VARADERO

A TRUCK WATERS THE FLOWERS IN A PARK AT THE END OF
THE BRIDGE BETWEEN SANTA MARTHA AND VARADERO

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NOTE: This story contains pictures, just click on the highlighted words.

Story and Photos by

LEE A. WOOD

With some airlines you only need your confirmation letter, or simply some ID, and you can pick up your ticket at the flight check-in counter.

2002 Thursday, May 16, while standing in line to check in, in the Cancun International Airport, a man approached and asked me if I had my ticket. I replied, ËYes'.

However, when I reached the check-in counter I was informed that the confirmation letter I had was not sufficient and I must have the proper ticket, which would be available, outside the airport, from the man whom had approached me earlier.

Outside, on the front stairs, the man had my ticket in his briefcase, but was unable to give it to me until he received confirmation from his company.

For over half an hour I waited, impatiently, for him to receive a phone call.

The problem was that I had purchased my ticket through a branch office of a small travel agency, Colors, and they had to physically take my money to the tour company, Havanatur, as they didn't have a credit account with Havanatur. (I've explained this more thoroughly in my Cancun, Mexico story.)

At the very last minute the phone call came through releasing my ticket.

In retrospect I wonder if the phone call may have arrived earlier if I had greased a palm. But I have no experience with greasing palms and never think about it, and wouldn't know how to go about it if I wanted to.

Anyway, I got on the plane and had a pleasant flight with Cubana Air, on a Russian built Yak 52. (More about that in my La Habana, Cuba story.)

When the man at the airport gave me my ticket he also gave me two tickets for the bus. One for the bus to Varadero and one for my return to La Habana. The first ticket also included my hotel confirmation.

I gave the first ticket to my bus driver but when I changed busses along the route, the first driver didn't give the ticket to the second driver and when I got to my hotel I wasn't able to just drop my bag and run to the beach. I couldn't check in. There was a very lengthy delay while phone calls and faxes were passed back and forth.

POSADA AQUAZUL

THIRD FLOOR FROM THE TOP - THE OPEN DOORS,
MY ROOM HAD TWO BALCONIES

Eventually the hotel desk clerk received a copy of the proper paper and I was able to get my room.

I had sought and purchased the cheapest reservations I could find. I would have booked flight only but I was told that Cuban Customs expects you to be able to tell them where your are going to stay and if you give them the name of a hotel at random they may just phone there to confirm.

My package included: return flight, Cancun - La Habana; return bus, La Habana - Varadero; hotel for five nights & breakfast (times 5).


TWO BEDS - TWO BALCONIES - LARGE CLOSET
EACH DAY THE CLEANING LADY WOULD LEAVE CLEAN TOWELS,
FOLDED IN DIFFERENT SHAPES, SWANS, HEARTS, ETC.
POOL

I stayed at the Posada Aquazul 13414, between 13th & 14th Calle (Street), Pra (1st.) ra. (Avenue.)

As it was off season, except for a few couples from Germany, I virtually had the hotel to myself.

For my first evening I had supper overlooking the pool.

I thought the waiter said that they didn't make wine in Cuba, I now believe he meant the hotel didn't stock Cuban wine, so I had a glass of red from Spain to accompany my braised beef dinner.

The dinning room offered a limited menu of: pork; beef; or spaghetti w/ cheese, actually large macaroni. All items on the menu were priced at $10.

DINNING ROOM

I was very disappointed to learn that all prices, despite the poor diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba, were in American dollars.

Cubans have their own money but never use it when dealing with tourists. Let me rephrase that., when dealing with folding money. When dealing with pocket change they have adapted metal coins that are equivalent to American coins. Quarters, dimes, nickels, none of which have any value outside of Cuba, but on the island are used, with tourists, rather than their own coins.

TRANSPORTATION IN VARADERO

(Train bus.)
ONE OF THE MANY FORMS
(Park and statue.)
OF PASSENGER SERVICE IN VARADERO
(City bus by the water.)
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SETTING FOR A COFFEE BREAK
(City bus.)
(Yellow train bus.) (Red train bus.)
(Worker«s bus, parked.)
ONE OF THE SMALLER WORKER'S BUSSES.
(Workers, heading home in the rain, on a big blue bus.)
COMMUTERS TO CARDENAS
(School bus on a residential street.)
COMMON TO CITIES AROUND THE WORLD,
A BIG YELLOW SCHOOL BUS
(horse & carriage & scooter.)
COMING OFF THE BRIDGE, INTO VARADERO

After supper I talked to the lady at the tourist booth in the lobby. I booked a full day cruise on the Jolly Roger for the following day. The full cruise, as compared to the dinner cruise, is actually two days. On one day you leave in the morning, visit the dolphins at the Delphinario, then board a catamaran and sail to the reefs where you go snorkelling. On the other day you go out to an island and sail back, into the sunset.

TOUR SALES

RISEL

(Dolphin.)
DELPHINARIO

Pictures of dolphins
(Man underwater.)
SNORKELING

Jolly Roger Snorkel Tour

SUNSET CRUISE

Jolly Roger Dinner Cruise

I later learned that the girl who works the tour booth works for a tour company which rents the space in the lobby from the hotel. Understandable. The strange thing is that , she is, in essence, an employee of the government, as the government owns the tour company. The government also owns the hotel. So therefore it is paying rent to itself.

Oh, and the tour boat, in competition with another tour boat that offers the same tour, also, both, owned by the government.

(Spanish Galleon.)
TOUR BOAT
GALLEON STYLE

After booking my tour I went for a walk in the dark, evening comes early in the tropics, or late, depending how far North you come from, and what time of year.

Across the street from the hotel I found a small restaurant and met two lads of Irish descent who now call Canada home but are currently based in Varadero for a Canadian company.

The snack shop offers a menu with all types of meals priced at only $1.00: pizza; pork steak; hamburger; etc. Each meal comes with rice, & bread. The rice is white with spices and black beans. Edible even to someone who doesn't like beans.

From the snack shop, or hotel, it is a short 2 block walk, down Calle 13, to the beach. I didn't notice, in the dark, but I walked past a small fenced yard with a small house, and a flag pole out front. The Canadian Consulate.

FROM THE HOTEL TO THE BEACH

(La Calle.)
LOOKING NORTH FROM Pra Ra
(La Calle.)
NORTH TO THE BEACH
(La Playa.)
LOOKING WEST
(La Playa.)
LOOKING EAST

There are many places in Varadero where you can buy souvenirs, including a couple of open markets.

ONE OF THE SOUVENIR MARKETS

(Open market.)

(Open market.) (Open market.)

When in Cancun, I noticed, the common dress for the working lady is a white top with dark blue skirt, in Varadero, it seems to be white top with light green skirt.

I found a couple of small stores that were still open and found that searching for `good' ice cream in Cuba is like trying to find `good' ice cream in Canada.

Though Cuba, theoretically has nothing to do with the USA. The ice cream industry, like that of Mexico and Canada, has been taken over by Nestl«'s.

I sure wish Canada and Mexico would opt out of NAFTA and kick Nestles back to the states so we could enjoy some real ice cream again.

I don't understand why Americans insist on exporting their terrible taste in: beer; chocolate; food; liquor; and tobacco to the rest of the world instead of importing good tasting products from other countries.

My first night in Cuba I left the windows of my room open for a breeze. During the night it got a bit chilly and I received visits from a couple of mosquitoes.

For the rest of my stay in Cuba, at night, I: kept my windows closed; pulled the curtains over the louvers; and never saw another mosquito.

VIEWS OF VARADERO FROM MY BALCONY AT THE POSADA AQUAZUL

(Pic. of ocean and roof tops.)
LOOKING NORTH
THE WHITE BUILDING TO THE RIGHT IS A SMALL SHOPPING PLAZA
THERE IS ANOTHER ACROSS THE STREET
THE WHITE BUILDING, IN THE CENTER, MAY BE THE CANADIAN CONSULATE
THE REST OF THE BUILDINGS ARE RESIDENTIAL

(Pic. of trees, ocean & rooftops.)
FROM MY RIGHT BALCONY,
LOOKING TO THE WEST
MY LOUVERED WINDOW,
MY LEFT, SMALLER, BALCONY AND
TO THE RIGHT, THE CARIBBEAN OCEAN
IN THE TREES, SOME LIGHT COMMERCIAL
(Pic. of trees,ocean & rooftops.)
FROM MY LEFT BALCONY,
LOOKING TO THE EAST
THE CARIBBEAN OCEAN ON THE LEFT,
AND THE NEIGHBOURING HOTEL IN THE NEXT BLOCK
MY RIGHT, WRAP AROUND, BALCONY
IN THE TREES, SOME RESIDENTIAL

(Panoramic pic. of Varadero from my balcony.)
LOOKING WEST TO NORTH
IN THE DISTANCE, A MAJOR HOTEL
ON THE NORTH WEST TIP OF THE ISLAND

(Panoramic pic. of Varadero from my balcony.)
LOOKING NORTH

(Panoramic pic. of Varadero from my balcony.)
LOOKING NORTH TO EAST TO THE NEXT HOTEL

(Night pic. of Varadero from my balcony.)
LOOKING WEST AT NIGHT
ALONG PRA RA (THE MAIN CALLE)
(Night pic. of Varadero from my balcony.)
LOOKING EAST AT NIGHT
THE CALLE BEHIND THE NEXT HOTEL

(Panoramic pic. of Varadero from my balcony.)
LOOKING WEST TO SOUTH
RESIDENTIAL AREA BEHIND THE NEXT HOTEL
MORE OCEAN TO THE SOUTH, BUT NO BEACHES

Though Varadero is portrayed as being on a peninsula it is, actually, because of the man made canal, an island.

The canal or, more correctly, two canals, as there is a lake in the middle, separate the hotel zone from the town of Santa Martha.

The Southerly part of the canal passes under the main street from Santa Martha to Varadero making it easy for the government to control access to the island.

A guard house sits in the middle of the bridge. During the tourist season, barriers on either side of the guard house control the flow of traffic and only, employees, residents, service personnel, and tourists are allowed on the island.

MAIN BRIDGE AND CANALS

(South portion of the canal.)
LOOKING SOUTH FROM THE BRIDGE
(Park and statue.)
A STATUE ON THE VARADERO END OF THE BRIDGE
(the bridge.)
A CEMENT TRUCK CROSSES THE BRIDGE
TOWARDS SANTA MARTHA
(The canal.)
LOOKING NORTH FROM THE BRIDGE
(The lake.)
THE LAKE BETWEEN THE CANALS.
A QUIET PLACE TO ROW OR FISH
(The North part of the canal.)
THE WESTERN SECTION OF CANAL
SEPARATES A LARGE RESORT FROM THE MAIN ISLAND

Just East of the main bridge, to the South of the main road, is a street that goes over another, smaller, bridge. This street goes into a small industrial area.

PICTURES FROM THE SMALL BRIDGE
(NOT SURE IF THIS IS A CANAL OR AN INLET)

(Water & boats & Posada Aquazul.)
LOOKING WEST.
IN THE BACKGROUND, THE POSADA AQUAZUL.
NOTE THE TREE GROWING,
IN THE PARTIALLY SUNKEN BOAT, AT THE QUAY
(Water & boats .)
LOOKING EAST.
NOTE THE PARTIALLY SUNKEN BOAT,
BETWEEN THE BUOYS

Internet services are available in most hotels. The one in my hotel wasn't working.

While I was there the snack shop across the street had just finished renovating a room and installed four computers.

They connect through a provider called Tuisla. To use it you prepay for your time by buying a card, much like a long distance calling card, and scratch the playing area on the back to get the code number.

Late one afternoon, as the roads were fairly deserted I thought it would be a could opportunity to try a scooter. As business was slow I thought price bargaining would be more to my advantage.

A found a vendor just up the street and as he was about to close in two hours I only rented it for two hours. Which, for a first time, I felt would be more than sufficient.

When you rent a scooter in Varadero your first stop must be the one and only service station. Which means you don't have to fill it up when you return it.

Purchase enough fuel for how long you wish to ride, about 1 litre per hour. If I remember correctly I put in $2 which was just over 2 litres.

From the service station, I made it back to my hotel, without killing myself, grabbed my sunglasses and off I went. For about five blocks and then I didn't need the sunglasses any more. Within another five blocks I needed an umbrella and within another five blocks I needed a rain suit.

However, I had paid for two hours, the rain was warm, and I was going to ride for two hours. I needed to learn, I wanted to tour the island, and all I needed was windshield wipers on my glasses.

(Chinese restaurant.)
EVERY TOWN, IT SEEMS, MUST HAVE ITS `CHINATOWN'.
VARADERO'S CONSISTS OF ONE RESTAURANT.

One afternoon, a short walk from my hotel,
as it started to rain, and I was
looking for somewhere to have lunch.
I stopped into a small sidewalk cafe
that had a roof over the patio.
After taking my order, as I was trying
to take pictures of a young lady,
her mother, the waitress, asked me
if I would buy the girl an ice cream.
Later she asked me if I wanted a chiqua.
During my walking about I had been approached
by men who had asked if I wanted `chiqua'.
This didn't surprise me, but being asked
by a waitress in a restaurant, did.
I never found out if she was referring
to herself or a friend.
(Little girl eating ice cream.)

Two other places where I ate and will recommend, and I'm sure you won't be approached with such questions, are the `Cortillio' and the `Toro Steak House'.
The Cortillio is an open cafe where I had pork steak, it is so rare to find that on a menu, rice, French fries, and a glass of wine for $3.95
For cena at the Toro Steak House I had filet mignon (Canadian Angus beef ), baked potato, mushrooms, & red wine for $16.

(Ladybug cab and driver.)
LADY BUG
MOTORCYCLE CAB & DRIVER
On my last day in Varadero I hired a small taxi, which I nicknamed `Ladybug' to drive me across the bridge to Santa Martha. That became a two hour outing, which I tell about, in detail, in my Santa Martha story. (Oil wells in Santa Martha.)
OIL PRODUCTION IN SANTA MARTHA
PRODUCING WELLS (In foreground)
DERRICK DRILLING NEW WELL (In background)

Bright and early, five AM, Tuesday morning, the bus picked me up, in front of my hotel, and took me back to La Habana.

Despite the rain, I had a pleasant stay in Varadero and look forward to returning some day.

END

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