When I was a foot loose and fancy free single lady, I didn’t really care for Valentine’s Day. That silly little cupid with his overpriced red roses and heart shaped chocolates can move right on because this lady was not falling for it. However, in the last couple of years, the 14th of February has held a special place in my heart… but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking!
If I’m being really ambitious I can claim to be trilingual. I have a firm grasp of one language (hopefully you’ll agree it’s English) and a passable conversational grasp of the others- Mandarin and Cantonese. Much to a certain someone’s amusement, conversations in my family are a mish-mash of the three languages in a strange symphony of accents. You might think that this, combined with my love of travel means I have quite the knack for picking up languages but you would be wrong. Any German or Japanese I learnt during high school has deserted me; I could barely order a beer on our recent weekend in Nuremberg and let’s face it, my Japanese is sadly now limited to types of sushi.
We attempted to learn Spanish before our trip to Mexico and Cuba but that plan was swiftly abandoned after only 2 lessons from a ‘Learn Spanish’ CD. There were some accusatory conversations over who was practising the phrases too loudly and therefore making it hard for the other to hear the CD; we stopped for the sake of our relationship. We did pick up some basics by the end of our month long jaunt but that wasn’t before some taxi-ordering difficulties in Havana, and that time in Mexico City when our ‘enchilada’ was not rolled and covered in mole as expected but tacos filled with the spiciest of porks. But when it really came to haunt me was during a long weekend in Barcelona when all my orders of ‘te con leche’ resulted in cups of scalding hot milk with tea bags in them. I’m sure we can all agree that milk is not great for brewing tea.
After 17 days without cellphone contact, internet access, and pretty much any news from the outside world, it was time to leave Cuba. These technological comforts are available for those really desperate but after finding out the high cost and low quality, we decided to just cut ties with our gadgets. Travel was arranged the old fashioned way- we purchased our bus tickets from the stations a couple of days earlier, rooms were booked through word of mouth and trust… there was absolutely no price comparison or Tripadvisor reviews to consult. In many ways, it was easier, even liberating to just hope for the best and deal with whatever hand you get dealt! Generally, it’s a pretty decent hand considering what you’re paying.
But my sense of nostalgia was starting to fade, 17 days of disconnect was my upper limit. It was time to check those emails, send that ‘we’re alive text’ to the mums, and catch up on the Facebook gossip! Unfortunately, all this came along with a severe change of climate- flying into Toronto we were greeted by snow and the sharp drop to near freezing temperatures. I was no longer watching my step to avoid the endless dog poop (it seems Mexicans and Cubans aren’t big pooper scoopers) but now making sure I wasn’t going to slip on the icy pavements. Oh joy.
It’s hard to escape the chatter about Cuba– we’ve all seen the photos of colourful classic cars and heard about people buying truckloads of cheap as chips rum and cigars. From the moment we were greeted by our taxi driver Homero and his bright blue 1958 Dodge, we really did feel like we were escaping away (rather bumpily) to another world…
Like many, we arrived in Havana with romantic notions of going to a place where the world has slowed down, passing our days with endless cocktails and a constant soundtrack of live music. But did Castro’s country really live up to the tales people tell of it?