The year was 2014, and for 2 years, the lovely woman who is now my wife, had been suggesting we take a trip together. She was, and is still, an avid traveler and has a work schedule that allows her to take several trips a year. I, on the other hand, was a workaholic and a slave to his retail management position. Also, I had never been on a real vacation in my life and therefore, had never budgeted for one. I just didn’t see it happening any time soon.
That didn’t stop Tina. She was persistent in bringing me options of destinations, resorts, packages, and prices. This may have been old hat for her, but for me it was information overload. I just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) commit to any of the options. Finally, after a particularly stressful day, she made the suggestion that we could go to Cuba. It would be really cheap, forgoing her usual 4 to 4.5 star resorts, for a 3.5 star for a 7-day all-inclusive vacation at the end of January.
When she gave me the price of $525 CAD, I finally caved and said ok. She booked it 30 minutes later. It seemed we were off to Cuba, and I was having the first real vacation of my life.
Being a newbie, I spent endless hours going over the website looking at details of the package and the resort. I read so many reviews, I felt as if I lived there. I looked at every possible picture of the place and the surrounding area. I started reading about Cuba. It’s history, it’s people, it’s culture, language, food….everything. The impossible was happening. I was starting to get excited!
When the day finally arrived, we drove to Toronto to spend the night, and took the hotel shuttle to the airport the following morning. The flight was uneventful, albeit a little longer than any of my previous flights, until we were over the Caribbean. I remember looking down and seeing the water. Even at our height, it was such a beautiful turquoise blue. Shadows of the clouds dotting the surface here and there added depth and substance to the view. I would pretend some of the smaller shadows were tiny islands. You know, the kind where you’re shipwrecked and sit under a palm tree waiting for your rescue. It was mesmerizing.
The moment that the island country finally did come into view was also memorable. It was the first time I’d seen jungle from any angle, and seeing it from above was disconcerting. It was also very cool to see the geography and topography change so quickly. One minute, farms, then deserts, then mountains, then jungle. I couldn’t wait to experience this exotic location up close and personal.
“Holy sh#t that’s hot!” …and humid! Like a slap in the face with a big ol’ wet hand. Compared to the weather we had just left behind in Toronto, it was almost stifling. Still, I knew that once I had a chance to change into shorts and flip-flops, I would be loving every minute of the heat.
Quickly clearing customs, we boarded the bus to the resort, an hour away. Hey! Guess what? They sell cold beer on the bus! One US dollar!! Are you kidding me right now? Take my money! Out of the way amateurs! I’m a CANADIAN! I’m sure I can deplete the supply in the cooler long before we get to the resort. Sorry bus-mates!
Arriving at the resort was also a new experience for me. It seems they have dozens and dozens of resorts, all along the same stretch of beach. I’d never seen so many hotels so close together in one location before. Interesting! Ours turned out to be a bit older, but very colorful. The Club Amigo Caracol. (I think the name has changed since we were there) A pretty basic resort, as resorts go, but the beach was great! Hot, white sand, warm water with medium size waves coming in, and a view of a wreck, beached on a sandbar a ways off shore. We didn’t waste any time snagging a couple of lounge chairs and towels and lying back to soak in the sun.
I hear a lot of people say they won’t stay in anything less than a 4.5 or 5 star resort. I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest difference separating those resorts from our 3.5 star choice, was the decor and furnishings in the rooms. The beach is the same, the food is pretty much the same, the service and amenities are very similar, the staff are the same, and the excursions offered are the same. If your priority is having a fancy room with fancy furnishings and chic decor, then I encourage you to spend the extra money. Meanwhile, we will likely be sitting right beside you on the same beach, enjoying the same views, weather, food, drinks and friendly service from the same staff. Love it!
We definitely had options for several excursions, but I had already decided that this first vacation of mine was going to be spent “re-charging my batteries”. Lounging on the beach with my e-reader and my music and an un-ending supply of cold beer, was all that I had planned for the 7 days. Thank you very much!
We took in some of the resort entertainment once or twice. We also accepted an offer from one of the locals we met on the beach to take a carriage ride to a private beach, and dine on surf and turf at his sister’s home. Incredible! And two days before we were to head back to Canada, I discovered this thing called a “swim-up-bar”. Have you ever heard of such a thing?? I know I hadn’t. OMG, you HAVE to try one of these! It’s amazing! You get into one of the many pools at the resort, and you can “swim up” to a bar that serves you cold beer….while you sit in the water! It’s like the bar is in the water too! Crazy!! It only took me about an hour to get a great sunburn and a super buzz! Needless to say, it soon became my favourite location on the entire resort.
All too soon, it came to an end. I can say with complete sincerity, however, that I had accomplished my mission…and then some. My batteries were fully charged, AND…I had fun! Prior to arriving, I had experienced excitement…and now, I’m having FUN! It’s a crazy world I tell ya. I have no hesitation in saying that I truly loved my time at Santa Lucia, Cuba. I have been back to Cuba since then, and would happily go again, anytime. With my wife, that shouldn’t take too long. Cheers!