Log Cabin Chronicles

Leo

A Canuck in the land of Castro

PART 4
LEO GERVAIS
Montreal
Posted 02.15.06

The true cost of a cheap vacation...

Lunchtime on Friday found me at Farallon, the hotel part of the resort. The whole complex comprises Farallon and Marea de Castillo, the latter is mostly of beach houses.

Leo on pony
PALE PONY, HAPPY GRINGO

Sucking back on Mojitos and Cuba Libres as the sun crawled across the sky was exactly what I had in mind as the snow fell and I dreamt of a warmer place a few days earlier.

I struck up a conversation with José (his name for this story), a handsome local who performs in the nightly show at Marea de Castillo. He's 31, full of life and opinions, and he is not enamored with Fidel's Cuba.

"I want to get out of here. I'd love to marry a Canadian girl," says José in amazingly good English. "My best friend did and he lives in Canada now."

Many of the hotel staff speak English, and some speak a little French and German as well to accommodate the tourists. Their pay is hardly commensurate with their friendliness and skill: the average monthly salary before tips is roughly 10 convertible pesos, or about $12 CDN.

They work 15 days before they get two days off, and are expected to be at the resort all day, until about 10 p.m. Some meals are provided, but drinks and food are often slipped to the workers on the sly by the guests or other staff members.

So this is the real price for our days in the sun: the low wages of the Cubans.

Their meager salaries keep the costs way down, it's as simple as that.

Imagine: 100 hotel staff costs roughly $1,200 per month - roughly the cost for one person at the resort for one week.

Call it communism or economic slavery; whatever its name, Western tourists are its direct beneficiaries, as well as the proprietors of the hotels, of course.

childrenOn the other hand, the climate and abundance of fish and fresh fruit and vegetables make it difficult to go hungry. I never saw a hungry Cuban, and most in fact seemed very healthy. The Cuban literacy rate and life expectancy are among the highest in the world.

My day ended with José at a cocktail-making session with about twelve people sitting around a table near the bar. Basically, they make a drink like a Mojito giving the directions in Spanish. A chosen competitor has to repeat the instructions or take a shot of rum or banana liqueur.

Having worked as a bartender back in the 80s, I figured this would be a cinch. Let's just say the odds were stacked against us and the results proved it. I found my way back to my beach house a little more refreshed than when I left and took a well-deserved nap.

waterfallThe next day was a lazy day at the beach followed by a great two-hour horseback ride (for $10 CDN!) into the local town of Marea and to a waterfall with a natural pool as well as a dam located in some foothills nearby.

On the trip we came across real poverty, completely absent in our resort.

Granma province is probably the poorest in Cuba and it is heartbreaking to see some of the conditions people live in - ramshackle homes of tin, palm leaves, and concrete with farms animals wandering the property and the buildings. I wondered what it must be like to exist from day-to-day in the squalor and hopelessness that exist there.

Most people in the West never see this world, and those who do put it out of mind for the most part, myself included. But for the grace of God it could be one of us, but so caught up are we in our own lives we rarely ever ponder this sad world or how to make it better.

On the way back from the dam, we came across a young, tanned woman holding a metal bowl containing freshly-picked coffee beans between her outstretched arms. I asked her, through our guide Maya, if I might sample a few. She smiled shyly and lifted her arms up to me as I sat on my horse, Palomo.

The beans were delicious and very strong tasting, a real caffeine rush. I took another handful for the ride back and asked her how much she wanted for the beans.

"Nada," she said, not a thing.

I gave her two pesos - three dollars - anyway, and she burst out in a grin from ear to ear as she quickly walked away. I asked Maya why she was so happy.

"You gave her double what she paid for the whole lot," she replied.

To be continued…
To Part One | To Part Two | To Part Three | To Part Five

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Copyright © 2006 Leo Gervais/Log Cabin Chronicles/02.06