Dead of winter: Inevitably, it's always the same. Outside my window here at home in Toronto, it's bitterly cold and windswept. But in my minds eye, I'm still happily floating in the sea somewhere of the coast of Cuba, gently moving with the swell of the waves among a coral garden, the sea fans, and schools of bright tropical fish. [Link] Or laying on the sand beach. My eyes closed, the sun, the sand, the surf tickle my senses; full, glorious moments of eternity on a sun drenched tropical isle. I drink it all in with my senses to relive over and over again during the seemingly endless, colder, less forgiving winter days back in Canada.
Flying into my favourite communist airport, Antonio Maceo International, Santiago de Cuba [Santiago], our Boeing 737 swoops down among the Sierra Maestra mountains, above a mad, 500 year old city of ruins [Link]. Lands atop the foothills overlooking the city. I pay 25 CUCs [Cuban Convertible Pesos] for a VIP pass to skip the long line ups at customs. Rush about the city for a few daze. Take care of a whole whack of Cuban School Project [Link] business, with an eye on a few days escape to the beach.
OECTA TSU has provided $400 in solidarity grants for the CSP [Cuban School Project]. I approve a hard copy run of the "Made in Cuba" "Ingles Para Ti" [Link] English Cuban instruction workbook, for use in the mountain schools. Check the latest updates on the interactive, computer edition being used at the Pedagogical Institute. Pick up the first draft of it's companion Espanol Para Ti Cuban English workbook. Hmm and haw over construction at the Toronto Friendship school.
OECTA, OSSTF and OTF funding since 1992 has helped create an educational aid program that is still going strong at the grass root level in the US embargoed Cuban schools despite all odds. It doesn't take much. I cover my own costs. Maybe I should start making the rounds again? Thank you TSU for the latest.
With that I pack it in on my own dime to spend the rest of the week at the Brisas Sierra Mar resort [Link] [Link], where I basically lay in the sand and dive along the endless beach for the rest of my short stay. Rough translation: breeze, mountains sea: an apt name to picture perfectly describe my tropical locale.
From mid morning to late afternoon, it's long, languid days in the sun working on my Caribbean tan. 100% Autentico Cubano! Deep, bronze unlike the BBQ "ozone red" burn that passes for a tan up our way during the pitifully, short summer. Taking long swims out to sea, I explore the reef stretching along the dark, volcanic, fine, sand beach that stretches on endlessly forever along the coast. Bobbing my head above the waves, a few hundred meters off the coast, the Caribbean stretches far off to the horizon, where the clear blue sky touches the pastel sea. Along the shore, the foothills of a towering mountain range. The sun beats down. It's 30 degree Celsius most days!
For reading material I've got Simon Goddard's Ziggyology. Places Ziggy well within his milieu. Of course, politics is never far away, as I crack open an new edition of Alex Haley's Malcolm X -definitely required reading! I rotate the two between the beach and back at the room for my afternoon nap. Malcolm X, a small but thick paperback, also lends itself well to airport reading and flights on the plane.
After dinner, I relax in the huge, open air, piano bar lobby. Trio Tropical, the hotel house band entertains with two classically trained violinists and a young female singer and guitarist playing a rich smorgasboard of traditional Cuban Trova, Son, Habaneros, Mambos, Sambos, Boleros and Cha-Cha-Chas. Nightly, other locals drop by. Add lots of percussion. A blind electric guitarist noodles the groupo into overdrive, overlaying esoteric rock melodies atop their smooth Cuban sound; a truly mesmerizing, pot pourri of post apocalyptic Cuban lounge music for the ages.
I invite a few of the teachers out to the resort for the weekend to enjoy the beach, the music, and the buffet. As far as resort food goes, it's ok but not great. I enjoy the Cuban a la carte restaurant but am glad I brought some nutritional meal replacement bars to see me through the last few days.
With Maryanne, Kathy + Aurelio!
However, the buffet is the highlight of my Cuban friends visit. They are still on tight food rations. Good, fresh cheese was a novelty. There was a request to nip home some sausage. Beef, chicken and fish are only available locally for lots of CUC's, which they don't have, so that too seemed to be a big treat. Here at the hotel, it's all you can eat. No food means no tourists means no $$$$'s. With the 50 year US economic embargo still in place: Sad but true!
We relax in the shade of a palm tree on the beach and chat. Swim in the sea. Repeatedly visiting the dining room, our table covered with large, overflowing plates of food. Talk some more shop. Then enjoy the lobby music. A day later, wave our good byes.
With Professors Jose + Marta!
At night, I fall asleep with the sliding doors open, drifting off to the sound of the surf and a pleasant sea breeze. Wake up in the morning for more of the same. Repeat time and again, as necessary for the rest of my short one week stay.
Back at my favourite communist airport, I amble over to the music counters to pick up a handful of the latest Cuban hits. Can tell I am far from home. The big hit the week I am here, is Yomil y Dany's "La Fukin Nigga" [Here]. An oddly catchy tune. Can just imagine getting that one stuck in my mind during a one man singalong on the Toronto subway; wouldn't translate well! Glad I'm retired! Sounds like an OTC Blue Page nightmare too! Imagine idly singing that one to yourself in class at your desk! Ho boy! Though truth be told, listen carefully and the lyrics are hardly as offensive as one might think...
Communista CD's for sale here!
Otherwise? Cubaton; basically a Cuban Caribbean dance hall Reggaeton style that's sweeping Latin America and the isles, seems to have overtaken Cuba's more unique homegrown Hip Hop and Rap scene. Jacob Forever, Los 4, and El Principe are now among the local favourites, with a long string of hits that's keeping things hopping on the local pop scene. [Hear]
These home made discs, in a photocopy cover, commonly sell under the counter for $2 CUCs each. On the other hand, the local musicians in Cuba usually play you there latest CD live. Then sell you a copy for $10, the money going directly into their pocket, for which I am glad to oblige. The official Egrem discs, still mostly traditional Cuban, folk and jazz. They are also available, usually for $5 to $10 each from the vendors at Maceo Airport, carefully laid out on tables and racks inbetween the stacks of political tracts, homemade crafts, and sun wear at their booths. Very unique!
The Piano Lobby Bar!
Well. Enough said. I'm back home in Toronto Canada again, with the rest of the cold winter stretching out ahead for the next two months or so. But when I close my eyes? I am still, as always, on the beach in Cuba, my headphones on, with a good book in hand, in between long swims at sea.
Look for my regular blog features to resume as soon as I catch up with myself again!
I was at the Brisas Sierra Mar Resort in April 2014 @ Here!
My February 2015 review of the Brisas is @ HERE!
My DIY Cuba Study Guide and Primer is @ Here!
Cuban Schools: what do the teachers y students think of the political changes @ There!