Log Cabin Chronicles

Leo

A Canuck in the land of Castro

PART 3
LEO GERVAIS
Montreal
Posted 02.02.06

Through the dark Cuban night...

There was very little light, natural or otherwise, as we sped through the small towns and villages that dotted the Cuban countryside, snaking south through Granma province to Marea Del Portillo, our resort destination. You could see structures that were lit up well, but on the highway you couldn't tell if you were in Manzanillo or Marrakech.

map

I hadn't even seen a brochure of the place so all I knew was that it was inexpensive, all-inclusive, and had a beach. Too often, seeing the brochure and then seeing the place is like when you finally get the Big Mac after looking at in on the full-picture menu lit up above the cash: It looks a lot better in the picture.

Passing through these towns, despite inky darkness as it was, I still got a few glimpses of the poverty and decay that grips Cuba: cinder block and wood homes, badly-worn roads, ramshackle buildings, and no apparent middle-class housing. When we did see people, they were usually gathered at the equivalent of a chip stand, with signs for cerveza (beer) and food.

As we drove past, they looked up at us, the gringos going to the fancy resort, sometimes waving but mostly expressionless. As someone once said to me about another third-world country, "Squalour is never far from splendour."

The Cuban poor make up the vast majority of the 11 million inhabitants, and there is nothing that indicates that desperate social fact will change anytime soon under Fidel, Castro 79, or his next-in-line brother, Raoul, 72.

CastroSpeaking of the Bearded One, he speaks on television five days a week, three hours a day in the Cuban parliament. Later in the trip, I caught his broadcast at a bar on Cayo Blanca, a small white-sand island near the resort where the fat, white tourists drink Cuba Libres, snorkel, and sunbathe.

So, Fidel is off on this major rant, and I am picking up the odd word but it is way too fast for my untrained ear to understand everything. In Spanish, I ask Ilio, one of the crewmembers from the boat that brought us to the island, what Castro is on about. Ilio looked up at me after pouring a beer, broke into a grin and said, "Politikas."

We could not see anything as we peered out from the coach bus as we made our descent from the mountains. The bus lurched several times to avoid potholes as we sped along at a quicker-than-comfortable pace and once, according to a shaken voice from the front of the bus, we just missed a farmer and some goats. My only thought was that this bus driver could easily drive in Quebec. Our chain-smoking tour guide, a Quebecoise who had married a Cuban, said, "Pas de problème, c'est toujours comme ça." Finally, we arrived at Marea Del Portillo around 10:45 p.m., hungry and tired.

As we lemminged off the bus and into the main building of the resort complex, we were greeted with lively Cuban music and cheers of "Hola!" from the hotel staff. I was right bagged but I must say that was the warmest welcome I ever received as a tourist.

The hotel staff was kind enough to hang around (okay, they were probably told to) so we could get a bite to eat before turning in. I had been warned that the food would not be so great, but this first meal of fish, chicken, rice and beans, assorted veggies, and fresh local jackfruit and papaya was very good, a welcome change from the lame fare on Westjet. After a walk on the deserted beach and a quick dip in the ocean (I love tasting that salt water as soon as I arrive), I turned in looking forward to the next day in Cuba.

Before I dozed off I looked out the window of my terra cotta-roofed beach house but I could not see a thing, as it was pitch black. I had seen very little of the terrain on the bus ride so I looked forward to seeing what this famous island had to offer… Viva le Cuba Libre!

To be continued…
To Part One | To Part Two | To Part Four

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