The resort we chose boasted a cool four stars, which is pretty standard for Cuba, and implies horrible food, poor service, and a nice beach that makes everything worth it. Whatever, I thought. I just need some quiet. Ha ha ha. Our flight down to Santa Clara was just as you’d expect of my life. We were seated in the absolute last row of the plane, which meant our seats were slanted in that comfortable 100-degree angle way, with no option to recline, and with a sort of forward propulsion. Sweet. To my left were two seats belonging to flight crew. If regular passengers’ seats are treated with a sterile user-friendly design, cabin crew seats are very technical and have no interest in being pretty or soothing to look at. Have you ever wondered what a broken oxygen tank looks like? Or perhaps a bag of handcuffs? Because I did, and was just hoping for the opportunity to sit next to them for three and a half hours. But Alisa, that sounds like an okay experience, you might say. Wrong, I would answer, That’s not all.
Here is a calming picture of the ocean that we were lucky enough to see every day, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll need it.
About midway through the flight, we were encouraged to glance over our menu of eight dollar Twizzlers and fourteen dollar ham sandwiches. As I pondered which double-processed delicacy I would choose to shock my body out of its 5 day juice cleanse bliss, the flight attendants walked through, distributing drinks. Of course, they took their time. Of course, we were the last people they would offer drinks to. And…more of course than anything…of course, just as they were about to take our order, a young girl staggered over to them and moaned “May I have some…some orange juice? I don’t feel so good.” I’d like to say that what happened next was a shocking turn of events, but by this point in my life, this is just how things go. “Are you diabetic?” the flight attendant asked. The girl answered no. “Well your face is white!” Duh, that’s why we’re going to Cuba! Anyway, they
asked her a few more anxiety-inducing questions as she began to shake violently, and then, of course, it was decided that the best course of action was to seat her beside me. Hey, you know what I love hearing when I’m seated in a narrow metal tube and flung through the air at four million kilometres an hour with absolutely zero control over my destiny? “I think I’m gonna throw up”. Oh but not to worry, because flight attendants are always prepared for these things, with an industrial sized barf bag that just so happens to be entirely transparent, so that if by some chance I missed some of the projectile vomitus, I can catch a replay in my neighbour’s 100% see-through retch sack. Forget our overpriced meal, forget our complimentary juice, forget turbulence. I was now somewhere in the stratosphere, rubbing shoulders with Patient Zero.
I craned my neck as far away from her as possible, as the flight attendants took out medical tools of varying degrees of horror and age, and blasted the volume on whatever I was listening to. I think it was a rom-com starring Julia Roberts, but who knows anymore, because what it felt like was me, starring in a horror film about a raging virus. It was only a matter of minutes before I would be chewing on someone’s aorta, eyes blood-shot, veins pulsating a neon purple. Would I have it in my zombie fugue brain to find those Twizzlers? Must make mental note for later.
Luckily, the girl quickly became too ill to continue dry heaving, so they laid her body out on the floor with her lifeless face staring at me in my inevitable field of view. Some people will do anything for attention.
Here’s another view of the beautiful beach. We will get through this together.
“Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we would like to ask anyone who may be a doctor, to please come to the back of the aircraft. We have a passenger who is ill…” Side note: don’t you just love ‘at this time’? I’m pretty sure you’re only allowed to say it when talking about flying. “At this time, we’d like to ask all passengers traveling with children, and those who have paid an extra $200 to get to their seats thirty seconds faster than the rest of us..” “At this time, we ask that you please turn off your cell phones..” “At this time, the captain isn’t quite sure where to take the plane..” At this time- the perfect depiction of non-committal live-in-the-moment philosophy: ain’t nobody gonna tell you what’s gonna happen next man, we just trying to deal with what’s happening at this time. Anyway, back to the nightmare unfolding before me. At this time, an oxygen mask was pulled out of a scary compartment under a seat to my left, and an elderly lady doctor began probing the girl with more questions and a stethoscope. Because I know you’re wondering, my main concerns were as follows: 1) Will we have to do an emergency landing in somewhere sucky like North Carolina, and miss a day of sunshine? 2) Can barf shoot up at the ceiling and fountain onto me? 3) Will I ever get my juice?
Luckily, about an hour later, the girl started to feel better, so she was once again seated beside me until she felt she could get up and walk away. Strangely, no one came to assess the lack of colour in my face, but that’s none of my business. Shortly after, we landed, took a two hour bus ride to our resort, and entered the set of 50 Shades of Grey. Ladies, if you haven’t yet bought your tickets to the most talked-about film of the year, I present you with its tropical alternative: everything, from our sheets, to our towels, to the beef in the buffet. I wish I could say that everything is so grey because they don’t wash it, but that can’t be it: on the first day, after discovering a blood stain on the towel I enthusiastically used to wipe my face, I shrieked and threw the towel on the ground, which in typical fashion signified “I am rich and spoiled and expect you to change my towel after one day of usage”. And normally, I’d be kinder to the environment, but when I can literally see someone else’s platelets in its cotton weaving, I have to put my foot (and the towel) down. Anyway, later that day, I discovered that my issue was resolved in the following way: my towel had been hand-washed in the sink, wrung out, and hung over the edge of the tub. I could still see the hand-prints from the laborious squeezing of the blood from the towel, and of course, the stain itself, though slightly lighter in hue at this time. I was no luckier with my pillowcase: I don’t know who stayed in our room before us, but they were hardcore bleeders, because my pillowcase was also covered in skull blood. Every day, I would put the pillow on the edge of the bed with a note (in Spanish, might I add) asking for the pillowcase to be changed. Every day, I would find the pillow flipped over and placed back in its 'come hither' position. Sometimes, they would divert my attention from all of the blood with an elaborate sculpture folded out of the throw that covered the bed. Monkey holding swan by neck: semen on polyester. 2015.
When everything at your resort is grey, including the food, you have to get creative to appeal to the other aesthetic senses. Thus, layers and layers of grey ham were folded into exciting origami shapes, wet grey cheese was sprinkled with unidentifiable rainbow coloured powder, and buns were baked in the shapes of snakes and/or penises. And, as you’d expect the innocuous food to be grey, you also would expect to not see at least one of your dining companions for a day or two after a seafood dinner. “She’s got food poisoning,” their significant other will explain, as you'd glance over at the garbage cans erected around the facility, proudly depicting an extra star next to the four you’ve been struggling to qualify. Sometimes, you will order freshly made pizza and in English, the waitress will tell you that they have run out of dough and will return with a fresh batch in “ten to fifteen minutes”. You will then ask, in Spanish, what really happened, and the waitress would respond, in Spanish, that the dough will not be coming that day. That’s just how Cuba rolls, man.
|Some days were better than others..|
We picked the most romantic week of the year to go, as almost every meal was choked down to the beautiful sight of a proposal. Indeed, many a knee was taken to the sounds of plates stacked onto dish-washing carts. “I do, you asshole!” we heard someone exclaim, as patrons belched all around, piling canned corn onto their buttered toast. And if you ever decide to propose at a resort but opt out of the buffet venue, a close second is the beach at around noon, when the ‘animation team’ yells out words that mean to be English but are not (“Bakwa fowah! Move ya buddy!”) in an effort to move your holiday ass around in what has come to be called Aqua Gym. “Oh my God, fuck off! YES!” was the reply to the proposal that unfolded by the shore that day. If you’re wondering if I teared up, yes I did, as always, and then stared at a nearby jelly fish to hide my highly inappropriate emotions.
And just as I was admiring this beautiful lavender creature, I saw a shape emerging from the water, just a few feet away. It was a young guy, his arms tattooed, and his head buzzed at the sides, with a thick Mohawk brushed haphazardly over his face. I don’t know how he managed to walk out of the ocean while listening to music, but he did, all the while throwing his arms out while rapping along. I wonder if they make waterproof iPods, I thought, instead of looking at his glistening abs. Perhaps Otterbox makes cases for such usage! One thing I will reiterate is that the beach in Santa Maria is absolute perfection and more than makes up for the disastrous food at the hotel. The sand is that perfect postcard white and feels like flour between your toes, the water is warm and crystal clear, and the sun sets in that perfect way that makes you feel like everything you’ve done in your life up to this point has been aligned to lead to that exact moment.
For all the perverts, there are like a thousand super hot girls there too. Well, a thousand and one. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA etc. But on a serious note, here’s a totally unexpected, candid shot of me walking by the water, followed by a totally unexpected, candid shot of the most adorable little starfish that was alive and kept sticking its little suction cups onto my hand.
I also packed my favorite beach dress which I have actually never worn before because I don’t think it serves any purpose whatsoever other than to flow dramatically behind you, which would be great if you ever got into an explosive argument on the beach and had to storm away but still looked hot, or simply if you wanted your last words to someone to mean a lot.
Later on, as I lost my mind over the cuteness of the little pools of warm ocean water nestled in the beautifully unexpected craters in the coral, the tattooed guy sprinted by me, rapping, once again.
I realize that you’re probably having a hard time picturing what he looked like, so here he basically is:
Yes, he looked like Ethan Hawke, with the body of David Beckham, with the age of a freshly-conceived fetus. No big deal.
One thing I really enjoy doing in Cuba is arguing with the persons who work in customer service. And by enjoy I mean always, always, always do, whether I want to or not, because somehow something always goes wrong. On this particular week, the problem lay in the fact that we had actually expected for a set of fresh towels to be brought to our room as promised. What can I say, I’m a besh like that. Anyway, instead, as we frantically called the desk inquiring about the status of our towels, our calls were ignored, and subsequently, blocked. Being the horrible asshole that I am, I walked to the reception desk and asked the receptionist if we could please have some towels, after all. “Go there!” he said, pointing to an empty table nearby. “Go where?” I asked. “There! The towels are there!” He pointed again to nothing. “But there is no one there!” I laughed. “Because they are gone to get towels!” he repeated, as though an empty desk could mean nothing but that. “But how could they be gone to get towels when I never asked them to get towels?” I could feel my face turning red as I asked this. Finally, he snapped at me with another “Go there!” to which I could no longer hold back but reply with: “What the fuck? No, I will not go there! What are you even pointing at?!” This was not my proudest moment, but it was 6 pm and we hadn’t showered, and it was already time for grey dinner, and we were standing in bikinis drenched in sand, while being told to direct our request to a piece of wood. The situation was so ridiculous that yes, I used the F word. In public. In Cuba. In response, the receptionist threw his pen to the side, yelled “Jesus Christ!”, walked down the hallway and into some secret room, cranked the door open with an old rusty key, and produced two towels for us. But of course, the locked hidden room that said “Personnel Only”! Why didn’t we think to look there? We walked off proudly clutching our towels, which smelled like hot garbage, but I wasn’t going to bring that up after all that we’d been through. At this point, our motto became “5 blood spots or less, and I won’t fess!” (which of course should be fuss, but nothing rhymes with that so whatever).
A few days later, we took a catamaran ride through some very choppy waves, where the F word resurfaced, though not by me this time. As our guide navigated our vessel through waves that I was quite certain were going to take our lives (which admittedly was extremely exciting), he sang erotic love songs pausing at their most erotic parts to stare into my eyes. Because I wasn’t ready to take our relationship to that level yet, I committed to making small talk for the duration of the ride. “How do you feel about Americans coming to Cuba?” I asked, with excitement. “We in Cuba think two words about this: Fuck. You.” Apparently, not everyone’s in the same boat.
Later that afternoon, I passed by the pool bar where Tattooed Guy was doing a headstand. Minutes later, he was parcouring over the pool loungers while smoking an e-cigarette. Something about his vivacious agility inspired me to do the same, and the next morning, at sunrise, I went for a super hot, sweaty 5k run down the beach, where I did the most thug thing possible and went where I was not allowed to go (where they probably keep the towels):
On our second last night, I finally managed to convince the gang to hit up da club. Apparently, people are too cool to get their groove on these days, but on that particular night, three of us wore our identical dresses and thugged tha fak out.
We entered the disco to discover a salsa song playing on repeat, which was not okay. An older man wearing a red blouse and black bowtie coyly walked by and I asked him if he was the DJ. “No, I am the pianist,” he answered, and added: “But do you know to DJ?” “Yes,” I answered. “Then, please, proceed!” he ushered me to the DJ booth and I picked up the headphones. Let me just tell you that the roof was raised many times that night, and that there is nothing quite like the feeling of people running to the dance floor to grind seductively to the songs you picked and mixed.
Let me also just tell you it is a really, really scary feeling when the real DJ comes and you have to run away really fast. Regardless, the night went by in a flash as we head-banged and moshed, shoeless, to Pitbull, Ne-Yo, and Nicki Minaj. Our co-partiers: five teenage girls hoping their moms wouldn’t find them, a couple- both wearing Crocs- focused very much on perfecting their Merengue skills, a man grinding his scrotum on two intoxicated women, neither of whom were the pregnant wife we had seen him with earlier that day, and…that was almost it, until I spotted him again. Tattooed Guy, jumping between speakers, banging his fist on the ground, then swigging a glass of Vodka, high-fiving the DJ, then pulling an insane Robot in the middle of a dance circle formed by people he definitely did not know. We danced and danced and danced and were about to leave, when out of the corner of my eye, I felt his green eyes fixate on me. I turned around to find him pulling me in by an imaginary rope. Of course he would. What else would you use if you were mental? But you know what? I obliged, pretending to struggle, because I don’t know what you’re supposed to do when someone has a rope around you. “I am Jack!” he yelled in my ear. Okay, so his name was not Jack, but to preserve his anonymity I’ve chosen a name that is almost as funny as his real name. “What is your language?” he continued. That night, standing in the middle of the dance floor, I learned that Jack was French, had come on this two week trip with his mom, loved Cuba very much, loved to party, loved the people, loved the beach, and thought I was the most beautiful girl in all of the country. Because I am the most beautiful girl in all of the country (but more so because cheesy lines have no way with me), I politely said goodnight and turned to walk away, when Jack grabbed my hand and said: “You know when I knew you were the girl? When I heard you say ‘What the fuck?’ to the reception guy, when you wanted your towels. I said ‘Oh my God, I found her!”
Let that sink in, ladies. Towels.
There was something about his crazy eyes, the wild expression on his face, that made me want to hear more of his unstoppable monologue. He spoke with a thousand gestures for each thought, and every now and then he’d fall to his knees and kiss my hand to prove his devotion to the conversation, all the while talking and talking and talking. “I have ADHD!” Jack told me. “They said I need to go on euh, how to say…Le Ritalin! But I don’t want.” Ah, there you have it. It wasn’t enough for us to just stand and talk anymore, so after a short while, Jack pulled me into the middle of the dance floor at which point we basically became an Usher video. My (second) motto has always been to give credit where credit is due, and so I will say that his dance moves were killer. I was impressed. So much so that when he leaned over and shouted, “I’m twenty two! How old are you?!” without a moment’s hesitation, I yelled back: “Twenty-one!”
Let that sink in too, ladies. Twenty-one.
|Reaction depicted by Disney's Mecke Meus|
And here I am, DJ Cougar. I won’t tell if you don’t…
“Oh my God, amazing!” he yelled, and kissed me on the cheek. I quickly glanced over at my girlfriends and made the most horrified face I could pull, signifying that we needed to leave at once, because now I was an official Mrs.Robinson. Before they could come over, Jack pulled me away from the crowd and began telling me that he had been looking for me all his life, to which I replied by pointing at his arm and asking, “Why do you have a tattoo of a lion?”
He took a few steps back, took a deep breath, and raised his arms in the air triumphantly flexing his 22 year-old biceps. “Because I am a lion! And you know what lions end up with? Lions end up with Bambi. But I don’t want Bambi. I want you, because you are a lioness. A lioness! You are not Bambi!” With these words, he grabbed me and lifted me in the air, while everyone watched, and I, mortified, begged the baby Jesus to please let my ass not be showing.
“But Bambi is cute!” I shouted in his ear while he spun me like a drunken caber tosser. “But a lioness is strong. You are my lioness!” he answered, finally putting me down. Considering the average one only lives about 17 years, I am roughly the age of two lions, back to back. Nice.
Before I could further contemplate the consequences of telling a perfectly chiseled teenager that I was actually six years older, Jack was pulling me by the hand again and soon, we were running to the beach. Except when we got there, I decided to run away, because that’s what I usually do, and he decided to follow me, until I dramatically bid him adieu, to which he answered with: “Promise me you will see me tomorrow, if only to say good-bye.” “I promise,” I answered, still running.
The next day, we were having our usual grey coffee in the lobby when I spotted him sitting beside a random girl I hadn’t seen before. She had her back to us, but was slouching towards him in that cute way real twenty-one year olds do it when they talk about camp and popsicles. He was showing her pictures on his phone, and even stirred her Goddamn coffee for her. “What an ass,” I said, and we exited dramatically, because it was time for disgusting lunch anyway. I pondered, over my grey beef, if that’s just how vacations are when you’re young. Should you never expect romance to be real? Is the very premise of romance that it isn’t real? And why did I care anyway? He lied to me just as I had lied to him. We each had our selfish motives, and while his was probably to try to trick me into dropping dem jeans, mine was to feel the throes of youth again. And besides, all I had been trying to do the night before was escape this hot maniac. After lunch, we took a long walk around the pool before deciding to head back to the lobby where we saw them again. Except, this time, we saw her face. And, as it turns out…it was his mother.
Let that also sink in, ladies. His mother.
His mom! Why didn’t I think of that? As my ol’ senile brain processed what had just happened (“But he even stirred her coffee for her! And it was his mom all along!”) Jack noticed me and ran towards me, arms outstretched, with: “I found you again!” alerting the entire lobby and causing my face to turn beet red. Jesus, am I older than your mom? I wondered. I hugged him back, because a small part of me smiled at the thought that some romance isn’t dead, and because it’s rude to leave a chiseled gentleman hanging, and then he continued, with a sad whisper: “You’re going to go back to your country today, and you will forget about me.” I assured him that first of all, we live in the same country, and secondly, we’ll see each other at the airport because our flights are only an hour apart. At that, his face lit up brighter than the neon blue tip of his e-cigarette. He kissed my cheek again, and made me promise we would watch the airplanes take off and eat ice cream. As he attempted to make plans, I scrambled to grab my luggage and check out. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll see you in a couple hours” was all I remember saying. His arms, reaching around me, were quickly turned into a high-five thanks to my epic cockblocking skills. “I’ll see you soon!” he yelled, as I boarded the bus. Then, we sat at the airport, and an hour passed. And then two. I kept myself busy by perusing those “In case you forgot to pack it…” items. Let’s see…sunscreen, fridge magnets, sunglasses, oh…yes of course, a ‘sexuality dictionary’…
And then I realized that Jack wasn’t there. And then they announced that the flight to Montreal was delayed and that the Montreal-bound travelers were staying at the hotel. And then I knew that I would never see him again. And then, I felt a tiny pang of regret. Regardless of what any of it meant, I found the strangest feeling was not saying good-bye. It’s like we became eternally suspended in awaiting the moment we would meet again. Waiting, the way you wait for that little wheel to stop turning, for the webpage to load. But it will never stop turning.
And then I realized that Jack was probably riding a dragon right at that moment, and all was well with the world again. And then, my girlfriend said “You want a chocolate helado?” and I answered, “I wanna get the helado here!” and a group of middle-aged ladies sitting nearby burst out laughing. Looks like this twenty-one year old’s still got it.