15 Dec 2013

Christmas in Cuba - any time of year!

Here's a pair of posters I created about tandem projects I began a few years ago - sponsoring and shepherding bikes and suitcases full of clothing or other small gifts. I'm posting them here as a visual explanation of what these projects are all about, as well as a way to say "THANK YOU!" to everyone who has supported these endeavors.

The Cuban people are doing well in many respects but it is often difficult, if not impossible, for them to get basic necessities and other supplies that we take for granted here in Canada. There are no "big box" stores in Cuba! Low incomes make purchases challenging too, even in areas where there are more stores.

Marea del Portillo is located in a remote, rural region, which makes it particularly hard for people there to find and buy things they need, from socks and underwear to backpacks and bikes. I started the "JennicaCuba" bike and suitcase projects to help make life a little easier for them - so they wouldn't have to scramble quite as much to improve their lives. 

When I take these gifts, it feels like Christmas, no matter what time of year it is, and I love it! I thoroughly enjoy taking bikes, clothes and other simple items, even though I try to stay in the background and, often, don't actually meet or see the recipients. I have wonderful Cuban friends who help with delivery; I trust them completely to distribute everything to people they know who have the greatest need.

Happy holidays, everyone!


13 Dec 2013

Club Amigo Marea del Portillo: renovations & invitations...

Hola amigos!

I have been remiss in updating this site lately. However, I wrote a big review of the renovation work at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, after returning my most recent Yoga Posse trip. I posted it, along with a few photos, on my Cubana de Corazón blog.

Here's a link to that post: Marea del Portillo resort is getting a makeover!

Or, if you want to see more photos and the review as it appeared on Trip Advisor, click here.

For the most photos, set to music, you can watch my latest YouTube creation by clicking this link: 2013 Yoga Posse. You'll see lots of shots of the renos, as well as nice pictures of the nice people who were part of my 2013 posse, and a whole lot more!

If you've been to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo and heard Robertico sing, you will likely recognize his delightful voice as the featured performer for this video. I try to use the music of local groups or individuals whenever possible. In other videos, I've featured singer/composer Luisito Rosell, another long-time musician at this resort, and the current house band, Sexteto Cubano.

For those of you who have never been to this wonderful little place, I hope I'll be able to help you change that one day....perhaps next year! I will be leading two groups to Marea del Portillo in 2014. The first one flies out of Toronto on Feb. 26 and is open to anyone - booking is underway now!

The current rates (see poster below) are good until Jan. 2. After that, I will be able to add people to the group as long as there's room at the resort and/or on the plane but I will have to get a new price quote each time. And, from experience, I can tell you it's a crap shoot as to availability and prices!

I will also be leading another "Yoga Posse" group for women in late October or early November. The inimitably bendy Wendy Martin of Ahimsa/Sacred Breath is our usual yoga instructor for this group, and she is always an asset to the vibe!

Even when she's not along though, as in the case of the Feb. 26-March 5 trip, her presence is felt because of the mentorship work she has done with Maya, a woman on staff at the resort with an interest in yoga. Thanks to Wendy's support and training, Maya will be able to lead yoga classes for the "Jennica 2014" group, if we wish.

Other fun in the works for the Feb. 26 "Jennica 2014" group includes a privately guided art tour in Manzanillo, a city about 1.5 hrs. away from the resort, and a baseball game with Cuban children in Pilón, a nearby village (12 km down the road). This group is shaping up to be both art and family oriented. There may even be some spontaneous art workshops - no promises but, if you've got a hankering to ignite your creativity, you may want to bring some art supplies!

Please contact me by email (jennicacuba@gmail.com) or phone (647-216-1791) if you are interested in joining one of my groups or have questions about Club Amigo Marea del Portillo. I'm always happy to effuse about this lovely resort, or Cuba in general, for that matter.

27 Oct 2013

Plan your escape: "Jennica 2014"

Nov. 22, 2013 - UPDATE:

I've just returned from Cuba and am busily preparing for my next group trip to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, Feb. 26. See the "Jennica 2014" poster for all the basic info, if you want to join us. 

Since I wrote the original post below, I've added a few more people and made some plans for optional group activities. As I mentioned, a baseball game with Cuban kids is in the works. It will take place in the village of Pilón, tentatively on Sunday afternoon, March 2, followed by dinner at the Mirador, a charming Cuban restaurant with a phenomenal view of the ocean and surrounding countryside.

Although I hadn't originally had a theme in mind for this group, one has bubbled forth: art! Several wonderful Muskoka artists have signed up and, during my last trip, a Cuban amigo offered to organize an art tour in Manzanillo. Perfect! I am now in the process of arranging a bus, price and date for this. We will be able to see sculptures and paintings by excellent Cuban artists such as Ramon Cisnero, whom I had the chance to meet when he was exhibiting some of his work in Toronto this summer.

The road trip to Manzanillo will include lunch in that city and a visit to the Celia Sanchez museum in Media Luna (Half Moon - named for the arc of the river running through the city) on the way back to the resort. Celia's an iconic Cuban revolutionary figure who grew up in Media Luna but lived part of her life in Pilón. To say she helped shape Cuban history would be an understatement!

I'm very excited about how this trip is shaping up. This is going to be a great group of people to hang out with and we're going to have an incredibly memorable time.

Come on along!
(original post)

Hello everyone,

Winter's on the doorstep and I'm planning my escape. Want to join me? The poster below will give you the pertinent data. This eclectic group is called "Jennica 2014" and anyone's welcome. So far, we have 16 people signed up, including my hubby and a bunch of kids! 

One of the boys (age 11) is hoping to organize a baseball game with some of the local children. That should be a whole heap of fun and highly memorable - for participants and observers alike! We're already collecting gloves and balls. And, of course, we'll take a pile of bikes too.

Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions but please note: I'll be away with the 2013 Yoga Posse Oct. 29-Nov. 14, so will not be able to respond to emails until after I return. Meanwhile, please spread the word about this trip by sharing this post.


I’m off to “inspect” the renovations at Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, Cuba!

Finally, I have time and energy to write and update this site! It was a busy summer and fall only lasted a few minutes. Now, we’re heading downhill into winter – it’s already snowed here in Muskoka several times! Before I begin hibernation, however, I’m going to recharge my batteries by visiting my favorite haven in Cuba, Marea del Portillo.

I will be leading the 2013 Yoga Posse there on Oct. 29. That’s just 1.5 more sleeps! (Since we have to leave the house by midnight on Oct. 28 to catch a crazy-early flight on the 29th, I only count night that as half a sleep.) This year, the posse is a little smaller than usual – only 18 - but it will be a nice mixture of people, ranging in age from 13 to 86. Some are new and others have traveled with me to this resort several times.

This resort, Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, in the sun-soaked south end of the island, has one of the highest rates of repeat clients in the entire country. It’s not just my groups! The primary reasons, in my estimation, are because of the gracious warmth of the people, both working at the resort and in the surrounding community, and the magnificent natural environment. The majestic Sierra Maestra Mountains rise behind the resort and, in front, the Caribbean ocean spills into a peaceful horseshoe bay.

As much as I love this place, of course, I know it’s not perfect. What place is? One of my dear friends bought the romantic little log cabin in the woods that she had long dreamed of living in. It was in rough shape, according to almost anyone’s standards, and the plumbing/septic system was pure crap. But, she loved it. She was willing to overlook and forgive its inadequacies, and to gradually fix it up.

Those who love Club Amigo Marea del Portillo are more likely to understand and forgive any shortcomings, naturally. I’ve read the complaints on Trip Advisor and other site; they mainly focus on the food and, sometimes, the accommodation.

Regarding the food, I’ve never left the buffet hungry, despite my assorted dietary challenges. The locally baked bread, for instance, always gets top marks but I can’t have more than a taste without disrupting my annoyingly delicate digestive system. There is generally a good selection of meat, fresh fruits and vegetables but this can be limited by seasonal availability, and because the resort is far from some of the government-condoned suppliers. They do the best they can with what they have. And, one of the things they always have is lobster; some of the best lobster I’ve ever eaten has been served here!

When it comes to accommodation, in my experience, it’s been quite adequate. It’s not a 5-star resort, so don’t expect chocolates on your pillow. (Conversely, I sometimes leave chocolates on my pillow for the maid, along with a tip.) The entire facility is fastidiously cleaned each day, including the beach, and improvements are being made, as supplies and money allow. The cabañas and other buildings are regularly painted and new structures have gradually been added in the last few years.

This year, a great wave of renovations is underway. I’ve heard about a few things and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what’s been done and to learning about what’s being planned. I will, of course, “inspect” the work and provide a review and photos after I return from my upcoming trip.

Now, however, I’ve got to get back to packing! Besides, this post is getting a little long but, don’t worry, the next one will be short. It will be a poster about another trip I’m planning. Want to join me? Booking has already begun for this Feb. 26-March 5 winter-escape holiday, “Jennica 2014.” Come on along! Maybe you, too, will fall in love with this wonderful little resort.

[Please note: You can contact me via jennicacuba@gmail.com but I will not be able to reply while I’m in Cuba, Oct. 29-Nov. 14.]

~ Jenny 

16 Sept 2013

It's not too late to join the posse....


It's not too late to join the almost-all-girl yoga posse this year! And, since we're heading into the "last-minute" zone, you'll likely get a good price...as long as seats on the plane are still available, that is. 

Here's the revised version of the 2013 Yoga in Cuba! poster, with the addition of the previous posse's favorite caballero, Chichi. He'll be leading Horse Adventure Tours again this year, of course. 

So, saddle up and come on along!

3 Aug 2013

2013 Yoga Posse booking continues!

Join Jenny & Wendy for yoga on the beach at our favorite little resort, Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, in the scenic & historic Granma region of southern Cuba, on the shore of the Caribbean & at the foot of the majestic Sierra Maestra mountains. It's going to be delicious, delightful, very relaxing & a whole lot of fun! 

19 May 2013

April 4 Zumba trip review & photos

At long last, I've added a new post to my "Cubana de Corazon" blog:  BEWARE: Marea del Portillo is highly addictive! It's a review that now appears on TripAdvisor.ca, along with a small selection of photos. I've posted some different photos here, so be sure to visit both sites to see all of them!

Zumba with Amarilis at the resort.
These photos were taken during the April 4 Zumba group trip to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, Cuba. My friend Amarilis Rivero Garcia, who now lives in the Peterborough (Ontario) area, led Zumba lessons at the resort. And, since she used to live in the town of Pilón, next door to the resort, she was able to arrange a demonstration there. The visiting Canadians strutted their Zumba stuff and the young dancers from the community joined in, as well as showing off their own dancing talents.

On every trip I lead to Marea del Portillo, I do my best to arrange or encourage interaction with the local people. Amarilis facilitated this in a wonderful way in April, through this dance/Zumba demo in Pilón's central park and by inviting the whole tour group to her mother's house for a delightful and delicious pig roast and seafood feast – nobody went home hungry! It was a truly memorable experience.

Here are a few photos from our day in Pilón....

Some lovely young dance students performed  for us!
They knew all the funky moves!
This duo danced beautifully together.
Amarilis led Zumba in the central park in Pilón, Cuba.
Local dancers joined in to try their feet at Zumba.
Preparing to serve the roasted pig.
Saying farewell to Amarilis' family and friends.
Beautiful end to another lovely day in Cuba!

11 Mar 2013

It's STILL possible to join us in April!

This has been, hands down, the most complicated, confusing and frustrating group booking I've ever been part of. I've thrown my hands up more than twice and finally had to just cross my fingers and hope for the best. I'm still crossing my eyes as the remaining details are gradually being sorted out. All will be well in the end continues to be my mantra.

Meanwhile, the upshot is that it is still possible to join the April 4 Zumba group! And, that is good news because it is a slightly smaller posse than Amarilis and I had hoped for. So, if you're itching for a little fun in the sun before the usual Season of Mud sets in, you can sign up for this trip, with or without participating in Zumba.

To find out the price, go to the Sunwing website, put in the departure date of April 4, departing from Toronto and going to Manzanillo de Cuba. The search will show you the current prices for this package (most of our group signed up for VIP Cabana accommodation) but, please keep in mind, my group rate will be slightly less than the posted prices. Next, you should call Michelle at Sunwing (1-877-877-1755, ext. 3560) or send her an email (mlinares@sunwing.ca) and ask about the April 4 Marea del Portillo group. If you have any problems, I will do my best to assist.

Current flight details for this trip:

GOING to Cuba - Sunwing #WG642 
DEPARTS from Toronto on Thursday, April 4, at 3:30 p.m. 
ARRIVES in Manzanillo de Cuba (via Holguin) the same day, at 9 p.m.

RETURNING to Canada - Sunwing #WG643
DEPARTS from Manzanillo de Cuba on Thursday, April 11 (or 18), at 9:50 p.m.
ARRIVES in Toronto on the NEXT MORNING at 1:40 a.m.

A few things to keep in mind...

- Because this is an international flight, you should be at the airport three hours in advance of departure.
- Sunwing uses Terminal #1 at Pearson; watch for signs.
- Flight times can be changed on short notice but you can check using the "My Booking" client portal on the Sunwing website, once the e-tickets have been issued. Family or friends at home can check during your absence; sometimes flight times are altered while you are in Cuba!
- Meals will be served on these flights, both going and returning.

I'll be at the airport to greet you on April 4, and I'll have bikes and suitcases ready for those who have agreed to be "shepherds" on this trip. Gord (my hubby and bike guru) will be going for one week, so he'll be there on April 4 and will return with most of you on April 11. I will be returning on April 18, along with the remainder of the posse.

If you haven't signed up for Zumba but decide to join the fun after you're in Cuba, Amarilis won't mind - just make arrangements with her to pay the fee ($65 for the week). In addition to daily Zumba classes,  there will be numerous optional activities and excursions offered by the resort, as well as a few special things that I arrange just for my groups. For a tentative agenda, please click on "Activities" in the header of this blog. 

The three main activities I'd like to highlight for the April 4 group will be our private welcome dinner, an excursion to the Granma landing site (with lunch in a picturesque fishing village), and a pig roast party at the home of a couple I know in Marea del Portillo. There will be plenty of other fun options too, including kayaking, horse-back riding and dining on lobster at Cayo Blanco. I can't wait!!!

Hasta pronto,

12 Feb 2013

Sweetheart deal - deadline is Feb. 16


Thanks to a miscommunication with Sunwing, there are still some seats available for my April 4 group going to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, Cuba - at the original low rate! But, this offer will only last until Feb. 16. Need a really special Valentine's Day gift? Here you go! And, yes, they take credit cards.

I will be away, so please contact Michelle Linares at Sunwing (contact info. below), if you want to take advantage of this deal. And, if you sign up, please send me an email (jennicacuba@gmail.com or jcgb@vianet.ca) to let me know. 

If you want to join the April 2013 group, here’s what you need to know:

• We depart April 4 from Toronto for 7 or 14 nights in Cuba.

• This is an all-inclusive resort package, covering accommodation, food, beverages, flight (Toronto to/from Cuba) & taxes – no hidden fees.

• There are several options to choose from…
BASIC HOTEL ROOM (per person) for 7 nights:
                   - Single   $748                        - Double   $678                        - Triple   $658

VIP CABANA DEAL (per person) for 7 nights:
                   - Single   $798                        - Double   $738                        - Triple   $718

BASIC HOTEL ROOM (per person) for 14 nights:
                   - Single   $988                        - Double   $858                        - Triple   $818

VIP CABANA DEAL (per person) for 14 nights:
                   - Single   $1058                       - Double   $918                       - Triple   $888

VIP Bonus
Valid only for guests booking the CABANA VIP AI & HTL VIP SUP BONS AI room categories:
• Express check-in
• Room upgrade to either Cabana or Superior room
• Different bracelet
• Welcome letter signed by the general manager of the hotel
• Fully stocked mini bar on arrival with the best Cuban brands
• Free use of safety deposit box
• Express reservations for the a la carte restaurants
• 1 Gala dinner per stay with lobster and wine (reservation required)
• 1 Sunset tour included per stay
• 2 Excursions to Cayo Blanco per stay
• 1 Lagoon tour per stay
• 1 Picnic-style tour per stay
• Free late check-out

Call to book; these special rates are available until Feb. 16th.   Ask for Michelle and say you would like to be added to the Manzanillo April4th Special (a.k.a., Jenny's group).

Michelle Linares Friends & Family
Sunwing Vacations | Signature Vacations
Tel: 416.620.4955, ext. 3560 l 1.877.877.1755 ext. 3560
27 Fasken Drive, Toronto, Ontario M9W 1K6

10 Feb 2013

We're invited to dinner at Agustin's!

I am very happy to announce that a pig roast is being planned for the April 2013 group! 

The idea has been in the works for some time but we needed an appropriate venue. The home had to be large enough to accommodate our gang and close enough to the resort that transportation wouldn't bee too difficult. This year, the pieces finally clicked into place, thanks to my pal Agustin. He and his wife Yadira have agreed to be our hosts! The details remain to be sorted out but I'm going to guess that Saturday evening will be a good time for this party.

I'll never forget the first time I met Agustin and Yadira, in October 2009. As the sun began sliding lower on the Western horizon, Wendy Oke – one of my three travelling companions on that trip – and I decided to go for a stroll along the beach. As we were walking, we saw a couple silhoutted in the distance, slowly coming towards us, hand in hand. We introduced ourselves and chatted a little. Agustin was carrying a burlap sack because they were going to get some food for his chickens, he explained in his simple English. Shy Yadira, who speaks only Spanish, smiled a lot – as she still does!

Both Wendy and I immediately had a good feeling about this couple and when, during another encounter, Agustin invited us for dinner at his house, we were glad to accept. As Agustin had proclaimed, Yadira is a very good cook. We had a lovely time and I have visited their home many times since. It seems perfectly fitting that one of my groups will now have the privilege of going to dinner there too! 

Agustin is a farmer but I don't know if the "guest of honor" at the roast will be one of his pigs or not. Maybe it's best not to know! Whenever I visit his home, I try to take a few photos of his ever-changing menagerie. The dogs and cats are constants but the other critters tend to come and go. 

20 Jan 2013

April 4 Zumba: introducing Amarilis!

One can never know how life will unfold but, somehow, everything generally seems to work out, despite one's plans.

When I began to plan the April 2013 trip to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo, Cuba, I had conversations with two different parties about featuring Zumba as an option, similar to the yoga trips I do each fall. Initially, discussions moved forward more quickly with the people from British Columbia. But, as things have evolved, the Ontario party has come to the forefront.

Both women at the centre of these discussions are native Cubans, now living in Canada. Both are certified Zumba instructors. Either would bring heaps of positive energy and enthusiasm to the JennicaCuba April 4 Zumba trip. So, with regret, I must announce that Isabel Arias will not be leading the Zumba classes on the upcoming trip but, with delight, I can also announce the Amarilis Lily Garcia will be filling that role.

Amarilis now hails from the Peterborough/Lindsay area but is originally from Pilón, just a cha-cha-cha down the road from Marea del Portillo. Before moving north and learning first-hand about snow, she was a dancer at the resort where we will be going in April. Her familiarity with the community will bring a wonderful new dimension to our trip!

When she lived in Pilón, Amarilis taught dance to children at the community's cultural centre. We hope she will be able to arrange a special Zumba class there in April for our group and some local kids. Although the younsters may not be familiar with Zumba, they will certainly be well acquainted with the Salsa dance rhythms it's based on. So, I can't help but wonder: will the Canucks be able to keep up with the kiddies? We shall see!

If you are interested in joining the April 4 Zumba party, please contact tour organizer Jenny Cressman (that's me!) via jennicacuba@gmail.com immediately - the deadline for booking and payment is Jan. 31. Scroll down or click here for prices and other information about this trip.

To learn more about Amarilis, visit her website,  find her on Facebook or check out her fun new Zumba/Salsa video.  If  you want to get an idea of what "our" resort and JennicaCuba trips are all about, click merrily - the links on this site are intended just for that!


P.S. So far, everyone has opted for the VIP Cabana packages, only five Sunwing insurance packages are left and most of the Elite+ seats are taken. I'm still looking for bike sponsors & shepherds!