Ironically, it wasn’t the ice storm itself that delayed my flight to Varadero, Cuba this morning but the resultant partial power outage that affected the conveyor belt that carries our luggage to the airplane. So they could fly the airplane but they just couldn’t get our suitcases on it. Kinda funny. But alas, the luggage got loaded and off we went. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m about to spend a week in the sun, just me and my books.
I. Love. Reading. Learning stuff. Anything, really.
Once arrived to the airport in Cuba, I board the shuttle bus along with all the other package deal travellers just like me. As the bus pulls out of the airport, the guide is blathering on her microphone about day tours this and rent-a-car that. Soon we pass open fields and palm trees then small farms with many livestock (donkeys?) then poor, crowded but colourful little villages to, finally, the first hotel. It is not much of a step up from the modest townships we have just passed. The guide announces on the very loud P.A. system to the bus of eager tourists that one lady will be getting off here.
That lady was me.
This was my two-and-a-half star, all-inclusive hotel that I booked and, despite its low rating, could barely afford. But, I have learned in my six years as a teacher, that having two weeks plus off in the middle of the harsh, dark, Canadian winters alone while everyone else is still at work or with their families, I need to leave the country and do something exciting, create a distraction, or it’s just too boring and too depressing. Ironically, this winter I am in pretty good spirits and probably could have survived just fine at home in Toronto. But I didn’t know that when I prepared for the worst, the norm, back in October.
So here I am.
A flash of embarrassment spread over me as I exited the tour bus, but just as quickly I let it go. This trip is about me and the sun and my precious books and if anyone thinks they are better than me, the evil thought itself proves they are not. Besides, the world is never as harsh as I often first take it to be. I’m sure nobody gave the one lady leaving for her cheap hotel much of a second thought.
Hotel Oasis, 1956.
And I don’t think it’s seen a fresh coat of paint since. A nice Cuban man, whose name I asked twice but still could not catch, led me to my room. First he brought me down a long, musty, dark, dank-smelling corridor. Alright. Then we passed a terrace with discarded food and cigarette butts strewn about. Okey dokey. Finally, scarily, my room.
My room itself was actually quite fine; spacious, three beds, a TV, big bathroom, even an air-conditioner. However. When I went to open the drawer of the bureau, it came apart. I had to snap it back together and then simply closed it. I opened my large window to a beautiful palm tree…that had garbage in it. Old newspapers and beer cans, right there, ornamenting the beautiful, tropical plant. Three of the four lamps had no light bulbs. The man actually went looking in other rooms for bulbs when I requested them. I had to laugh. After all, I’ve a shower and a bed; what more do I need? Ironically, it was in Paris the past two summers that I learned to live with the bare minimum in their tiny apartments with no air-conditioning. So despite the lack of luxury, I knew I would be just fine here.
Welcome to paradise, Christina!
Ironically, I changed into the extravagantly expensive bikini that I bought in Australia two winter breaks ago (I only ended up buying it because I was too embarrassed to admit it was too costly in front of my then-super-rich boyfriend who had sent me the plane ticket to Brisbane via email one day, to my complete surprise and delight). This would be the first time I am wearing the lavish, useless thing. It is cute, though. Then I headed downstairs to the pool.
It was noon and there weren’t too many people around. I counted five couples. And me. I decided to walk to the beach instead. Insanely, there was nobody there. My own private Idaho. I waded across the smooth, brown sugar beach and into the warm and beautiful cobalt, sapphire and emerald waters. I took some photos. I picked up a fossilized rock and tossed it in my bag. I gave thanks to the gentle warmth of the sun and accepted without bitterness my loneliness.
As I found out later in the week when we wandered further down the beach, it is impossible to find an expanse of such private, quiet beach over there in Four or Five Star Land where it is so much more densely-populated and commercially-developed and simply trop serrée. Also, everyone here at Oasis is so very friendly, staff and travellers alike. Well you can’t have your nose too far up in the air staying at a place like this, can you? So everyone is down-to-Earth and I’m meeting many nice people and having a lovely time, not a small thing to say from the self-proclaimed loner who often states she “doesn’t like people.”
And. Get this. It turns out that pretty much all of Québec is here, too. So, what a wonderful surprise, I have been speaking French all week! I have better luck to start with Bonjour then Hello or even Ola. In fact, I made the joke: if Québec really wants to separate, all they have to do is not come back from their winter vacation here. Ha.
Proud of my little witticism, I am.
So it turns out I am glad to be exactly where I am. This appreciation of exactly what I have makes me even happier than the Cuban sun on my face and the Varaderolicious breeze in my hair.
I spend the days by the pool then the beach then the pool then the beach then into town then exploring through neighbourhoods then repeat. The sun is strong but, save for one afternoon, not overbearing. Just perfect. I read my current book: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. My precious cousin Danny told me that I absolutely must read this and quite frankly its wisdom and uniquely sane take on things, this world, this life, couldn’t have come at a more welcome time. I need to stop viewing my differentness, my innate inability to fit in coupled with my not wanting to anyway, from a healthy lens and not from fear of being just like my crazy mother. This book is giving me that lens.
Thank you, Precious Cousin Danny.
As the week progresses, I find more charming characteristics about my room: smear stains of a reddish-brown colour, I kid you not, on the bedspread of one of my three single beds (thank goodness for the other two), the air-conditioner doesn’t work (it is simply a fan in the same way that that drop-dead gorgeous supermodel prostitute on Church Street is simply a man), and a wooden slat from my door broke off and scratched my arm one day as I was leaving.
Still I can’t help but laugh.
Because at the end of the day, who cares, already? Honestly. It’s twenty-eight degrees outside and I am in perfect health and Séraphine de Senlis started her painting career at the age of fifty-eight and I am only thirty-nine and so far in this life I can still smile. I’m proud that I can make do with little and the best of a situation. There is an ice storm and searingly cold temperatures back in Toronto. But me? I am in Cuba. Hotel Oasis, 1956, where the glass is half full, goddamnit. I can see that clearly, happily.