Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Cuba March 2009

Local Cuban

Earlier in the year we decided to go on a trip somewhere to celebrate our 5 year anniversary. Neither one of us can believe it has already been 5 years! Time flies! The date snuck up on us as V was busy working and studying for the first part of her physiotherapy licensing exam and Tony has been working 80+ hour weeks for the last few months…. So Monday night we were researching possible places to go, Tuesday night we booked a trip to Varadero, Cuba as we found a great deal, Wednesday night we packed, and Thursday morning we left!  Was a great decision as we had a fantastic time! The weather wasn’t exactly on our side as the second day it became very windy and the ocean extremely wavy to the point where it became unsafe to swim for most of the trip unfortunately. But that didn’t stop us, we still managed to fill our days and had a great time.

Cuba was an interesting place to visit, and we felt if we were going to go we had to go soon as once Castro passes on I’m sure the country will begin to change. First of all, there is a double economy, with the Cubans having their own currency, pesos, and another currency, convertible pesos (CUC) reserved for only tourists to use. Nobody owns their own property or business as it is all government controlled, you are allowed to trade houses but you can’t sell it. Also farmers aren’t allowed to kill their own cattle, I guess to prevent people from eating all their animals/produce. Everyone gets rations of rice and beans each month so this tends to be their main staple as other food is very hard to find or afford. Cubans have an amazing health and education system that is free to all.... as much as they want... which means that there are a lot of very educated people in Cuba, but that also means that jobs are highly competitive. And due to the communism it doesn’t matter what job you do the average wage you make is about $20 a month! Thus, most people try to get involved with tourism as the tips you make provide you with a much better income than having a regular job and you get one free meal a week of the food tourists eat. So you end up having doctors and lawyers as your bartender, waiter, or cleaning staff! The other thing we found interesting was that because driving is so expensive in Cuba there are very few cars on the road which makes walking/cycling more enjoyable and leaves the air very fresh and clean feeling. Because of this hitch-hiking is completely legal and is actually compulsory in Cuba, with people dressed in yellow hired to stand on the road and help people hitch-hike… if your vehicle is flagged down and you have room you must take a person with you in your car to whatever destination you are headed.

We stayed in Varadero in an all inclusive resort, which we thought would not be our thing at all… but actually ended up being very relaxing and stress-free, exactly what we needed. We found it a bit weird not having to pay for food or drinks but quickly got used to it. And the nightly entertainers were fantastic…dancers and acrobats! Although Varadero is quite touristy, a lot more touristy than what we are used too, its incredible beach made up for it…. crystal turquoise waters & 20km of beautiful beaches.

The first day we were there we had the best weather of the trip, we decided to walk up the beach and explore the area a bit… but our short walk turned into a 6 hour trek! Oops… got quite burnt as the sunscreen on our feet/legs had washed off as we waded through the water.  Only managed to swim another two times as the weather turned the second day and it was deemed unsafe to swim unfortunately.  One of the days we were walking up towards the beach and someone came up to us and told us to quickly go to the beach as there was a shark in the water! How exciting, so we made our way to the beach even though the Cubans had assured us that the only sharks we would find would be Cuban’s trying to take advantage of us and all the water sharks were sent to Florida :P  There was a crowd of people taking pictures of the dark figure in the water and its small fin sticking out. Something didn’t quite look right…  Tony took out his camera anyways cause if it really was a shark we wanted a picture. The waves were hitting it and the current was carrying it down the shore… was it dead?  People were all very excited… until a wave hit it at a decent angle that let us get a better look at it… it was a palm tree leaf!!!  Sheesh :P hehe we started laughing with the lifeguard and walked away while everyone else stayed taking pictures still thinking it was a shark. We tried to tell people but I think they were still caught up in the excitement of it being a shark :P  we had a good laugh about it. hehe

Went snorkelling on the last day as the waves finally died down a bit. Just went in front of our hotel so wasn’t really the reefs we were hoping to see. But still had fun, saw a pretty green and purple striped fish that was playing with V… she would swim down towards it and it would look into her mask :)

Managed to get away on a couple day trips. One around the Yumuri Valley which was interesting as we were able to see what real Cuban life was like outside of the resort town of Varadero. Visited a farm where we got to try sugarcane, papaya, guava, and the yummiest banana chips ever! Freshly made and warm still… so good! Sugarcane is incredibly abundant, which makes sense as Cuba is the land of Rum! So cheap and good! We were surprised cause outside of the resort you would typically pay for the juice/mixer portion of your drink and then it was “pour your own rum”!  They would come up and ask if you had enough rum in your drink… we were allowed to drink as much as we wanted! Bizarre! Also took a boat trip down the river lined with mangroves but unfortunately the snorkling portion of the trip got cancelled cause of the rough ocean. The highlight of the trip was getting to swim in a cave! It was fun exploring the crevices and jumping off a big rock into the clear waters below.

Took a 2.5-3 hour drive to Havana which was great. Havana is gorgeous! Saw mainly the old town which had cobbled streets and very European type buildings although a lot older and run down as it is very expensive to maintain…. a can of paint is very expensive so Cuban’s understandably often chose to use their $20/month income to buy food or clothes instead of paint or maintain their house. Our day in Havana was ended with an amazing show at the famous cabaret, Tropicana…. Lots of lavish big colourful costumes, amazing dancing, incredible acrobatics, and fantastic music that had us dancing/singing all the way back to Varadero. Definitely worth every penny and they gave us loads of free rum & coke, champaign, and snacks… so we left feeling quite tipsy.

We ended our trip by relaxing around the resort playing minigolf, bocce ball, giant checkers and giant chess where the pieces were big enough V tried to go horsebackriding on one of the pieces. Relaxed by the less wavy ocean and took advantage of the free drinks. Had a great time, so relaxing, and was a great place to get engaged!


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Veronica commented on "Our Wedding - July 3, 2010": The ceremony was at Spanish Banks beach followed by the reception in V's parent's garden. We really couldn't have asked for a better day, it was absolutely perfect! The weather held out, the food was delicious, and the company even better. It was so nice to have our closest family and friends all together to help us celebrate! And thank you so much to all those who flew out, it meant the world to us!!! (let us know if you want any of these pictures) note: there are many more pictures up on our photographer's website (you can also order photos through her): www.magnoliaphotographic.com/clients - weddings, password = daws love, Anthony & Veronica
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