Have you ever had one of those nights where you couldn’t tell if you were in a bizarre dream or it was real? Our first night in Cuba was exactly that!
Canadians have been flocking to Cuba to escape the bone chilling winters of Canada for decades.
Finally it was our turn and we couldn’t wait for our tropical beach vacation to begin!!
The island of white sandy beaches, crystal clear aqua blue waters, palm trees swaying in the breeze, cool 1950 classic American taxis, and cheap all-inclusive packages. Sounds like the perfect dream island, doesn’t it?
After a little internet research it was obvious Cuba was going to be a tad different. The food, discrepancy in the star rating of resorts, tipping your maid with feminine hygiene products, etc…
There was also the matter of my mother adamant about us getting Hep A shots, needing to bring a suitcase full of chips, ketchup, spices and peanut butter. Apparently Cuba doesn’t have those. But with so many people raving about Cuba, we knew it couldn’t be as bad as the worst reviews we read online. I mean people exaggerate on those things, right?
Well, after our first night in Cuba we really started to wonder what in the world we got ourselves into.
Arriving at our “5 star” Cuban resort, we stepped up to the check-in counter and had a rousing game of charades with a very nice Spanish-speaking lady. I knew we were going to a Spanish-speaking country, but for some reason I thought I would be able to be perfectly understood in English.
I know… why did I think that?
That’s when the feeling of being in a bizzare dream started to set in for me.
I was up for the challenge though and instantly ramped up my positivity as my kids were taking it all in. No way was I going to be one of those complaining dads on vacation.
“Stay positive kids! We are in a different country and we just need to embrace it” was my mantra.
9:30pm – It was dark, muggy, we hadn’t eaten dinner, the music was loud in the lobby, and my kids were teetering between melt down and uncontrollable giggles. You know the phase. Bed time and food was critical.
We were in Cuba for a destination wedding of my brother’s and his lovely Peruvian wife-to-be. As much as we tried to prepare our kids for a culture clash between Canadian family and friends and Peruvian family and friends, nothing could have prepared my 9 year old for the onslaught of unknown Peruvian aunties diving in for neck kisses and hugs. I tried to quickly explain to my son that it’s all okay as we sort of know these people now.
My explanation was not good enough.
He went into a mild state of shock as strangers repeatedly entered his much-loved personal space.
Overcome by fatigue, hunger, and culture clash confusion, I later noticed my son with tears in his eyes sitting in a corner by himself.
I think that’s when the feeling of being in a bizarre dream set in for my middle child.
10:30pm – “Must get kids food. Must get kids to bed” kept running through my mind.
After our very lengthy check-in process, a nice Spanish-only speaking bellboy helped us navigate to our room for the week. We went this way and that, through dark hallways and up an elevator with no idea how to get back where we started.
But it didn’t matter. We were finally in our hotel room and all would be okay… so I thought.
I hear a bellow from the other room, “Hey dad the toilet doesn’t work!” Determined to stay positive for the whole family I bellow back, “That’s okay son, it’s Cuba”.
11:00pm We must get food. I somehow figure out that I am supposed to dial 700 in order to get the front desk. No answer. I then learn to dial 5040 for room service. No answer.
That’s okay. We will just find our way to food somehow.
And then it happened.
I was looking for some sort of information to understand where the 24/7 restaurants are in the resort, but everything was in Spanish. I looked up from the desk and noticed the lightbulb literally smoking above me. “Ahhhh! Someone quick turn off the light!” We found the light switch just in time. However, at that exact moment the light across the room made a big POP! and the room went black.
My 11 year old daughter, who was the most skeptical about visiting Cuba, now reached her breaking point. Running for the balcony screaming and crying I heard through uncontrollable sobs “I WANT TO GO HOME!!!”.
Great. “Not to worry kids. Stay positive. We are, after all, in a different country.” I was determined to not allow smoking and popping lights get us down.
That’s when I think the feeling of being in a bizarre dream set in for my daughter.
After about 10 minutes of convincing her that the room wouldn’t actually explode, my daughter eventually agreed to release her death grip on the balcony railing. She sprinted across the room directly out the other side.
11:30pm The ultimate quest for food begins.
Turned around and now completely lost between poorly lit corridors, unmarked doors, and very nice Spanish speaking maids sending us in opposite directions, I encouraged my family to not give up hope.
12:00am We finally found a restaurant still open and Gretta quickly set out to order from the menu while I let the front desk know that our room may explode and we have no electricity. I’m not going to lie… I was a little nervous leaving the family not knowing if I would ever see them again.
On the 24/7 menu you could order a hotdog, a hamburger, or a club sandwich. We ordered all three.
The hamburger came in what we believe was a bun with unknown meat inside. Same with the hot dog, just longer. The club sandwich was my favourite as it was three pieces of bread with unknown meat. No veggies. No ketchup. No mustard. No sauces.
My youngest son took one look at his plate with a single hot dog on it and 10 french fries.
That’s when I think the feeling of being in a bizarre dream set in for my third child.
He exclaimed “I love this place!” No fruit. No veggies. No sauces. This was his kind of place.
Which brings us to 1:00am.
That’s when the maintenance man showed up at our hotel room door. He opened up the breaker box and said a bunch of things in Spanish. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but it wasn’t good. I could make out one of the words as “impossibal” when inquiring about sleeping in the room tonight.
1:30am!!! – With some sort of meat product in our stomachs, we rested our weary heads on new pillows in a new hotel room down the hall with working electricity and air conditioning.
Food. Sleep. First night in Cuba – mission accomplished.
The next morning we all woke up and everything really did seem like a bizarre dream.
It’s amazing how distant those first night memories in Cuba became after we saw the palm trees, the white sandy beaches, the bright yellow sun and the aqua blue water. We got our bathing suits on, met up with the family and had the best week ever in Cuba!
The staff at the resort were all very friendly. We learned the layout of the resort, found the buffet, and everything was on the up and up.
Maybe our first night in Cuba was a bizarre dream after all?
I can tell you that without a doubt the whole family is looking forward to one day going back to Cuba… but definitely arriving in the daylight hours next time.