Dave and I like to travel independently. We’re not big on the tour thing.
I guess I just don’t like the thought of getting stuck with someone we don’t get along with, having to spend our entire travel period avoiding them via a series of awkward manoeuvres.
Sometimes we have to do it though, like hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – there’s no way to do this without a guide. But during the four day hike we ended up meeting a great bunch of people and enjoyed everyone’s company, making some firm friends along the way.
Giving up our independence
So it changed my mind about the independent travel a little. I still loved going off on our own, but I was open to travelling a little more ‘dependently’.
And it was with this in mind that I booked an all-inclusive resort in Cuba for three nights. It seemed like an easy option – all meals paid for, accommodation at a resort on the beach, and a chance to completely relax.
Many travellers who come to Cuba opt for the all-inclusive style of travel. I can see why – it’s extremely easy. You don’t have to organise anything. You simply slide out of bed, throw on your bathers underneath some beach clothes and then head to the buffet breakfast on the way to the pool.
Then you spend your day moving between the pool and the beach, breaking only to eat another buffet, but this time for lunch.
I’d imagined it’d be like this. But Cuba is different from nearly first-world Mexico… and it wasn’t as luxurious as Dreams Resorts. At all.
Entertainment at the all-inclusive
When evening falls, you shower and dress in to something slightly less casual than your swimsuit, and eat your buffet dinner. And then you watch the entertainment show put on by the resort each evening.
For our resort Belive this consisted of a ‘romantic night’ where dancers threw themselves into the air to Celine Dion, an ‘aquatic night’ where flexible swimmers with pincers over their noses were tossed into the air by bare chested men and spun around before neatly splashing into the pool, and finally, ‘Cuban night’ where a performer sung Cuban music dressed head-to-toe in sequins followed by yet more dancers who performed some traditional Cuban dance moves.
But I get it. You don’t have a waste a single brain cell operating in this kind of travel mode. A zombie could learn the bed-beach-bar-bed route, especially after a two week period. And I guess if you’re someone who has an extremely stressful job back at home, acting like a zombie for two weeks at a time could be somewhat relaxing. You don’t have to use your brain in any shape or form, and I guess this allows many to completely chill out.
Staring at my navel
It seems like some sort of old mode of travelling though. Hardly dipping a toe into the country’s culture, the only local people you’ll see are those you bump into coming out of your room as they go in to change the sheets.
It certainly felt like that in the Verdaro resort town. There were Germans, Russians, Brits… but where the hell were the Cubans?
Note: I later discovered that the communist government awards the star rating… so it’s hardly up-to-date with international hotel standards.
The foyer was dusty pink with a curved ceiling from which hung glass balls in a somewhat vintage-esque chandelier. The reception desk had one computer – a large clunky thing that was attached to an even larger printer.
And at the end of the room was a bar, where drinks were free day and night.
Yes, it was an all-inclusive with alcohol.
Making the most of the amenities
My first thought was that I should be hurriedly making use of this free booze, downing as many rum and cokes as I could. And so I did. But after three I started to feel a little woozy as I tottered down to the ocean, and thought maybe I should hold off a little.
But what else was there to do but get blind drunk? Our entire stay was consisting of eating, sleeping and swimming. Which I guess is what lots of people like to do on holiday, but not us.
Escaping the all-inclusive
We spoke to the travel agent, whose desk was next to the PR person’s in the lobby. Who knows what the PR’s job was – promoting an all-inclusive throughout a Communist country via internet that works once a week for five minutes? Speaking to journalists around the world and offering them junkets to Cuba where they could stare at their navels for endless days at the all-inclusive? Whatever it was, she seemed perpetually busy shuffling through mounds of paperwork.
Anyway, we told the travel agent we were looking to explore the rest of Cuba and could he please get us some bus tickets to Trinidad.
“You want a tour there?”
“No!” Dave and I answered in unison.
“Good for you. You’re going to get out of here and see the ‘real Cuba’.” I grinned at him, glad I wasn’t the only person who thought an all-inclusive was more than a little lacking in the cultural side of things.
“We call this resort area of the country ‘plastic Cuba’,” he replied to my smile. “Because all of it is fake.”
Heading back to the ‘real’ Cuba
The next morning we were on the bus, cruising towards Trinidad. Earlier, three other independent travellers had pushed their backpacks under the bus alongside us. There wasn’t a suitcase in sight.
After an hour, we stopped at a roadside bar where we were offered rum and cokes. They cost $3.50 a pop. But as I stepped back on board the bus with my second drink in hand, I smiled myself.
It was the best $3.50 I’d spent. I was over the all-inclusive.