By Lachman Balani
HAVANA: So go the famous lyrics of the immensely popular 70s disco song- Cuba, quiero bailar la salsa -by the Gibson brothers, and that’s exactly how I felt as I landed at the Santa Clara airport in Cuba, where friendly immigration officers greet and welcome everybody.
My family and I had booked ourselves on an all inclusive tour that included lodging, boarding (breakfast, lunch, dinner, beverages, juices, soft and alcoholic drinks), tours and on-site shows at the fabulous Memories Paraiso Azul (Blue Paradise) Resort at the Cayo de Santa Maria in Cuba right by the beach.
It was literally a no-hassle-all-taken-care-of trip as the resort bus whisked all us holiday makers from the airport to the immense resort where we were greeted with lots of friendly smiles, welcome drinks, lots of ‘Hola’(Hello) and a real quick registration process. The room was equipped with a TV, radio and a boom box (for CDs) and a mini-bar packed with chilled water, pop and beer. Yes there were beds, desks, chairs, washrooms, electrical outlets and all the basic amenities.
We dumped our baggage and made our way down to the nearest pool where we enjoyed our first swim of our holiday and then meandered down to the white-sand beach where we grabbed a burger by the boardwalk concession stands and then went into the sea to enjoy the waves, paddle boats and catamarans.
Yes folks, sun, sand, sea and……surf! Glory to the max!
That evening we took in an on-site participation show where everybody was invited to come up and join the performers to learn how to dance and move your hips. ‘Hips don’t lie’, they kept reminding us, just like Shakira sings. ‘To do the salsa you have to move the hips (‘caderas’ in Spanish)’!
And so went everyday, lazing about without a thought in the world; just living the moment, no plans, just going with the flow. Swimming, sunning, snorkeling, riding the catamarans, visiting villages, buying souvenirs, eating, drinking, watching TV (they even screen Bollywood movies every Friday), listening to the radio, participating in all the activities and enjoying the nightly shows. For the few who spoke Spanish they engaged with the friendly and amiable simple living locals.
There was a show every night. A Cuban night, a carnival night, a pirate night, a magic show night, a water show night, but the highlights were the two nights of the tribute to Michael Jackson and the musical ‘Grease’! On both those nights the theatre was packed to capacity with everybody singing along!
But the total ultimate scene was the day we went swimming with the dolphins! Now that was a total mind- blowing experience as we went into the pool and held onto the dolphin’s fin as he took us around for a swim. The dolphin also danced with us, kissed us and even let us pet him. This was as magnificent as it gets. It doesn’t get any better as I was transported to heaven and back! Words just cannot describe this empyreal experience.
The best part of holidaying in Cuba is that there is limited access to the Internet and you really get quality time with your family, instead of each being involved with their laptop or smart phone. One makes new friends readily and discovers the lost art of talking and being gregarious. Everybody just picks up a conversation with everyone else and engages in real camaraderie. Google is banned and the US dollar is unwelcome. But the Canadian dollar rules!
A very common site in Cuba, besides people riding on animal driven carts and bicycles is the huge number of old American cars with tail fins and old Ford trucks that still actually function. You feel you are at a vintage car show or rally. The buildings in the towns and villages are very old and run down but very colourful. There was a very famous church in a small town call San Juan de los Remedios near our resort with a gold altar that took everybody’s breath away.
Havana, Cuba’s capital, is an old tired city with its own charm. The famous author Earnest Hemingway lived and wrote some of his great works here many years ago and one of the most popular tours is the ‘Hemingway Trail Tour’ which takes you to all of Hemingway’s haunts where he would sit and have potent alcoholic drinks and conjure up masterpieces. On this tour you will be treated to his most famous cocktail called ‘Death in the Afternoon’- a libation of pure delight!
However, most people just hang out at the modern resorts and enjoy what they have to offer, maxing out on the sun, sand, sea and surf and their myriad entertainments and restaurants. Besides the buffet meals, there are numerous restaurants where one can go for a sumptuous a la carte dinner. Restaurants specialise in Cuban food, seafood, Mediterranean, Italian, Japanese, Asian cuisine and more.
It is truly the most relaxing holiday possible, far away from the maddening crowds and shuffling madness of our everyday lives.