When Paths Cross with Cuba

Recently, my mom and I took an all inclusive trip to Cuba. Like roughly 1 million Canadians yearly, we were looking to escape to a beautiful place we could lay beachside. It was a big change for me to be on an all inclusive after 8 months of wandering Asia, but the time with my mom was very special. With all the moving we have done and travelling I have done, it was really our first ‘vacation’ together.

Varadero is a tourist town nestled on 22KM of beautiful white sand beaches. After travelling Asia for 8 months, this long stretch of Cuban beach still held its place high (in my opinion) for most beautiful beaches in the world. The water starts as a crystal clear sea-foam green, and as you look to the horizon your eyes are met with a variety of different blues that eventually reach a gorgeous skyline of many more natural colours. Even more impressive is how clean the beaches are. To someone who has not travelled much beyond an all inclusive resort, this may seem like a no-brainer but unfortuantely plastic litters many of the worlds beaches. My mom and I spent about half an hour picking up plastic off the beach in Varadero because we wanted to do some good that day, but overall, the beaches are very well taken care of.

Beyond the beaches a trip to Cuba can be accompanied by driving in old classic cars, a trip to Havana (Havana oh na na), snorkelling, diving and lots of Spanish dancing. I took my mom snorkelling and it was her first underwater adventure (we are still waiting on our pictures, so pictures to come). That is right, 49 years old and I still got to take her on a ‘first’. This was pretty exciting for me and brought back the excitement to an activity that I have done quite a few times.

I have been to Cuba 3 times and didn’t always stick to the all inclusive, so here are some of my suggestions to make your trip a little extra: Eat food off the resort! Many people complain about Cuban food but Cubans certainly know how to cook. I am a big fan of the fried plaintain and camarones! I was invited to eat with a local family in Cardenas, wow! the food and company were fantastic. I also ate at a couple local restaurants and was never let down. The food was inexpensive and delicious. My understanding (i hope it is right) is that some shops/restaurants are locally owned while others are owned by the government. Take note of this, as you will see quite a difference in terms of price. I suggest trying the locally owned shops.

Which brings me to suggestion 2: Talk to the locals. I met a local Cuban at a gas station in Cardenas and he spoke amazing English. He explained that he was educated in languages but dropped out of school because if he finished he would of had to become an English professor. He decided that he would make more money working at a resort with his english speaking skills. This sounded crazy to me, but definitely gave me a bit more of an understanding of this man and perhaps some of the decisions Cubans have to make. He, and his family were lovely and welcoming!

Suggestion 3: Rent a scooter or car and go beyond the tourism. It can be a bit pricey but this is a sure way to see more of Cuba without a filter. The country is absolutley gorgeous and the people are very sweet. However, a drive into a town like Cardinez or even Havana without a tour guide will surely let you see some of the poverty and living conditions. While the home I visited in Cardenas was well furnished (lots of Canadian products, brought down to my friend from Canadian), this is not always the case. I was invited into an apartment in Havana from someone trying to sell me cigars and this building was difficult for me to walk through emotionally. There were no ceilings in the hallways or doors on most apartment, the building was littered with people sleeping all over the place and made of all cement. A whole other side of Cuba that we as tourists do not normally see.

Here are some photos from my most recent travels to Cuba with my mom. Enjoy!

DSC03910DSC03841DSC03860DSC03880DSC03885DSC03875snorkelling1snorkelling2snorkelling4snorkelling7DSC03939DSC03935DSC03886

Wander With Love,

inconsistently.tash

Holiday Travel Ideas!

Let’s talk about enjoying the holidays while travelling. Allow me to start with a personal story…..It was about 1100AM when our half hour flight arrived to Mulu. It was boxing day, it was hot, and we were not sure where we were going to stay.  So, we started walking toward Mulu National Park and right outside the park we heard loud music coming from a homestay. Before we knew it, our backpacks thrown down in our  room and we were invited, basically pulled into the loud music, where we were now enjoying some family holiday festivities.

The family we joined was visiting the owners of the hostel and quickly began pouring us multiple drinks and cheering for us to “1 go” (basically chug our whiskey and tuok, which is a local rice wine).  They also taught us how to do one of their local dances and shared some wild boar and cookies. It was really all very exciting, especially considering we spent Christmas away from family. This family was more than welcoming and just having a good time!

As I laughed and leaned how to say cheers while literally getting carried back to the table for a another drink, I felt like I was at home for the holidays. Then, all of the sudden, the entire family went in the backyard as a longboat arrived and everyone left to go home ! Yup, did I mention it was only about 1100AM when we arrived? Now I was very drunk at noon in the middle of Mulu! What an experience!

 

Depending on where you are travelling, different countries will celebrate  a variety of holidays. If you are like me, a Canadian used to celebrating a white Christmas,  you may find yourself missing all the snow and traditions of back home. As my story may have alluded to this past Christmas season while in Malaysia, we were excited to learn that there are many Christians that do celebrate Christmas. Beyond my crazy and fun encounter on Boxing Day, over the course of the December holidays we found ourselves at a few holiday festivals and events. A simple search for local events led us to a 2 Christmas festivals, with live music and great food and we also saw a local school parade with a bunch of cute kiddies in Kapit.

As such, my first suggestion is to participate in the the local holiday events. This suggestion is the same for local holidays, not just your traditions back home. Learn about the local holiday traditions and participate, where possible and respectfully. In my experience, locals are often excited to teach you about their traditions and invite you to enjoy with them!

Another tip is have some fun and be creative about celebrating your holidays. If you are backpacking, buying gifts can be more of a burden because you likely do not want to carry around extra things for months. So, being creative about the holidays is the way to go. Yogi and I decided to buy stockings  and order room service for our first time. To fill our stockings we created a bit of a game, to help guide our gift giving. Feel free to steal this idea, or get creative with your own for any holiday.

Our Christmas Gift Scavenger Hunt

Something from me to you

Something for us to do

Something that reminds us of home

Something that helps us roam

We had a small budget and tons of fun running around a shopping centre, trying not to let one other catch us buying anything. I even bought confetti and fake snow for Yogis stocking, which was a huge mess but totally worth it. I bought socks with pot leaves on them and a funny shirt that said I love my girlfriend, and each were too small for Yogi so I get to wear them!! A lot of clothes in Asia tend to be smaller sizes than in North America, but its all in fun and part of the experience.

Third simple tip, Skype with your friends and family. My sister put the camera on the couch and I watched my niece open up her stocking on Christmas morning. We also have a shared online folder where we could share what we were doing at midnight on NYE since we are in different time zones 🙂 Simple and fun!

Christmas1
Skyping with family!

Have any stories or ideas from your holiday travels? Please share avec moi. You can shoot me an email or comment directly on this post.

Cheers!

inconsistently.tash