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.