocean side as well as a visit to where some island pottery is made.

You know what the best part of the trip was? The fact that I spent Valentine’s Day there treating myself to the tastes, sites,  sounds and family of Barbados. The heart of Barbados for me is love.

Have you been on a trip by yourself? Have you enjoyed family in a far-away place? Do you remember the scent of the place you went? It has been many years since being there but will always remember the scent of the sweet hibiscus air.

References:

http://www.harrisonscave.com/

http://barbados.atlantissubmarines.com/