Havana go to Cuba: Part I

Yes, I know it’s a terrible pun… Havana (I wanna, just in case you can’t see it) is to Cuba as Moon is to Sun I suppose, so I hope you’ll excuse my playing with words… but it’s kind of what I do. It’s also what my FAB hubby said to me at about this time last year… he’d been looking online for a potential holiday destination that would appeal to my sense of adventure and willingness to think unconventionally so that we could try something new together. ‘I want to go to Cuba, soon, before it opens up to the world and becomes just like every other sunny tourist destination!’ he announced, pleading playfully.

Cuba is definitely Fuera de la caja, especially if you’re coming from so far across the Atlantic. The idea seemed rather magical and intriguing and surprisingly less expensive than you might have imagined.

Holidays are difficult concepts for me, I can’t seem to grasp the whole relaxing thing, doing nothing, sitting on a beach all day, looking at the sea. It comes from so many years of frenetic activity – teaching, especially when you are the committed sort (like me!) takes a considerable amount of time and energy and for many, many years I was simply unable to switch off except when I would fall into my bed, exhausted, at the end of each half term. ‘Holidays’ for teachers actually equates to a week of catching up on sleep, followed by whatever’s left of the not-in-school-scheduled-time taken up with planning, making resources, tidying up after the previous term’s activities and meeting with other teachers to accomplish the final bits of the plan. Oh, and shopping for all the stuff you’re going to need to fulfil the plan for the coming term. Planning every minute of every day is what I did for nearly twenty-five years so being faced with whole days, nay weeks of time to spend doing the unthinkable, engaging in unplanned adventures, became almost inconceivable to me.

Maybe I could read a bit… it is one of my all-time favourite things to do and goodness knows, reading on my sad and sorry old couch in the cold grey dimness of an English winter is definitely trumped by the thought of the same activity, but on the lovely, sun-kissed golden sands of a Caribbean island. Warm breezes in the salty air, bright colours to heighten the senses and no need to worry about what to cook for dinner, because that was someone else’s responsibility.

Yes, a holiday seemed like the best of ideas.

So, in spite of my increasing infirmities – walking is becoming progressively more challenging as is even standing, unaided, for more than a few minutes – we threw caution to the wind and booked the break. My FAB Hubby arranged for assistance on and off the plane for me and booked a suitable ground floor room so that I wouldn’t have to trouble myself with stairs. It was going to be perfect.

In my experience, travelling is half the fun of the adventure, as long as it’s not too problematic and to be fair, the journey to Cuba was great. Stepping off the plane into the wonderful warmth of a tropical isle is one of life’s little pleasures as far as I’m concerned. Clearing customs into Cuba was not.

I was wheelchair bound, in order to ensure that I didn’t have to walk through the terminal, which would have taken me most of the day I think. It was the first time I have experienced that utterly inexplicable behaviour that some people adopt when faced with a person in a wheelchair – that somehow they have been lobotomised and cannot hear you or speak for themselves. Official after official looked over my head to the person pushing the chair to ask for my details. It was infuriating! When my tone of voice betrayed my frustration, some were apologetic, but most simply shrugged and smiled, as if that somehow made things better.

I was determined not to let this upset me, but it would have tried the patience of a saint, which I am most certainly not.

Emerging from the torture chamber then into the bright sunshine and the onslaught of riotous colour that pervaded the car park was an immediate assailing of the senses. Vehicles of such age and variety I could only have imagined, with people everywhere; cab drivers touting for trade, tour operators trying to herd their charges towards the strangely Soviet-branded, possibly fairly elderly coaches, families trying to stay together, small children escaping with inexorable regularity. Within a few moments though, having smiled at each other for reassurance, I began to enjoy it all – the bustle, hustle and hurly-burly became like a tropical symphony of excitement, a whole new experience that might be just what I needed. We would be having FUN!

The journey to the hotel was a about an hour and a half – I was to come to realise that time travels very slowly in Cuba – along a remarkably bumpy (in parts) highway from the airport in Holguin to our resort hotel in Guardalavaca. Being an ‘assisted traveller’ has its perks – travelling at the front of the coach being one. This meant we had good views of the countryside and area through the main windscreen – I had an impression of typically tropical island life, big blue skies, patches of brown, dried earth interspersed with swathes of green, low utilitarian apartment blocks that wouldn’t be out of place in Minsk or Tbilisi, with many references to Che Guevara and of course, Fidel Castro.

Along the route we also encountered a variety of transport used in Cuba – bearing in mind that the country has existed in a ‘time bubble’ for the past half a century. Once out of the town, the highway became a two-lane road (one lane in each direction) built mostly along straight narrow lines – few bends in the road meant that we could see for long distances the road ahead, travelled by men on horseback, little horse-drawn open buggies, motorcycles (some with quite precarious-looking sidecars), heavy confederate lorries and other coaches. What we were looking for was the infamous cars – the 1940’s and early ’50’s massive gas-guzzlers, the American convertibles that are almost synonymous with Cuba. We weren’t disappointed.

I’ll leave the story for today with a couple of pictures of vehicles. They’re really amazing – huge, built like tanks and totally unwieldy, yet holding a romanticism that just can’t be bottled. ‘Til next time!




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