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Resort vs Reality

Updated on January 30, 2011

What's not to love about a carefree vacation? Ah, the all-inclusive resort. Where the biggest decisions of the day revolve around whether you should lounge by the pool, swim in the ocean or take a dip in the jacuzzi. You have to decide between the buffet, the beach bar, or à la carte. Should I have a pina colada from the slushy machine or a vodka with lime? Hell, I'll have both! Isn't that what I'm paying for after all?

I leave a few trinkets and a dollar on the night stand in exchange for towels folded into the shape of swans. Every day like clockwork, swans. Except one day, she made us elaborate hearts. Hmm, I guess she was particularly happy with the gift we left her. What was that again? Oh right,aspirin.

And just like that,through my misty rose-colored resort glasses I glimpsed reality.

Countless Cubans give up their jobs as doctors and lawyers and teachers to drive taxis and slave away at the resorts to pick up our scraps, and have contact with Convertible pesos (the secondary currency that is 27 times stronger than the regular peso) without which they are not even allowed access to the stores that sell essentials such as toilet paper, sanitary napkins, aspirin, soap, paper, pens, you name it. The stuff we take for granted every single day.

The dual monetary system keeps the general population poor and in a state of virtual slavery. It forces educated people to give up their dreams. I met several Cubans who had studied law, engineering, medicine, only to give them up to drive taxis or work at the resorts to feed their families or take care of their ailing relatives. Not all surgeries are covered by the state. Take Vladimir, his son suffered from a rare and debilitating mental illness. He needed brain surgery. Vlad felt he had no choice, he became a waiter at the resort to pay for the surgery.

The government swears they give their population everything they need. They also tend to leave out the part about messing with the rations which is reminiscent of Stalin destroying crops to starve his people into submission when in fact there was plenty of grain to go around.

Resorts are not evil and yes, they give some Cuban's access to a better life, but at what cost?

Once your eyes are open, how can you ignore their plight? I think that is the problem I have with resorts. They are like wearing a huge pair of blinders. You can lie to yourself. You can listen to the propaganda and believe what you see on the guided tours. In fact, resort life is set up precisely with such a goal in mind. The workers are happy. The tourists are happy. The resort owners collecting their checks across Oceans are the happiest of all. The elite who work in conjunction with foreign investors are happy. See, everybody happy.

I encourage you to step off the resort. I mean really step off the resort. Look closely. Listen. Soak in the beauty and the misery. You don't even have to leave the resort physically to gain some perspective. Talk to the locals, the staff. But don't treat them like your barman or your waiter. Be careful how you do it. Remember that they are being watched. You have to build a trust, if you can. Speak to the human. Connect with the person. Their warmth and fire will bowl you over.

I left a part of my heart in Cuba and I will never be the same again.


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