Maybe it’s me. Or maybe it’s just this month. This April travel just does not seem to be my friend. After arriving back in Bucerias, I threw a few clean clothes in a suitcase and headed to the airport to make a trip to my other favorite Latin country – Cuba. Every year I take a team of Canadian divers to this beautiful island to train at a sports school in the city of Matanzas. This trip is part of my job that I am now doing from a distance and it is the first time I have traveled from Mexico to Cuba. My flight took me through Mexico City to Havana and then it was up to me to find a way to get to Varadero which is a 2 ½ hour trip east. I had done a lot of online research, but the answers I got were muddled at best. I had given myself a whole day to get there so I knew I would figure something out – and it would be an adventure.
It was 2:00 am by the time I finally checked into my hotel in Havana – in order to keep costs down for my employer I had chosen a REALLY dumpy hotel. That’s definitely not happening again – it was pretty nasty! But the front desk guy was very friendly and very helpful. Well he was friendly. I asked how I might get to Varadero the next day and he enthusiastically told me about the bus that comes every morning between 8 and 10 that would take me to Varadero. No I don’t need a ticket. Just be in the lobby at 8 and give the bus driver my name. Well I gave my name to many bus drivers the next morning between 8 and 10 – every one of them looked at his list and said “nope, you’re not on it”. Finally at 10 the bellman asked to see my ticket since it appeared no bus was coming for me. “I don’t have a ticket – the desk guy said I don’t need a ticket”. Oh you definitely need a ticket. And you have to walk a block to the tour office to get that ticket. So off I went to buy a ticket. The tour operator informed me there were no more buses that day. But if I walked another block, the other tour operator might have an afternoon bus. Okay – another block. Another “no”. No more buses today.
I walked back to the hotel and begged the bellman to help me find a taxi to get me to Varadero. It was a good thing I had checked into the cheap hotel because I was about to blow my budget on a taxi. By noon I was in the back of a tiny car headed to Varadero with some taxi guy – and the rate wasn’t even that bad. I relaxed – for about 2 minutes – because that is when the torrential downpour began. Of course, being as the car was ancient, there was no working defrost and the windshield was rapidly fogging over. Taxi guy reached over to the glove box, took out a tiny scrap of red fabric and began to wipe a hold just big enough for him to see. The car bucked around in the puddles and I actually laughed out loud. I am going to die in this little car and not a soul in the world knows where I am. Of course, I didn’t die – it was a long 2 ½ hour rainy trip but we made it and I gave taxi guy a good tip for risking his life for me and my crazy life. Although I had planned to do some prep before the team arrived, the rain kept coming and finally I just went to bed and slept for the next 15 hours. It had been a long month.
The week was amazing as it always is. I love watching our Canadian divers connect with the Cuban divers. These Cuban children all come from extremely poor families. They have been chosen because they have shown potential in their sport. They live in the dorms of the sports school and train every day. Some go home on weekends, many are too poor or live too far. They have almost nothing and I love how generous our team has become. Every year we bring many extra suitcases of things to share with the divers – clothes, shoes, toiletries, and school supplies. This year we brought 85 pairs of shoes, 40 bathing suits, and a huge pile of other clothes. The coaches and divers at the pool were thrilled – many of them only own one set of clothes or shoes and they had a blast looking through the piles with our children to pick out what they wanted. They didn’t really care if the shoes fit perfectly and the boys were just as excited to get a girl’s shirt or pair of shorts. It was a good teaching moment for our team and I know it is always a highlight of their week.
The children line up to get one piece of chocolate from Coach Laura
It is not just our divers who love the Cuban children. As always, while our athletes were training, I was hanging out with my Cuban friends. Some of them I have known for years. Roberto and I have had a special relationship since my first trip and this time he told me he now has Facebook and Instagram and he gave me his email address so we can stay in touch.
Besides training almost every day, we also did some fun things. We went boating and snorkeling one day, went to Varadero to listen to some Latin music one night, played in the ocean or pool most afternoons, had a fancy team dinner at a Japanese restaurant on our last night, and finished off the last day with a 3 hour Amazing Race Scavenger Hunt all over the city of Varadero. This was the 6th time Team Sask has done this trip and this was the first year I didn’t even have to open the First Aid and Medicine kit. The athletes trained hard and played hard and we all had a blast.
The team headed back to Canada early Sunday morning and I again had to find a way back to Havana to catch my plane on Monday afternoon. This time I bought the correct ticket from the correct tour operator and hopped on the correct bus back to Havana. I had booked a slightly better hotel this time and they upgraded me to a beautiful suite. I had a wonderful quiet afternoon by myself – sitting by the pool and reading, sipping the best pina colada I have ever had, eating a wonderful lobster dinner in a fancy restaurant for only a few pesos, walking a few blocks to the ocean and exploring the surrounding neighborhood. I relaxed and processed all that had happened over the previous month. It had been a wild ride and I couldn’t wait to get home and start my forever life in Bucerias. I missed my husband terribly and was worried the Manos de Amor children would forget me.
Final morning of exploring in Havana
Finally I was at the airport ready to board the plane back to Mexico City. But then – nope – it’s delayed. By at least an hour. Which meant when I arrived in Mexico City I had already missed my connection to Puerto Vallarta. When I went to the Customer Service desk she already had my little package printed for me – boarding passes for my flight the next day, hotel voucher, lunch voucher, dinner voucher, breakfast voucher, taxi voucher – a LOT of vouchers. And I burst into tears. I was DONE with traveling. I wanted to be at home. But not tonight. Instead I spent the night in a hotel in downtown Mexico City by myself. Somewhere I have never been and may never be again. Another adventure.
Another opportunity. Another laugh out loud moment as I realized the craziness of what my life has become and just embraced it all!