The resorts in Cuba along Cayo Coco are amazing, little jewels hidden along the white sandy beaches of turquoise waters. When you’re there you are in a fairly perfect bubble of comfort: the food is abundant, the grounds are idyllic, the drinks are free and flowing, and all you need to do is decide which beach chair has the best view and which dessert looks best.
I wanted to step out of the pampered bubble and see the other side of Cuba; a real city where real Cubans live to see the reality of the country not the glossy tourist area I was enjoying. At the Sol Cayo Cuullermo there was an excursion that looked promising, a bus trip into the city of Moron.
MoronMorón is the closest city to the tourist resorts on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. The town of Morón started as a community in 1750. The city now has 60,000 people and originally was a fishing town and in the 1860’s the introduction of train lines to help transport troops and supplies during the first revolution opened the way to sugar plantations and farming and sugar milling.
The Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo islands where the resorts are built were basically un-used scrubby land that was accessible only by a 10 hour boat ride. In the 1960s a road was built through the marshland to the coast, and in the 1990s this road was extended on a man-made causeway to Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, where a number of hotels were built. Many of the hotel workers live in Morón and commute to work in specially provided buses.
As the bus crosses the causeway you realize things are changing when you come to the gated entry point with Cuban soldiers keeping security on the resort islands. Our tour guide explained that crime rates are very low in Cuba and while the guards standing sentry made things slightly ominous it was also clear that the Cuban people relied heavily on the tourism trade and wanted everyone to be safe.
As we approached Moron you could start to feel like you were stepping out of the pages of a tourism brochure and into the real third world. The buildings were seemingly stranded in time, there were hardly any cars, mostly bicycles and horses pulling carriages just like you’d see a hundred years ago.
Because of the US embargo decades ago the cars on the road are either vintage 1950’s US cars or newer Russian or Chinese vehicles.
Despite the battered exterior of the streets and buildings the people seemed to be proud folk.
There was no garbage in the streets like you’d see in a North American city and with so few cars there was an eerie soundscape in the city…horses hooves, bicycles and voices instead of cars and music blaring like you find here at home.
It was like stepping back in time before the media took control of lights and sounds and advertising became so invasive. I felt like I was walking in the streets with Miles Matheson after the Nanotech brought down the power supply and we were forced to live in makeshift conditions and build a parallel society based on people instead of machines.
We had an hour to wander the city streets and it was a real eye-opener to see how the people can live in totally different conditions to what we’re used to in Canada. There was no affluence to be seen but there was pride, people carried themselves with respect and I was quite humbled to see how they managed to appear not only to accept their situation but even thrive in it in such a different way than I could have done.
We tend to be exposed to a certain view of reality and the first world problems we deal with and make us go bonkers seem so pathetically insignificant when you see how other countries live.
It’s interesting that the tour guide who lives in Moron is tri-lingual and has a University degree. He explained to us that education is free in Cuba and so people can go to University free and get any degree they desire. They also have free health care like us in Canada. He said the major export of the country was brain power as the highly skilled and educated people leave Cuba to work at lucrative salaries in Western Countries.
He said the average salary in Cuba is equal to around 365 pesos per month and that a doctor even would, under the communist system, be making a salary of double that. I can see why the tourism industry can be so important and our guide told us that many of the people who work at the resorts are very highly educated in the free University but the money they can make at the resorts is much higher than they could make even as a doctor in the cities of communist Cuba.
During our excursion we stopped at the famous rooster statue! This symbol came from a legend imported from Seville, Spain, where there is a town called Moron. In colonial times it was governed by a high-ranking official who was fairly abusive towards the locals. He often used phrases like: “There’s no one cockier than me,” and “Where this rooster crows, no other dares,” bragging of his authority and demonstrating his arrogance. Because of this, he became known as the “Rooster of Moron.”
It was nice to get back to the resort after the intensity of being in such a foreign place as Moron and it made me realize that when people call the resort a bit rundown or maybe needing some updating you just need to look at a real city in Cuba and see what is really rundown and needing of some TLC.
Sitting on the beach and doing nothing isn’t my idea of a vacation so I’ve never gone beyond Florida for some warm weather when winter in Canada strikes. I’ve heard tales of Cuba from a few friends and acquaintances who have been there and say it’s a great place for a vacation so finally decided to give it a try and booked a 7 day all inclusive trip to Cuba.
One thing I liked flying with Sunwing is that there are direct flights from Moncton and the flight departure times and arrivals in Cuba are perfect, not too early to leave, departed at around 5 pm and arriving at a good time around 5 PM as well! I like to get a full night sleep before those flights!
You could tell it was a vacation flight on the plane, the atmosphere was very “celebratory” and many of the guests were getting an advance on cocktails to get in the mood. I’d heard of the all you can eat and drink style resorts and was starting to see the type of people who would be at the resort with me. It was looking like an adventure!
The flight was smooth and as we started to descend it was odd because there are so few lights on Cuba where we were going that it seemed like an uninhabited place. I’m, used to flying into Orlando at night and seeing grids of lights as far as you can see but approaching Cayo Coco in Cuba it was dark with only a few headlights visible and large swatches of blackness with just a moon glow reaching up from the beaches and sands and whitecaps below.
Deplaning from the 737 on the tarmac in Cuba you feel the humid warmth and smell the ocean air similar to Florida but it is such a small airport you really feel like you are going to a different world.
We passed through customs and had my first experience seeing the green uniformed soldiers with shiny black boots looking very much like what you see in movies or pictures of old Cuba. I paid extra to have a private car take me from the airport to the resort Sol Guillermo resort and was glad I did, I had a private introduction to Cuba from my driver who gave me an introduction of the area although I was so excited to be there I was too busy looking out the window at the moon through the mangroves and the cows wandering on the road. The road was fairly deserted so you really felt out of any sort of comfort zone of being surrounded by buildings or people or lights or anything.
I got to the resort around 10:30 PM and got checked in. My room was at the far west end of the resort so was a good 15 minute walk to get there and with the maze like pathways under the moonlight palms it was a surreal little voyage as I dragged my suitcase over the sidewalk.
My first impression of the room wasn’t great but I was tired and was in a new place and so my senses were probably a bit heightened and I was a bit shaken by finding no toilet paper, the fridge unplugged, the remote control not working, no coffee machine, a musty damp odor, broken dresser drawers and chipped and cracked furniture. I was hungry and had to wait until midnight before the snack bar opened. I was thinking that this would turn into one of those horror stories you read the bad reviews about the Sunwing holiday to Cuba and so I took a deep breath and prepared for things to get worse!
Of course things didn’t get worse they only got better!
At midnight I went to the snack bar for some fresh pork and grilled cheese sandwiches and a soda then went back to the room with a new energy and ready to start the vacation in a positive way! I hopped into bed and again my spirits fell as the large king sized bed had a huge crater in it where someone of a large traditional build must have slept before me or perhaps a hippopotamus had slept in the room as the indentation rivaled the scope of Lac St Jean.
In the morning I was a bit stiff but soon realized the other half of the bed hadn’t yet been squashed so decided to make that my future sleeping zone for the next 6 days. The winds were brisk but it was nice to go outside and see the resort in the light of day! It reminded me of being at Disney because of the nicely tailored lawns and little sculptures setting about the resort grounds and the palm trees above me crinkled and threshed from side to side in the breeze.
At the pool area in the morning there were already many vacationers stretched out in lawn chairs, some reading paperbacks, some doing crossword puzzles, some rubbing sunscreen on the kiddies, some playing cribbage at the table under a sun umbrella, some sitting in cushioned wicker chairs behind sunglasses no doubt trying to keep their tired eyes from letting their headaches be spotted by other guests.
The ocean peeking from beyond the clay roofs of the resort was such a bright turquoise, it was so unlike the sea looks here in Canada. A different blue altogether!
The resort is an all inclusive Sol Guillermo with 300 rooms all of the rooms are on either the first or 2nd floor. Balconies on every room. Basic accommodations with a couple of beds, a shower and a table and chair. The buildings were looking a bit rundown but it seemed that everyday I saw workers upgrading rooms and furniture was being moved into rooms and I saw painters doing different areas so I think it is in a constant state of upgrade.
A lot of the TripAdvisor reviews of the Sol Guillermo resort were negative on the rundown aspect of the resort but it probably depends on which room you get which may be a question of luck of the draw. As I strolled throughout the building during my stay I saw inside some rooms that looked a bit better than mine and some that looked a bit worse.
It helped me to accept the fact that this is a third-world country that has been placed in a difficult economic position by many different forces and political spheres which have not been easy for the people of Cuba and I think with what I saw on my short trip outside of the resort they are doing a good job.
A lot of people seem to have the attitude that they are entitled to a deluxe and luxurious vacation because they have paid so much for an all inclusive resort but they are probably basing their expectations on what they have been to in 1st world countries. Of course I’ve stayed in nicer hotels in Canada but I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities in Cuba. The food was great, a nice variety and I could eat at the buffet without getting bored as there was enough selection.
The drinks were free and from what I could see many visitors were well prepared and brought their giant cooler mugs with them so they could drink rum and coke or Buccaneer Beer all day out of the Big Gulp size mug. There was always entertainment, dancing or magic, live music and water sports and activities for everyone; a pool table, ping pong table, tennis courts, volleyball in the sand…there was so much to do just on site you really didn’t need to go anywhere else!
I did go on the dolphin swim, the trip to Morton city, and the catamaran tour, and the trip to the sugar cane plant and those were well worth the extra money I paid to have the tour.
I found the staff at the resort were all very friendly and tried very hard to keep things running smoothly with a friendly attitude. I actually thought most of the negative things about the resort were some of the other guests who seemed to feel entitled to act like they were big shots or condescending to the staff as if they were part of the Royal Family!
There were a lot of smokers and since they don’t have no smoking zones in Cuba yet it was impossible to find a spot without a smoker. Well, the restaurants and buffets were smoke free so that is good and was a good thing but everywhere else there was someone puffing away and most of the time puffing while two fisting a drink and having that mottled patchy bloated puffed skin look that middle aged alcoholics and smokers get.
In the buffet and restaurant, the staff and Maitre D were always dressed impeccably and while there was no dress code many people dressed up as the evening dinner was a more formal affair with live music by well dressed Cubans but there were many guests who showed up in tank tops and flip flops with those flannel type pajamas or Toronto Maple Leafs shirts and ball caps looking like they were late for the special deal at Walmart.
The room got better to me as I got into the third world groove and found it nice and quiet, when I finally figured out that the air conditioner worked by turning a breaker on and off at the breaker board I was happy as the ac was welcome when the winds died down and the temperatures got up to 30 plus Celsius.
The room was quiet, the grounds were quiet there was no loud guests and it was very laid back.
The snack bar was good and there was fresh barbeque everyday by the beach bar. I spent many hours on the beach swimming in the warm waters and just forgetting about snow storms and ice and enjoying watching the gulls and kite surfers at the outer edges of the beach.
I wanted to see Cuba before the Americans started going back if the politics eased and there was more freedom to travel from the USA. For now I really enjoyed it and would definitely go back especially with what I learned about what to bring to Cuba.
Oh and after realizing that all-inclusive doesn’t mean that you will find everything you might want to have with you I made myself a list of things to bring on my next trip to Cuba:
1. Charmin toilet paper for the luxury feeling of home 2. AA batteries because the remote control is likely not working. 3. Air freshener because it’s a humid warm country near the ocean so it’ll be musty and maybe a bit dank on arrival in the room. 4. A kettle to make tea or coffee in the room . 5. A 220 volt adapter for the kettle, the laptop and iPhone chargers and camera battery charges will function in 220 volts but a kettle likely wouldn’t. It was odd that the plugs in the room were 220 volts but were accepting the standard two prong 110 volt plugs we are used to in Canada but the iron in the room was a 220 volt iron with a 220 volt plug that didn’t fit in the plugs in the room (!) 6. Bring snacks because if the snack bar is closed and the little store in the lobby is closed and the buffet is closed you might get hungry. 7. Sunblock OMG I got burned even wearing it the sun was so brutally scorching me! 8. Nice clothes for the buffet so you can eat and dine like a real person not a savage from the trailer park. 9. Bring a large mug for carrying your beverage and avoid the little throwaway plastic cups they give you from the bar that only hold 4 ounces anyway. 10. Earplugs for sleeping and if it’s windy. 11. Bring money to exchange at the front desk. I didn’t bring enough money and thought I’d be able to get money from a bank machine or bank but had to take a taxi to the next resort to get to a bank so next time I’ll bring more money.