Campañerang Cuba Goes Home

Campañerang Cuba Goes Home

Dear Elly G,

I feel a strange kind of sadness at having to leave. I say strange because I’ve never been one for the beach, much preferring lakes or rivers and waterfalls instead. But somehow and someway, this pastel unicorn fart of a beachscape has found a way to sink its claws into me, deep enough for me to want to prolong my stay. Or break my self imposed rules, and come back.

I thought I knew beaches, having grown up surrounded by so many, I took them for granted. To be fair, I’ve never been to Boracay, or Palawan, but I have been to Dauin, and Antulang, and to Bantayan island, which boast beaches with pristine white sand and clear blue waters.

I went in the water on Saturday, in the early hours of the morning, when the sun had just risen. The beach was still relatively free of resort-goers. Just me and a handful of people out to score prime real estate under selected palapas, because apparently these things go fast and the earlier you mark your territory with a beach towel, the better. That didn’t really matter to me, since I wasn’t going to be at the beach the whole day anyway. The water is surprisingly warm, the sand like powder under my feet. Surprising, because the last time I was in this part of the world, the water was ice cold. Was it because it was in September and Punta Cana is on the Atlantic, while Cuba shares some of its waters with the Gulf of Mexico? I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was warm and inviting and as I waded in, it was like entering a fantasy. Chos. I know, hyperbole and a half, but I swear I don’t think I ever had quite an experience like that in any body of water whatsoever.

For a while it was just me floating on my back in suspended animation. The feeling of weightlessness was almost sensual, water lapping against the sides of my face and enveloping my body in a caress as I stared up at a sky the colour of a faded bruise tinged with shades of pink and yellow, freewheeling pelicans cutting in and out of my line of sight. It’s been some time since I’ve felt weightless like that. Shut up, it’s not because I’m fat. It’s just that I haven’t really been in pools, or the beach for a long time. I’m not a water baby like you, but in that moment I understood the reasons people return to Cuba over and over again. If you could have a beach like that in your backyard, it would be worth it.

And so I felt sad. The view from my suite was spectacular, exactly what I wanted, nothing but a stretch of blue. To know that I will have to go back and have a completely different view, of high-rises and cranes and so much snow, makes me sad somehow. Of course I miss A a ton, and I miss all the comforts of home, but somehow I wasn’t ready to let go quite yet.

I think this trip has done me good. I believe I might make it a thing, to escape winter for a few days every year, because now I feel like I may be able to see the rest of winter through on my return, without feeling the need to scrape the wall with my fingernails. I don’t know if I want to come back to this particular resort, or even Cuba, if only because variety is the spice of life, but I think a lot of sun in the bleak midwinter definitely did me a world of good.

Waiting for the shuttle,
Nikka

Campañerang Cuba Redux

Dear Elly G,

Ay’g pag expeck. If Cubans could speak Bisaya, that is essentially what they would tell you over and over. Ay’g pag expeck. I suppose they’ve become so inured to the foreigners whining about why everything is the way it is – the food, the schedule, the people, the lack of bus stops, they’re moved to say this ahead of time to prevent disappointment.

Which leads me to the food. (What doesn’t? Everything leads me to the food.) I had a rather late supper last night at the buffet restaurant, and I haven’t the foggiest idea what these people are complaining about. Bland, my Asian ass. No sauces? Each table had salt and pepper shakers and there was a prominent display of all the bottled condiments one would wish. Tartar sauce. Steak sauce. Hot sauce. Sauce maryosep. I went in fully expecting to be disappointed and I was, except it wasn’t the food I ended up being disappointed in. It was in people who write reviews despite having no tastebuds worth mentioning whatsoever. Not that I closed my eyes and was transported to heaven, but the seafood was all I could’ve wished it to be. I had grilled salmon and breaded fish (I have no idea what kind of fish it was) and a lovely bunch of shrimp, heads still on, everything as tasty as if it were pulled fresh from the sea, which it probably was. I wonder if some are so used to drowning everything in spice rubs and butter, they can’t appreciate fresh seafood. I’ve decided to be annoyed at the way people review Cuban food online. Everything is prefaced with “keep in mind, it’s Cuba,” as if it’s going to be deficient and less than, by virtue of not being… I don’t know, Europe? Canada? The U.S. of Hey? It seems to come from an extremely limited experience.

Not that I’m so much more experienced than they are. I just feel that maybe when travelling, a tourist needs to be less condescending and be more open to different things, especially cuisine-wise. Why expect things to be more or less the same as it is at home? What’s the point of traveling then? At breakfast, one lady caught my eye. All she had on her plate was toast. That’s it. Five slices of the most boring white bread, browned and buttered. Even her companion pointed it out with a raised eyebrow, and the lady just shrugged, and made a sort of pout. This is probably the kind of person petty enough to go on Google and give this place a one-star just because she couldn’t find anything to eat. The spread was pretty varied, an impressive selection of cold cuts, breads, fruit, omelette bar, cereal bar, dessert bar, what have you. I’ve been to enough hotels to be able to tell when something is sparse, and believe you me, this was not sparse at all. If anything, it was the opposite.

You know what’s surprisingly bland? The fruit. Maybe you and I have been spoiled for it, having been brought up in a tropical country, but their pineapple is surprisingly bland and so is their watermelon. I don’t know if this is true throughout Cuba, though. It could just be this resort, and this island with all the tourists who come here for fun in the sun like it’s an adult theme park and we’re all just here to be fed and watered. Kind of like a plague of locusts. We come in, feed until the land is bare, then move on. Maybe the pineapples just can’t keep up with the rest of us.

Sleep deprived,
Nikka

Campañerang Cuba

Campañerang Cuba

Dear Elly G,

I wanted to type this out to you using the portable, made in Japan circa 1969, piece of classic machinery I insisted on bringing with me, but my pretentious wannabe little self is doing this at five in the morning. Even though the good Lord saw fit to take away my hearing bit by bit, my neighbours may not be as fortunate. I know, I know, I should’ve factored in my weird circadian rhythms, but oh well. The day is young. I might just re-type this and mail it to you because we’ve already established that I can be pretentious as all get out.

If I really end up sending you snail mail, I wonder what the outcome might be. Will the Cuban government see fit to censor a letter? Will you get this with portions blacked out and redacted like it’s a top secret CIA case file? Not that there’s anything in here that may even be remotely close to threatening state secrets, but you know how my imagination works. Nabag-ohan! Because I’m in Communist Cuba and viva la revolución!

Jorge, our tour guide on the airport shuttle bus, asked “Who here is Canadian?” and was met with a loud chorus of yeah, and yays and what’s uuuuuppps. “Who here is American?” Complete radio silence. “Not a single one, eh?” he said, to a smattering of giggles. And then, “Thank God,” to outright laughter.

Sure, it was probably canned and he likely does this bit a dozen times over to a different audience flying in from Toronto day after day. That  doesn’t make it any less funny to me. Speaking of cans, the shuttle bus came with a built-in cooler filled with the local canned beer, which Jorge was enthusiastically slinging. “It’s 3 for $10, but 7 for $20! Who wants some? Oh, 14? Great!” bagging up cans and enthusiastically passing them along to the crazy ones in the back. Methinks it’s non-stop drinking for everyone here but me, but what else is new? Some folks on the plane were drinking while waiting to board (me: wala pa gani!), they drank on the plane, and they drank on the shuttle bus to the resort, where I assume they drank some more.  I lucked into a  seat on the plane that was right next to the exit, so I got to disembark and get through customs quite speedily. I was the first one on the shuttle which was making scheduled stops at selected resorts (they have an impressive system in place, but more on that later), so I got to watch as the rest of the ones headed to my area of Varadero straggled in. Some came onboard holding cans of  beer, but I lost it after at least three grandmas clutching green bottles of cerveza passed me by and started giggling like a lunatic. I think the couple a row behind me saw my reaction and started laughing as well.

One thing is for sure though. This is not going to see the light of day electronically until I get back to the mainland. Yes, “the mainland” means Toronto. I just liked the way “the mainland” sounds, because again, pretentious. They were right about the wifi; even the cell service here is a bit spotty. I read somewhere that Cuba (Cubacel) licenses its signal or whatever from the Italians. It’s so exotic and I love it. Anyway, being unplugged is taking a little getting used to. I had this idea that to be unplugged I wouldn’t use anything electronic, but again that’s hard to do at five in the morning with everyone sleeping off what is probably a massive intake of alcohol.

 

Pour one out for abused kidneys everywhere,
Nikka

Thirty Minutes on the TTC

Dear Elly G,

I just spent the past half hour sitting next to someone, first on the train and now while waiting for the next bus, fighting the irritation I often feel when someone I don’t know persists in staying beside me. I don’t know exactly why I get irritated about this – for a city dweller, it’s an irrational sort of reaction – but I feel it anyway.

I particularly dislike it when the train empties, freeing other seats and the person beside me continues to linger. Nothing suggestive, no looking down my cleavage, nothing like that. They just stay on, ignoring the obvious other options. It makes me feel crowded, hemmed in and irritable, and this  probably makes me an asshole, but I like commuting with my bag on the seat beside me.

It made me remember last weekend’s road trip and the feeling of dread when faced with a vast expanse of grass and no human in sight. I don’t particularly enjoy too much solitude either. It’s almost as if I can’t stand being around people for too long, but I need them about me, milling around, creating that unique sort of hum that I crave, the way I sometimes turn on the TV just to have something playing in the background. It’s the comfort of white noise.

I moved to Toronto to escape the relative stillness of suburbia. But my attempts to reach out and connect have been half-hearted because I like having my own space, and as you know, I have little patience for bullshit.

I know we can’t have everything. I suppose when it comes right down to it, I’m happier in a big city than I would be in a small town. But who knows? I might surprise myself and end up owning a vineyard out in the middle of nowhere.

I’m rambling,
Nikka

Dioramas

Dioramas

Dear Elly G,

Word of the day: diorama. I am seriously pissed off that I never got the chance to take a picture of the Sinulog diorama they had outside Robinson’s Department Store. I want to kick myself. That display was something that will go down in the annals of our history of ridiculousness.

It was a display of superheroes: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, etc. (it was a League of Justice thing) and it wasn’t just a painting. It was a real mock-up of superheroes doing their thing. Superman was flying and shit.

In the middle of it all stood Sr. Sto. Niño holding up that scepter and wooden ball with a cross on it, because the “greatest superhero” is still Sto. Niño. The first time I saw that mess, I nearly choked. What a classic what-in-the-mother-effing-eff moment. People here are insane.

Just thought I’d share. Wish you’d seen it. So sorry I didn’t get it for posterity – I was just too busy staying away from the crazy crowd. I wish I hadn’t.

Regretfully,
Nikka
1/31/08

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

Dear Elly G,

It’s the ascent that gets me. Every time. That feeling when the giant metal tube you’re in careens down the runway and takes off, leaving your stomach somewhere between the earth and the sky and it feels like a lifetime of being at a 45-degree angle, just climbing. It’s always a while before I can breathe easy again.

Sometimes it’s easy. It’s smooth and uneventful, the plane cutting through clouds without resistance. Sometimes it’s hard. The ascent is choppy, like riding a skiff over rough waves, and I find myself wondering if that view of the city will be my last, wondering if maaaayyyybe I should’ve kept my shoes on in case the plane loses its battle with gravity and we plunge into the sea and I need to frog swim in the Arctic Ocean to save my life or at least prolong it, if only by a few minutes by finding a floating piece of wreckage and I won’t be able to do that if my feet are the first to go.

But I like ascents. I like the thrill. Humans weren’t meant to fly, and each time we take off, it almost feels like having a middle finger extended at the great wide cosmos: look at me now, Dad! I really should knock on wood thrice, because it feels like I’m mocking the fates. Unfortunately, there is nothing wooden to be found on the Airbus. I might try and find a catalogue to knock on, I suppose that will work. Paper coming from wood and all that.

There is a guy on this plane who seems to love that there is absolutely no wood to be found. A thinks he’s on something, very likely little purple party pills, because he keeps going up and down the aisles, just running his hands over everything. Everything. It’s weird. And gross – does he even realize how germy the interior of an airplane can be? He’s not running his hands over the passengers, at least. He’s doing it on all the surfaces of the plane he can touch, including the covers of the overhead luggage compartments. I’ve decided he’s some sort of shaman, blessing the plane’s interior with good juju. Between you and me, A is more likely to be right than I am, though.

Speaking of wood, we touched down in Reykjavik and the terminal is almost all wood. It’s warm, and cozy in that minimalist sort of Scandinavian way, all interesting angles and curves and mood lighting. I wasted no time heading for the mini grocery they had going on, to score some skyr. Passed a few displays of interesting salt. “Lava salt,” and all that, but I tasted it and it doesn’t taste like anything other than salt. Lies! I do have my eye on the cutest little figurine. It’s of a fat Viking, and it makes me happy to see it. We’re stopping over in Iceland again on the way back from England, so I’m sleeping on it for now. I didn’t get to buy the skyr, there were problems with my card or something. I’m hoping this is not a theme for when we get to England, because it is going to be annoying going around with le cash in le pockets. I have nightmares of a Dickensian London, with the Artful Dodger going around picking pockets willy nilly. Listen to me, sounding all first world Visa paywave and shit.

I could be a morning person in Iceland. It’s about 6:45 AM in Reyjkjavik, and it’s still black as night. We left at eight in the morning with no sunrise to be seen. I didn’t do a lot of reading up on Iceland, because it’s just a transit stop on the way to jolly old London, so that is going to have to be remedied.

Hairless Whisper

1/12/17

Dear Elly G,

The difference between a Brazilian done in Toronto and a Brazilian done in Dumaguete spans leagues.

The former takes approximately ten minutes. It’s quick, clinical, precise and expensive, barely even giving me any time to register the loss of body hair.

The latter starts with the aesthetician handing me a bathrobe, a towel and a small bar of soap. (“Ma’am, wash first?”) You know you’re in the Philippines when you need a clean vagina before the waxer even deals with you. That’s how we are. We brush our teeth before seeing the dentist. We wash our vajayjays before getting a wax. My usual suki  admitted to seeing her share of tampon strings. She would never think of asking her clients to wash themselves. I can only imagine the judgment meted out by a Filipina waxer if someone dared to come in for a wax while on her period.

She had me staring at the ceiling for the better part of an hour wondering what my labia must look like to someone who had a spotlight pointed at my crotch and was aggressively parting it every which way, hunting down stray pubes with a tweezer. (“Ma’am, pwede i-puller?”) No one has ever paid that much attention to my nether regions. Not A. Not my gynecologist. Not even I.

Also, so much aggressive rubbing! Each time she spread a bit of wax and applied the strip, she would apply pressure and rub like there was no tomorrow, ensuring the wax stuck to the strip so she could remove as much hair as was humanely possible. I wasn’t quite sure if I was supposed to orgasm. I wanted to ask her if anyone ever had, but concentrated on biting back my laughter and holding in a fart instead.

The best part was when I had to part my buttcheeks. Never underestimate the weirdness of parting your own buttcheeks while a total stranger plucks it clean of hair because there are some parts that wax can’t reach. I’m assuming there are some parts that wax can’t reach, anyway. All for the low price of PhP 550! Sulit na sulit.

 

Yours in hairlessness,
Nikka

 

PS: Traffic here is awful.

PPS: A motorcab had a sign on its rear that read “Ang mulusot pisot” in big blue letters.