23 Jan 2023

Do you have a relationship with the place known as Marea del Portillo?

Human relationships are remarkable things. You never know where or when you'll encounter someone who will become a friend, and you may not even know why. Nor can you predict to what degree that friendship will develop. Connections can be incredibly random, yet strong as Gorilla Glue. 

I've sometimes noticed interactions between people on Facebook that are heartwarming because I know they connected with each other at Marea del Portillo, an obscure but beloved little resort in rural Cuba. Sometimes these friendships were formed because the individuals were part of a group I organized, which is particularly gratifying to me!

As a tour leader, I've always seen a key aspect of my role as being to help people make connections – with others in the group, with members of the community we're visiting and, ultimately, with the country itself. Over the years, with or without my involvement, many visitors to Marea del Portillo have become connected to the place and its people.

As you may know, Club Amigo Marea del Portillo was closed at the start of 2020, due to COVID-19, and has not yet been reopened. Many people in that area have now been out of work for three years! Since the resort is key to the economic survival of numerous families, if not the community itself, I accepted a challenge to create a petition, urging action by those with the power to reopen the resort. It will go to Sunwing executives and others.

You can read the petition by clicking HERE. I hope you will sign it.

Even if the resort doesn't open this season, I remain confident that it will open next winter. The people in that region need the opportunity to work that tourism affords, both directly and indirectly.

Meanwhile, I'm working on putting together a little group (just a van load) that would fly into Holguin, spend a night or two there and explore the city, then wend our way through the Granma province, visiting a few historic sites along the way to Marea. If the hotel is not open, we would stay at casas particulares (Cuban B&Bs) in the area. A few people have already expressed interest in this but I need a couple more to make it viable; please contact me right away, if you might want to go along in late March. 

We're bouncing into a "bunny" year...

Happy Year of the Water Rabbit!

According to what I found in a quick internet search: 
"The Chinese Year of the Rabbit represents peaceful and patient energy. 
The water element suggests tapping into inner wisdom and trusting instincts. 
Together, the Water Rabbit indicates focusing on relationships, diplomacy, 
and building bridges in professional and personal relationships."
What will this year hold for you? 


17 Dec 2022

Update on Cuba & holiday greeting

Waiting for Cuba...

Ah, Cuba, when will you be able to soar?

I'm listening to some Afro-Cuban jazz (Telmary's "Libre" CD) and thinking about what to tell you regarding my November trip to Cuba and the current state of life there. I would say things, in general, are incrementally better in most ways and places, compared to the past summer of discontent. Prices, however, remain exorbitantly high for most Cuban budgets.

Havana and areas where tourists have begun to return in significant numbers are doing the best – when tourism is thriving, there are more spin-off opportunities for income, as well as employment within this key industry itself. Tourism, in some ways, is both a blessing and a curse. Food and energy resources must be directed to resorts, in order to keep guests happy, local people employed and money coming in. This means, as I interpret it, that less touristy parts of the country must make do; there doesn't seem to be enough of everything to go around all the time. Supplies come and go, including food staples and fuel. But, everyone is getting by and nobody's starving.

In planning my November trip, I'd originally booked a stay at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, my beloved second home, which hasn't been open since the onset of COVID. Unfortunately, as I found out today, it will not be opening at all this season. Or, more correctly, Sunwing is not offering packages or flights to that location at this time. I certainly hope they will deign to return service there next winter! I also hope, most fervently, that the resort will be able to open for "off-the-road" guests, without flights. Even if people must fly into Holguin and travel 4-5 hours to get to Marea del Portillo, I think some would, and I'd be happy to help facitlitate such an adventure!

When Sunwing cancelled my booking at Marea del Portillo (it was on their website and they were taking reservations earlier this year), I opted to rebook at a similarly small, laid-back resort called Don Lino, which I'd heard good things about and had been wanting to visit for years. But, the stars did not align. Don Lino's generator had a problem and, since it was vital for supplying fresh water, they had to abruptly close. Four days before I was scheduled to fly to Holguin, expecting to stay at Don Lino, Sunwing advised me that the resort would not be re-opening until the end of November. They offered to refund my money or upgrade my reservation to a pricier hotel in the area and, since my bags were already packed, I chose the latter.

At the beginning of November, I spent my first week at Brisas Guardalavaca, which literally translates to "Breezes Keep the Cow." I didn't see any cows while I was there, but there was often a nice breeze! Compared to what I'm used to, it was pretty posh and significantly larger, but it was very welcoming, the staff was top notch and the ocean setting was lovely. If you have a Sunwing voucher to use, I can certainly recommend it!



After being purely a tourist at an easy-breezy resort, I was eager to shift gears and get on with the real reason for my trip – to visit my Cuban friends! I was armed with a suitcase and a half of gifts to share, and my arms ached to share their warm hugs. I started in the charming and historic city of Holguin, moved on to Bayamo and Manzanillo, then finally, I landed in Pilón, where I stayed for a fortnight. With Casa de Noel (a Cuban B&B) as my home base, I visited friends in the villages of Marea del Portillo, Mota and Niquero. It was all quite delicious, as was the food.

Everywhere I went, whether at the resort, in cities I visited or the homes of friends, I ate well. There wasn't as much variety as at some times but there was enough, and it was prepared very well. I'm lucky to have good friends who look after me, and often feed me too much! Since I knew my friends would go the extra kilometer whenever I dined with them, I made a point of taking food for their households, in addition to other things like acetaminophen, which is the best thing to take if you contract dengue fever.

Dengue fever was on the uptick in some regions due to the lack of consistent electricity, which had been a problem for several months. When I visited Pilón earlier in the year, the power supply had been somewhat erratic. The situation worsened over the summer but, by late November, the pattern of outages was more regulated, at least. It was, essentially, 4 hrs. on/4 hrs. off. Since I knew this on/off cycle would be happening, I took a rechargeable fan, which I grew quite fond of during my stay.

It's hard to fathom how people have been coping with this current issue, among others, over the past few months. I'm glad things have improved in this rural part of Granma, though it can only be defined as modest improvement. They are not out of the proverbial woods yet, and they can't really see edge of the forest, but there is a faint path. So, they keep moving forward, with all the poise and aplomb they can muster. And, let me affirm, the Cuban people I've encountered are not lacking in poise, aplomb and a whole lot of other admirable qualities!

They have not given up, and I won't give up on them. I will keep thinking about possibilities, ways to support and encourage them. One thing I've done since returning to Canada is to set up a Facebook group for my friend's B&B, Casa de Bárbara, in the village of Marea del Portillo. She and a mutual friend in Holguin will arrange transportation from the airport and back, along with a night in Holguin before/after the flight, and a tour of the city, guided by an English-speaking young man who's studied local history. I'm also considering a version of this trip for a small group (maximum of 8), perhaps in late March. If you're interested, please let me know by the end of this year, if possible, or early January at the latest.

Since the year's end is fast approaching, let me close this email with my heart-felt wish that 2023 will be better for everyone in Cuba and elsewhere! The people of that beautiful island deserve the opportunity to thrive, not just survive. When given the chance, they will soar.

Meanwhile, hug your family and friends, stay healthy, savor life and enjoy the holidays!
Peace and joy to all,

3 Nov 2022

My May trip report & November plan

I owe you an apology...and an update on Cuba!

I've been remiss. I posted a bunch of photos on Facebook following my May 2022 journey to Cuba but I neglected to provide a report on that trip via this venue or on my website. What can I say except, I'm sorry! I had a busier summer and fall than expected and, now, I'm heading off to Cuba again (tomorrow!), suitcases fully loaded with vital items for friends there who are struggling more than ever.

I didn't ask for donations this time for two reasons: 1.) Thanks to the generosity of those who donated in the spring, I still had some supplies left over; 2.) Things had been rather up in the air regarding this trip. When I finally got all the details sorted out, I scrambled to fill the suitcases, quickly purchasing what was needed. On this trip, I will be taking more food than anything else because friends in the rural areas where I'll again be going have identified that as a particular need – protein sources, especially. During my May trip, I gave out bags of basic medical/health supplies to many families.

On that tour, too, I had the opportunity to attend the 2022 book fair, hosted in Bayamo, the capital of the Granma province. It was very interesting to see the wonderful outreach and literacy promotion activities associated with this annual event, as well as to meet other writers. You can find photos of the "Feria del Libro de Granma" among my Facebook albums. You'll also find an album featuring "Casa de Noel," the B&B in Pilón where I'll again be staying for the last part of my trip.

The first part of the coming junket will be spent at a resort called Brisas Guardalavaca, on the opposite shore from Marea del Portillo, where I had originally been booked to stay. My favorite little resort, which has been closed since the start of COVID, was supposed to re-open Nov. 2, but Sunwing pushed back the opening to Dec. 14. Many of the dear people who normally work have been unemployed for close to three years now. Some former staff have had to move to other parts of the island to find work and others have left the country.

To say that times are tough in Cuba seems like an understatement. When I was there in May, some people said things were as bad as they were during the so-called "Special Period," but others disagreed. Now, however, I think everyone would say things are as bad or worse than they were in the early '90's, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without that key trading partner, Cuba's economy tanked. Currently, the lack of tourism is the biggest factor in the nation's present financial problems. Things are starting to pick up in some areas, though, including the one I will soon be visiting – Holguin.

When I return from this trip, I promise to give you a report in a more timely fashion! And, to all those who generously donated to assist with my trips earlier this year, thanks again for your wonderful support.



2 Nov 2022

Cuba breaks my heart more every day

Cuba breaks my heart. I want to help. Do you?

I don't usually use images that are not my own but this one grabbed my heart and squeezed. It seems so emblematic of Cuba right now. The people are struggling. They need support more than ever.

In February, I took about 100 lbs. of "humanitarian aid" to people in a rural, remote part of the country, as you may already know. This aid was made possible by friends and family members (you know who you are!) who responded to an appeal I put out prior to that trip. Your support gave my heart wings! And, it allowed me to lift the spirits of many people.

I have a strong connection with the southern part of the Granma province, particularly to families in Marea del Portillo, Mota, Pilón and Niquero. Many folks there h
ave been out of work since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, since much of that region's employment is tourism based. So, that's where I've been directing my assistance.

On May 17, I plan to return there with another load of medical/health supplies, but I need your support. Medicine-cabinet items like children's cough syrup, pain pills, anti-inflammatory aids, arthritis rubs, antibiotic creams, etc. are expensive! In Cuba, however, they are both extremely expensive and hard to find. If your kid has a cough and you have a headache you often just have to ride it out.

During my February/March visit, I saw first-hand how difficult daily life has become. The gifts I took were very much appreciated by the families who received them, and I'm confident they will share with others in need. My friends are that kind of people. They will be helping me to distribute whatever I can manage to take in May.

I want to take as much as possible to help the long-suffering people of Cuba. Although I generally try to avoid political commentary, I will say this: The government of Cuba has made some choices I do not agree with; people are often not able to make their own choices but must live with the consequences nonetheless.

I don't expect to change the world. I'm not trying to do so. But, if I'm able to make a difference in a few lives, I'm going to do it! I hope you are with me in spirit. If you also feel able to support me monetarily in this endeavor, I would greatly appreciate it.
You can contribute via e-transfer to jennicacuba@gmail.com (in Canada) or through PayPal (if you don't have your own account, I can send you a "request" that allows you to use a credit card).

I hate to ask for money but, quite frankly, my budget is already being stretched quite a bit for this trip. However, I feel it is important to take more humanitarian aid while I can – and while the Cuban government is offering a duty-free exemption for suitcases filled with health/medical supplies. The deadline for this tax waiver is fast approaching, which factored into the trip's timing. I'm following my heart to Cuba.

If it is in your heart to assist me, I will be very appreciative, as will the Cuban people I'll be able to help. If you don't feel comfortable donating money, you can be supportive by sending good vibes!

XO ~ Jenny