I had not planned to travel this fall but on September 26, I got an offer by e-mail for a week in a four star resort in Cuba including the air fare, all taxes, 3 meals a day and all I could drink for only 500 $Can. (plus single occupancy supplement and insurance).
I did not believe it but I filled out the forms thinking that at the end I would get a message saying "Sorry, this offer is sold out but we can offer you XYZ instead". When I did get to the end, the offer still stood so I decided on the spot to pack my things and go on the following Saturday.
I used to take a week's rest and recuperation in various resorts when I was still working and needed to recharge my batteries in winter but I had not done it for almost 20 years. I travelled a great deal during that time but did it mostly backpacking in youth hostels and small hotels.
I had spent a month in Cuba in 2001 and wanted to see how the country had evolved in five years. I did not see as much this time but I did talk with all the cubans I met. I gathered that things had not changed much so the impressions I wrote then should be still valid except for some improvement in the economy.
Taking a week off did me a world of good and allowed me to catch up on my reading.
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This is the first view you get after going through the reception lobby of the "Las Brisas Resort". My room was on the ground floor of the blue villa very close to the pool.
Apparently the name "Guardalavaca" (watch the cow) dates back to a period when Caribbean pirates used to raid the coast to steal cattle for meat.
My room was very comfortable with TV, fridge, air conditioning and of course a private bathroom with lots of hot water and big fluffy towels.
And here is the buffet restaurant where three meal a day were provided with all the drinks included in the package. The food was not "cordon bleu" but it was adequate, varied and abundant.
Here is a 360 degree panoramic view from the pool side near my room.
Doing nothing all day but reading, eating, drinking does get boring after a while so I went on a day excursion in the provincial capital of Holguin.
Getting around is still a real problem for Cubans because of the scarcity of public transport. These people are waiting their to get a ride organized by a uniformed "ride manager" who stops the traffic to arrange collective transport. One sees groups like this one at almost every crossroad.
Nature is luxuriant and respected in Cuba while a short distance away in Haiti it has been destroyed by uncontrolled deforestation.
The situation is so bad in Haiti that flying over the border with the Dominican Republic one sees a quasi desert on the Haitian side and scenery like this on the Dominican side where cutting trees is regulated.
The farm houses we saw between Guardalavaca and Holguin were modest but clean and well taken care of.
Here is another nice looking farm house in the distance.
Americans who hold a grudge against Cuba for having escaped their greedy grasp half a century ago will say that these are show places maintained by the evil communist regime of the dictator Fidel to fool the tourists but I have seen well kept farm houses all over the island when I spent a month here in 2001.
Vehicles and fuel being scarce, draft animals are widely used on Cuban farms.
We overcame a bicycle race on the way to Holguin.
Here is one of the racers, closely followed by a competitor.
As I mentioned, horse drawn carts are common for vehicles are scarce in Cuba.
Cubans have worked miracles maintaining pre revolution cars American cars for almost fifty years. Havana is a museum of vintage cars!
Here is another modest home with a well trimmed hedge.
And one more that even has a flowering tree.
Entering Holguin, we see few cars, many bicycles and some carts.
Here, a bus is filling up at a government service station.
Holguin is Cuba's third largest city after Havana and Santiago. It has 350 000 inhabitants and the Oscar Lucero Moya university shown here.
Health services and education have been priorities for the government since the revolution and both are free for Cuban citizens.
Here are the offices of the Cuban Communist Party for Holguin Province.
And this is the Holguin stadium.
The Holguin City Hall needs a coat of paint.
And so does the Holguin Cultural Centre.
Our excursion guide gave us an hour of free time in Holguin. I wanted to buy a guayabera shirt but the convertible peso shops did not have my size.
The tourism has become a very important industry in Cuba because of the American Torricelli Act that penalizes companies doing business with this country.
Cuba has stopped using the American dollar that is now replaced by the convertible peso worth about 25 Cuban pesos. Tourists must do their shopping in expensive convertible peso shops while food and essentials are very cheap in the normal Cuban peso economy.
A street near a park in Holguin. Cuban wages are very low but so is the cost of living and many services are free for the Cuban people.
Here is another residential Holguin street.
Cars are scarce but bici-taxis and horse drawn public transport is common all over Cuba.
Here, bici-taxi drivers are waiting for customers.
After our free time our driver drove us up this hill to enjoy the view of Holguin from the top without having to climb the 460 steps of the staircase that ends here.
On the way back he told us that Christopher Columbus, who discovered the island in 1492 at Bariay not far from Guardalavaca, called the larger of these mountains the teat of Queen Isabella.
The fine white sand three km Guardalavaca beach has attracted a number of luxury resorts like the "Las Brisas".
The special roast beef fillet dinner was a real treat on the night before leaving.
Two more panoramas to tempt you into coming here. This one of the pool surrounded by villas...
.. and this one of the beautiful Guardalavaca beach.
At the end of another lazy day I was glad to fly back to Montreal well rested but having gained five pounds!