MacRae’s In Cuba 2017 -or- Sorry ‘Bout Your Eye, Jessica!
As I write this my 8 year old daughter is sleeping soundly in bed beside me. She awoke crying in her own bed telling me she can’t stop thinking about Cuba and misses it.
Flashback to last Friday (April 7th). My wife and I pulled the girls out of school under the guise we were taking them to McDonald’s for lunch. That much was true but they expected us to bring them back to school afterward for their afternoon “dance-a-thon”. I asked them if there was anything in the world they’d rather do than go back to school. Our youngest inhaled french fries and replied that she wanted to practice Hip Hop dancing while our oldest said that all she wanted to do was go back to the dance-a-thon. Let’s think about this for a sec. Board a plane in the next two hours heading to sunny Cuba or go back to school. They bloody picked school!
This video can explain it a helluva lot better than I can:
Initially we were not to be believed. It wasn’t until the offer of a “pinky promise” to prove I wasn’t lying that things started to sink in. Then my wife showed the girls her “to-do list” and that nailed it. One high five later from our oldest and they were convinced we were going to Cuba. Our youngest was just as happy gorging on french fries. To this day I don’t think she fully grasped the gravity of that moment. But she’s five. I’ll cut her a break.
Within an hour and a half of our high-calorie, artery-clogging lunch we arrived at the airport (thanks to my brother Scott) and found seats outside our gate where we anxiously waited to board our plane. In retrospect, I still think even as we began to board the plane… they didn’t believe us.
The girls are great travellers, always have been. A short three-hour up and down and we landed at Juan Gaulberto Gómez Airport in Cuba. The sun had set and it was a balmy 21 degrees celsius. Leanne had been mildly concerned it’d be cold at night until I explained 21 degrees in an early-spring Toronto is different than 21 degrees in a humid Cuba. It felt MUCH warmer. We boarded the bus that would take us to the Iberostar Tainos, our chosen accommodations. Leanne bought a few cans of Cristal brand beer (one of the local intoxicants) to replace the bag-o-beer she lost somewhere in the airport parking lot and we began to roll.
The drive to the resort was pleasant and uneventful. Many of the guides who accompany the bus drivers taking us from point-A to point-B are students studying English. The access to English-speaking tourists gives them a good sounding board for their own cause. An hour and several drop-offs later we rolled into our own resort. We gasped at the opulence of the resort lobby, checked in, swung open the door to our room and breathed in the toxic paint fumes wafting from inside. This is really the only negative thing I have to say about our entire Cuban experience (they offered us another room but we chose the fume room as we’d already unpacked).
The following morning we arose early to indulge in our first Cuban family breakfast. Now, from all I’d heard about Cuba prior to our vacation, the one thing that remained consistent was that the food was… meh. I didn’t find it that way at all. Of course most mornings my breakfast consisted of Fruit Loops and chocolate milk but when I ventured out of my comfort zone and based the local cuisine I was surprised to find great taste in almost everything I ate.
I won’t go into a highly-detailed breakdown list of things we did everyday but suffice it to say everyday was like a glorious dream. And I’m the kind of guy that won’t give anything 5 stars. I’m sure we wore out our welcome at the resort pool, having spent many an hour cavorting in the crystal clear water. At the north end of the resort there was a tunnel of tropical trees with a boardwalk that, from a distance, led to something emerald on top and white on the bottom. As we got closer and our eyes adjusted we could see the emerald was the ocean and the white was the sandy beach. It looked like someone was doing a live colour correction in my brain. Those colours couldn’t possibly exist in reality… but they did. The beach was like something out of storybook and the ocean water, to my surprise, was warmer than the pool. Go figure! A few windy, but hot, days made for some seriously fun body surfing.
About mid-week we bought passage aboard the Cefeo, a huge catamaran. It took us out to a coral reef where we went snorkelling. Being the clever guy I am, I brought a couple of zip-lock bags full of Corn Flakes which I promptly served up to several species of indigenous tropical fish. They thanked me… in Spanish I think. It was under water so near impossible to tell.
We continued onward to a dolphin pen the size of a football field in the middle of the ocean. We were given (paid for) the opportunity to interact with a dolphin named Jessica. I stayed out of the water to play Ansel Adams and snap pics of the family as they frolicked with Flipper. I was going to leave it at that but they allowed a second group of tourists into the water. I partook. Glad I did. Dunno if the feeling was mutual for Jessica. After a whistle of command from her handler she swam up to “kiss” me on the cheek and I think I accidentally drove my thumb into her eye socket. She jerked away from me for a moment then was ordered to attempt laying another smooch on me. Sorry Jessica. I’m sure you’ll be fine.
We sailed on to Cayo Blancos, Spanish for White Island. Again, what dream did this island come out of?? Don’t wake me up!! To say it was “perfect” would be a gross understatement. We had a lobster lunch and quick swim before we had to sail for home (the resort).
The thing I was reminded of most when travelling outside my own country is how humbling it is to be in another part of the world. The bullshit facade we wear on a daily basis is dropped like yesterday’s underwear. We become the people that we truly are. The REAL you is exposed. I love that. Our girls befriended three girls roughly their age from the UK. They played together in the pool and I even got in on the action. I pushed the quintet around on an inflatable donut and rather than learning their names, which I completely suck at, I called them by the cities they were from. Our oldest was Toronto, accompanied by her new friends London, Manchester and Nottingham.
It’s really amazing sitting back ad watching your children foster new relationships. It’s almost magical. I wish it was as easy for adults. “You hate taxes? I hate taxes! Let’s be friends!!!!!” Turns out it WAS that easy. We ended up befriending the parents of London, Manchester and Nottingham. The women sat around talking about the TV shows, chocolates and stores they have in the UK that we don’t have in Canada and vice versa. The men smoked cuban cigars talking about Star Wars, Brexit and the healthy fitness levels of the female Cuban dancers at the resort. Respectfully of course.
At the end of our week-long adventure we would have a last dinner as a group of briefly united nations, exchange contact information and a few group photos then go our separate ways, returning to the banality of our everyday lives.
Returning to Toronto with a tan, half full bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and a box of Romeo and Juliet No. 2s, I thought to myself, we need more of this in our lives. We put so much effort into the accumulation of material goods (statistics say somewhere around 1100 lbs of “stuff” per year) when our money should be spent of memories that only travel can provide. Materials don’t last a lifetime, memories do.
For my children, I hope the one thing they’ve taken away from this whole wondrous experience, it’s that there is so much beauty to be discovered beyond an iPad. You look down too long and you’ll miss it!