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,