What comes to mind when you think of Cuba? Castro, rum, cigars, cappuccino, sun beds sheltered under palapas? What about hurricanes?
Devastation by Hurricane Irma is visible all over the Varadero strip, home to more than fifty resorts. Irma gobbled up the beach as we knew it and eroded the sandy shoreline by several feet.
Buildings sustained significant damage. At our resort, roofs/rooves blew off and others collapsed. Giant palm trees snapped off like twigs. New ones have already been planted.
Canadians would find the lack of safety measures appalling. Workers scale great heights using sketchy scaffolding and an assortment of rickety ladders. Their safety harnesses were not connected to anything.
MELDA CLARK REINVENTED
Many of you know I have been working to improve my health this year and what a difference it has made. In what way, you may be wondering? For starters, my mind is in a better place. In the past, it took several tries or assistance to get up from my sun bed but not this year. I have a new-found spring in my step and have spent hours in the pool, for a change. What a difference six months have made!
For those who have heard rumors that the food, mainly fish, chicken, beans and rice, is disappointing have not visited the Iberostar Varadero. The hotel chain pays a hefty fee to the government that allows them to import food from all over the world. For example, we did not see one banana. The Manager explained he had applied for permission to import bananas, but the wheels move ever so slowly. It appears the local crop will be ready by the time they receive permission. Truth be told, I could live on the freshly made bread, watermelon, pink grapefruit and ice cream.
We met a well-travelled Toronto couple, Heather and Peter. The best part? They had visited my hometown of Lockeport while exploring Nova Scotia.
We met another couple from Port Elgin, ON, which is where our son, Jeremy, just began a new job. The best part? The husband was wearing a t-shirt from DOUGLAS + SON BOBCAYGEON MERCANTILE located beside Foodland.
DOWNTON ABBEY? NO THANK YOU.
My favourite moment was meeting a delightful young woman, Ellie, from England. We struck up a conversation about British television shows. I learned Ellie watches my favourite British show, Call the Midwife. Coronation Street is okay, but Ellie is enthralled with Eastenders. Thumbs down for Downtown Abbey. Ellie found the show did not portray the people and customs of the UK accurately. (As Canadians, we know all about stereotypical portrayals.)
Silly me, I adopted Ellie’s British accent instantly. In fact, I plan to change my name to Eliza Doolittle and tell strangers I am an English woman living in Canada.
PERSON OF THE YEAR
Glenn and I have grown fond of the staff who are here year after year. We made a new acquaintance, a young man named Adrian who runs a variety of recreational activities. He recently graduated from six years of university in sports medicine. On top of that, Adrian speaks six languages: Spanish, English, French, Italian, German and Russian. He is very proud that he has his own apartment only twenty minutes away.
DOCTOR, LAWYER, TEACHER
Why is a Adrian, qualified in sports medicine, working in a resort? The answer is simple…for the money. Cuban adults, regardless of position, receive a monthly salary of 500 Cuban pesos per month. This is enough to cover most monthly expenses, but not all. Unlike doctors, lawyers and teachers, resort workers receive tips that they use to cover unexpected costs, to make larger purchases, and to save for the future. For example, a new pair of shoes cost 30 pesos which is about 6% of monthly income. Would you spend 6% of your monthly income on a pair of shoes? Me neither.
Tips can make the difference between eking out an existence and living comfortably. Much of the country seems frozen in the days of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. In my view, it resembles George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in which all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others. The perennial problem with communism.
THE GREATEST COUP OF ALL
Wherever I went on the resort, people were transfixed on their devices. This is a gold mine for the Cuban government. Why? In order to use the internet, guests must purchase WiFi access cards for 1 hour for 1 dollar. Do you know how fast an hour goes by, especially at low speeds? All day long, guests line up to buy hundreds of cards and this is only one of hundreds of resorts on the island.
And that about wraps up Cuba 2018.
Hasta luego amigos.