Category Archives: Cuba: Preparation

Bright and early, the adventure begins

We got to sleep at 11 which meant we hoped for a 3.25-hour nap before our departure for the airport. But our airline (Sunwing) decided it would be a GREAT idea to send me a text message at 1 a.m. to let me know that the flight was on time. So that woke me up and I’m still awake.

Life isn’t so bad in this part of Pearson airport, however. There are iPad lounges everywhere, where you can waste time online for free while you wait for your flight to leave. I am reading a newspaper in hard copy instead (yesterday’s Globe and Mail) but I’m appreciating the comfortable seats and the fact that if I suddenly get the urge to buy something at Victoria’s Secret, I can: even if it is only 4:50 a.m


Countdown to 3 a.m. departure

Cuba: Day 1 Minus 1

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 5.28.26 PMOur house is in a state of disarray as we pack suitcases and attempt to get all of those things organized that it is necessary to organize before one goes away for any length of time.

Our plane leaves at about 6:30 a.m. tomorrow, and the airline says we have to be at the airport three hours ahead of time – which seems ridiculous, but there you have it. So we will be leaving the house at 3 a.m., which means that we will be trying to get to sleep REALLY early tonight. And that in turn means that all the packing and sorting and checking of lists needs to be done before early evening. We’ll see how that goes, since it is almost early evening already and I haven’t packed anything yet.

Tomorrow we fly from Toronto to Varadero, Cuba, and then take a bus from the airport at Varadero to our hotel in Havana, where we are meeting with our group for dinner. Even though Havana is in the same time zone as we are here in Toronto, it is going to be a long day. But I am so excited that I probably won’t sleep at all tonight.

In preparation for this trip, in addition to the copious materials sent to us by our tour guides, I have read the introduction to the Lonely Planet travel guide to Cuba, and I am looking forward to reading the entries for our particular destinations as we approach them. Our trip will include stops in Bay of Pigs/Playa Girón, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Vinales and Havana, and will wind up with a couple of days at an all-inclusive in Varadero. I will post something about each place we see, but not necessarily as we go, as I understand that internet is iffy in Cuba, and that wireless internet is almost non-existent.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 5.33.34 PMIn addition to the Lonely Planet book, I’m taking the Wallpaper City Guide to Havana, a gift from Arnie’s nephew Paul Resnick (thanks, Paul!). And as far as communicating while we are there, I’ve downloaded a Spanish-English dictionary onto my iPad and iPhone and I am hoping that this – combined with the past couple of months of refreshing my Spanish on Duolingo – will see us through.

In regard to Duolingo, I love the app/site and think I will take up German next. My biggest problem with Spanish (aside from being only about half way through the course now that it’s time to leave) is remembering vocabulary, and trying to change verbs to the past tense. But I can stumble along. I am looking forward to hearing Cuban Spanish, which is I’m sure much different from the Spanish I heard in Mexico and the southern U.S. – and to what I heard on Duolingo.

On my last day on Duolingo, I wrote this on Facebook: “I am now ready to go to Cuba. According to Duolingo, I can say ‘This car has no battery’ perfectly in Spanish.”

The next day I posted this  (utterly unrelated) thought:

I have been looking over my travel insurance in preparation for my trip to Cuba.  I am wondering why it is that if something really awful happens to you when you are out of the country and they have to ship the pieces of you back to Canada, they refer to the process as “repatriation.” The word makes me feel as though the insured, demised though she may be, is expected to rouse herself on arrival back in her home country at least to the point where she is able to salute.

So on that upbeat note, here we go.

Hasta luego.

I Am Cuba: A Cinematic Gem

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 5.03.42 PMSoy Cuba / I Am Cuba

A week or so ago, we watched a remarkable Soviet propaganda film that was made by the Russian director Mikail Kalatazov in 1964. Co-written by the Cuban novelist Enrique Pinada Barnet and the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) is a strange mix of cinematic genius, poetry, romanticized Cuban history and America-bashing. It is also the only film I have ever seen that is narrated in one language (Spanish), dubbed in another (Russian, which often obscures the Spanish), and then subtitled in a third (English).

The film as a film is mesmerizing. It is exquisitely made in black and white, which not only serves a dramatic purpose but reinforces the melodrama of the film. I Am Cuba opens with a passionate introduction by the narrator to her beloved country as the camera pans from ocean to beach, from village to city. (You can watch the first five minutes on YouTube, albeit without the English subtitles). The film then traces its version of Cuba’s history during the first half of the 2oth century, as the country is exploited by rapacious, drunken, greedy, godless American capitalists who strip the nation of its innocence and self-respect.

As Roger Ebert pointed out when I Am Cuba was first released in English in 1995, the film demonstrates some amazing cinematic feats that were not only distinctive during the era in which they were produced, but would have been tricky maneuovres even in the mid-1990s. This probably explains at least in part why I Am Cuba attracted the attention of Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola, who are responsible for the film’s availability today. One shot very early in the film (it is part of the clip at the link above) pans across a hotel rooftop high above Havana’s harbour before dropping slowly down to a lower pool deck, where it skims past groups of carefree and care-less (American) tourists before following a sunbather from a deck chair right into the swimming pool – all in an apparent single take. The segment recalls nothing more than one of the many brilliant unbroken shots for which Scorcese himself is deservedly admired. (As far as the feel of the film itself, David Lynch kept coming to my mind.)

Such remarkable panoramas are interspersed with symbol-drenched, wonderfully over-the-top vignettes about individual Cubans whose lives have been stripped of self-respect, income (and almost, in one case, physical innocence) by the American invaders, along with their puppet president/dictator Fulgencia Batista and his henchmen – a combined force that has led them into prostitution, drug dealing, humiliation, despair and destitution. Soy Cuba then depicts, also in highly romantic terms, the bloody and violent student protests against Batista and capitalism, and the rise of a heroic communist leader who changed the course of Cuba’s history in part by broadcasting calls to action to his people from a pirate radio station in the Sierra Maestra mountains.

Clearly, Soy Cuba is not a film on which to rely for an unbiased history of the Cuban revolution, and further investigation on my part will be required. (I was only eleven when “The Bay of Pigs” occurred so I won’t be relying on my memory, either.) More important than its contribution to world history, however is the contribution this film makes to cinematic history. From an artistic point of view, it’s a must-see.

We’re Going to Cuba!

¡Hola Cuba!

I am very happy to announce that my (new) husband and I are embarking on my next (also his next, but our first) adventure early in January, 2016. We are going to Cuba! I have always wanted to go there, and now that Cuba and the USA have re-established diplomatic relations, I want to get there before the improving trade situation allows the export of whatever makes Cuba Cuba (which I have some theories about already, but no real knowledge), and the import of what does not. I hope that in the long run, the détente is going to be good for the average Cuban, but as Canadians well know, exposure to our powerful neighbour to the south (and Cuba’s north) can overwhelm what makes a nation distinctive.

As was the case with my trip to India, I will start by reading about the country I am about to visit: the Lonely Planet guide to Cuba is waiting for me at the post office as I write this. I am also brushing up on my Spanish, using an app called Duolingo. I have taken Spanish before – many times, in fact. I studied it at university for a year, and have taken conversational Spanish classes a couple of times since then. I am not sure how Cuban Spanish varies from that of other Spanish-speaking countries (of which, so far, I’ve visited only Mexico), but I will probably find out and write a post about it. In the meantime I am learning such useful terms as “The monkey sleeps above the parrots,” and “I eat in the basement,” which I am sure I will be using regularly on my trip.

I found the tour we are taking online at Responsible Travel, as I did with the India tour. Responsible Travel is dedicated to directing travellers to small, local travel companies that work to improve or at least contribute to the sustainability of the countries in which they are located. We have chosen a small-group tour from Locally Sourced Cuba, that involves local modes of transport, and accommodation with Cuban families at casas particulares.

My husband’s experience with travel has mostly involved renting a car, staying in hotels, and driving around at his own pace, so this will be a new approach for him.

We are leaving in early January, and we will be travelling for ten days. The actual tour leaves from Havana and includes the cities of Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, and Vinales, before returning to Havana. At that point we will go to Varadero on our own for a few days of sun. I learned on my last trip that the perfect way to end an intensive tour is to take some time for total relaxation before returning home. That will give us some time to process everything we’ve seen (and allow me to catch up on my blog posts).

I gather that internet access is almost non-existent in most places in Cuba, so although I will be writing about each day’s travel, I have no idea when I’ll be able to post my various installments. Perhaps not until I get home.

All that is still a long way in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping you posted on my preparations.