Opening Statement



Sunday, 14 August 2011

Santiago de Cuba Diary 3

Saturday Friday August 13th:  Guadalavaca Beach Cuba [Followed by Sunday August 14th]

6am Saturday morning, it’s still dark here in the shadow of the Sierra Maestra mountains, but our group of eight is gathered on time at the hotel for the mini bus I got to take us to Guadalavaca Beach.  It’s about a three hour drive on a very bumpy pot holed road up through the mountains and across Holguin Province to the seashore. We each had a day pass at the Breezes Guadalavaca Hotel so we had full run of the place including the snack bar, buffet and bars. There was Josefa and Luis, I’ve mentioned them before. I have often stayed at their home and they are like an extended family to me. Of course I invited the big three professors working with me now on the Cuban School Project [CSP] initiatives through Oriente University; Jose Luis, Marta, and Guillermo. Guillermo’s wife was invited along and we brought José’s eight year old grandson Ernesto [he’s named after Che] too.
I paid for the trip, just to thank them for all they have done and to build upon our team spirit as part of the CSP. They wouldn’t be able to afford it themselves, which is ironic because if they taught in Canada, they would be earning a lot more than me. It was a real pleasure, and they seemed quite happy. I think they liked the buffet best. It was quite excellent even by Canadian standards and the endless helpings quite enticing when like them you are depending on rations a lot of the time. It was too hot on the beach for Josefa and Luis, who are getting on in years, but they enjoyed the breeze up in the shaded area by the snack and drinks bar. The rest came down to the far end of the beach with me where we found some lounge chairs under a sprawling tree. I took off snorkelling for about two hours, and then rendezvoused with them back with Josefa and Luis imbibing and having fun.
It was a vigorous dive. I had to swim out about 200 meters past an underwater field of sea grass to reach a very nice coral garden. It was quite magnificent and I counted up to six different types, plus scores of colourful sea fans gently swaying with the light current. The water was warm and quite still. The sun was beating down overhead, making for a perfect summer day. I swam down along the coastline a ways until making landfall on a deserted white sand beach where I just lay a bit and rested, basking in the sun, the water lapping up against me. I was in sheer bliss.
On my way back I swam along a rock escarpment for awhile. There were millions of minnows, little tiny silver streaks everywhere, I’ve never seen so many before. It was quite incredible! Other fish were swimming in to feed on them; nature was just taking its course. Back further out to sea I followed a school of Blue Tang and saw a fair number of smaller very colourful tropical fish. The Mexican Mayan Riviera really outdid Guadalavaca in the fish department, but the coral and sea fans here were very well worth the snorkel dive!
I landed near the main section of the resort beach and joined up with the others. We visited a statue of John Lennon in the resort garden and took pictures. Apparently it’s a mecca now where once a week folks meet to sing and read poems. There is another such Beatle shrine in Habana too. Now in Cuba there are also many Beatle themed bars where Cuban musicians come to play Beatle music and the Castro brothers have even given the band the official stamp of approval.  Beatlemania is in full swing here!
There’s a rumour Paul McCartney has been invited to come play a concert in Cuba and has so far been non-committal, perhaps because of the US embargo?  It’s a little known fact that he has visited Santiago de Cuba unofficially and unannounced some time ago. He visited Moro Castillo and had dinner at the restaurant looking out to sea. His chair is now also much honoured and has an autographed plaque on it. I’ve got pictures of Jose, Guillermo and myself at the Santiago and in Guadalavaca sites which I will post.
Paul McCartney also attended an afternoon performance at the Casa de Trova. He didn’t play and didn’t want his picture taken either though a few enterprising Cubanos hiding in the clothes racks at the Trova gift shop, managed to get them anyway. I believe there is also another of him outside the Casa de Trova walking down Heredia Calle/ street.
Anyway, we relaxed in the shade for an hour or two until five pm rolled around and it was time to drive back to Santiago de Cuba. The gang sat in the back of the bus singing Beatle songs. I joined in then got lost in the splendour of sitting up front in the bus and just watching the majestic countryside roll by. The rolling farm fields and roadside stands selling vegetables and fresh fruit are very picturesque.  The Cuban Campaneros [farm people] were riding along the highway on horseback and in, bikes, the odd motorcycle and old beaten up vintage American car from the 1950’s. Many of their simple country homes still have thatched roofs. It was incredibly rustic, an era gone by back home in Canada where farming is more so big business I fear than anything else.
So here I am back at the hotel ready for a good nights sleep.
Sunday August 14th
I slept in a bit after doing my packing last night. I usually leave a lot of stuff here if my colleagues and friends can use it; toiletries, clothes and medicine. Before breakfast I did the last of my banking. The teachers will come over tonight. Jose Luis is the CSP’s managing director here. He will have costed a few of the projects we’ve discussed. Then I will leave the current donations with him to distribute as planned. I’m keen to get as much up and running, and to keep building on our success, so it takes some careful planning, and of course accountability. I am very satisfied and pleased with our results to date.
This afternoon I invited the Guardiolas to the hotel for the pool and lunch. The Toronto Friendship School is on the roof of their house and they manage it for us, aside from the teaching part. I have stayed many times at their home or in the little teacher’s room behind the classroom since the 1990’s. They long ago welcomed me into their family and I wanted to thank them on a personal note.  From a CSP perspective.  I am getting the new set of workbooks and some other materials to enhance the school programs as per my discussions with the teacher and students. A computer would be very useful. Of course a lot will depend on getting on funding for this and any future projects and I will really have to get working on that early this school year.
The Guardiolas have never been inside the Melia Santiago Hotel before, even though they have lived in Santiago all their lives. The ten CUC cover charge for the pool, not to mention the price of lunch and drinks would be way beyond their means, even though overall it’s a pretty good deal if you are a tourist. Grand Papa Guardiola was hesitant to come. He was adamant he couldn’t because of his heart and the heat, but I think he’s enjoyed it the most.
Little Cari, who I knew as a small child, has grown up to be a beautiful senorita and is here now as a young adult with her mama. It is cute how they hold hands as they walked in, Cari trying to look very international, a real Cuban beauty. Her mama is just happy to be here and make sure nothing happens to her. You hear lot’s of stories about young Cuban jinetera [prostitutes] but there is another side to life here in Cuba. It is also a very Catholic country, with strong family values.
Grand Papa is in and out of the pool, the sun, and the shade; he’s got more energy than any of us. You won’t meet more natural, genuine, and warmer people than the Cubans. It makes me happy just to see them happy, I don’t think I could want for much more than to just be here and share some good times with them, and help out with the schools
I fly back to Toronto tomorrow, and will no doubt have more pictures and photos to share.

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