Friday, March 18, 2011

Cuban Adventures – 5 days, 7 nights in Cuba Part Two: Arrival in Cuba.

I was a little nervous when we arrived in Cuba. This was my first time leaving Canada, other than a few trips driving over the border to the United States, and my first plane ride since I was bordering on just beginning my teen years, many years before all the fear and high security for airlines. The news and the world online are filled with horror stories of all the worst things that can possibly happen to the unsuspecting traveller. Of course, most of them seem to revolve around U.S. airlines and border security and we were travelling from Canada on a Canadian airline, but those details did nothing for the nerves.

We went through the necessary check points, scanners, and metal detectors surprisingly quickly. And the Cuban border security was even friendlier than the Canadian security at the airport at home. Ok, so none of them were actually friendly per say, but they did go about their duties in a matter-of-fact and non-intimidating way.

We had arrived in Cuba, leaving -40 wind chills behind to set out into +28 temperatures. We had found summer!

A bit of a wait on an air-conditioned tour bus for all the passengers to get their luggage and load up, with the already drunk revellers at the back of the bus, and we were on our way rolling through the roads of Cuba to our resort.

There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the drive. The main animal seemed to be goats. There was sea on one side and bare land filled with low bush and trees on the other for the most part. But it is a beautiful island, full of a lot of untouched ruggedness and tropical trees and we first-timers marvelled at the wonders of seeing a new country in a new part of the world for the very first time.

Many of the cars in Cuba are vintage to us, while others looked like little electric cars of the future. The one thing many of the cars had in common was the finish burning off from the top down from the salt water. We’re used to cars that rot out from the bottom up from all the salt and junk we dump on our streets all winter so we aren’t slipping and sliding into each other all over the roads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the little bubble scooter, sort of a motorcycle powered rickshaw that serves as a form of mini taxicab in Cuba.

There was another form of Cuban travel that we saw often, parked randomly around the resorts and just off of the roadsides. This one seemed to range from scruffy little horses to camels.

When we saw houses, it was quite an experience to see for the first time. Some of the houses further in and closer to the resorts were beautiful, with their own Cuban charm. But mostly the houses we passed on the drive were depressing.

It was unusual for us to see lines of laundry flapping from every balcony of their little mini-apartment like housing, and in front of every single dwelling. It seemed like an island-wide wash day and no one has a dryer. None of the houses seemed to have glass or screens in their windows. Not all even had doors. But that wasn’t what was depressing.

Many of these people live in housing conditions that would mortify Canadians to learn that animals lived in these buildings. We didn’t see any from the inside, but from the outside it was clear these houses were in a state of crumbling ruin. Many even had large holes in their roofs or entire roof sections missing.

Some people even lived in unfinished buildings, living on the bottom level while the upper floor stood as an empty and roofless stark grey concrete reminder of the need many of the Cuban people seem to be living in. These were actually some of the nicer homes that could be seen in the outlying areas further from where all the resorts could be found. They, at least, looked relatively new compared to most of the housing we saw, and in pretty good condition.

Steve sat on one side of the bus with Sidney, trying to keep her entertained on the drive, while I sat opposite them with Robyn. Robyn had spent most of the trip with her face glued to the window, jammed for a while between the window and the seat in front of us while she held a conversation with the passenger in front of her, and finally falling into silence as she watched the Cuban world go by. I have no idea how long she watched, but after a while I realized that she was sound asleep. I eased her out of there and leaned her back, where she snuggled into me for the rest of the drive without a hint of waking up.

And because every adventure needs a little excitement, our bus driver didn’t let us down. We were cruising along between resorts, casually staring out windows, chatting, everyone eagerly waiting to see what their resort would like like compared to the rest, when we were suddenly thrown forward in our seats when the bus driver braked like someone’s life depended on it. And it did.

I clutched at Robyn, catching her before she flew forward off the seat, looking around in alarm along with every other passenger on the bus to the sounds of gasped wonderings of what was happening.

Outside my side of the bus the driver of a little moped scooter like this one barely managed to avoid wiping out completely as the scooter careened wildly out of the path of the bus that had just almost creamed them. Skidding to a stop more on one of the driver’s legs than the scooter’s wheels, the passenger fell off the bike onto her knees, visibly shaken even at our distance and literally kissing the ground.

hat couple definitely will be going home with a story to tell. No one on the bus except the driver seemed to have seen who got in who’s way, and we weren’t sure he could even speak English, but thankfully it didn’t look like anyone was hurt. We went on our merry way with excited chatter, a bus full of relief, and Robyn blissfully slept through the whole thing.

With some stops along the way to drop people off at other resorts, we had finally arrived at our destination. The kids were bored, Steve was anxious to hit the pool, and by this time I had already had a raging migraine for hours and was feeling downright nauseous. We had all been up since 2 A.M. and still had hours to wait for our room. Fortunately for us, they had very comfortable chairs in the large lobby and Robyn had discovered the coconut slushy.


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