It’s a sticky summer day in Varadero, Cuba, as Terry and I hurry through frustratingly long lines of security checks, where our photos are taken, luggage x-rayed and insurance presented to female staff dressed in wickedly short skirts at the airport.
Tourists are queuing up to convert Canadian dollars into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) – the tourist currency and equivalent to one U.S dollar. Terry and I do the same. But there is no time for counting money as the coach driver, Jorge pronounced “Horhay,” is yelling for us to hurry up! And we rush to get on the coach and leave the airport.
Passengers on the coach purchase cans of cerveza Cristal, a Cuban beer, while Jorge points to all the landmarks and starving cows on the side of the road.
The coach twists and turns through villages dotted along the coast. These villages once wrestled livelihoods from the sea, but now cast their hopes more and more towards the tourism industry.
The villages remind me of one of my favourite books: The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. It’s a small book, only 140 pages. I read it whenever I feel small in a big world. I have read it hundreds of times.
The plot is simple. An aging Cuban fisherman named Santiago fishes alone far out on the Gulf Stream where nobody else dares to go. There he hooks a massive marlin: 18 feet long.
For two days and nights the fish tows Santiago in his small skiff. They bob along the horizon. Then the line rips through the calluses of Santiago’s weathered and scarred hands and the marlin escapes. His admiration for the fish’s courage and endurance becomes love.
On the third day, Santiago catches the marlin and drives his harpoon into its heart. He still loves it after it is dead. The old fisherman uses all his strength defending the marlin from the sharks. Then he sails back through the night and falls asleep in his shack. In the morning, all the sharks have left him is a skeleton.
The moral of the story is to never give up. Nothing else matters. Not even the sharks that come afterwards. This was the old man’s most notable life experience. His One Good Thing.
As I gaze out the coach window, ancient cars surviving Fidel Castro’s Revolution cruise past as we near the resorts.
Then Terry and I notice as we gather our bags that we are short 10 Cuban Pesos, and I can’t help but feel mad at Jorge for rushing us at the airport. I am told this happens to a lot of tourists, but Terry informs me not to worry and enjoy the holiday.
We are staying in an all-inclusive Four Star resort, Mecure Playa de Oro. It is the third stop. And after checking in, Terry and I are taken to the fourth floor where our room is located. We have a balcony with incredible views of the beach and tropical gardens, below.
The resort has three restaurants, a 24 hour coffee bar, one large swimming pool that divides into two, a disco, gym, sauna, massage parlour, four bars with unlimited drinks, Wi-Fi available in the lobby, and everything is accessible for people with restricted mobility.
As the day comes to a close, Terry and I walk along the white sandy beach listening to the powerful sounds of distant thunder across the ocean combined with the rhythmic sounds of hypnotic ocean waves.
We watch until the only light is the glow of the moon and the sparks of lightning zig-zagging across the troubled waves.