Merry Xmas from Cuba – December 24, 2019

Greetings from Varadero, Cuba 

So, it’s been a minute since my last blog post, and I figure you’re all chomping at the bit to find out what I’ve been up to since then 

Right now, I’m looking out at the Caribbean Sea, sitting at a small, seaside patio bar. It’s warm, beautiful, and it’s December 24th, Xmas Eve. Who could ask for better 

It’s been a wonderful trip so far, and we still have a couple of days to enjoy it. My kids seem to be loving it, which is a very special thing for me. I wanted them to fall in love with Cuba as much as I have.

The lead-up to the trip was quite the slog. Time slowed down as the days got closer, especially since I opted to keep working right up until the morning we left. I didn’t accomplish much on those days, all of my projects languished as I watched the minutes, hours and days limp by. I have a few days off when we get back, so hopefully, I’ll be able to get back on track with those and finish them before I decide to start any new projects.

We arrived in Cuba on Thursday. It’s a relatively short trip for us, as there’s a direct flight to Varadero from our little local airport. It’s only about a ten-minute drive from home, and YQG is never very busy. Our neighbour was nice enough to drop us off, and getting through security at a small airport like ours is never a big hassle. The flight itself is less than three hours, and after a forty-five-minute bus ride, we were at our resort, the Roc Barlavento.

My wife and I have stayed at the Barlavento a couple of times before, and have always had a good time. It’s a resort in Cuba, so you take away one star from the rating just because of that (it’s listed as a 4-star resort, so think 3-stars), but we’ve never had an issue, and have always been treated well. The resort is a bit older and somewhat smaller than the mega-resorts further down the peninsula, but the staff is very friendly and accommodating, it’s clean and well-appointed – three pools, lovely beach, several bars, and restaurants on-site that are included – and it’s right on the edge of Varadero proper, so it’s only a short walk or cab ride to all of the clubs, restaurants, and shops in town.

We arrived in the evening and had dinner and settled in. We didn’t do much else, except show the kids around the resort and spent the evening having drinks and conversation at the main bar.

On Friday, we had nothing much planned, so we just enjoyed a day at the resort, and took a few walks into town.

Saturday was our big day trip into Havana itself. I had booked us a Vintage Taxi ride – a late 50’s era Cadillac – into the city, with a walking tour of all of the sites with our own guide, and then dinner and the show at the Tropicana, a world-famous cabaret that has been around since the late ’30s.

It’s a two-hour drive into the city from Varadero, so we got to see a bit of the coastal countryside, stopping at a scenic tourist spot, the highest point in the region, to take in the view and have some great Pina Coladas.

Our tour guide was a bit of a Latin “Bro”, very “Macho”, but personable and occasionally rather funny and charming. He took us to a very nice restaurant for some traditional Cuban food, just outside of the city and high up on a hilltop near an old Spanish Citadel built to repel Pirate attacks, that offered a great view of Old Havana harbour and the city’s sea-side.

Once in Havana proper, we took a tour of the city’s harbour-side region, and then into its core, where we stopped at some Hemingway-related sites. My son and I, both aspiring writers, had a great time drinking Mojitos and Daiquiris at “Papa’s” old haunts. We had Mojitos at Hotel Ambos Mundos Vivio, Hemingway’s favourite bar and sometime residence (he lived there seven months out of the year in a top floor suite before buying his farm outside of the city), and Daiquiri’s at his favourite Daiquiri bar, and supposed birthplace of the Daiquiri itself, La Floridita.

Our guide wasn’t shy about taking us outside of the tourist areas, and we got to see quite a bit of authentic Havana, with it’s crumbling edifices and decay, as well as bright and shiny areas that we saw on our last, tour-bus-based outing three years ago. Seeing the dirty side of the city, its sounds and smells as well as sights, made me fall in love with Havana all over again. I am seriously considering just renting a room in the city itself for a week or two sometime in the future, rather than staying at a resort, and spending my days just exploring.

The Tropicana was again a fantastic show. My wife and I had been before on our last trip into Havana, and we’re very glad we could take our kids with us this time. It’s a big, showy cabaret, with lively music, fabulous costumes, and amazing dancing. You can’t help but get caught up in the old 50’s feel of it, especially when they just drop an entire bottle of rum, an ice bucket, and some cola right in front of you.

We spent most of Sunday getting some beach time in and walking around Varadero. For dinner, we took a cab ride down to Casa De Al, a sea-side manor once owned by Al Capone from which he had rum smuggled out of Cuba and into Miami during the Prohibition era. My kids and my wife had some amazing lobster, and I had steak. The house is very picturesque, with a lovely beach-side patio that has a great view of the sea.

After Al’s, we made our way into town to check out some nightclubs. We stopped in at Calle 62 for some great Latin Jazz and Salsa, which has now become my favourite place to go dancing, and then to the Beatles Bar for some live rock music.

Monday was again a day at the resort, were for dinner we had reservations at the Fusion restaurant on the resort proper. It was a lovely dinner, capped off by a cabaret show and Latin Jazz in the resort’s entertainment pavilion.

The kids were a bit tired, so they stayed back at the resort while my wife and I went out to find a good dance club. We stopped in at Casa de la Musica, which is a hugely popular discotheque with both locals and tourists alike. The place was lit, and packed to the rafters, with a giant lineup outside waiting to get in. Somehow, the doorman took a liking to us and let us in through a small bar to the side, bypassing the line (and no, I didn’t have to tip him or pay an extra expensive cover). It was a great bar, but the music wasn’t much different from what they play in the nightclubs at home, which was a bit disappointing as we were looking for more of a local flavour.

We left Casa de la Musica after a few drinks and made our way back to Calle 62, which was also hopping and playing some great Latin Dance music and Salsa. It’s an open-air bar, so the party spills out onto the side street, with people dancing right on the road when the small dance-floor gets too crowded. The Mojitos there are great and cheap, and my wife and I had a fantastic time dancing until the wee hours before cabbing it back to the resort.

So that brings us to today, Xmas Eve. We’ve been enjoying the sun at the beach and by the pool, and are planning on going to a great pizza place that my wife and I have been to before for lunch. Tonight the resort is having a special Xmas dinner for the guests, and we’re planning to Skype into my Mom’s family Xmas get-together later tonight, which we’ll be missing because of our trip. Then we might check out some more nightlife with the kids tonight.

Tomorrow, we’re hoping for a good beach day, as well as some shopping and a bit of sightseeing in town.

I’ve been doing really well with keeping my health in mind, despite the free-flowing, and free-pouring, alcohol at the resort. The food has been great so far, and I’m really trying to eat smart and watch the sugar and carbs, though I do admit I’ve indulged a bit here and there. After each meal I’ve been taking a walk for about 20-40 minutes, to keep moving and help regulate my blood sugar, but I’ve been feeling good and have had no issues.

The only bad thing I’ve been doing is smoking like a fiend – cigarettes are less than $2.00 a pack down here – a carton is less than a pack back home – so I’ve been over-indulging on that front. Maybe I’ll end up making myself so sick from smoking that it will be easier to quit come New Year’s 

The writing has been… well, not going as well as I had planned. Despite the Hemingway themed feel, there have been way too many distractions for me to just sit, tune the world out and write. I’ve tried several times, but there’s always something else here that captures my attention and tempts me away from the keyboard.

There has been one, really upsetting writing-related issue. A year and a half ago, when I first decided to start on this writing adventure, my son and I attended a small Sci-Fi convention, where at the vendor’s area, I found a woman who claimed to be a witch, selling “wolf’s teeth”. They were small, so more likely a coyote than a wolf, but I bought one, and have worn it on a cord around my neck since then. I’m not a superstitious person, but over the time since I’ve committed myself to this writing goal, I’ve come to see it as a special talisman, a sort of lucky writing charm.

A few weeks before I finished the first draft of my last novel, the tooth broke, splitting down the middle and falling to the floor. I have to admit, I panicked a bit, worrying that was a bad omen of failure, but I got over it and epoxied the two halves back together, choosing to see it as representative of perseverance – no matter how hard things got, no matter how broken I felt, I’d pull myself back together and finish the job.

A few days ago, I woke up to find that once again, the tooth had broken, only this time I couldn’t find the

two halves. They must have split apart sometime during my time here in Cuba, and I didn’t notice. I fear the tooth is lost forever, and, other than this blog, I haven’t been able to write much since.

I’m working to get over the fear that once again, the loss is a portent of failure. I know it’s silly, and as I said, I’m not normally superstitious, and I’m trying not to see this as a sign I’ve lost my writing mojo, but I have to admit, I do feel the tooth’s absence.

I’m sure that I’ll get over it, or possibly seek out a replacement, though it may take me a bit of time until I can get back in the groove of my journey to become an author. It’s definitely not something I’m giving up on, though, tooth or no tooth.

Well, that’s it for this post. The next time I blog we’ll be back home, eager to get through the remainder of a Canadian winter, and charging into 2020 with hope for some much-needed changes and life improvements.

Here’s wishing you all the best of the Holiday Season, and a very prosperous New Year.

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