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A Cuban visit

CN FILE PHOTO: Re-engineered, old American cars are the mode of transport in Cuba.

When Ian Corbie, my travel consultant first spoke about a trip to Cuba, I was hesitant. It was a poor, communist Caribbean country populated mostly with old American cars and a host of Russian Ladas and, of course, the prison at Guantanamo. There was reason for my dubiousness. In the end curiosity got the better of me and with my wife Joan, decided to make the trip.

I thought of Fidel Castro, who with Che Guevara led the Cuban revolution some 60 years ago and what was once the playground of America changed into a nation fighting for its own recognition on the global stage. Fidel’s love for his people reflected their resilience and determination to be masters of their future.

The trip was littered with surprises. First, why did Caribbean Airlines choose to make Havana a destination? The answer: an almost full planeload up, and an even greater load factor on the return. After surmounting the rather crude and outdated facilities at Jose Marti airport, we were taken to our hotel in a modern tour bus. Another surprise.

The days were chockful of activities, and as crowded as they were, they all provided delightful experiences. Our first night saw us attending a most outstanding show in which the choreography and costuming were simply out of this world. Further, it was non-stop with each act running into the other without missing a beat. No MC disturbance, a different kind of surprise.

Maybe our tourism officials should stop attending the various worldwide conferences and visit Cuba to see what it could take to put our Carnival to its rightful place—the world’s best Carnival. Was this a surprise? I think so. It certainly showed that Trinidad is hurting for real mas.

A visit to the country’s famous Revolution Square— just a large empty asphalt-paved space showed the high mound where Fidel always addressed his countrymen with what was his office in the background.

There were several parking spots for tour buses and cars on the square’s edges. Right around the square were medium rises that housed several government ministries.

The piece de resistance was our ride to the Square. We were privileged to ride in those re-engineered, old American convertibles. I travelled in a 1958 pink Buick. The fleet consisted of a vintage Chevy, Ford, Pontiac and De Soto. Rough as the ride was, it was great to feel the wind on your face as opposed to the tour bus’ air conditioning.

There was so much to see and process as we visited a centuries-old Catholic Church; lunched at a quaint restaurant in Havana complete with Cuban music; listened to Spanish street music; visited a liquor store filled with many brands of Cuban rums; visited many statues of national heroes and the crowning experience—the canon ceremony at the remaining ruins of an old fort in Havana.

All the fanfare attendant to the ceremony which is a nightly occurrence at 9.30 p.m. and witnessed by thousands of visitors and locals alike. Although you are expecting that single canon shot, it still jolts you by its suddenness.

The ceremonial activity preceding that single shot involves members of Cuba’s military brandishing flaming torches accompanied by military drumming. Another surprise!

A trip to Varadero brought us face to face with tourism at its best. It is a long strip of beach with white sand and shimmering blue water allowing wading to almost a half mile out and glass calm waters. Store Bay take a back seat to this one!

The strip has close to 80 large hotels and some smaller ones, but all fantastic properties. Being in the waters of Varadero beach is most revitalising and refreshing and probably even health inducing.

Eventually age played its role, aches and pains, but masseuse Angie part of the group, was on hand to assist.

It is impossible to describe all the activities on the trip, but suffice it to say it was a most revealing, surprising and pleasant. I will say ‘Hi’ to Donna and Ralph, the mother-and-daughter team of the Samaroos, Ross and Vaughn. It was great to have you all as company!