Susan and Norman's Cuban Odyssey

Jan 15, 2004 - Snowy Scarborough

I get up on a snowy snowy morning and cheerfully head outside to shovel the 24 hours worth of snow from my front walk and my back walk, and the sidewalk, and my veranda, and my back deck, and I clean off the car, all to the beat of "this time tomorrow, I'll be on a beach in Cuba."

And by midnight, we are.

Norman and I arrive around 10:00 at Antonio Maceo Airport in Santiago de Cuba, to warmth and palm trees and immigration officers. We climb our baggage ("Baggage Climb Area - Climb your bag and check its weight.") In fairly short order we are on the bus to the hotel, a half hour drive along the coast.

We settle into our room and take a walk down to the beach, to dip our toes into the Caribbean. THIS MORNING I WAS SHOVELLING SNOW!!

We have single beds, so we have to deal with the politics of who sleeps where and what visiting privileges will be observed.

Before leaving for Cuba

Friday, January 16. Sunny Santiago

We sleep in until 7:30, and Jamie and Janet, our partners in crime, knock on the door and welcome us to Cuba. They have been here a week, and arranged for us to get the room next to them.

Breakfast on the terrace, with a view of the sea. Oh gosh, this is civilised! Fruit and guava juice and unlimited food (and even the drinks are included, though not at breakfast). We meet Lynn (who is a guy, just so you'll know now....), who is with J&J, then someone tucks a USD under the salt shaker and we head down to the beach, which is a lovely sheltered cove bounded by coral reefs.

Norman and I latch hold of some snorkelling equipment (it's included) and I take my first turn at it. I have to go on faith, since it's weird to breathe under water but I more or less get the hang of it, and take in a minimum of sea water.

The view beneath the surface is spectacular--a million kinds of coral and vibrant arrays of brightly coloured fish, who seem to have no inhibitions.

We sit in the sun for about twenty minutes, then retreat to the shade with Jamie, and meet Jonathon and Nancy, also from Toronto. Nancy thinks I'm familiar, and sure enough, we're in the same choir. (Echo - there are 80 of us, so we don't know everyone). It's not that big a world, I have realised. Especially once you've joined a choir.

Swans a Swimming

We return to our room before lunch to find 3 swans a swimming. The maid has created bedspread and towel art, sort of linen closet Origami.

The sunset takes all of 60 seconds from first dip to disappearance. We sit on the terrace waiting for dinner, which is a civilised (except for Norman) 7:30, but Jonathon and Nancy's week is over and they have to leave for home, which I assure them was VERY snowy yesterday morning.

I make the mistake of mixing too many kinds of drinks: beer, rum (in the piņa colada) then wine with dinner. Beer Before Wine may be Fine (in both English and German) but with Rum in Between, you Feel a bit Green. By 9:05 I'm ready for a nap.

Norman attends the evening cho (put on by the Animators or Entertainers of the hotel staff) with Jamie and Lynn, which is apparently turns out to be missible.

Sunset from the Terrace

Mountain Hike

Saturday, Jan 17. I get up at 6:30 for a swim in the pool, then read on the beach until breakfast. After breakfast, we go for a mountain hike. This is a scheduled daily activity (9:15) which we all assume is some sissy hike up a mildly sloping trail. There are 8 campers and one counsellor--I mean, 8 guests and 1 Cuban guide, Alex.

We meet fellow guests Brent and Emily along the road as we start out. They did the hike yesterday. "First," says Emily, "you'll climb that rock face right there. Straight up.

Oh sure.

Alex stops at a point in the sheer cliff behind the hotel. "Okay, here's where we start climbing." The only thing that astonishes us more than this expectation is that we actually do it. It's almost vertical, all coral and full of holes and sharp points, but surprisingly doable, though strenuous.

Climbing over rocky mountain
We reach the top of the cliff for a spectacular view of the hotel and the sea, than turn inland for a hike through the brush, with thorny bushes, pointy agave plants and the odd cactus. More climbing. It gets tougher. Alex has to help us with our footholds.

This is not a sissy hike.

end of the trail?
Adventure in the Canyon
Eventually the trail turns downwards; a nice easy path that turns into a passage through a cool, deep, damp canyon, with enormously high walls on either side and a few extremely tall trees, varied by high up tree with long long root reaching down the rock to the canyon floor.

But surprise--we are not yet back to sea level. The moment of truth faces us. We reach a drop of some 6 metres. The plan is that another guide joins us from below and tosses up the rope (there is sometime a ladder, but not today, it seems).

Mr. Rope Tosser arrives on schedule but misses his aim and the coil of rope catches on the side of the canyon, out of everyone's reach. Everyone throws sticks and stones at it, and it is finally dislodged. Whew! The only thing worse than climbing down that rope would be turning around and going back.

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