During the dreary winter of 2008-2009, I was desperate for a beach. I'd been to Costa Rica several times and was keen to go again but the gods of travel were not smiling on such an adventure. The cost of flights was soaring but my beach-sand budget was not. So, I sought a new sun spot.
More by fluke than plan, I ended up on a warm brown beach in Cuba with one of my dearest chums, Martine. We opted for Club Amigo Marea del Portillo mainly because it was cheap; being independent-minded women, we were hesitant to book into an all-inclusive resort. The concept was not our usual style or mode of travel but we talked ourselves into it because the place sounded very laid back and low key. It offered more outdoorsy options than a city-based resort would have and, best of all, it was very affordable. For less than the price of a seat on a plane to Costa Rica, we could spend a week by the ocean in Cuba and everything would be covered - flight, accommodation and the requisites to eat, drink and be merry.
At the end of the week, we both had sore cheeks from smiling so much. We laughed ourselves silly, hiked, swam, danced and had an absolutely fabulous time. And, we discovered, many Canadians considered this humble resort their second home; they returned time and again for happy holidays, warmly welcomed by friends on staff and in the surrounding community. I was not quite hooked yet but I was certainly pleased with our accidental choice of resorts.
That first trip was in April of 2009. By the following fall, I was booked for a second trip to the same place but, once again, it hadn't been at the top of my travel list. Another of my dearest friends, Penny, had finally been talked into going on a husband-free holiday - with me and her sister Laurie. We'd hoped to go to a resort Laurie liked in Costa Rica, in an area I was familiar with. However, prices to that part of the earth were still sky high, so I suggested Cuba. Since I'd had such a great time at Marea del Portillo and had a wealth of photos to show them what the resort was like, I could reassure them they would be quite comfortable there.
By this time, yet another of my dearest friends had signed on - Wendy, who is generally game to go to a beach just about anytime, anywhere. She didn't meet Penny and Laurie until our flight to Cuba but I assured them that all would be well and we would get along fine. It was and we did.
On this trip, Wendy and I got to know Maykel, whom I'd met on my previous visit. We were intrigued by his interest in social justice issues and impressed with his intellect. In one conversation, he mentioned reading Shakespeare and commented that the English was a bit different. Indeed! Wendy and I both had the feeling that he was at some sort of crossroads in his life, and we agreed to do what we could to support and empower him to choose a good path.
I began thinking of ways to work with him to improve the lives of the people of that impoverished rural region. Ideas about possible projects were rambling through my mind in the wee hours of one morning when, all of a sudden, there was a boom, followed by a rumble. Then the bed shook as if it was possessed by a "Magic Fingers" massage device on steroids. Seconds passed. I was now wide awake, so I went out on my balcony to see what I could see.
I saw Wendy on her balcony. (We had second-floor cabana rooms beside each other.) We didn't see a mushroom cloud or any type of smoke, so we concluded there had not been an explosion. It must have been an earthquake, we decided, but wondered if there would be a subsequent tsunami. Being naturally curious, we headed down to the beach to see what was going on. We were fairly certain there would be no tsunami since none of the local animals seemed at all alarmed; they were not heading for high ground, just going about their normal morning routines.
A resident hog hiked toward home, checking the odd garbage can on her way. A frisky filly frolicked. Goats, birds and lizards were doing their usual things. The resort staff was stirring. Wendy and I strolled along the beach and admired the rising sun. We got some great photos - our reward for getting up at 5 a.m.! We also had a good talk; I told her what I'd been thinking about when the earth shook.
I'm not usually inclined to look for "signs" but I couldn't shake the feeling that this was sort of a cosmic confirmation of being on the right track. I felt like my "ah ha" moment - my idea about how I could work with Maykel to benefit the community - had been punctuated by an exclamation mark from the universe.
A door seemed to have been opened and I chose to walk through it. Metaphorically, I'm hiking around in a whole new environment, and I'm lovin' it! I'm not planning on saving the world but I hope to help a few people. That's the impetus behind the projects I've launched and why I've set up this blog.
This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.