like this makes you dream of warmer places. This time last year I was going through the
final preparations for a trip to Varadero, Cuba. This involved learning as much as I could
about the people and culture and customs and language and history as the Internet would
allow in a short amount of time.
I would recommend this destination for anyone who would like to escape from our
brutal Canadian Prairie winter, even if it's just for a week or two. The people are very
friendly, the weather (even when the Cuban peoples thought it was a cold day) was still
gorgeous, and the Canadian Dollar goes a long, long way.
Most travelers to Varadero go there for the beautiful beaches, but the best part for me
was just getting out in the streets (I'm a prolific walker) and soaking up the culture as I also
basked in the heat. I walked the main streets and back streets with my camera, and got to
see some of the sites and parts of Cuban culture that many tourists might have missed.
Everything I personally needed I managed to fit into my carry on bag (and still stayed
within the weight allowance), so I was able to completely fill my larger stow away bag
with things to give away to the people that I met. I filled that suitcase with medications, toys,
toiletries, reusable shopping bags, ball caps, sun glasses, and many other useful items that
the Cuban peoples might want or need and that they might otherwise have difficulty finding
or affording themselves.
One of the most memorable experiences from that trip was on one of my daily strolls
down to the main market (a couple of miles each way). I passed a local hair salon on the
main street and inside of a fenced court yard where a couple of young boys playing at a
round plastic deck table, using it as a circular race track, and racing rocks (its what they
had) pretending that these stones where race cars.
I walked back to my resort (again, a couple of miles each way) loaded up a reusable bag
with several Matchbox cars and a pair of matched scale Coca-Cola Tractor Trailer
toys (and a large handful of temporary Tattoo's) to drop off for these kids as I went by the
next time. The kids where off playing, and using my very limited Spanish with their mother
I asked if she had two young boys, and she rolled her eyes thinking, "what have they done
this time!" I explained (with the help of another bilingual and helpful Cuban passing by) that
the kids had done nothing wrong, but could she please give them the toys I'd brought with me.
Those kids never did know which tourist dropped these things off for them (and that's
the way I wanted it), but the next time I walked by there, the number of kids playing at
that table (their imaginary race track) had grown from two to about a dozen. Some where
racing cars and trucks, some the Semi-trucks, and a couple where racing the box's that the
Semi's had came in (they had pictures of the Tractor-Trailer units on the box's). These kids
where all covered in temporary Tattoos. That was something that I'll remember forever.
Telling my tales in the evenings back on the resort encouraged others to venture further
than the main streets and the beaches to seek out similar experiences. We do live in weird
times and there are lots of weird people out there, but as long as you find a local adult and
explain your Santa Claus intentions, give things away and quickly move on, there's no doubt
of your intentions. It's only a minute or two of their time, and yours.
My favorite picture from that whole trip also took place on one of my many daily strolls.
It was a friends birthday, and I was walking down to what had become my favorite hole in
the wall cigar store (again, a couple of miles each way) and it was a particularly hot day
where you looked forward to the scattered pockets of shade offered by some trees that
overhung the sidewalks in places. While passing under one of these trees I felt something
bump of my shoulder, but as I turned around, I was completely alone on the sidewalk....
Then I heard some giggling. This was in early January and the kids where on a break from
school. I looked up towards the laughter in the tree and there had to be half a dozen kids
hidden up there with a large rubber spider on a fishing line that they'd drop on the tourists
as they go by. They got a bit nervous once I spotted them, but I started laughing so hard
and dug out my camera that they relaxed and I came away with this picture.
In Varadero, Cuba I felt safer than I do in my own neighbourhood at home. For anyone
hoping to venture away from our not so nice Canadian winter this year, I highly recommend
this as a destination.