Wednesday, 17th December
We got up early to pack before breakfast with our ride to Varadero due to arrive at 10am. We had the usual feast of a breakfast brought to us as soon as we sat down. A few of us wanted to visit a rum and cigar shop so after a quick breakfast we walked around the corner to the store. I ended up buying a bottle of rum for around US$7 and a slightly more expensive cigar so we could have a go like a typical tourist in Varadero. Obviously not intending on taking up this past time but more of a curiousity about the classic Cuban product. The taxi to Varadero turned out to be a Nissan Landcruiser or at least the chassis of one (we have been told that most cars have had several engines in them in their lifetime) with three rows of seats so we managed to fit in with our luggage, the others having less than Kirsty and myself (otherwise it might have been a bit of a struggle) and we set off after saying our farewells to Mario and his wife who have been wonderful hosts for the past two days.
The road to Varadero first took us along the coast to the town of Cienfuegos. We had the carribean sea on our left for a good while making for a very picturesque ride. Along one stretch of road we passed by quite a number of what can only be termed propaganda billboards proclaiming the strength of Cuban patriotism or the friendship between Cuba and Hugo Chavez (‘our best friend’ or ‘nuestra mejor amigo’) amongst other ideals. We had a stop for lunch at a petrol station where they served up pizzas and I got one. It cost about US$1, the same it cost to use the bathroom afterwards.
We approached Varadero around 4pm and tried to look for our hotel. Although the address said Varadero it turned out that the hotel is actually at the end of a long spit of land quite some way from the town itself. Our driver had to keep stopping on the way to ask locals where the hotel was, he kept getting the same response, ‘ultimo’ meaning ‘last’. I don’t think he was that happy about having to drive an extra 50km round trip from the town of Varadero as he would’ve been told we simply wanted to go to Varadero. We gave a generous tip though to make amends and keep him smiling.
The ‘Melia Marina’ hotel is an all inclusive resort covering a large chunk of land along this spit sticking out from Cuba. We are now on the north side of the island and have the Florida straits of the Atlantic Ocean as our sea to swim in. We checked in and got our rooms which turned out to be two apartments joined together by a connecting door. We have three bedrooms, three bathrooms and two kitchens. That should do for our stay here. We have two nights here before heading back to Havana.
After some discussion we made the decision to ‘upsize’ our stay here by purchasing the all inclusive add-on which meant we could eat and drink all that we wanted for our stay here for around US$40 a day. We did some simple maths and figured that this would be good option and we wouldn’t need to worry about money for our stay. The hotel is set around a marina and has access to swimming pools, spas, restaurants and bars. All inclusive for the two days. After song a quick turnaround in our room we grabbed our towels and headed for the swimming pool. Being too cold for a dip (the sun had gone down) we had a snack at the poolside bar then meandered our way back to the hotel bar for a drink before dinner. We had missed the booking deadline for all the ‘a la carte’ restaurants as we arrived late on in the afternoon so we ended up eating at the buffet which brought back memories of Las Vegas. It was still good though, I do enjoy the freedom of a buffet. After dinner we hung around the hotel bar again until we all felt in need of a sleep, managing to stay awake passed midnight to wish Kirsty a happy birthday.
Thursday, 18th December
We woke up and all wished Kirsty a happy birthday before hitting the breakfast buffet. I had bought some ‘feliz cumpleaños’ balloons which Bec and Doug blew up whilst I delayed Kirsty in our room so we could all surprise her with a ‘Happy Birthday’ before breakfast. In a stroke of coincidence Bec also had bought some ‘happy birthday’ balloons and also some candles which spelled out ‘happy birthday’. I had bought the spanish version of the candles which spelled out ‘feliz cumpleaños’ to go with the balloons. We would have to find a cake to go with dinner for the candles.
We didn’t have anything planned today beyond hitting the beach in the morning. The beach was only a 100m walk from the hotel over the road and has a bar and snack bar attached to the hotel so we could enjoy all the inclusiveness of our stay. The sea was cold but the sun was out so it was a nice refreshing dip. I had bought a ball in the hotel shop for some fun and games in the water after which we got a drink and relaxed on some beach loungers. During this time we got chatting to a hotel employee and learned some insights into Cuban life. She works six days a week and gets 18 pesos a month, about the cost of a t-shirt. No wonder people do what they can to earn a bit extra through tips or selling cigars. It was interesting, I am finding Cuba a fascinating country.
We had lunch at the restaurant on the beach with an amazing view of the ocean. There was a salad bar and small menu to choose from, I went for the hot dog. For the afternoon we checked out the pool hoping that there may be a jacuzzi on the boil. We found the pool and jacuzzi but it wasn’t hot so instead we lazed around on the loungers and I had a nap. The joys of a resort holiday. There is another pool closer to our apartment so we had a lounge besides that one in the sunshine before a visit to the spa where Kirsty got a massage. Bec, Doug and I walked on to the games room where we found ten-pin bowling much to our surprise. It wasn’t included in the inclusive resort fee but we paid for a game nonetheless and all showed our bowling form, mine being particularly bad. We still had a couple of hours before dinner so after the game we headed back to the apartment to wash up and change but not before visiting the buffet, which had opened, up for a quick snack and drink. Dinner was booked for 8pm and we all reconvened in the lobby to make our way up to the seventh floor and the fancy restaurant normally reserved for the expensive room guests. All the other restaurants were fully booked when we tried to book earlier in the day so after some words and polite encouragement from Bec and Doug the hotel staff found a table in this restaurant for us. It was a lovely meal and a nice way to round off the celebrations for Kirsty’s birthday, made all the better by not having to pay a bill at the end. We had a three course meal with wine which included steak and lobster. I had some candles for a birthday cake and arranged for some to be put onto Kirsty’s dessert. We were surprised however when the waiters appeared with a full-sized birthday cake. We wondered where they got it from, we did ask but they wouldn’t say. I suspect that someone else had arranged it for another birthday but for some reason hadn’t used it as I saw them asking around other tables beforehand. It was very kind of them to give it to us however. I made sure they got a tip worthy of that deed when we left. After dinner we went to the lobby bar for one final drink before heading back to he apartment and bed. I flicked through the TV channels and found some news about the thawing of the US and Cuban relations. Very timely for our current location although I didn’t see in full what it was about. I understood that basically Americans will be able to travel here in the near future. It’s nice to visit here before that happens as I imagine it will change a lot when it does to something like the Mexican carribean (I’m thinking about Cancun).