Viva La Cuba: Off the Tourist Track

It has been busy since I came back to China. We got right back to work with full days. This year my workload will be even heavier since I am the only returning teacher in my year level, which means I have 3 new staff to help support and teach them the ropes. I also have a brand new co-teacher who is new to the school.  I don’t mind helping out since I was new once too and asked a lot of questions. This is my payback 😉 In addition to that I am also part of a committee to help learn a new computer system. I am supposed to be the master and show others how to use it and then trouble shoot any problems. This is going to be fun since we have had an intensive training session and SO much was covered I can’t remember everything. Fingers crossed it is easy or no one has any questions.

I have been trying to catch up on blogs, but I apologize I have been very bad. I haven’t been able to catch up as I would like. Posting and responding is the most I have been able to do most days and weekends. I promised I would write more about our holidays and I keep running out of time, so without further ado… more on Cuba!

Sun, Surf & Sand – Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

This was our third trip to Cuba. In 2008 we made the trip twice within a few months. The second trip was spur of the moment since there was a great sell off. We loved the beaches, people and music. We explored the small craft markets in Varadero and did a few fun tourist trips off the resort where we swam with dolphins, snorkeled in a cave, rode a jeep, went to a traditional farm and had lunch on the softest, powdery beach I ever saw. This trip was taking us to Cayo Santa Maria which is relatively new to the tourist racket. The travel agents sold it as ‘quiet with little to do’. In comparison Varadero had night life at the many hotels, a bus into town for the craft markets and a variety of tours to take. Conversely, Cayo Santa Maria was a handful of resorts with few optional excursions and no one went into town. The closest town was across the 45KM causeway and wasn’t really equipt for tourists. People stayed at the resort. A few excursions were available and set up close by just for something to do. Some may ask what are you going to do for 2 weeks? Won’t you get bored? Well maybe, but it sounded like heaven after a busy school year. No schedules, a good book and a beautiful beach… R&R… this is just what the doctor ordered for this holiday.

After the excitement on day one with John’s adventure and trip to the local clinic we settled in to lounging by the pool each day. We avoided the beach since the trees were in full pollination and were a little worried about a repeat performance to the emergency. Near the end of the two weeks we did venture to the sea, but jellyfish kept us out of the water. John sailed a few times and went fishing.

Not a fish story… it was really this big! John’s catch a barracuda.

John is on the white sailboat.

 

 

 

 

 

I enjoyed watching the small fish that came close to shore and the occasional larger ones that came to feed. Some barracuda and long thin needle nose looking fish were most interesting. Mostly John enjoyed chatting to a few other tourists and I read. I finished book 2 and 3 of the Hunger Games. Luckily I tucked a third book in my bag; a mystery novel by Elizabeth Peters. Reading is something I really enjoy and don’t always get time to do, so this was perfect. Reading 3 books in 2 weeks was heavenly. It was funny as I looked around the most popular choice for reading just happened to be the Hunger Games series or Shades of Grey. When I wasn’t reading I was swimming or chatting to other vacationers. Everything was peaceful and not a shred of boredom crept in.

We didn’t make any plans to do any day trips since one was a flight into Havana (it was expensive and we had been already) and the other was to go and see a dolphin show. We were content with just hanging out and spending our days by the pool. John made friends with one of the hotel staff  (Y) and he offered to get some Cuban cigars cheap. The locals always have the connections and get the best prices no matter where you are. The catch was he couldn’t bring them to work. Y offered to show us around his town,  Caibarién, and we could have lunch before heading back to the resort. John went to inquire about renting a car or hiring a taxi for the day. For about the same price we could rent a car, so John thought that would allow us some more freedom and we would do that. When asked if we should book the car the answer was no problem, come back tomorrow. Of course if you know us, or been following our blog this is not going to go smoothly 😉

The next day we woke early and had breakfast. We went to the car rental booth and it was closed. Someone thought it was opening soon, so we hung around. The time came and went and no one showed up. Front desk thought he was in another location so the bell boy drove us in the golf cart there. No car rental guy. Next we went to their sister resort and found him. All the cars were rented until tomorrow. This was Y’s only day off before we went home so we had to go today. We also discovered they do NOT accept credit cards for car rentals, only cash for the large deposit. There are no ATMs so that would have also proved difficult. Back to the resort we negotiated a price for a taxi for a few hours. Finally, with a few hours delay, we were on the road.

The long causeway was very narrow and the only link to the main land. Cayo means key in Spanish and Cayo Santa Maria is a large sand key off the main land. Castro himself thought about developing this area for tourism and so the causeway was built in the narrowest stretch from mainland to key. A 50 minutes drive from the resort brought us to the small

The causeway into town

village of Caibarién. After we drove across the causeway we saw the locals on small horse carts loaded with items to be sold in town. The town itself is more of a village with no chain shops, restaurants or supermarkets. It appeared most things to buy were sold directly from someone’s home. People sat on porches while others were on horse-drawn taxi’s to get from place to place. A few cars were parked along streets  or driving the narrow, bumpy roads. What a difference from the flash cars in Shanghai, or even the modern newer models in Canada. Old Ladas and 1950 style cars faded with peeling paint were the luxury here. My eyes scanned every detail as I tried to commit it all to memory. This is the place where tourists don’t come, we were definitely off the tourist track. Fear didn’t enter my mind, but a sense of wonder and how lucky I was to be invited in to see something that few people ever get to experience. It was a strange sensation and the honour to be picked to see this first hand was overwhelming. My new camera was about to get a work out, but not before I asked if it was OK to take photos. I didn’t want to offend anyone or look like we were showing off or flaunting wealth. We exited the taxi and I knew this was going to be a day to remember… a chance of a lifetime.

Back in time?

Stay tuned for more….

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22 thoughts on “Viva La Cuba: Off the Tourist Track

  1. Looks like you had a great time! We went to Cuba a few years ago, but we only called into Havana on a cruise ship to spend a day there. We thoroughly enjoyed it though. Loved all the old cars 🙂

  2. Great photos! It reminds me of my time there, we went to Cayo Coco and drove on that causeway. It was amazing!

  3. Freda Goulet

    Hi Diana, Reading your blog makes me want to visit Cuba. The beauty of the sand and sea and the restful atmosphere would be perfect for my quiet nature….I would have to leave Jack at home tho!!

    • LOL! Varadero is busy and lots to do… Cayo Santa Maria is more for those who just want to relax. You should go! The resort was nice and so many people were repeat customers.

  4. Glad you had a enjoyable vacation before you go back to work, it sounds like a heavy load…

    • Teaching is always busy and I think teaching internationally can be even more so at times. It is a very competitive business in some cities and Shanghai is no exception.
      Thanks for your comments and stopping by 🙂

      • Oooops, I just noticed that I should type an instead….
        I have never been China, but have heard so much about the city and people. My husband and I plan to join a travel group to take a trip to China next year.

        • It is very cool… a place I never thought I wanted to go. It wasn’t on my travel bucket list… maybe the just the Great Wall. Being here is so crazy and surreal at times. We are going into our third year! I finished my contract and decided to stay at least 1 more because I found I love China. China is a place that is very black and white though… people either love it or hate it. Luckily we loved it.

          • It probably takes long time to love a place that the culture is so different from west. Hope to read more stories when you are back to China if you find time.

            • Yes lots waiting in the wings… just catching up with ideas from home and Cuba… then back to China!
              Thanks so much for the support and taking the time to stop in 🙂

  5. These are the blog posts I love! You’re a great storyteller!

  6. I love the ‘Back in Time’ photo – indeed!! That could definitely be used one day in a photo challenge – the whole comp of the photo is fantastic. I just can’t get over how beautiful the beaches are. I have only seen programs on TV where they show the inner-cities which is why I got a bit confused that it was the same place I was looking at because of the beautiful shorelines. It just looks heaven! What happened to the fish??!!

    • The fish John caught was given to the locals. They apparently eat them. With low income many of them fish off the bridges and eat their catch.
      The beaches are lovely… water so blue!
      Thanks for the comments. I bought a new camera and was testing it out. The zoom allowed me to get some pictures I would have missed with the little point and shoot.

      • Well you did a fine job with your new camera, very good photo’d indeed 🙂

        • Thanks 🙂 Still learning all the features. Have yet to read all the manual!

          • I’ve had my canon for a few months now and I still have much to learn so I bought a ‘Beginners Guide to Digital Photography’ bookzine the other day – my head spun as there’s such a lot to learn. It took me almost a month to pick up the Canon I was that anxious, but having a mooch around the different settings has helped but I still always have to do photo editing on all my pictures, which I hope everyone does!! But it’s fun and I’m really enjoying it.

            • I love taking pictures… it is fun. I have edited some, but still need to learn all ins and out of that program! I bought a bigger camera with a zoom, so it is a bit itimidating, but I wanted something a bit better than point and shoot… and the price was right! I think the best way to learn is just try it out.

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