Last week, I retreated away to Varadero, Cuba with my family. Sitting among Europeans, Canadians, Ukrainians, etc., I felt more calm and relaxed than I ever had this year. Suntanning by the poolside and writing postcards, with the sounds of screaming Germans seated in front of the 20-inch television at the resort’s clubhouse, I truly enjoyed myself, as I snacked away on my 10″ pizza with a refreshing mojito in hand.
It took a full 2 days to completely clear my mind of “work”-related thoughts and it felt as though I had to force myself to extinguish them. It’s funny how sometimes we travel far away just to “drop everything” and tell ourselves “No!” It helped that there was a limited internet connection and luxuries common in North America were inconvenient to access.
To shed some insight on Cuba – the people there are, in general, very friendly. The tourism industry has not yet been completely saturated and continues to grow, with more and more hotels being built on the island. Relying heavily on this sector, Cubans work very hard to improve their individual lives and this is quite evident. Speaking with several employees of the hotel, I learned the average income is 12 CUC (cuban convertible pesos) per month, which is about $14 CDN.
Prior my trip, I was suggested to bring stationery for the kids there and stationery is what I brought! My suitcase was filled with pencils, gel pens, pens, pencil crayons, etc. and it was such an amazing feeling to hear back from our housekeeping lady about the reaction from her daughters, who wanted her to personally thank us for the gifts. The elder lady who cut the fruits actually gave me a gift in return! That was very sweet of her and I truly enjoyed the freshly cut mangoes she prepared for me each meal!
Food at the resort did not have much variety. I ate a lot of fish and shrimps, while pasta kept me full. The fruits look fresh, but hardly have any taste…although there were still some good days! The desserts were pretty good, but were the same every day! I enjoyed the 24-hour snack bar the most and loved having cold drinks any time! Due to the number of European tourists, the each bar also had an espresso machine, so it was also great to get a caffeine kick any time of day. There is a tourbus, which charges 5 CUC for the whole day, and takes you along the entire strip of resorts and to a few markets, a Pan-American mall (where popular brands can be purchased), and Al Capone’s former mansion (now a restaurant).
We went on an excursion to Havana and watched one of their popular Tropicana shows in the evening. Old Havana reminded me of Old Montreal and of Quebec City. It was so historical! Havana was much more commercial than Varadero, but our tour guide provided us with a lot of history and stories, along the way – much that could be read on Wikipedia! (at least, on the Cuban Revolution) The trip was 2 hours long and I had similar feelings looking out the window, taking photos of both new and old buildings and communities, as the time we drove through the Philippines last summer. Stopping by the Spanish Fortress (now a museum), we purchased some rum (Havana Club), coffee, and cigars (Cohiba), before visiting the hotel Ernest Hemmingway stayed in, plus the various other landmarks.
Above all, the trip was a wonderful retreat away from the weekly routines and I had an amazing time with my family. It was great to see my parents so relaxed and joyful! Of all the things my parents have taught me, one would definitely be to take a healthy retreat each year, cultivating and re-energizing the family spirit and the mentality of oneself.
For more photos, please see (must be logged into Facebook to view, Flickr links coming soon):
Furthermore, not only was it the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this year, but Wimbledon also began the same week I was in Cuba. Returning home to Canada, the G8 and G20 had taken place. I was surprised there were so many American channels on TV and the Chinese-Cuban relations were also quite evident, with several joint projects (oil) between China and Cuba. There were numerous CCTV channels, plus automobiles and imports from China (Europe too, albeit at very high prices!)
Lastly, I also had the opportunity to reunite with friends from Shad Valley McMaster 2007, Jexplore Montreal 2008, Impact! 2009, and the Millennium Network while I was in Toronto and was touched by their presence (driving from all across the GTA to see me for a couple of hours). My family also got to meet my adopted Indian family (that of one of my closest girl friends) and that made me very happy to see them bond so well!
After a couple of dates and meeting up with friends from across Canada and traveling out of the country, my birthday goals have been accomplished: Reunite with 21 friends, cultivate 21 new friendships, impact 21 lives, and volunteer for 21 hours (summer).