Thursday, 1 October 2015

Varadero 2015 (Part 2)

Day 2, 3 and 4:

Housekeeping towel art in the bathroom
Not gonna lie. The next few days were a bit of a blur. Yes, in part it was because I was in a constant  buzz from all that sweet alcohol; but also because there was certain monotony in staying within the confinements of a resort and not have much more to do but relax. I guess I'm too used to being busy and moving around, always running against the clock.

That second day (and first morning spent in the hotel) was a lazy day. I had told my family I was planning on sleeping in and that I was going to miss breakfast.
It doesn't come as a surprise that at 8:30am my dad called my room and asked if "I was ready". I said "No. I'm sleeping and I'm not planing on leaving my bed anytime soon". He bugged me a little and then eventually let me rest. Half an hour later, Daniel comes to my room to pick up my sister. Finally after 9:20am I was able to fall asleep again. After 11am however I realized I could stay in bed the whole day but I wasn't going to fall asleep again. So I decided to get dressed and have some lunch before exploring a bit the surroundings. I was still half full from the night before, so I was a little more conscientious about what I was putting on my plate.

My sister and I having a pina colada and a margarita.

My mom, Daniel, Claudia and my dad.

As I sat alone eating my lunch and reading my book, a waiter stood next to me and read aloud "Wild". I looked up and saw his expectant gaze, not sure what he wanted me to say. Finally I replied "Si. 'Wild'". I could have asked "Have you seen the movie?" or "Have you heard of it?" or "Reese Witherspoon is in the movie!", but I wasn't quite sure how much the locals knew of pop culture in North America, or if they knew who Reese Witherspoon was. So I just smiled and went to refill my coffee.

It seemed very deceiving what the employees of these hotels knew of us and what they were allowed to know. I somehow felt like I shouldn't be sharing more information than I should. Later on I found out that many of the employees (if not all of them) were painfully aware of their situation, but there was some sense of national pride that wouldn't allow them express those feelings. And all of them also seemed hopeful for a brighter future after the U.S. Embassy had just opened not too long ago in the Havana. Soon the barriers that were built over 60 years ago would be brought down and families would reunite, tourism would grow immensely and the people would be able to choose their life, even if that means to stay.

When I found my parents by the pool bar and told them about this waiter trying to have a conversation with me, my dad said "You know, I'm sure these guys can take you on a date if you pay them. That's probably what he wanted. Don't think it's because of your good looks". I wish I had a  bigger hand to do a majestic facepalm. "That was not the point, dad!", was all I could say. And before I could think more of it, my sister and her boyfriend came walking from the beach. I hadn't been to the beach yet, but I had another 7 days to do so. I wasn't in a rush.

The Pool bar

Varadero beach

The airline that flies you to Varadero from Canada is called Sunwing, and they offer you all kinds of city tour deals once you arrive to Cuba. A touristic agent had arranged a small meeting with some of us to talk about these touring packages regarding cost and availability. I had heard that going to the Havana from Varadero was a little expensive, so I really hadn't bothered to look it up. But we had traveled in slow season, it seemed, so prices were lower than usual. There was the possibility to actually visit Cuba's capital city, after all! A quick family meeting resolved in going to the Havana over the weekend, however my uncle Hugo suggested in renting a cab and taxi driver for the day and visit Havana by ourselves. We didn't mind the freedom of not following a schedule, so we decided to go for it.
The trip was still a couple of days away, so in the meantime we could just roam in the hotel and go from buffets to pools to the beach. That night the hotel offered an outdoors show full with Cuban music and dances. It was beautiful. Decadent Cuban dancers with the most athletic bodies gave a colourful performance on the history of Cuban music. After the show, the dancers and singers came down from the stage to try to sell you their CDs. My dad believes in supporting traditional performing arts, so he got a copy.

Cuban Nights show

The next 2 days were spent between the beach and my book. I also found out that wi-fi was actually available for CUC 2 per hour. The Convertible Cuban peso (or CUC) is comparable to the euro, so it was only a little more expensive than our Canadian currency. I was able to buy an Internet card for 1 hour one of those days, however the Internet service wasn't very stable. It came and went every other day. It was frustrating not being able to use wi-fi, but I hadn't come to Cuba to bury my nose in my phone. I could do that at home (where the Internet was more reliable anyway!). The funny thing was that the Internet wouldn't not only NOT work in our hotel, but in the rest of the peninsula. So even attempting going to the local market to use their Internet Cafe was futile. Maybe it was the government's way to regulate internet usage in the island. Who knows.

Daniel applying sunscreen after he already gained some colour (the lobster colour LOL)

Chilling at the beach :)

I've never seen anybody of that age sleeping so peacefully at the beach under a nice umbrella.

Paramedics chilling on the shore just in case!

My sister Claudia her boyfriend Daniel and I visited the local market a couple of times. They had a bank in there, 3 restaurants, a tobacco store, the before mentioned Internet cafe, a small supermarket, a bookstore, a post office, a pharmacy, and many boutique stores that sold bathing suits, beach dresses, shirts and hats. I got a post card for my friend Maria who now lives in England. I also bought a six pack of Bavaria beer to keep in my mini fridge in my hotel room. You cannot deny yourself European beer even if your hotel is an all-inclusive. Specially when it's so cheap!

On our way to the market.

Posing in the little "train" before leaving to the market

Claudia and Daniel buying souvenirs

Back in our hotel room, and sharing the beers with my dad, Daniel and my mom, we started talking about Havana, and how our relatives from Peru were going to be in the hotel by the time we came back from our little tour. We were excited to see them after at least a year.
When we started planning this trip, we hoped most of our family in Peru would be able to make it to the Caribbean. But in the end only 3 of my relatives were able to make the trip. Regardless it was going to be an amazing reunion and we could not wait to hear all the gossip we were missing from our homeland.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Varadero 2015 (Part 1)

I honestly didn't know you could travel to Cuba already. And apparently you (a Canadian) have had been able to do so for the last 10 years. I had assumed that once Fidel Castro wasn't - technically- in power, the doors to very selected people would open for tourism. So I was very surprised when I learned otherwise, and that most Cubans in the tourism industry are fluent in English. They knew most of things that were happening in Canada than we knew of them!

As our bus was taking us from the airport in Matanzas, Cuba to our hotel in Varadero, I couldn't help but exclaim out loud "I can't believe I'm in Cuba!" Just four days before I had been in the middle of the harshest storms Metro Vancouver has witnessed in a decade. And also the fact that just the day before I had been working in my office; one of the two jobs I've been working at for the last 8 months to pay a ridiculous, yet not completely regretful credit card debt that I had accumulated for the last couple of years - although this is a story worth telling maybe in a few years from now.

The possibility of Katia Villa going on a trip to relax  and forget her responsibilities and troubles for 8 days seemed so absurd that actually saying aloud that I was in Cuba was more of a statement to convince myself than any arrogant thought. A big thank you to my parents who convinced me to take this trip with them and my sister a few months after my breakup, with the promise of paying half of my fare. I don't remember when was the last time we had a family trip - the four of us! It was overdue ;-)

Day 1:
The thing about traveling with your family is sticking to your parents' way of doing it. And in my case that is: always follow the rules. And the rules this time was to arrive to the airport three hours before departure. "That's what the booking says." So there we were, at 4:15am at YVR, looking for the rest of our entourage (my uncle Hugo, my aunt Nora and my cousins) to check-in. They had arrived 20 minutes before us, so they were checked-in already. We were probably the first ones to do so, and so we realized -actually, THEY realized. I would have still been in bed by then- that we got here too early and now we had one hour and forty minutes to kill. My mom had forgotten to put her peaches in the fridge at home and she kept lamenting they would go bad by the time we came back. "You still have time to go back home and put them in the fridge" I half joked, since we lived merely 18 minutes away by car. Of course, it was silly to take a cab and pay $40+ for the sake of saving some peaches.

Finally our flight got called and we proceeded to board our direct flight to Varadero, Cuba. We were a little concerned to encounter angry turbulence since a hurricane had just passed through the Caribbean just a few days before. Luckily our 6-hour flight was smooth.

Cuba greeted us with a very warm humidity as soon as we stepped out of the plane. Excitedly, we rushed inside the Juan G. Gomez airport. We couldn't wait to arrive to our hotel and let the holidays begin. It didn't take long for us to start sweating buckets, feeling the same welcoming warm humidity slowly smothering us. We jumped on the bus that was waiting for us and other passengers to take us to our hotel, and after a ride that seemed took forever, we finally arrived to the Sol Palmeras Hotel in Varadero. We all let out a big sigh of relief as we surrendered to its AC.

Sweaty and hot at the Varadero airport -nice try in your photobomb attempt, Daniel *slow clap*

Claudia and our luggage

Arrivals at the Jaun G. Gomez airport in Varadero, Cuba
As soon as we got our rooms and dropped our luggage off, we raced to the buffet, serving dinner at that time. We hadn't really had lunch during the flight. We had only gotten a sandwich, a biscuit and a couple of drinks. Naturally by the time we grabbed our tables it was well after 7pm and we were starving!

Arriving to our hotel Sol Palmeras
While checking-in, they had given us these magical bracelets. It worked this way: you asked a bartender or a waiter for a drink, any drink, and they just gave it to you, without having to put your hand down your pockets. It's a thing of beauty, these all-inclusive packages. It almost seemed too good to be true until my dad ordered a rum and Coke that 1st night of our stay, and a minute later he had a nice cold drink in his hand. When I went up to the bar to order one myself, I couldn't believe the amount of alcohol they were actually pouring into my glass. I had figured, because it was an all-inclusive, they would cheap out and give you a drink with almost no alcohol and LOTS of ice, like many bars do. But these guys seemed to have an endless supply of alcohol, especially rum! I'm definitely not complaining ;-)

Dad and I enjoying a Cuba Libre and a rose wine.

The food this first night was good. As good as a buffet goes. Needless to say, we went a little overboard and had 2 or 3 dishes each -before dessert! We were all in a food coma for the rest of the evening. We had heard that all food in Cuba was very greasy and fried, but I was glad to see there were plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Huge variety of bread that I didn't get to try but looked delicious!

I was calling it a night when my cousins and my dad suggested we walked to the beach, to help digest. I was so full I could barely breathe, let alone walk to the beach! (even though it was only 250 meters away). But I thought "Freak! I'm in Cuba!", so I followed them. It was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing. We took our phones out and illuminated the soft sand towards the sea. We couldn't see much but we decided to wet our feet in the shore anyway. It was quite fresh outside, but the water was warm, very inviting. If I hadn't been wearing my only pair of jeans I had brought to Cuba I would have gone all the way into the ocean and swim with my clothes on, floating away in the salty waters and relaxing after our feast.

Silvana and Astrid

Claudia and Daniel

Aunt Nora and uncle Hugo

Soon after, we all went back to our rooms. My parents were already making plans for breakfast - I mean, we had JUST eaten a massive dinner! How can you think of food so soon!!! Me, on my side, I was planning on sleeping in and most likely would be missing breakfast. No biggie, the lunch buffet opened at 11:30am. Plus, when was the last time I slept 11 hours? And more so, when will be the next time I will be able to sleep 11 hours?

It had to be done.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Adieu, downstairs suite (aka old home)

I always hated this place. I'm not sure why. Their impressive newer kitchen was a big attraction, and I liked it. But for some reason, I always felt like this place didn't have a soul. 

Maybe it was the squareness of it. The coldness of it. It just couldn't feel like home. That's why I spent hundreds of dollars and several hours and ideas to make it more cozy. I added mirrors to add extra light to the living room/kitchen. I had Jeff put up his picture frames on the wall. I bought furniture that would fill the void. I bought a beautiful new lamp that to this day I adore (and it pains me to leave it behind). I was even planning on getting curtains for the main living room window!

Maybe it was the grey bluish color of the walls. Or the limited space of it. Or maybe that I was too close to my parents. Or the landlady. For any reason, it was hard to feel at home here. It took me several months to get used to the idea that this was now my house. My home.

Once I moved back with my parents, I felt like this suite was more home than my parents' (where I had lived for almost 2 years). Slowly, I started feeling more comfortable at my parents and started to let this place go.
But now that I am helping Jeff move away and pack everything up, I feel like this place never felt right. For one reason or the other, this place seemed indifferent to my presence here. Am I actually going insane by thinking this? Have you ever felt out of place in a new house?

It never grew on me. So this weekend I don't have a problem saying bye to it. Jeff is moving out and I won't see this place in the inside anymore. It's a relief, I think. I put a lot of hope on this place. A lot of dreams, a lot of plans. But this place doesn't represent those goals anymore. It's just an empty room. 
It always was.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Corny verse #1

The most sublime feeling on this planet
is when you extend your arm and grab your lover's hand
and entwine fingers.
You don't need to look for it,
it's just an instinctive movement.
And when your fingertips touch the back of his/her hand,
and feel the warmth of their skin,
you squeeze for two seconds to make sure you won't let go.
That feeling of complement is what really makes the world go around.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The meaning of being

When I was living in Lima, I used to attend a catholic school. Most schools there were. During the first years of high school they had these "spiritual retreats" that you had to go to in order to get your Confirmation done and be able to graduate. Most of them would be a whole day long retreat. I remember being there with all my classmates, mainly having fun that we had no classes that day and no parents around. But also I remember feeling hopelessly bored as I looked through the windows, while in the background a priest or a teacher would be reading us passages of the Bible. I thought I would never get out of that place! Time went by so slowly, between trying not to pass out and longing for lunch time.

Today, 12 -maybe 13- years later, sitting here at my second job's lunchroom, 14 days without a day off and eating my Chinese food leftovers, the images of those simple days came to my mind. Why? I don't know. I certainly wasn't missing the Bible's reading sessions. Perhaps it's the same hopeless boredom that recalled those memories. The "why am I even here?", "what am I doing?" query that haunts my mind. Like a little black hole that sucks all purpose in life.

Maybe I'm just waiting for a different kind of lunch time.