My 2010 Cuba Trip and Some Perspectives

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Destination Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

First Published: Jan 22, 2011

Island Beyond Imaginations

Our China-made, super-sized resort bus was cutting through the pitch-black night along the Atlantic Ocean via a 30-mile man-made Causeway. The Causeway is a road in the middle of the ocean, connecting the island Cayo Santa Maria to the mainland. The Causeway was entirely made from rock and earth, without any concrete foundations. Many bridges were included in the Causeway to keep natural ocean water flow uninterrupted - thus keeping the damage to the Cuban archipelago to a minimum. Once you hit the Causeway, you will have the feeling that it is taking you straight into the ocean. I was pulling my hair (in my mind) for not being able to view this heavenly view in the daytime. However, the night time view had its own charm and meaning.

Barcelo Cayo Santa Maria Resort

The Barcelo Cayo Santa Maria Resort is located on a small island called Cayo Santa Maria, which is situated on the north coast of Cuba. Cayo Santa Maria is 90 minutes away from the Santa Clara airport and connected to the mainland by the 30-mile man-made causeway I just described above. Local Cubans do not have access to this Island. Before entering the Causeway, vehicles have to go through a police checkpoint and a tollbooth. The most fun part of our trip was that our bus did not have to pay the toll because the tollbooth was empty. Our guide said the guard probably went to the town to visit a show, leaving the tollbooth unattended.

We reached the resort just little bit before 12 midnight. Barcelo is a 5-star resort and it is fairly visible the moment you enter it. A very friendly person named Smith put us on a golf cart-like vehicle to take us to our ocean view bungalow. He said we would get lost for the first few days while going around inside the resort without assistance. And he was so right. My nephew and I got lost 3 days in a row many times, reaching various sections within the resort. The most striking part of our bungalow was its ocean view balcony. My nephew and I stayed on the balcony whenever we were inside our suite.

There is not much to tell about the resort itself. Inside the resort, you wont feel like you are in Cuba. It’s no different than living in Canada, except the weather. When it was - 10°C and lots of snow in Canada, we enjoyed 24°C in Cuba. For Canadians, having weather like that in December is like living in heaven.

Let me describe the ocean a bit. The ocean and the beach are very different in Cayo Santa Maria than anything else I have seen before. Crystal blue sparkling ocean waters and immaculate pristine white sandy beaches make Cayo Santa Maria a place beyond imagination. The sands are white, very fine and smooth. When you walk on the beach, it feels very smooth. This area was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

Deep Inside Cuba

Our Jeep Safari excursion into a Cuban village gave me an opportunity to experience the real Cuba I was waiting for. During this day trip, I tried to talk to as many people as possible to get a feeling of what it’s like to live in Cuba. The whole system upon which Cuban society and economy are based on seemed to be complicated to me. I was unable to understand many simple things, such as how the system works, even why it works, how the government keeps track of everything considering there is no modern technology available. Once you read the following insights, you will realise what I mean.

My Insights and Some FAQs On Cuba

Here are some points based on my trip, talking to both Cubans and non-Cubans, and doing some research. I may not be right on every point - I am just presenting whatever I have perceived so far. This is my feeling: to get a good grasp of how things are done in Cuba, someone will have to stay and live there with local Cubans for at least one year.

  • Cuba was the first country in the Caribbean with which Canada established a diplomatic mission.
  • Following the Cuban 1959 revolution, Canada and Mexico were the only two countries in the hemisphere that did not break relations with Cuba.
  • Canada is Cuba's largest source of tourists.
  • When the Soviet Bloc was diminished, Cuba faced a severe economic crisis and financial hardship. Canada came forward to help Cuba at that time on a massive scale (unparalleled by any other countries) both economically and technologically.
  • Cuba has two currencies: CUC (The Cuban Convertible Peso) and CUP (The Cuban Peso). CUC is the currency for foreigners and CUP is for Cubans. While I was in Cuba, 1 Canadian $ bought 0.80 CUC and 1 CUB was around 24 CUP.
  • In Cuba, the government owns everything. Let’s say you have a cow - this cow is the government’s property, not yours. The milk you get from the cow will have to go to government - you can’t consume it or keep it.
  • Every Cuban is supplied with a ration card and basic necessities are provided by the government.
  • A doctor, general labourer, or a chemist would earn almost the same in Cuba. It is a common practise for many professionals to give up their jobs and drive taxis or sell products in the market.
  • Cubans are not allowed to talk to foreigners or ride in the same vehicle (non-public transit). However, foreigners can use public transit.
  • Cubans are prohibited from using the Internet, foreign TV channels, books, magazines, etc. I did not see any newspapers or magazines anywhere; in towns, in the resort, or even at the airport.
  • Health care and education are free in Cuba and Cubans have equal access to them.
  • Crime rate is very low in Cuba and the lowest among other South American countries. I noticed people leaving doors open in towns/villages and girls were walking on the street at midnight. This is not a common scene in other 3rd world countries.

What’s The Best Part of Cuban Society?

Health care, education, and basic necessities are taken care by the government for everyone. Unlike many 3rd world countries, at least people are not dying out of poverty. The low crime rate is also worth mentioning.

What’s The Worst Part of Cuban Society?

All others, except the above. Cubans cannot start a business and make money like anywhere else on Earth. Cubans are not allowed to leave the country and they are not even allowed to leave their own province. There is no freedom whatsoever.

Changes On The Horizon?

Just recently, Raul Castro has relaxed some regulations to encourage privatization on a limited scale. For example, farmers now can obtain tools and lands to produce crops, the general population can have cell phones and open small private operations like barber shops and taxi services, etc.

A Brief Pause on The Airport Tarmac - The Final Word

On my day of return, after passing the Cuban immigration and on my way to the plane, I got out of the line and paused for a brief moment and stood on the airport tarmac - looking at the Santa Maria Airport on my left and my plane on my right. I am privileged to go anywhere on Earth. For Cubans, going to a different country is like a dream that will never come true. All those moments that gave me new perspectives on life were passing quickly through my brain; like the genuine happiness I saw after giving toothpaste to someone in the resort (I literally had tears in my eyes), the immaculate gratefulness I observed when I gave my maid the equivalent of one week’s salary as a tip, how utterly surprised the help-desk person was after finding out that my watch was worth more than his one-year salary … I came back to reality all of a sudden. Airport personnel were calling me to board the plane - it was about to leave.