Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Farewell to Cuba (amended)

Well, getting ready for another trip now, going east rather than south, so I will just post some general photos of Cuban scenery, for a finale. You will note that I am a bit addicted to cloud formations!

Our daily view

Aah, life in Cuba -- not a care in the world!

Storm brewing...

...early next morning a red flag is posted - dangerous waters!
Life's decisions - should we or shouldn't we?  Those waves look very large!

DOTH opted for calmer waters!

Sunset, on our final evening
And sunrise the next morning as we waited for the coach to take us to the airport

And finally, some shots of the beauty to be found on the hotel grounds

So...farewell to Cuba...leaving with some lovely memories!



This photo is for snafu. It is a photo of the 'hoppa bus' that we took to tour Varadero. You pay one price - I think it was five pesos (about $5), catch it at close proximity to the hotel and then get on and off at will, stopping off to see the sights, souvenir shop, have lunch etc, and then be dropped off back near the hotel:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fun Times in Cuba

One of the highlights of our stay in Varadero was the Catamaran trip.

Well, first, DOTH, being the accomplished sailor that she is, had her own, personal trip on a catamaran. She wasn't allowed to sail it alone, but the accompanying Cuban 'captain' did allow her to take over, once they were away from shore:

Setting off

Away we go!

Heading for the horizon

And back to shore!

The next day, we set off for a trip on a much larger catamaran.

We were picked up at the hotel door by coach and taken to a small seaport nearby, where there were a number of large catamarans moored, with many coaches full of people!

Heading out into the Atlantic, our first stop was a visit to the dolphins in an 'aquarium' somewhere in the middle of the ocean on the way to Cayo Blanco

This is DOTH heading down into the water - about 10 people at a time were allowed

DOTH gets to pat him as he swims by on his back!

And gets a kiss, in return!

Hey, that deserves a reward!

And the dolphin takes a bow!

I didn't go in, as much as I would have liked to. I would need to keep my glasses on if I wanted to see anything, and we had been warned that a dolphin kiss can knock off glasses (and earrings - ouch!). Not a pleasant prospect to spend the rest of my vacation with my specs at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean! By the way, the participants were standing on a cement ramp - quite deep underneath there!
From the aquarium we headed to another spot mid-Atlantic (!) for a spot of snorkeling. Again, not something I can manage without glasses, but DOTH was eager to try out her underwater camera, so in she went:

We were above a coral reef where there should have been lots to see, but apparently not. DOTH has not had her photos developed yet - we will soon see what she saw!
(sorry, forgot to crop the face in the left corner!)

There were other catamaran tourists in the water also

We then headed for Cayo Blanco, which I am assuming means White Beach, as that's what it was. The sand was the whitest I have ever seen.

We were given a wonderful lunch of our choice of lobster tails or chicken, with fries, and were serenaded with some great Cuban music

We then had a few hours to swim and sunbathe - the sun was scorching and the water again like a warm bath

And then set sail for home -- all-in-all a lovely day!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Cuban Show, continued

I guess, having never been on an all-inclusive resort vacation in the Caribbean, there were a number of things that seemed surreal to me.

The Daily Routine:

We awoke at virtually the same time every morning to beat the breakfast rush, and get to the beach quickly to reserve our palapa for the day (see below) - no sleeping in, even on vacation (just like Truman, heading out to work at the same time everyday)!

As we left our room and headed to the elevator each  morning, our maid (who was terrific) would be working on a room just down the hall. And since our Spanish was limited to one word, and her English was limited to just three words, our conversation was the same every day:

Us: "Hola!"
Maid: "Hola! 'ow arr ju?"
Us: "We're good, thankyou - have a good day!"
(I felt like using Truman's every day refrain: "Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!")

The Breakfast Buffet had the same selections EVERY day -- decent food, but by day 7, we'd had enough!
The waiters were the same every day (for the most part unhelpful), and we sat with virtually the same patrons all around us every day. But we never tired of the views from the dining room windows!

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After breakfast, every day, we headed back to our rooms, put on bathing suits, picked up our provided beach towels and headed for the beach, where we claimed our spot under virtually the same palapa with the same view every day.

The beach was to die for - pure (clean!) white sand, and an azure blue ocean, with (at the beginning of our stay anyway) gentle waves.

Lunch was either the buffet, again the same decent selection every day -- although a little bland, and boring after a few days...or at the snack bar on the beach where one could have a burger and  fries - not bad, actually!

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
the buffet
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Weather permitting we would stay on the beach until dinner. It was HOT!
DOTH, ever resourceful, had brought a thermometer with her and this was the temp most days:

Almost 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ocean registered at around 32 degrees, which I believe is close to 90 F -- so rather than cooling off, it was a little like having a warm bath. I got quite a bad burn the first day, even with lotion. Learned my lesson and slathered it on for the rest of our stay and kept in the shade as often as possible. But believe me, we were NOT complaining. Actually the Cubans were complaining - one of their hottest seasons for a long time, they said. The air conditioning in the hotel was definitely struggling to keep up!

Dinner was also the buffet with pretty much the same as the lunch selection, but we had been forewarned, and to break the monotony, had signed up for some a la carte restaurants on site: Japanese, Italian, Fine Dining etc.

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
The Buffet
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

These were interesting. One had to reserve well in advance -- we thought because they would be jam-packed with patrons wanting a relief from the buffet - but, no!

For example, in the Japanese restaurant, where the food was terrific, there were only eight of us, all arriving at the same time, out of a 350 room hotel! Remember this is an all-inclusive resort - no extra charge!. Again, it was surreal because there was all the pomp and circumstance over the meal...

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

...with the 'flambe' and the ongoing patter of the chef, wooing us with his fabulous food etc, but so few of us to enjoy it -- after we'd HAD to reserve!  Turns out the most likely reason is the sparse availability of the specialty foods in Cuba.

In the Fine Dining restaurant, where we saw people sent back to their rooms to re-dress suitably (honestly!), again there were only about eight of us - and again we all arrived at the same time. Yet we were wined and dined like the Queen of England, with our chairs pushed in under us, and our napkins laid on our laps with a flourish, the food served on covered plates, and an extremely talented, easy to listen to, quartet playing classics throughout the dinner:

Photos of Melia Las Americas, Varadero
This photo of Melia Las Americas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

(not a very good photo, but you can see three of the quartet)

So what was so surreal?  One got the impression, as the evening progressed, that the environment, the pomp, all the hard work, the beautifully displayed food on the plates, the extravagance, along with the 'live' music,  in all the restaurants, was not so much a desire to give excellent service to the patrons, but was designed simply to elicit a good tip. Which was unfortunate and left one feeling quite uncomfortable. The biggest surprise was when the violinist, towards the end of our meal, approached each table selling the quartet's CD - it seemed SO out of place!

In fact, the whole vacation, along with the side trips, which I will talk about later, really were marred by the blatant request for tips.

I think DOTH and I were finally able to qualify all of this, in retrospect, by remembering, again, that Cuba is a poor country. It was just difficult to stay aware of that, in our beautiful surroundings.

Our room, with an ocean view which we paid a little extra for. The hotel is rated as a 5-star: it is clean, comfortable etc., but not completely up to our 5 star standards

Hotel lobby from the front door looking towards the 'back door' access to the beach

Access to beach from the lobby
 I would like to say that I am not really complaining. We did have a fantastic vacation and would highly recommend the hotel to anyone, but it was just a little unusual in many respects.

I will soon be posting some of our more fun experiences for you to see,
 In the meantime, if any of my blogging friends have had any experiences like this, or any wisdom to add, I'd be happy to receive your comments!