Cuba Day Three - Varadero
We all met up in the morning at the Sports Bar. Rori loves blueberry pancakes and they had pancakes on the menu but there wasn’t a blueberry to be seen. On that topic Rori loves mangoes. I found that odd because I never heard of mangoes until a few years ago. Well, I had heard of them but I hadn’t actually tasted them. With mangoes being her favourite fruit I have come to like them too but mango season is May and June not February. They did have papaya, guava, pineapple, banana (baby banana that is) and plantain. I discovered that I like papaya but was not so big on guava unless it was in the Nestle’s ice cream bars that they sometimes had in the buffet freezer. The Cubans are so adaptable and casual, it makes me laugh. We were at a fancy a la carte Italian restaurant several days later and Brenda couldn’t have any of the menu desserts so the waitress suggested guava ice cream. That sounded good. She brings out a plate with a Nestle’s guava ice cream bar half melted on it complete with stick.. You gotta love it.
So, Rori ordered pancakes (without blueberries). They had no baking powder so they were not fluffy and they had the taste and texture of sweet warm tortillas. Rori seemed to enjoy them. She actually ate a number of things that surprised us a bit, especially she is usually a
Before we left the Sports Bar we got a video of our 10 year old granddaughter dancing to the Latin music. She was very creative and emotive and it was a lot of fun. It was interesting how she adapted the moves from her Lyrical Dance Class to this new environment.
Brenda and I were walking between the buffet and the main lobby and we met up with someone who heard us mentioned something Canadian, He latched on and started to tell us how he was from Sioux Lookout and how the natives were abusing the system and the outrage of local political planning - ‘Hey, Dude! Cuba - Chill.’ We parted company as soon as we could after the toxic burst.
It was the weekly Cuba Day and on the way to the buffet we watched them set up the terrace area with booths, a huge Cuban flag and a spit to roast pigs. Rori wasn’t too keen about the spit and I am kicking myself now because by the time we got back from town they had taken down the huge Cuban flag and I didn’t get photos of us in front of it.
After breakfast Brenda and Rori went swimming in the pool while Heather and I went to book trips with our Sunwing rep, Mayne (pronounced My Knee), but she wasn't at the Sunwing desk yet. When we arrived there was already an older lady who was somewhat over dressed and sitting bolt upright with a slight scowl on her face in front of the desk. I thought that was interesting because you just don’t see that very much of that in vacation land at an all inclusive resort. I struck up a conversation and it was clear that She was not impressed with the hotel, especially the attitude of some of the staff. She would “usually stay at the better Starfish Quattro in town but she was here with her son and grandchildren and the Quattro was an adult only resort.” Also, the son had given them a budget, "Even though he didn't need to have a budget and he later realized his mistake, but he's like that." She pointed out the beach was much better at Quattro, "The sand is much finer and doesn't have all those small sea shells that cut your feet." She was waiting for Mayne, "Even though I should probably be complaining to the Hotel Manager rather than a travel agent." She Who Must Complain To The Manager (SWMCTTM) added, "At the Quattro, David the Hotel Manager, knows exactly what I want and it would never be in a state like, ...this place.” She had an uncomfortable incident this morning. “A man came out of the women’s washroom with a smirk on his face.” She knew he was up to no good. “There was a dirty toilet stall and it was unusable. I approached several service staff who were just standing outside smoking. I asked if they would clean it up and they said, 'No.' “That wouldn't happen at the Quattro where David is Manager.” Mayne didn’t show up. So we both decided to come back later. “I don’t see why she doesn’t have her hours posted on a sign at the desk.” Turns out that Mayne’s hours are laid out in the handout everyone was handed when we got on the bus at the airport.
Heather and I met up with Brenda and Rori at the pool.
It is now time for one of the big “Must Do’ items on our list.
We caught the Beach Tour double decker bus to Varadero. We were standing on the side of the highway where the bus would take us into town in about 5 minutes. The bus pulled up on the other side of the highway as he was heading out the end of the peninsula. The driver stopped and waved us over. We ran across the highway - not generally a smart move in Cuba, grabbed seats on the top level of the bus and got the Grand Tour out to the end of the peninsula and back. It was great. I had always wanted to see the resorts out at the end of the spit.
We’re on the bus enjoying the wind in our hair (figure of speech for me) and Rori was doing “I’m Flying,” from The Titanic. I love this bus trip because you get to see so much of Cuba. Sure most of it is tourist orientated but then, I’m a tourist. If I really wanted to get to know and understand the local lifestyle I would plan to stay with a local family. I have heard of many people doing that and having a wonderful time. Personally, I can only handle a small glimpse of how others live and this trip in town is always enough.
We passed many other resorts and tried to figure out which ones might be good for our ‘next vacation’ and made mental notes about which ones to avoid. Others on the bus were doing the same. At least three times I overheard, “Oh, look, there’s the (name of the resort two hotels down), we almost booked into that place but I am glad we decided to stay where we are.”
As we were driving into town I realized that I was familiar with many of the buildings along the way. Over the years I had taken this bus trip five or six times and watched the videos a couple, or more, times. The buildings were all pastel pink, blue, green and yellow. Sorry, (Rori corrected me) coral, periwinkle, aqua, and lemon. The square, squat concrete block buildings all have their own personality and each make a statement that the locals seemed comfortable with but was strangely exotic and somewhat terrifying to me. All the houses jammed together created a whimsical euphony of visual complexity but in the back of my mind I was counting my blessings for living where I do. I felt like a kid as we hopped off the bus at the downtown tourist area and bought some cheap souvenirs for family back home.
I have gotten into the habit of picking up a 'mascot' from the places we travel to. My mascots sit on my desk, beside me as I write. In Jamaica I found a turtle and armadillo bobble heads. Today I am on a mission to find a new acquisition here.
Our first stop was a classic collection of canvas shaded vendor stalls with lethargic operators who chatted melodically to each other in some Spanish/Cuban dialect. They would perk up and address you directly when you touched one of their treasures for sale, ‘My Friend! You like?’ ‘That is 3 pesos but you can have two for 5 pesos.’ “ I will write your name and the word ‘Cuba’ on it for you, no charge.’
Rori was right in there. She was on a mission too. She was going to get souvenirs for her friends. She got comfortable dealing with the booth operators and haggled for a number of engraved trinkets, Cuba 2019 - Love Rori.”
I usually agonize over selecting even the smallest purchase but I had resolved to do it differently this time. Within 15 minutes I found a couple of delicate wooden hummingbirds. These would be my Cuba 2019 mascots. I bought them, ‘Two for 5 pesos.” I didn’t even haggle, I was done. Moments later I strolled through another booth and a wood and ceramic mask spoke to me. It was crafted in a clear, colourful, clean edged style that I like. It was a full 7 pesos.
|My two hummingbirds and painted mask on my desk.|
I collect hats. It probably an over compensation for being follicly challenged but I do need something to keep the wind, rain and sun off my head. Why not a classic Cuban hat I was trying on several different styles and asked my fashion consultant for an option. Brenda is very diplomatic, “Perhaps, you should look for a hat in a store with a selection of higher quality.”
Rori bought baseball bats on key chains, mini bongos, tiny ships in bottles She was just a whirlwind of a wheeler dealer and I don’t think she paid the sticker price for anything. She quickly became a favourite of the booth owners.
Finally all the haggling was over and we started to walk up the ‘main’ street of Varadero, just looking at everything. It was hot, humid and many taxis stopped and offered to give us a ride. One asked. ‘Where are you going?’ Brenda told him, ‘The Beatles Restaurant.’ It was the only landmark we knew and it was one of the places Rori and I had identified, before the trip, on Google Maps. The taxi driver said, ‘That’s at.. (and he gave the address.) You will want a ride.” Twenty minutes later we were thinking that maybe he was right. But, we walked and took in the local flavour. The sidewalks were broken and uneven. The restaurants were concrete block patios with concrete block bars.
There was a park and a cemetary, then a couple of newer air conditioned stores that sold cigars or rum. We were pressing on to a couple of places we had seen on the bus ride in. Just across from the Starfish Quattro was The Beatles Restaurant! We were here!
|Statues of 'The Four Bronze Guys.' I don't want to call them the Beatles after reading Jim's comments (below)|
|I took a photo of Brenda in front of the statues, at a distance, to proved that we had actually been there.|
We moved on. We passed, the Casa del Ron, we weren’t going there. The Casa del Cigarro, we weren’t going there. However, the ‘Casa del Chocolate’ had us all interested.
I love walking but even I had just about enough. Brenda doesn’t care for the heat and would had teleported back to the hotel if that was an option. We finally made it to the House of Chocolate and stepped inside. There was a/c.
We were surprised that there was only one little display unit about five feet wide that displayed half a dozen items. However, we would buy anything at that point and there was chocolate so - no problem. We got some chocolate fudge brownies with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce and a bag of, duh, chocolates. AS the ladies bought chocolate I explored a little further into the building. There was a small but impressive restaurant area with a beautiful wooden interior full of grand wooden tables. It was so different than the front entrance that I felt like I had stepped into the past. The surprise didn’t stop there. At one end of this classic wooden decor was another anomaly. At the far end of the room was the biggest inside a/c unit I have ever seen. Its grey metal box was eight feet high, four feet wide and six feet deep and took the place of one whole table. I felt like I was standing before the enigmatic monolith in Space 2001. We sat at one of the tables, in the shadow of the monolith and ate our chocolates.
Thankfully, the Beach Tour bus picked us up outside Casa del Chocolate and moments later we were cooling off in the Starfish swimming pool.
We caught up with Brenda and Rori at the beach we where we came across Wayne and Karoline again. They know everyone their and greet people at their strategic spot at the end of the walkway as you enter the beach area. They are the Beach Ambassadors.
It was so bright that I couldn't see anything but little dots in the camera viewfinder. They were waving so I hoped it was them. The weather was perfect.
I noticed another little dot to the right of the three people I had been videoing so I tried to get them in too just in case I had the wrong folks. Later I found out it was Karoline. Brenda is waving to tell me that Karoline is having issues.
This will make a good occean shot and I'll just pan over to show what the beach looks like.
After dinner we walked in the ocean in the dark for a while. The ocean at night is so hard to explain. It is big, it is quiet, it is ominous. Daytime rules don’t seem to apply. You don’t swim. You may wade in just to get the sensation of the water but you leave feeling that you missed something, bigger.
Back at the lobby bar we were surprised by a most excellent saxophone player - that was nice. He was experienced, talented and confident. We were caught up in his music and it was great. Next, there was a singer, with a backup bongo player and he was also excellent. Rori was so impressed that she was compelled to tip him. It was interesting to see the way that she got involved with the performers.
Then the singer teamed up with Malida, local entertainer and MC, who held a salsa dancing contest. Malida picked representatives from the audience, each from a different country. Heather was one she picked from Canada. Rori stood back with us at the table saying, ‘She should dance like this.” Then Rori would do the moves. We could not convince Rori to go up on stage to help her Mom during the contest.
But, after Heather won the contest Malida took Rori up on stage and they danced together. Back at our table Malida suggested that she should get her hair braided.
We were all very tired and this point we all just went to bed because we have a major catamaran ride early in the morning.