Varadero, Cuba: Small coconut, big coconut

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Near the end of our trip, we’d been asked by the kind gentleman in the blue cap, who we saw tending the garden every morning by our room, if we’d like some coconuts. Yes, please! Fresh coconut water on a hot spring day was heavenly. Something I would’ve loved to have tried though, was climb a tree and knock down a coconut myself.

Someone had been hard at work building this adorable elephant in the sand

Someone had been hard at work building this adorable elephant in the sand

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The second time we had coconuts, which we’d purchased from a stand by the beach, my sister was so bent on eating the meat that she flung her coconut on the floor of our room, hoping to smash it in two. (Now we know that if there’d been an earthquake at the resort, it was definitely her sassy coconut’s doing.)

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On our last night, during a Cuban dance performance, one of our friends — he had beautiful clear green eyes — had asked me to join him, and I knew what to do at that point: I pointed to my sister instead. That I put her on the spot and she was shy because of how handsome he was — which she didn’t care to admit, and let’s be real, everyone was watching — made for a comical and sweet moment. She was fantastic and she had a good time. Bystanders from the crowd joined in and it became a very fun night.

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I’ll miss Cuba and the people, most definitely. I’ll also miss spending time with the big sis — waking up and eating together, sharing jokes and laughing, and just having a relaxing time.

Havana, Cuba: A smile through a crack

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On the way to Havana, the bus stopped at this infamous piña colada shack for tourists to take a washroom break and grab refreshments. We had a choice of ordering the drink in a glass for 3 pesos, or in a fresh pineapple for 5. Of course we decided on the latter. And wow, this piña colada really was the best ever! Unbelievably rich and creamy.

Note that if you’re visiting Havana, be sure to bring toilet paper with you because you won’t be having access to any — that is, unless you feel like living life on the sexy lane, and drying yourself out in the sun and being one with nature.

La Bodeguita del Medio, a restaurant-bar in Old Havana, has become a go-to spot for tourists, as it’s been frequented by famous writers such as Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Ernest Hemingway. If you visit flea markets, you’d see numerous paintings of this bar floating around.

Visiting Havana was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip to Cuba. I would’ve loved to have spent days and nights learning and exploring, and trying new things, even in the heat. The restless adventurer in me is never satisfied; she just wants to keep moving. It’s quite unfortunate, however, that we had only a day to explore the city.

Looking in retrospect, rather than staying at a resort and basking in the sun on the beach, I would’ve chosen to stay in a small residence and eat street food and experience life as a local instead. While I appreciated my time at the resort, it was important for me to escape the confines of this gated community of affluence, this environment of false perfection, that masked the realities of the inequalities existing all around us. I longed for imperfection. I longed to witness and experience everyday life out there in its most raw and authentic state. I longed to feel, for something to strike my soul.

The highlight of Havana was our visit to a children’s school. Through the crack of a classroom door, a beautiful little girl of about six years old with golden blonde hair, smiled and waved at my sister and me. Of course, we kindly smiled and waved back at her. Moments like these — watching children learn in school and exchanging smiles with a child — constitute life in all its authenticity, and bring me great joy.

I was also deeply touched when a friend came across a boy who, instead of eating the croissant she gave him, placed it in his pocket and saved it for his family. It’s in such a split second, which is so easily overlooked, that one witnesses the beauty of life — love, patience, dedication, sacrifice. I felt deeply with him from a human being to another, and from a heart to another. Had I been in his shoes, I would’ve done the same for those I love.

As time flies, I’m beginning to truly feel in all my being that when I choose to walk through life with an open heart and mind, and to operate from a place of acceptance, understanding, and compassion, beauty is everywhere, in all people, in all places, in all circumstances. And my brief visit to Havana has taught me a great deal about myself, and what I value most in my life.

Varadero, Cuba: A rock, not a conch

Our first day hunting for seashells and conches involved major teamwork. Since neither of us can swim or dive, we resorted to holding each other’s arms while the other grabbed shells from under the water with their feet. My sister died of laughter when, excitedly, I exclaimed to the world that I’d found a conch, only to realize that it was a big rock. Biggest fail. We had a day of intense laughter, that’s for sure.

Varadero, Cuba: Blanket burrito

Iberostar Varadero Resort

May 25 – June 1, 2014

On our first day checking in, I noted just how beautiful the resort was. The staff was just as lovely, if not more so. At every twist and turn we ventured, we were greeted by a smile and a hola, a heart-warming surprise!

Our main eat throughout the trip was at the buffet, although they do have restaurants and food shacks around the resort, which we also tried. I lived and breathed the dessert section at the buffet during our stay, though, I ain’t gon’ lie. My body was always ready for it.

Breakfast marked our favourite time of the day. That feeling you get when you leave your air conditioned room early in the morning to go have a bite, while most of the guests are still asleep and the resort’s empty and quiet, is wonderful. We also enjoyed seeing our server friend, C, every morning at breakfast. I think he was bent on getting us drunk first thing in the morning. “Some wine? Beer?” What a jokester.

Our first night there was quite hilarious. After my sister had told me about her untimely encounter with a tiny lizard in the Dominican, I pretty much slept with one eye open. It was the prospect of these little critters crawling under my pjs — especially because we housed the first floor — that caused me mental pain. Had I known about this earlier, I would’ve brought adult diapers and worn them to sleep.