Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Varadero report 2009

This was my first trip ever outside Canada or the US and my first flight (except a helicopter ride once).
A photo taken about 1 hour after leaving Montreal. Is this Manhattan? With broadway in diagonal?
This was at the Santa Lucia airport. We were dropped off directly on the airstrip. It looked like the Cuban authorities were afraid of us because they were all wearing masks. We waited there 30 minutes and then got back onboard and flew to the Varadero airport.
Propaganda about captured Cuban spies... uh, I mean, poor "victims" of American imperialism, ya...
I caught the most badass custom agent of the bunch. Every other lines people would show their passport and moved along. My line, the agent compared my face to my passport for several minutes, looking at me very suspiciously.
- You don't happen to know this guy who made fun of Elian Gonzales?
- You mean Tom Fulp?
Arrived at hotel Tuxpan, in the middle of Varadero, around 3am. I've read the onlines reviews of Tuxpan and a lot of people seem to think it sucks.
Personaly, I liked it. I dunno if I was just lucky or if I have different standards. First, 800$ for 6 days/all inclusive is very cheap. Also, Cuba is a poor country. If your idea of a vacation is to travel South and be treated like a white master by the dirt-poor exploited population, maybe you should stay home and hire some Mexicans to mow your lawn.
I think a lot of lower-middle-class Canadians/Europeans go over there to look rich and to flash their money and feel cheated when it doesn't work that way. For exemple of minor discomforts. There were ants in my room. Small ants that don't bite. It's the tropics, can't really complain about bugs. 5 star American hotels are full of bedbugs and I got bigger ants in Montreal. People complained the showers were cold. Not true; they were lukewarm. The only source of electricity in Cuba is oil and most of it is donated by Venezuela, so they're trying to save electricity. It's so hot out there, so who needs a hot shower?
Behind the hotel, on the way to the beach.
This was the dead season, so there was no more than 50 guests at the hotel and never more than 10 people swimming at the beach.
I was approached by a lifeguard named César who wanted to sell me black market rum. I said 'ok and he was supposed to bring it two days later. I regretted it after, seeing how cheap the rum was anyway, cheaper would be an obvious scam.
But I never saw César again anyway, so who cares... He's probably in a re-education camp now, making his auto-criticism.
I decided to leave for Cuba only two days in advance, so I didn't have any time to learn any spanish and I forgot to get a tourist language book at the airport. Wanting to be polite, I always greeted Cubans with a 'Hola!' and they would start talking to me in spanish thinking I could too... XD Next time I'll learn some basics.

One thing that gets confusing in Cuba is who you're supposed to tip. The reality is, they all want to be tipped, but don't necessarily expect to be. And you can't tip everyone, that's just crazy. So you just have to accept some level of social discomfort and pick who you want to tip. I didn't have any pesos to tip the bellboy when I arrived at the hotel at 3am and the smallest foreign cut I had was 5$US. He looked happy... :-/ I left a peso for the maid each morning.
That WinX Club post-it left by the maid is just too cute, it cracks me up. But even better than money is to bring toys and necessities. A lot of basic things are hard to find in Cuba. It can be stuff from the Dollar Store, which felt so ridiculous to me that I bought some good crayons and a Transformer, but they will be happy with anything you can give them.
Aaaaw! Stop being so cute, Cuban maid... XD A Cuban worker on the beach even asked me if I could give him my hotel free supplies (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc). It was at the end of my trip so I gave him. I also gave him my bottle of Advil. They have free healthcare, but that kind of over-the-counter medicine is expensive.
The next day I took a guided tour of Havana. On the way we passed through Matanza, which looks dirt-poor, although they seem to be fixing habitations. It doesn't help they got hit by 7 hurricanes last year.
There's also stinky oil rigs. I can't never get used to "negro" just meaning "black" in spanish. Everytime I saw their Oro Negro gas stations, I thought of "gold nigger"....
We caught some rain in old Havana, but that meant our museum 10 minutes too short visit was extended to 30 minutes.
iz dat sum straight shota?
Two sides of the same street.
The rest of the tour around new Havana was in the bus, so the rain didn't matter.
Osama Bin Laden looking over the Place de la Revolucion (orly?)
For a reason that was explained but which I don't remember (something about the Spanish/American war), the house of the Cuban government is modeled on the US Capitol.
There's a Chinatown in Havana. 1% of the population is chinese, descendants from slave labor, like the Africans on the island.
I haven't seen a Lada since the early 90s.
We then visited the Havana flea market where they sell arts & crafts souvenirs.
The place is fucking nuts. You can't make eye contact with sellers. If you do, you get a sales pitch. And if you enter a booth, forget it, you can't get out of there without buying something. That's how I was stuck buying a carved wooden box because I couldn't say no to the sweet old grandma. That's the awkward thing in Cuba. When Cubans come talking to you, you're never sure if they're just being nice (which they are), or if they're trying to get a peso from you (which they also are). At the museum, one of the employees took my camera from my hands and took pictures of me in front of paintings. You quickly realize she's not just being helpful but expects something in return.
- Where you from?
- Canada.
- Look, a moose!
- Uh, thanks... facepalm.jpg
Unlike here where the streets are full of stray cats, Havana seems to be full of stray dogs.
One thing that's very rare in Cuba is anti-authoritarian graffiti. The photo is pretty bad so I'm not sure what this one says.
The closest I saw was this Anarchy tag. But next to it was a Slipknot tag, so I don't think we should see too much into it...
When we came to back to Varadero, I had the best Pina Colada ever, in a snack bar near Matanza.
Made with real pineapple and fresh coconut milk. And they let you pour the rum yourself so it's just to your taste.
The hotel had this ready made artificial mix... :-p bleh!
The following two days I couldn't swim in the sea. Although the weather was hot, the winds were high and the waves too big. Whatever, I've swam in bigger waves on the east coast. And there's a pool.
So I took the opportunity to take a Coco Taxi ride to the village in Varadero. There is a flea market there that sells the same items as in Havana, but the atmosphere is much more relaxed. Sellers don't try to pressure you.
I bought Cuban hentai. That's an original and I couldn't believe it was selling for 8 pesos! Cuba seems to be applying the Marxist model to arts & crafts. The artists each specializes in creating the same work, over and over. While the job of selling the souvenirs is given the someone who will do that and only that at the flea market. There was 5 other paintings similar to this one, all originals. I wouldn't even do a sketch for 8 pesos.... "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", amirite?
By the way, I've heard people advizing you to haggle sellers at the souvenirs shops. Christ, they have trouble buying simple commodities, they're selling stuff at ridiculously low prices (and it's not made in China) and you're trying to rip them off of the few pesos they can get? Why don't you take a trip to Thailand and get AIDS or something instead? Some people... e_e
Someone should tell the Italians nobody wears short shorts since the 80s...
On my last day the beach was open to swimmers again so I enjoyed the fuck out of it. I spent so much time in the ocean that the day after in Montreal my head was still spinning. The floor felt like waves @_@
On the flight back, we got the worst announcer ever.
*during turbulences*
- L, ladies and g, gentlemen....
- I... I must announce that..................
(is there a problem???)
*longer silence*
- ...we're now going to serve the meals.
Ron Caney is made in the former Bacardi distillery that they left after the revolution. Romeo y Julieta cigars were Winston Churchill's fav brand. It is different from the brand sold in America, which is produced in the Dominican Republic instead. Same with the Cohiba, which used to be exclusive to the Party officials.

I also edited a small movie with the few videos I recorded over there.


Anonymous Bailey said...

You trip looks like it was so much fun! :3 Your maid was adorable in that one hotel. Nice to have you back though! :D

10:59 PM  
Blogger Kai v3.0 said...

Hmm... too bad you can't put medicines and stuff in the mail anymore (everything's a possible terrorist weapon lol)...

We should reopen trade to Cuba.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, that makes me want to go. But having to battle through US Customs for three hours to get back into my own country (from Canada to US) put me off of international travel. The Customs office in Canada was so much more professional, polite, and clean, too...

But damn, that is a cheap vacation. And you get to enter an entirely different culture, as well. Sounds like you had a lot of fun, I liked your travel recount.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hopefully I can do some traveling someday

1:49 AM  
Blogger killernat said...

looks like a lot of fun the first pic is not manhatten its far too small and dar mabey another small city in newyork im not sure of your flight path so it could be anoter state your sketchs were prety good and a few very funny keep it up got to head to my cegep now

7:34 AM  
Anonymous newfan said...

hell yeah man,keep living life,it really makes me want to see new places as you as that might sound funny but damn it a looks nice being in a new world.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Sirkowski said...

I dunno about Cuba, but you can send medicine through the mail to the US. I've mailed meds many times to friends in the US since over-the-counter pills are so cheap in Canada. XD

11:41 AM  
Blogger killernat said...

lol why is it that the u.s. still has an embargo on cuba after 40 years why not china cuba is as likly to change as china in politics

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Hentaikid said...

Cool trip report, Sirk.

As for the grafitti it's hard to make out but I think it just says "Don't sit here danger of..." since it's an old building maybe bits are falling off and they wrote a warning

8:01 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

lol That was an awesome blog post! :]

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Tainted Ink said...

That was epic. Really interesting. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

9:57 PM  
Blogger Captain Important said...

Cool vacation. Looks like you got some sunny weather, too. Bonus!

5:43 PM  

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