Sunday, January 07, 2007

Jibacoa, Cuba

Jibacoa, the place nestled between the mountains and the sea, is halfway between Varadero and Havana. It's the site of great snorkelling and scuba-diving, with a living coral reef just metres away from shore. We arrived at the resort in the evening of Christmas Day. That was the night I fell in love with congris, a Creole dish of rice and black beans, a staple for the next seven days. Several people I met complained about the blandness of the food, but it all suited me perfectly, as I hated anything too salty or spicy.

Highlights of my trip: 1) Havana, with its beautiful buildings, the noon-hour parades on the streets, the vibrancy that brought out the sun within even through the drizzle of rain. 2) The minutes of sun on the white sand beach of Cayo Blanco, when I told myself to just breathe and take in the infinity where the ocean met the sky. 3) Dying of embarrassment when pulled onto the stage during an evening show at the resort. Don't ask what I had to do on stage because it's a secret I'm taking to my grave. 4) The ride out in a pedal-boat, with schools of silvery and yellow fish surrounding our boat. 5) The most extravagant feast on New Year's Eve, beginning with champagne, with roast pork, beef, fish, lobster, lasagna, and ending with the most scrumptious chocolate cake.

After my vacation two years ago at an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta, I had vowed to never go on an all-inclusive vacation ever again. I had felt over-privileged, and didn't feel as though I had experienced the real Mexico. Alas, when I planned for another tropical vacation this time around, I caved and did it the easy way yet again. However, I found this experience completely different from the one I had in Mexico. I felt that I had experienced the spirit of Cuba, finding it in the people whom I had met.

The average Cuban makes about $15 a month. Most can never afford to buy a car, and have to rely on cramped public transportation (often with 300 people on a 29-seat bus), or on hitch-hiking. Apparently, government vehicles are obligated to stop and pick up passengers. Money, clothes, shampoos, soaps, and candy from the tourists are always greatly appreciated. I started getting choked up during my day-trip to Havana, when I saw a little girl with a dejected look leaning against a brick wall. Other tourists walked up to her and gave her pencils and candy, and her eyes just lit up. I would see the same scene repeated with different little boys and girls over the following days. By the end of the trip, my friend and I had parted with the beach towels we had brought, shampoos and soaps, Snickers bars, and I had even given away the tube of toothpaste I had been using. And, did it make me feel good? Not really. What good did the small amounts of pesos and tidbits do in the long run?

The entertainers at the resort were full of untiring energy. I was saddened by the thought that they would never be able to leave Cuba and visit the places from which the tourists they entertained had come. Perhaps I was imposing my own values onto them. I admired them for their clear love for life, for their sincerity and kindness. The locals I had met in Cuba were some of the most open and dignified people I had ever encountered. I only wish to laugh as heartily as they do at the simple things in life. I have so much to laugh about, to smile at, to be satisfied with, and yet, I feel mostly restless and discontent.

My trip to Cuba already feels like eons ago. The one thing I want to keep with me forever, more than the sun and the sand, is the spirit of the people, their eyes full of life, laughter, and love.

* Pictures are forthcoming

1 comment:

  1. Any underwater photos? I'm so jealous. I bet you're all refreshed and tanned.