The tour guide on the hotel shuttle said something that stuck with me. He said “Varadero isn’t the real Cuba.”
Varadero is a peninsula that juts out from the Cuban mainland into the combined waters of the Florida Straits and the Bay of Cardeñas. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire Caribbean, with around sixty resorts occupying the entire stretch of beach, an absolute cash cow for the country and a source of employment and income for its residents. For all intents and purposes, Varadero is Resortworld. It’s not about the grim and the gritty. It’s about suntans, booze and fun. I wasn’t there for the real Cuba. Not right then.
In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t a good idea to choose an all-inclusive resort. Not for me on a solo trip anyway… not in a place where alcohol flows like water, and the waiter actually looks disappointed when I ask for some agua, por favor, like I’m letting him down by bucking societal norms and not ordering a glass of red and white, gracias. Unlike my tablemates, who were all in, ride or die, down, insert-whatever-other-phrase-means-completely-invested-in-something. They had paid for all-inclusive, knowing in this part of the world all-inclusive means drink all you can, and by God that was what they were there for and what they were going to do.
I’m exaggerating. Those were the Dutch boys two tables across, who’d been out in the sun so long they were beginning to look like leather. I say Dutch because one of them had a t-shirt emblazoned Sint Maarten and they did seem European. Then again, they could be any random breed of foreigner on an extended tour of paradise. Almost everyone here has a shirt on from some other Caribbean isle like Aruba or Dominicana, as if to emphasize that the Caribbean is their playground of choice. Hell if you can afford an endless summer, why not? It beats holing up waiting for Toronto to resemble a city again, not barren tundra.
Yes, I may have been projecting. Just a teeny tiny bit. My tablemates were a very sweet fiftyish Korean couple over from L.A., here on a group tour (Me: so you went from sunny to… sunny?) assuring me that L.A. is “still very cold.” They did ask for the rioja and the blanco, though.
I like being sober around the completely shitfaced. It’s interesting to observe how one can go from quiet and reserved to uproarious, red-faced, DGAF drunk, unconcerned about how one might come across leering at nubile Cuban dancers in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp. To be fair, try being around a young girl whose tits haven’t yet succumbed to the pull of gravity, shimmying up beside you in a skimpy pink bikini and tailfeathers, an island showgirl romping through your buffet. If you’re three sheets to the wind, you’d leer openly too. It’s dinner and a show, what’s not to like?