[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]
Visiting Cuba was like stepping back to a time when Bermuda was a major player and innovator in tourism. There were striking differences, but there were also strong similarities.
Staying at an ‘all inclusive resort’ near Holguin and getting out and about into the nearby Cuban countryside enabled my wife and I to see and sample the nearby Cuban countryside and its people. I saw that 2017 Cuba makes copious use of horse-drawn vehicles, single rider horses, motorcycles with sidecars, and one, two, and three passenger pedal cycles. As well as old American built cars.
Over three days, we used three kinds of transport. First excursion was in a new and modern coach. Second, in a local horse & buggy. Third, in a 1953 model Chevrolet. Our first excursion travel was on good roads. But with the buggy and old car, we went off the good roads onto some of Cuba’s dirt-tracks and less well-maintained roads.
From the houses and people that we saw and met. It was clear to us that there was not a great deal of wealth in the areas that we wandered into. But neither was there any display of great riches as evidenced by mansions and various grand chateaux.
Overall, we saw a common standard of dressing and decent living without the juxtaposition and intrusion of shanties and shacks as can offend the eye, nose, and conscience in other places that we have visited.
Our best lunch was at a waterside restaurant in a fishing village. With the sound of water burbling around the rocks, we enjoyed a meal of locally caught fried fish, rice-n-beans, banana chips [banana fries - if you like], and a salad, with everything presented on plates made in Cuba. Delicious food. Superb view. Friendly and attentive service.
Slideshow of photos from Mr Burchall’s visit to Cuba earlier this month:
Amongst the background given by the tri-lingual [Spanish, English, French] guide from our first outing, we had to agree that the Cuban countryside that we experienced was a safe environment populated by people who were universally friendly and welcoming. We had no feeling that there were any crime-ridden ‘no-go’ areas.
Judging by the identifiable tourists that we saw motor-cycling, pedaling, walking, and hiking, it was evident that other tourists were completely comfortable going about this countryside without fearing for their safety.
That feeling of safety permeated the whole resort. Late night, wandering back from that night’s entertainment, following paths that were lit but not brightly, we felt safe and secure even though there was no presence of overt ‘security’.
The resort had swimming pools, a beach, and local entertainment every night; with that local entertainment delivering polished performances. There were four different themed restaurants offering a la carte meals, a buffet serving three meals a day, and a snack bar, with booze on offer, that operated 24/7.
I usually breakfasted on fresh ripe paw-paw – something I hadn’t regularly had since I was a teenager – and fresh pineapple. My orange juice came from oranges grown in Cuban orchards, as did the coffee.
What did it cost us? Turns out that the two of us paid about $200[US] a day for a room with a view and with all meals, snacks, wine, drinks, coffee, etc… included. Excursions were extra.
However, and as can be expected in any lesser developed countries, there were major imperfections – as compared to developed countries with advanced economies.
The hot water supply to the whole resort went on the blink for about three days. I found myself cringing under a cold shower – something I hadn’t done since my Regiment days in 1987 and before. But the hot water problem got fixed and the good life returned. Brown-outs a couple of times, but not of any duration.
Back in Bermuda, and comparing Bermuda and Cuba, it was clear to me that Cuba has enormous tourism potential. This potential is on the verge of being further developed.
One thing sticks in my memory. Our guide on the first excursion told us that Land Destination Cuba gets about four million [4,000,000] tourists a year, with about one million [1,000,000] coming from Canada.
That number burned into my memory. It means that every year, one million Canadians choose to board an aircraft in Winnipeg, Halifax, Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, etc, bypass Bermuda by flying as much as an extra thousand miles, and take a holiday in Cuba. In 2014, Land Destination Bermuda got just under 30,000 Air Arriving Canadian tourists.
The airport? Smaller than our LFW. Fancy? No, but despite irritating bureaucratic snaffles, still relatively efficient at moving travelers from aircraft to waiting cars and buses.
Airport traffic? The signs showed that Holguin’s airport had around 18 commercial flights per day with each flight – mostly budget airlines – probably as full as our fully subscribed AA flight. And Holguin’s airport is only one of Cuba’s several airports.
Is today’s Cuba a perfect Land Destination? Not yet. Cuba operates below a standard that we Bermudians and many Americans take for granted.
But Cuba has enormous potential.
- Larry Burchall
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