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.

Monday, 7 April 2014


Jorge came to our lives last year, some time after the spring of 2013. 

I was walking home at nighttime and as soon as I opened the door I noticed a little furry fellow sitting outside in front of the entrance, a few feet away from me. He was immensely cute with his caramel coloured fur and amber eyes. Long whiskers and playful tail. I thought that was adorable and I didn't want to scare him away. So I called my parents in a whisper and they came to see the cat standing in our doorway. My sister and my mom let out an "aawwww!" in unison and one of them suggested to bring him milk. You know Latin American families: always so hospitable (we later learned that milk is actually bad for cats! Oops!). We even got to take a few pictures and videos of him with our phones. Before he went away, we managed to pet him a bit, and he seemed to had enjoyed it. A few weeks later he followed me until the back door of my house, and a few weeks after that he had the audacity to enter my house when I opened the door! We had to close the sliding doors that connect the kitchen with the living room and bedrooms, and kept him in the kitchen.
He was so curious. He would rub his neck against anything. We also found out eventually that cats have glands in their necks that, like dogs, are used to "mark" their space. 

We didn't know his name, and we didn't know who he belonged to. We didn't want to get attached so we would just shush him or say "hey!". I started calling him "gato", which is 'cat' in Spanish (I'm either awful at names or wanted to make a bilingual cat out of this little dude). Until one day my mom came home with a small bag of cat treats. We were very happy seeing him enjoying those treats, but my boyfriend Jeff warned me that the owner might not like it. "Would you like if some stranger started feeding your cat?", he would say. "Well, if he was well fed and loved at home, he wouldn't be looking for attention here!", was my argument. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't help it. This cat was extremely adorable, and we were getting attached.
Jeff was the one that started calling him Jorge. I thought it was incredibly cliche as far as Latin names in North America go. I kept calling him Gato.
Eventually, we opened the doors to the living room and bedrooms for Jorge (not that he hadn't figured out how to slide the doors already!). He was fascinated with the new areas to explore. He would take his time and examine every single corner, sniff it, sense it, rub against it. My dad was afraid that the cat would destroy his new couch. But this cat showed to be a well-behaved cat and never scratched anything. Except the carpet in my room. I guess it wasn't as fluffy as the carpet in the living room, and he would treat it like a nail salon. I had to keep my room closed all the time because he would actually tear little pieces off.
His favourite spot was the window. There is something about cats and windows, ya know? He would sit for hours just looking out to the world (it was more like the 12th block of East 51st Avenue). 

One day, I found the cat outside the window in the tiny balcony we have in the front of our house. He was meowing his lungs out and I was in my room. I thought he was downstairs so I opened the door but didn't see him. I heard his meowing again. It came from above me. There he was, on the second floor of my house just outside my room's window. Immediately I asked my sister why she had left the cat there, it was so mean! She said she hadn't. That the cat had left our home hours before and through the door. I didn't believe her, of course. There was no way the cat would have gotten there by himself! But a few days later I realized that the cat had indeed jumped all the way to the second floor. I was mesmerized! Cats are so deceiving: they seem so fragile and tiny and cute. But they are truly smart, cunning little creatures. 

It didn't take long for the owner to find him. He was chilling outside our balcony and she spotted him. I guess we had been playing with the cat so many times that the owner had started to wonder where the heck her cat was! She rang the bell and complained that we kept her cat in our front balcony. We said no, he goes up there by himself. She wouldn't believe us, of course. She was mad. So my dad told us not to let Jorge in again. We were a bit saddened, but a week later he came back. We tried not to open the door for him, but he meowed so much and he sounded so sad. I would sneak him for a few minutes into my house and play with him and feed him before letting him out again. He always purred so much, and the way he sought your attention made you smile any time of the day.

The owner came again. This time she had seen her cat jump to our balcony, so she apologized to us. Since this time she was more calm, we talked a bit about him. His name was Frenchie. They lived 2 houses away from us, and she never had the heart to lock her cat inside her house because she knew Frenchie needed to play and just be a cat. That's how he got so many friends in the neighborhood. Apparently we weren't the only ones that she had had to ask for her pet back. I told her we called him Jorge (at this point, even I was calling him that way), just because we didn't know his name and my boyfriend came with the idea. She didn't seem very thrilled about us naming her cat, but she didn't say anything. She also commented that they and their roommate might be moving soon, but they didn't know when yet.

So the cat was still allowed to come, just not for so many hours at the time! Also, my dad had still the same impression of the owner being mad at him, so he didn't want the cat in the house at all. But that little thing grew on him and eventually said "if the owner comes and complains, I'm going to say I didn't know anything and I'll blame it all on you!". We were okay with that.

I particularly loved how he chilled on my damp towel after I took a shower, and how relaxed he seemed while sleeping. Jorge and I had developed this "game", he would follow me into the bathroom and jump right next to the sink. I would put cold water in my hand and he would drink water from it. The feeling of this raspy tongue in my hand tickled but it also melted my heart. This was the closest I had ever been to a cat. Sometimes he would play with me by biting me not very hard, and then he would lick my wrist where he had bit me. I loved that little guy. With all my heart.

Thank you, Tom for this Christmas present you gave
me for the cat. It made both of us really happy.
Last week, Jorge was chilling in the living room with me. He was between napping and staring into space on the couch, while I was watching TV. Suddenly I realized that the neighbors -Jorge's owners- were putting some furniture into 3 different small cars. I panicked because I thought they were going to ring our doorbell and demand their cat (he had been in our house for 3 hours at least). For some reason it didn't hit me that they were moving. So I grabbed Jorge, opened the door and let him out. I surely didn't want to get yelled at.
It didn't dawn on me that that was going to be the last time I would see Jorge. The last time I would feel the weight and warmth of his body in my arms. The last time I would look into those amber eyes.

I still somehow look for his presence outside our door or balcony. Try to keep quiet so I can hear his meows outside my window. Look around in his favourite hiding spots, hoping to find him sitting there or taking a nap. Even though he wasn't mine, he really grew on me. I got attached. Too attached. It's hard not to think about him without tearing up.
I just hope wherever you are, Jorge, you are happy and healthy. Loved and warm. Fed and strong. I surely miss you and I can only hope you remember me, even if I was just a mistress of yours.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

That End-Of-Year Reflection post

2013 has definitely been a very lethargic year for me. At least for my taste. Even though there were some changes done, they weren't even close to where I wanted to be. And I'm not blaming on anything or anybody, I know it was my own damn ass that was sitting on the couch for the whole year. But nobody is too sedentary. Life and circumstances make you learn a lesson or two all the time. So this is the very little (yet permanent) that I have learned:

This was the year that I switched job titles. Same place, just doing different stuff. When I started in pharmacy last February, the only drug name I could say right was ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Advil and Tylenol, pretty much). I knew about Prozac, courtesy of Hollywood, but that was about it. It took its time but now I know 500 times more than I did 10 months ago. I also got to learn about darn people's insurances and private health plans. Who knew there were so many! I also learned how stressful dealing with people's health can be, even from the pharmacy side (can't even imagine what would it be to work at a hospital or doc's office!). Many, MANY nights I had taken work to my dreams, waking up at least 3 times every night from terrible pill-related nightmares. I was THIS close to resign (your health, mental or physical, is always more important than any job or amount of money). But it took a little of perseverance and a lot of stubbornness to keep going forward and get used to my new job. Best part of this is definitely my coworkers, though. Everybody has everyone's back and are willing to go the extra mile for the team. 
Now, pharmacy is definitely not my chosen career. And although it's frustrating having graduated from school 2 years ago and still not be working in the field, I'm enjoying the ride, learning a lot and making new friends in the process.

This was also the year of engagements, pregnancies and babies. Several friends from high school and some from work started their own families. And most of my other high school friends were in disbelief, taking their opinions on Facebook and claiming that having babies or getting married was becoming a "trend". Not that I am judging them but it got me thinking, ya know? 
We are, unfortunately, reaching that age where we settle down, start planning (or not) our future and figuring out our priorities as adults. In other words, we are getting old!! It's hard to believe I graduated from high school 8 years ago!
By this time, all my generation has (hopefully) figured out what they are going to do with their lives. Like I told a friend of mine not too long ago, we have realized our own priorities in life. For some people, their priority is to excel in their professional life, for some other is to have lots of money, and for some others is to start a family.
I can only say, it gets so close to your reality that you start questioning if you should be following those steps too. You know, follow the herd. And when I put myself in their shoes, I found myself feeling scared about the simple thought of bringing a child to the world. The more I think about it, the more scared I get. It's not an easy business. You will be raising a human being. Plus, I still feel like a child myself! So much to achieve, so much to learn. So much liquor to consume...
So I applaud the brave ones that can handle such responsibility. It's definitely admirable.

This was also the year I fell in love with my band. Although we were formed in the summer of 2012, it was this year that I truly got to know my band mates and realized how lucky I was to meet such awesome individuals. I realized how much potential we have and how bad I want this dream to come true. I definitely know 2014 will be a great year for Elysium Echoes, and I can't wait to witness it and be part of it!

So this has been my End-of-Year reflection post. And what would a cheesy end-of-year nostalgia be sans the equally cheesy and extremely cliché resolutions:

To listen more music albums, and not song per song (particularly with metal bands).

To follow a new motto: it can never be too early. Which can also be translated as "fight procrastination".

To make schedules and deadlines for everything. So things can actually get done lol

To work on my voice and self consciousness. 

To use less Facebook.

To take more pictures (with a better camera)

To remember to live at my own pace. Life is not a competition. I shouldn't compare myself to others because our paths were different and got/will get to our objectives at the right time.

This is it! This is the year I literally get my ass off the couch and start doing shit. Can't just sit and watch my life go by. Oh boy, have I learned! I don't want to do this ever again ;-)