And this is where the fun started – I woke up with a sore throat which I thought was simply due to the air conditioner but soon turned into a full-blown cold (one of the worse I had in a long time). Breakfast was at the buffet and then we decided to make an excursion to Downtown Varadero. Thankfully I have a good looking husband to cheer me up!
Varadero is equipped with public buses that cost 5 pesos for the whole day – you can then take the double-decker bus to the city. Sit on the top if you like views but don’t mind the wind. It’s a 40 minute ride with stops made at what seems to be every resort, and then for a good part of the way you have the shore to one side. It’s actually quite an enjoyable ride.
We got off around Caille 52 and proceeded to walk west along their main street. A few words of advice: bring sunscreen, bring cash, be mentally prepared to be honked at every minute or so by taxi drivers, caleche drivers and cocotaxi drivers, as well as being offered a spot at a good restaurant. Go and check out the little arts and craft shops. The artisans will try and chat you up, sell you some of their wares, etc. That’s fine, just be polite and if you find something you like, there’s nothing wrong with bargaining. Now, a word on these arts & crafts – are the people in the stalls really the artists themselves? Darn good question! To this day, I am not so sure myself. I don’t really think the items are imported but perhaps produced in more remote areas of the country and then sold in larger tourist centers. Either way, these people will do what they can to make you a happy customer but also make a living for themselves. Please, don’t bargain too hard though – help stimulate the economy a bit. What we bought: a wooden classic car for my dad, some wooden jewelry and a wooden vase.
A note to travelers: While we may not be used to people being so forward, please be polite. Many locals survive on tourism dollars. If someone offers you something you are not interested in, a simple “No, gracias” is enough. Also, people will often ask you where you are from “Where you form, frien’?”. It’s up to you if you want to answer or not. They will try to conversate with you and there is nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind that these people may hope to get you to buy something. We see the same thing here, but I find the way the Cubans go about it is much more interactive. Also, please try not to get into a pissing contest with the locals, it’s just a waste of time – just keep walking and ignore them.
A windy afternoon
We made it back to the hotel just in time to catch the last few minutes of the lunch buffet. By then my pain killer had worn off, my throat was hurting and the sunburn had reached the whole “feels like my skin is paper” stage. Our regular waiter wasn’t there but our waitress was kind enough to get me tea with honey. All spots by the pool were taken when we got out so off to the windy beach we went (which didn’t last long). Thankfully though, Salem was able to find a basketball and got to play for a while (yes, they have a basketball court!). We finally found a spot by the pool later on and swam a bit before freshening up for dinner.
Our first dinner reservations: Sakuro – the Japanese restaurant
Unfortunately, the dinner service started off somewhat badly and it was pretty much the worst experience we had during the trip. For years I have wanted to go to a Japanese restaurant – the type where they cook on a giant grill right in front of you. I had the experience once, while in Germany, many years ago. I had seen pictures of the shows they put on at the restaurant and it looked great but it seemed it was a set menu (which we weren’t shown) and I knew they used lots of alcohol for the flambés. We were more than willing to sit there and watch the show, but all we wanted was to eat sushi. We called over our waitress and told her of the issue and she said she would talk with the chef. We wanted to have this resolved before the chef came because it certainly had nothing to do with him, we didn’t want to insult anyone. After waiting a few minutes and not getting an answer, we asked another waitress and she said she would check. The spots started filling up and I was on the verge of a panic. Finally, Salem called over one last guy, he went over and talked to our waitress and finally they took us to this little sushi-bar area (they had 2 spots) and we ate there, just the 2 of us. I was a bit sad we got to miss the show, but the other chefs in the place took amazing care of us – they actually made our night! While we were made to feel like we were bothering our original waitresses, the chefs were super kind with us. We told one of them (Adolis) what had happened and he told us to forget about it and that he would take care of us. All the chefs that came chatted us up here and there and really made quite an impression on us. One of them, José, stayed with us for a bit. We ended up having mixed sushi, tempura veggies (one had pumpkin and Salem was crazy about it, he even got seconds) and ice cream with papaya for dessert. We tipped the chefs… I guess they weren’t expecting it as they thanked us a lot and even recognized us and chatted us up again a few days later when we saw them working at the buffet. They saved the night! Thankfully the waitress we had while we were seated at the sushi bar was quite nice as well.
On our way back to our room, we happened upon Perro. I asked Salem to go ahead to our room to get my pashmina and the second half of a wrap we had bought at the airport. While I waited for him with Perro, we encountered a fellow Canadian and him and I ended up chatting about how animals are being treated in the area. Somehow, we got onto the topic of tipping while staying at all-inclusives – the man was quite disappointed in people not tipping the staff. Turns out he had just dined at the Japanese restaurant as well and out of a table of 8-10, he was the only one to leave a tip. Honestly people! No worries, I’ll stay off of my soapbox since you already got to hear about it once before in this post. We chatted for a few minutes more when Salem came around. Once he left, I fed Perro the leftover lox wrap and we were on our way to watch the “Rock” show.
An amazing concert – now if only they had kept playing longer!
Unfortunately, I do not know their name, but they were great! They had a male and a female lead singer and they played a lot of the more retro Rock songs (AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Guns N Roses, etc). It was great! Even though I was really starting to feel like crap from the cold, I wanted to dance. Thankfully, the audience seemed to really enjoy dancing. I honestly wish they could’ve played for another hour. The energy was great and the singers were really talented as well as the rest of the band. It seems they had won some kind of competition they held in Cuba. I can see why. I really hope they find even more success in the future.
The night ended with a trip to the lobby bar and then off to bed I went – I could barely talk at this point and was shivering under the blankets when falling asleep.
A day to relax
Yadrian, our waiter at the buffet, seemed quite worried about me because of my cold. But that’s life! Always nice to get good service though. We basically relaxed by the pool all day – unfortunately, it was very windy on the beach. My throat was better but this cold went into my sinuses. Hello mucus! *sigh*
A note to travelers (an a note to myself): don’t just pack meds for tummy troubles, also pack meds for colds! Duh!
Lunch was at the grill, we had fish – it was very good! Our buddy, Perro, was there too so she had fish as well (shhhhh, don’t tell anyone). But, in my defense, I did not feed her from the table. She would go from table to table, making sad eyes but staying quiet, then she would grow tired of being ignored and would curl up in a corner. I fed her fish on the grass, next to the restaurant. It’s quite interesting to see an animal rely on their instincts – she wouldn’t eat on the open grass, she would rather bring the food to a more secluded spot, usually near bushes and then ear it there.
Our second dinner reservations: Bamboo – the Asian restaurant
Again, true to itself, the service in Cuba is great, this restaurant was no exception to the rule! We started off with a soup, which I was really happy with. I also really liked the plates simply because they were not the normal round or square variety we often get.
Salem ordered a battered fish on seafood and veggies. Yes, the little pyramids you see are fried rice. So cute! I had the chicken with veggies on crispy noodles and rice. Dessert was vanilla ice cream atop pineapple.