Feb. 25th, 2010 02:55 pm
jamesq: (Cuba)
According to my preliminary calculations, while I have enough vacation days to go to Cuba this year, I can't do that and also go to assorted events and weddings next year. Much as I'd like to sit on a beach for a week, I'd rather do those other things more.

Looks like it's going to have to wait two years. And that pushes a return to Scotland and surrounding areas up three years.

C'est la vie.
jamesq: (Default)
Taking a page from other folks, I'm going to do a standardized update for those occasions when I don't have anything noteworthy to say.

I had toast. It was crunchy... )
jamesq: (Default)
  • Lost four pounds at weigh-in yesterday. That's a damn good start. Apparently following the program like you're supposed to actually works! Who knew?
  • Shopping around for dishwashers. I'd have probably bought one over lunch, but the FS salespeople were busy and couldn't answer my questions. I'll try again after work tonight.
  • Silverwolf archery being at 2pm Saturday, I think I'll go. I'll aim to get there around noon, which should give me a chance to pitch my tent, get changed into garb, and shoot a few practice ends. Afterwards, there will be drinking.
  • I'm debating going for my Sunday run in Warburg. Probably I'll just do it in the afternoon when I get back to Cowtown.
  • The Saturday after that (that is, June 20th), I'll be holding a garage sale. Come buy my junk buried treasure.
  • I got my bonus from work, so I'll be setting aside a chunk of that for Estrella/Vegas/Cuba. I'm still hoping someone will join me in Cuba.
  • Still waiting on the crossbars for the car. Hopefully I can get everything installed prior to T&A War/Vancouver, which is the two weekends (T&A war: June 26-28. Vancouver: June 29-July 5) after the garage sale.
  • Next week is my penultimate meeting as deputy seneschal. Last I checked we have only the one applicant. On the bright side, he's pretty good.
jamesq: (Cuba)
It's generally acknowledged that Americans take their flag more seriously then do other people. I'd be upset if I saw someone pissing on the Canadian Flag, but I'm not willing to punch someone in the mouth over it, or enact laws preventing harm to it.

Military personnel of all countries treat their own flags with respect, which makes sense, and they have rules for disposing of flags that have become ratty. I read the procedure that the US navy uses on Slacktivist yesterday, which is why the whole thing is sort of on my mind.

The short version: If the flag cannot be salvaged, salute it one last time, cut it into strips so that it's not recognizable as the flag, burn the pieces in a "respectful" manner privately.

I imagine other disposal methods are fairly similar.

Which brings me to one flag in particular: The American flag held in the Havana museum that was captured from a US navy ship in 1902. The flag is getting pretty ratty and it's not treated with respect (hardly surprising given how Cuba is treated by the Americans).

Why hasn't someone stolen it yet? The museum doesn't seem to be especially well guarded. We pretty much had free reign of the place and I feel certain that with a good story and a better bribe I could have had some private time in the room the flag was in ("My wife and I think captured flags are hott, could you leave us alone for a few minutes? Here's 50 chavito").

Security must be better then it appears - possibly you don't get to be a tour guide in the museum without being a true believer. Also, I imagine that the Cuban military is not far away.

But still, that speaks to how a theft would be prevented. Why hasn't some good-ole boy attempted it? If they had, it would be a propaganda event on par with Elian Gonzales. They wouldn't even have to smuggle the flag out - they'd just have to dispose of it in a "respectful" manner.

Maybe I'm the first to think of it (though that's unlikely). Most likely the people who'd be the most flag-intense are the people least likely to take a trip to Cuba. Something for museum staff to consider when travel restrictions are relaxed/lifted.

Of course, I've yet to hear about Greek patriots trying to liberate the Elgin Marbles so I suspect general human apathy is sufficient. When people attempt to rob a museum it's out of personal greed rather then patriotism.
jamesq: (Cuba)
Ok, that was an awful pun. I'd say I'm sorry except I'm not.

The last day in Cuba was mostly uneventful. I went for my second run of the trip, Whereupon I discovered that the resort was almost exactly one mile in circumference.

I finished reading another book and managed to get into the pool (and more importantly, ordered a drink from the swim-up bar) for the first time the whole trip.

I also wandered around the resort taking pictures. Other then that, we basically hung out.

Getting back to Calgary was weird. First, we took a nap at 10:30 pm and set our alarms for 2:00 am. We had to check out at 2:30 am and the bus was going to take us back to the airport at 3:00 am. It showed up late but got us to the airport with plenty of time to spare (our flight was at 5:30 am).

The airport was basically a big lineup for the Calgary tourists. There was only one flight that morning, ours. so we all got into the line for our boarding passes, then we paid the 25 CUC get-out-of-Cuba tax, then passed through security. Then we waited for our plane to board.

I'm happy to report that Cuban airport security is not bug-fuck insane like it is in Canada/America. They are well aware of the fact that normal liquids don't pose a threat to jetliners, so I carried three of my bottles of rum back to Calgary in my carry-on.

Since they knew who was going to be on the flight, and everyone checked in with time to spare, they opted to board the plane and take off a half-hour early! We sat back and watched two decent movies (National Treasure Book of Secrets and Enchanted).

During all this, I looked after K (who hardly needed looking after). Meanwhile H and B were trying to keep their stomachs from turning inside out - the lingering effects of a bug or tropical water supplies.

We reached Calgary and made our way through customs. If I'd known I'd have basically been ignored by customs, I'd have brought back more booze (Blue Caracao, 3 CUC).

hadriel was nice enough to give me a ride home, and more importantly, join me for some sushi, because I really wanted some raw food that was that way intentionally.

It was a fun trip. I fully intend on doing it (or something like it - Cancun perhaps) again.
jamesq: (Cuba)
Saturday was our penultimate day in Cuba. L really wanted to go dancing. After some hemming and hawing, I eventually decided to go with her. I wasn't planning on dancing myself mind you, because I've never salsa-danced, and I was on an island with several million salsa-dancers.

The club in the resort catered to the tourists (and their teenage kids) so it was mostly modern music. Allegedly it had salsa dancing occasionally, but we saw no evidence of it. The closest we got was Friday night when the lounge band hit that magical combination of music, talent, audience and moment. They were on and several people in the audience responded with spontaneous dancing.

Anyway, I told L that I would join her, but I wanted to do a few things in Varadero too. Specifically I wanted to check out the public market and I wanted to have a meal in an honest-to-goodness Cuban restaurant. We aimed to get into Varadero around 4 pm because I had this vague idea that the market closed at 5 and it would be of equivalent size to the one in Havana. Wrong on both counts it turns out.

First, the market closed at 7, so we could have hung around the resort somewhat longer. Also it was much smaller, and also much more subdued then the one in Havana. In Havana the sellers got into your face - every stall someone tried to push their wares on you - they weren't necessarily pushy mind you, they did take "no" for an answer. In Varadero it was more like walking down the midway in the Stampede - the sellers would be happy to sell you stuff, but you had to approach them first. Not sure why the difference exists. I suspect it has a little to do with tourism being Varadero's bread and butter. You don't really need to be pushy when there are less sellers and the market segment is so much closer. On the other hand, annoying the tourists might get you in trouble with the authorities.

I ended up buying my new shooting shirt (a red Che Guevara shirt sans sleeves - perfect for wearing around a bunch of bow hunters) and a model motorcycle made out of old Coke cans. We spent about an hour just wandering around the shops.

Well now it was 5 pm and the dance club didn't open until 10:30, which left us with a bit of a dillema, what to do with our time. First we chatted with some Toronto tourists and "Mister Cuba" at a sidewalk cafe. The tourists consisted of two buddies who were slightly drunk. Buddy number one (who's name I don't remember) was a car dealer. Buddy number two was named Bruce, a fact I only remember because of [livejournal.com profile] thebrucie. Things I learned about them:
  • They were each married.
  • Car dealer's wife was, in his words, "smoking hot". He felt that she was too hot for a guy like him. i can't really address that except to say that I hope for that sort of luck someday.
  • It was hot wife's birthday.
  • The two of them were out drinking without their wives, on hot wife's birthday and were therefore "in trouble" when they got back.
  • Other-Bruce felt that car dealer was overstating things and that they weren't actually in any sort of trouble.
  • car dealer bought a classic car (for himself) that was the equal of any of the ones we were watching drive by in Varadero (which is an astonishing claim).
Mister Cuba (which was what car dealer introduced him as) was a guy that they were just hanging out with. his English was poor, but he was friendly so they bought him beer and chatted with him. They left to go back to their wives and we continued to talk to Mr. Cuba.

This killed another hour, by which time we were growing hungry. We decided to walk to the restaurant I had in mind, which was halfway between the public market and the dance club.

Varadero is a strange little city geographically. Given its position on a very long, thin peninsula, it has four avenues and seventy streets. It was literally a four (short) block walk from the north beach to the south beach. The walk from the public market, on the other hand, was about 30 blocks. Again, these were pretty short and both L and I jog, so we weren't going to get tired.

We were half a block from the restaurant when L wiped out. There was a pothole in the sidewalk and it was "repaired" with a slab of concrete that stuck up about four inches. My first indication of an accident was when L's camera went bouncing down the street - I then turned to see her flat on the pavement. From L's perspective, she tripped, then gravity in her local area increased by a factor of ten so that she hit terminal velocity a split second after stumbling, then she hit the pavement hard.

A local woman and I were each down at her side trying to determine what was wrong, but L had winded herself making speech impossible for the first few moments. Eventually we discovered that her injuries included:
  • A bruise to the ribs.
  • Scraped knee and thigh.
  • a rather deep gash to the big toe.
The toe injury was bleeding heavily so we wrapped it up with TP (Important tip for travelers to the tropics: never leave the resort without TP and fresh water). I then doubled back to a store we walked by to buy some band-aids.

Cuban convenience stores are different from Canadian ones. There is a counter and you ask the store clerk for things. He fetches them and brings them to the counter where you then pay for them. There is no browsing.

I get to the store and ask the clerk for band-aids. He doesn't speak any English and I don't speak any Spanish. I pantomime putting a band-aid on my hand. He fetches me a bottle of sun screen. Good guess given my skin tone, but still wrong. Next I pantomime writing. This message was received clearly and I was handed a pad and pen. I draw a hand with a band-aid on it. he shakes his head "no".

Well it was worth a shot.

At this point I determine that personal first-aid was not possible. Either we head back to the resort, or find a local doctor to look at the injury. At the very least, I felt that the toe gash would require stitches. Dancing was right out.

A cab ride back to L followed by a cab ride back to the resort and we're back in our suite. The resort's nurse is gone for the day so L opts to just clean the wound up as best she could and wrap the hell out of it. Copious first aid supplies provided by [livejournal.com profile] stephtopia and [livejournal.com profile] garething as well as drugs provided by our own personal pharmacist H, quickly inundate L.

As L put it, the most painful injury was the ribds (which bothered her the rest of the trip), but the most visible injury was the toe (which she claimed hurt the least).

We decided that this shouldn't be viewed as a lost opportunity so much as another reason to come back to Cuba.

Still, it's too bad for L. Me? I was starting to warm to the idea of watching people dance.
jamesq: (Cuba)
The resort had snorkeling tours available for an additional cost. It wasn't much, just 20 CUC. You had to sign up for it, then they'd take you out for about an hour. This was actually the second snorkelling tour we had heard about. The first was more expensive and took about fifty people out. Ours was just five people from the resort's beach.

We went to talk to one of the lifeguards about this and learned a few things. They (the lifeguards) could take you out and back, but they couldn't do it if it was too windy. As it generally got too windy in the afternoon, they would only really be able to do it in the morning. Which was weird because the resort told us to sign up before noon for the 2 pm tour.

We signed up with Julio, who informed us of the weather-related issues. Would you like to go out right now he asked. After a bit of a scramble to get everyone interested assembled, that's what we did.

We piled onto the wee little catamaran and Julio sailed us a couple of klicks north of the resort. We ended up about midway between Cuba and a small island with a lighthouse that we could just make out from the beach.

Physically, this placed us about as far north as we'd been during the whole trip. The Tryp Peninsula resort is very near the absolute northern point of the Varadero peninsula, which is the northern-most of Cuba itself. This makes it a popular spot for Cubans who don't want to be Cuban to make a break for the USA.
[livejournal.com profile] garething: What's the deal with the lighthouse on that island out there?
Julio: That's a Cuban naval base. It's where they intercept refugees from.
[livejournal.com profile] garething: What happens to them?
Julio: They get taken back to Cuba.
[livejournal.com profile] garething: No, I mean are they punished or something?
Julio: You get your name taken down, but other then that, no one get's punished.
We got the impression this meant that there was no overt punishment for trying to escape Cuba, but at the same time, don't go asking the Government for any favours in the future.

Julio stopped the boat, dove down with the anchor and secured us so that the boat wouldnt' drift away. You could still see the bottom, but it was far enough down that I didn't try to dive down to it. Ten meters? Twenty meters? It was on that order.

He had placed us right over a mini reef and we were then set up with goggles and snorkels and just enough instructions not to drown ourselves. Then we checked out the fish!

Julio had brought along a bag of day-old bread from the buffet. The procedure for checking out the fish was simple. Hold a chunk of fish in your hand, stick it in the water and wait for the fish to notice. They would swarm your hand and ripped into the bread like it was fried chicken. Some of the dumber fish would bite the hand that feeds, but would back off when the realized that your skin was many times tougher then soggy bread rolls.

We saw many varieties of colourful fish that none of us could identify. It was a lot of fun and surprisingly exhausting. We were out there for around an hour when I suddenly realized that I was dog-tired. I went back onto the boat and was soon joined by everyone else. We sailed back and I realized i felt a bit nauseous. I figure that my overbite prevented me from getting a decent seal on the snorkle, so I ended up swallowing quite a bit of sea water (in dribs and drabs - I certainly wasn't going to suck back a mouthful of it). It took me the rest of the day to recover from that.

Also discovered that the ladies were checking out Julio. I was not surprised by this revelation - Julio was basically the ideal cross between the stereotypical Latin lover type and a lifeguard.

I am mildly curious to know how much of the 20 CUC each we paid made it back to the hotel. Given there was five of us, I'd be surprised to find that the lifeguards weren't skimming at least a little.

(yeah, this is a little late to post. I've got at least two more Cuba posts to make just to put the whole thing to bed. After a few days, I'll change their effective post dates to more closely match the trip)
jamesq: (Cuba)
Despite my current love of Cuba, I'm not blind to the fact that Castro is a dictator. He cracked a lot of heads to make the omelet that is now Cuban society. Cubans are not in any way free, except in the gross sense that they are free from obvious death due to starvation and lack of medical care. If they had any sort of mobility beyond the island there would be a mass exodus. The young (i.e. under-thirty) are especially volatile now according to people we spoke to - they want change and they want freedom. The sort of protests leading to the democratic revolutions that swept eastern Europe in the late nineties seems to be the likely thing to happen to Cuba in the future. I hope so. It'll be difficult but that path is likely to be the one that yields the biggest benefits to Cubans with the least bloodshed.

The US remains the elephant to their mouse - an analogy typically used by Canadians in their description of US relations, but it's probably more apt with Cuba. In Canada's case, the elephant is asleep. In Cuba's case it's awake and angry. That anger manifests itself as the embargo.

The embargo has a couple of major effects: It clobbers the Cuban economy. It keeps the Castro government in power.

Without the embargo, I'm convinced that the Castro regime would have fallen long ago. So why is it still there?

Americans seem to fall into one of several categories when it comes to Cuba.
  • Those that don't give a rat's ass about Cuba. They don't like the embargo because they see it as pointless, but they aren't motivated enough to try to change things.
  • Cuban-Americans and their sympathizers. They have a personal grudge against the Castro regime.
  • Jingoists and cold-warriors. That Cuba is communist is enough to punish them. That Cuba continues to defy their will even after 46 years infuriates them into redoubling their efforts.
The latter two groups are in a shrinking minority that still gets its way largely because of the apathy of the first group. It helps that Cuban-Americans are a powerful voice in Florida. They can swing enough votes to control Florida's Electoral college. Florida in turn has enough Electoral seats to have a powerful affect on the US federal government. Thus a small group has enough leverage to force everyone else to help them grind their axes.

I read a particularly dumb online comment recently claiming that the embargo worked because it forced Fidel out of office. Apparently economic sanctions cause old age.

So when will it end? When Fidel and Raul are dead I expect. What little support exists for the embargo will fade when the name "Castro" is no longer associated with Cuba, even if the future regime has an unbroken continuity with the current one. Cuba will end up being like China (which the US has no problem trading with) only smaller and with awesome beaches. A democratic revolution could do the trick too. I have mixed feelings about this - on one hand I hope that Cuba joins the Western Democracies. On the other hand you just know that the US will take credit for it (citing the embargo specifically) despite all evidence to the contrary.

When the embargo ends it will hit the island like an atomic bomb. A few examples:
  • The price for Cuban products will skyrocket as they gain 300 million new potential tourists/investors/customers. That wonderfully cheap rum I bought will no longer be so cheap.
  • All those classic cars that are iconic of Cuba will get bought up by collectors.
Through it all the well placed will make a fortune and the turmoil will clobber regular folks. It's happened before and it will happen again. I wonder if the Cuban people will think it was all worth it in a hundred years.
jamesq: (Cuba)
There were a lot of bands in the resort and between us we bought four different CDs that they hawked. We discovered an interesting phenomenon:

It's a law in Cuba that every band must do a version of Guantanamera and include it on all their recordings.

Ok, not really, but it sure seems that way - they all had a version. Lacking knowledge of Spanish I don't know if the lyrics are identical but from what I read, they sure don't need to be.

The bands all put their own spin on things. I didn't hear a bad band while I was down there. One in particular had the lounge in the main building rocking on Saturday night. They were in the groove. Sadly didn't pick up that CD, but L did.
jamesq: (Cuba)
An observation: You can't get rip-roaring drunk at an all-inclusive resort because they water down the booze. I'm not saying that's a bad thing.

We ordered a lot of drinks. I myself sampled Mohitos (nice), Pîna Coladas (nicer), Bahama Mamas (very good), Vodka Lemonade (yum), Blue Hawaiis (my second favorite), Cuba Libres (basically rum and cola - my current favorite) and several different types of Cuban beer. The most I ever got on any of it was a little buzzed - and I'm well known to be a light-weight when it comes to drinking.

This is doubly amazing if you watched them make the drinks - they poured a lot from the bottles. Every drink had a couple ounces of so-called alcohol. As one of the hens observed, if those drinks weren't watered down, there'd be a lot of bodies on the ground. This works out well for the resort in two ways. First, it's obviously cost effective - water down your booze and you buy less of it. Second, the staff doesn't have to deal with too many drunks.

My trip to the Tropicana confirmed this. I had several Cuba Libre and I was swaying a little on the back of the bus (and I didn't even have that much really).

The way I see it, getting drunk (if that's your thing) is an extra at an all-inclusive resort. You pay your 5 CUC, you take a big bottle of the real thing back to your room with you.

Incidentally, it is cheaper to buy 700ml of high quality rum in Cuba then it is to buy a single high quality Cuban cigar (at least in Cuba, it's reversed in Canada). When I get around to trying one of the cigars this weekend (I don't want to wait too long because Cowtown's climate will probably clobber them in short order) it better be fucking fantastic. i.e. I hope to notice something positive about the experience and not simply conclude that Cuban cigars are just status symbols.
jamesq: (Cuba)
L and I opted to go to Havana and take in a walking tour of the oldest part of the city followed by the show at the Tropicana. If the Tropicana is good enough for Sky Masterson and Sister Sarah Brown, then it's good enough for me.

We left early, though not as early as planned (this was fine with me as I had a wee case of lower intestinal distress, brought on by the local water or possibly misbegotten libations, requiring occasional but rapid use of the toilet). Our bus was late arriving, and then we went to ten other resorts picking people up, finally waiting at the last one for ten minutes due to one couple getting on the wrong bus earlier.

When they say it takes 2.5 hours to get from Varadero to Havana, they mean 1.5 hours actual driving and 1 hour of farting around.

First stop was across the highway from the Havana Gold factory (where they make the rum) where I had my first real Pîna Colada - i.e. one made with fresh natural ingredients as opposed to a mixer. It was the most delicious Pîna Colada I've ever tasted.

As an aside, they made these drinks virgin. If you wanted rum in yours a bottle was provided on the counter, like a free condiment. You could rum yourself up as much as you wanted or not at all, no charge. This leads me to believe that rum in Cuba is a little like snow in Canada - just part of the environment and certainly not worth charging for. The guy ahead of me in line served himself up a triple. Me, I left it virgin since I didn't feel like drinking at ten in the morning.

Then we drove into Cuba. Roberto, our guide told us some history of Cuba as well as some of the current culture. He also gave us dire warnings about Jineteros (hustlers) trying to sell us banana leaf cigars or similar tricks.

Some hustlers are more subtle and better placed. Roberto, for example, used his spiel to convince us to get our touristy goods from the gift shop at a local Cuban fort turned tourist attraction. He handled the goods, made his speeches about each one, then went behind the counter to help bag the goods as we bought them (I myself bought an assload of rum - so much so that I have to get [livejournal.com profile] garething and [livejournal.com profile] stephtopia to use some of their duty free allowance to help) - if he's not getting kickbacks from the operator I'd be surprised.

We were also told to go to the gift-shop prior to checking out the fort, which seems to support my conclusions about Roberto.

He was very passionate about Cuba though, and other then his strange fascination with the Fort's gift-shop, really towed the party line. He really pushed the huge gains in the country's standard of living under Castro (Universal education, health care, etc.) and also really hammered on the injustice of the American embargo. Given his rather biased position I plan on looking these things up when I get home.

As an aside I think that Cuba has done well under communist rule. They certainly seem to have a healthier, better educated, population then any of the other Caribbean islands. Of course, could it have been better if they became socialist like Norway or Finland instead of communist like Russia? I think so. I certainly think they're better off now then they would have been under puppet rule by the US government and it's corporations (and organized crime).

But I digress. Continuing on the tour, we went to "new" Havana, taking in the Soviet-like splendor of Revolutionary Square. It was impressive in a way, not for it's architecture but for it's iconization of various revolutionary figures, chief among them Che Guevara. If you want to be idolized, die young. The reality of life under Castro guarantees that his face, recognizable as it is, will not be gracing a million t-shirts.

After this we took a drive-by (camera) shooting of the local cemetery. I'd have preferred to have been there on foot, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our lateness forced a tour change.

Next was our walking tour of "old" Havana, where the well dressed tourist traps and old cigar-smoking ladies hang out. These ladies have ninja-like reflexes despite being between eighty and a thousand years old. If you don't pay them a convertible peso, all you'll get is a fan covering their face and verbal abuse.

We saw Hemingway's hotel, the old Bacardi mansion, the old presidential residence, and some truly brilliant examples of 17th, 18th and 19th century architecture.

We had some free time so we checked out the goofiest museum ever, the tour guides worked for tips (we didn't realize this at first) and you could pretty much bribe any of them to let you touch the exhibits. Want to blow your nose on the American flag that the Cubans got in a 1902 naval battle? Knock yourself out. I wouldn't do it myself of course, because desecrating anyone's flag is wrong, but I did feel the flag. It had the rough texture you'd expect from thick silk left in a humid environment for over 100 years.

One of the guides tried to aggressively "help" us. This would have been better (and tip producing) if we'd shared a common language.

We next went to a flea market selling tons of cheap touristy stuff and art (some of which was very good, and I damn near bought). That's when the rain storm hit. We we're under a long canopy made up of about a hundred tarps. Most of this canopy was leaky and it was a soak-to-the-skin deluge if you got caught in it. Luckily it ended a few minutes before we had to get back to the bus - which was also second in line in the line of fifty buses.

The bus took the drowned rats to a hotel that was letting us use the rooms to freshen up before that night's cabaret. The hotel, given it's room, lobby, buffet, etc, was pretty half-assed. Too bad really because it was just a wee bit short of being a truly good hotel - the staff just needed to make an effort. Our server was very good though.

During supper we were regaled by the ubiquitous Cuban band. They ended one number with "shave and a haircut - two bits" which amused me. Later, I caught one of the band members going through our recently abandoned table looking for the tips we left our waiter. Not cool. Luckily we tipped the waiter directly.

All through the buffet it was pouring rain outside. To understand why this is an issue you have to know that the Tropicana club is an outdoor venue. Heavy rain can force the show into a much smaller venue inside, which necessitates turning patrons away. We crossed our fingers and it stopped raining as we finished eating.

It started puring again when we got there and took out seats five minutes prior to curtain. The last deluge of the night lasted about half an hour. After this the staff scurried around trying to decide if that was all the rain or not. Eventually the management decided to risk it. We took our seats again and the show started - about an hour late.

Everything that went wrong that day - the perpetual lateness of everything, the scam artists, the half-assed hotel and rubber-chicken lunch - it was all made right again by the Tropicana Cabaret.

It was simply the best cabaret show I've ever seen. I can't even imagine what could make the show better. Sloppy make-outs with the performers I suppose, but then it's not really a cabaret anymore.

This show is what Cats wants to be when it grows up. It's like every burlesque show I've ever been too distilled into something that was then performed by world class dancers, gymnasts, acrobats and singers.

They call the Tropicana show the best of its kind in the world. I see no reason to disagree. If you have reason to go to Cuba and can only do one thing - this is it.

I'll post a link to some pictures when I have them (L took numerous, awesome, photos).

After the show I gained another bottle of rum (a bottle of rum is provided to every table along with cola for every patron, all included in the price of admission) and added it to my collection. I now have enough rum to last me about ten years unless I start drinking more.

We all snoozed on the long trip home. We pulled into the resort at about 3:30 am and passed out soon after heads hit pillows. Happy and exhausted.
jamesq: (Cuba)
Wednesday was the day that I was inducted into their dark and blasphemous cult. Yes folks, I became an honorary Newfoundlander. The ceremony consisted of wearing garish woolen socks, a yellow fisherman's cap (like the guy on the Fisherman's Friend's package wears). Attempting to make sense of their primitive language and drinking some of the local beverage (Imported from the rock for just this occasion), known as Screech. This is traditionally followed by harsh language.

Screech is like Rum, but also not. I fear that the Newf natives may have been pulling a fast one on us. This so called "beverage" seems to have been created solely for inflicting suffering on outsiders. No doubt this cruelty is considered comedy gold on their remote North Atlantic island.

The ceremony also called for "singing" and "dancing" - both terms that need to be expanded greatly to accept the things we were made to do.

[livejournal.com profile] garething having married into their unholy brood, was the first to be initiated. As the old joke about the missionaries offered "Death or Bumba" as punishment went, so went we. G, being first, did not have the advantage of knowing what he was in for. Going second I did know and the horror was worse for that. Being entirely inhumane, they then inflicted their so-called ritual upon an innocent child (G's daughter K). The only glimmer of humanity they showed was that they did not subject her to their demon-liquor.

I'm happy to report that I took my Bumba far better then G, who broke down like a little girl. I, on the other-hand, took it like a man - a miserable broken soul-damaged man. Later the natives directed strange comments towards me like "he must have some newf blood in him" - Despite all reason, I fear these may have been compliments.

May all-merciful Allah forgive me.
jamesq: (Cuba)
I've been feeling strangely guilty about this all-inclusive resort. They literally provide everything for you. You could spend 24/7 at the bar drinking your face off if you wanted to (After the first couple of days, I reverted to my normal self. Drinking that much for that long is hard).

It's the staff that makes me nervous. Do they resent us? Make jokes about dumb Canadian tourists? I do know that tipping brings out some fantastic enthusiastic service. We left a couple bucks for the maid and now we're getting twice the beer, pop and water in our fridge. L asked for towel art (they fold the towels into little sculptures for you) and she's now had a different "piece" every day. Isn't that just a little bit... patronizing?

Another part of me thinks - they're Cubans. They're stuck on this island with few economic opportunities. I found out from [livejournal.com profile] stephtopia's brother J that the average wage at the resort is 16 CUC per month. They work 12 hour shifts and they work pretty hard. I imagine the paltry amounts we tip go a loooong way towards making ends meet.

Which brings me to Diego. Diego is one of the sports trainers at the resort. [livejournal.com profile] garething and I decided to check out their archery range. You need to be supervised to do this as they don't want the guests shooting each other (they also have a pistol and rifle range with similar rules and concerns). We chatted with him a lot while we took turns shooting and he told us a lot about the life of the Cuban workers on the resort (and as jobs go, babysitting a couple of Canadian archers is pretty easy compared to being a line cook in a kitchen serving 500 guests every night.

Diego is using his tips to build himself a house. Damn. It was at that point that I would stop worrying about how I'm perceived. Love or or resent us,they are getting something out of the deal and I've seen no indication that the Cuban authorities make anyone work in the resorts. I got the distinct impression that it was like any other job - If you work at a Veradero resort it's probably because you live in Matanzas - not because you've been assigned to it by the communists.

Diego also attempt to sell us some cigars. I imagine that's a big no-no and could have gotten his ass fired if we told on him. Not that we would, we liked Diego.

And we tipped him a few bucks when he "loaned" us some archery targets that we'd never seen before in Cowtown.

I've decided that I'm not exploiting the workers by tipping. It's just that my ulterior motives (great service) and theirs (money that's actually worth something) coincide. I'm OK with that.

As an aside, the whole "tip with bars of soap" thing seems to be a thing of the past. Cash money is accepted in numerous place that don't accept soap!
jamesq: (Cuba)
In addition to the reminder that, as a mongrel mix of assorted northern and western Europeans, the Sun in not my friend, Tuesday was also the day of [livejournal.com profile] garething and [livejournal.com profile] stephtopia's wedding.

It was certainly the most casual wedding I've ever been to. partly this was due to the high Newf-quotient. Mostly it was just Cuba.

For the most part, arrangements were handled by the resort's wedding official Deneb. She pretty much did everything. I needed to stand around looking menacing (and really, Steph's bother J had this covered way better then me - he's 6'6" and 300 pounds). Around 1 pm I met up with Gareth and we started to prepare. At about 1:55 we wandered over to the outdoor area where the wedding would take place. The seating was set, the altar was artfully arranged and there was a waiter on hand for serving Champagne. We also has a salsa band playing a variety of pop-hit love songs of the eighties and nineties. It made Steph's friend H cry.

The ceremony was short, consisting of Deneb (Justice of the Peace in addition to her other organizational duties) reading out the relevant sections of Cuban law and pronouncing the happy couple monster man and wife.

Go wander over to their journals or email and wish them a happy happy.

L took some good pictures of the wedding which I will post a link to eventually. These were of the ceremony itself of course, but we also wandered around the resort finding places for the group shots. We all ended up on the beach, frolicking in the surf. Thus, Steph's dress was demolished in short order, and not in the usual way that wedding dresses get destroyed.

We had a few hours to kill before the reception/dinner, so a bunch of us went for a swim in the ocean (after changing into appropriate beachwear).

Supper occurred and we were regaled with blasphemous Newfoundland sea-shanties (the Squid-Jiggin' song was especially terrifying as it combined double entendre with mythos-related imagery). The food was good but not spectacular - we had steak and honestly, I can get better steak in Cowtown.

There were speeches and we managed to horrify other patrons in the restaurant with Newfy singalongs. God have mercy on our souls.

Eventually we all wound up at one of the resort's umpteen lounges. Some of us stayed and drank, others went off to do their conjugal duty (no doubt thinking of England the whole time) and others got caught in the rain. Thus ended a special day for our heroes.
jamesq: (Cuba)
My first day in Cuba:
  • Slept until 11am.
  • Had lunch.
  • Went to the beach and swam for a bit. Slept.
  • Went to the poolside and read for a bit. Slept.
  • Had supper.
  • Played Zombies!!! with soon-to-be married couple [livejournal.com profile] garething and [livejournal.com profile] stephtopia. Joining us were K, H and B.
  • Went to my room with L and slept.
My second day in Cuba:

Screamed like a little girl whenever someone touched my lobster-like carapace.

Moral of the story: Don't fall asleep in the sun even if you are wearing SPF 45 sun screen.
jamesq: (Cuba)
The flight to Cuba was pretty uneventful. As predicted, I did all the things you're not supposed to do with your prescription medicines in an effort to make things go faster. It worked, to an extent - I did doze a little on the plane. Somewhat more then any of the rest of us. I did see a couple who brought proper pillows with them. Aside from the bulk, this seems like a great idea.

It was as cramped as I was expecting, but still not so bad for a 5 hour flight that I couldn't handle it. It was made a fraction better by the fact that I had an empty seat beside me. That empty seat came at a cost though. The flight was booked solid and two of our party didn't arrive. If you know the story behind the empty seats, you'll spare a moment of concern for the people who couldn't make it. Suffice to say that depression can cripple your life (something I'm all too aware of). I hope that anyone who gets it so bad that they can't travel to Cuba will seek out the treatment they need to improve their lives.

The plane landed and we immediately went into the large system for funneling tourists from the airport to their resorts. We went through customs, security, and onto the buses for our resort. Along the way we passed through the security checkpoint that prevents run-of-the-mill Cubans from entering the Varadero peninsula. The guide on the bus described it as a "toll station", but the armed guards were obvious.

We got to the hotel around 7 am and we checked in, grabbed as much bacon as is humanly possible to consume at the breakfast buffet and then I crashed until 11.

Interesting phenomenon: Dawn and dusk in Cuba are damn near instantaneous events at this latitude. It was dark when we pulled into the hotel. When we exited the building after checking in, the sun had completely cleared the horizon. It was the beginning a bright sunny day.
jamesq: (Cuba)
I've got about an hour before I have to head out. Doing last minute checks on my gear to make sure everything is OK. Nervous the way I was when I went to Scotland. Eventually this will become routine the way my trips to the coast are.


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