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Compartment 14B

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Fun in the sun is done... at least 'til it warms up 'round here.

2008-01-20 - 10:09 a.m.

Weíre back from Cuba, and itís 20 degrees below freezing outside today. Brr. Itís too bad too, because thereís a community party with sleigh rides in the park, but I think itís just too cold to take Grommet out for any length of time, especially since weíre not acclimatized to it anymore.

We all got tans, thanks to mornings spent on the beach and afternoons spent by the pool. Of course, we assiduously sunblocked ourselves every morning (some more than others, J), but we still definitely all got some colour, especially Grommet who seems to be a genetic throwback to my grandmother in terms of skin colouring. You see, J and I are both essentially pink and white, while Grommet is very slightly olive-toned and turns a golden brown in the sun. My grandmother came from Hungary and, with her dark brown hair, olive skin, and cheekbones, used to be mistaken for a Native American in her younger years. Maybe we have gypsy blood in the family?

The weather in Cuba was fabulous, high 20s every day, high teens at night. We didnít have any rain and never had to put long pants on, unless we were going somewhere a little more formal than the regular buffet, in which case the rules mandated ankle-length pants for J.

The resort was also great: it was a 5-star by Cuban standards, which was advertised as a 4 Ĺ star here in Canada. I have to say, the food in Cuba is famously bad and no one goes there for the food, but I suspect the food at this place was as good as Cuban resort food gets. I donít blame the Cubans for the bad resort food by the way; I believe itís a combination of trying to appeal to their target customers, who they think (maybe correctly) mostly want bland food and canít tolerate a lot of spice, and I also think itís a supply issue. Cuba is not a rich country and the U.S. embargo really limits what they can get. They just donít have enough cows to supply dairy and beef in the quantity or quality required by the tourist trade, much less have much left over for their own needs. Diary was a real issue in particular, since Iím pregnant and Grommet is a toddler: the cheese in Cuba is atrocious to my Canadian palette, and we couldnít get fresh milk, only reconstituted powdered milk. Even the butter was imported from Germany. It was, however, very good. Meat was readily available at our resort, but it was almost uniformly tough, no matter what type of meat it was. Itís telling that I can remember the three specific occasions that the meat wasnít tough.

On the flip side, the bread was fantastic Ė fresh baked and still warm at most meals. The cakes too showed a European influence and were far superior to standard North American fare (which I often find unpalatable). Breakfast was the most reliably good meal of the day with pancakes, eggs cooked to order, fresh fruit, baked goods, and a vat of warm chocolate sauce to smother whatever you wanted to on your plate. I pigged out on chocolate-covered pancakes and bananas most days. J had bacon with his breakfast every single day.

We ate at the special, on-site a la carte restaurants three times and we had good meals at two of them, though the third had the distinction of serving me the worst meal I had all week. This was at least partly because of the language barrier. Iím going to digress for a minute hereÖ

I do not think everyone does or even should speak English. When in a non-English speaking country, I try to learn at least a minimum of the basics in the local language. And I certainly donít expect to be conversing with the average local person in English. But I cannot understand being employed in the tourist trade, by a large, 5 star resort, in a position which requires me to interact and serve almost exclusively foreigners, the vast majority of which are English-speaking, and not know the basics for my trade. If I am a server, I would have thought Iíd be expected to know what a ďstrawĒ is, or the difference between ďhotĒ and ďcoldĒ. Last year at a 3 Ĺ star resort down the road the waitstaff knew a lot more English. They were certainly friendlier, so maybe the difference wasnít in skill level but in willingness to try? And even if their friendliness wasnít totally sincere and was mostly for the purpose of trying to get better tips, well, isnít that kind of the way service works? Give better, friendlier service and get more money? I did get the strong impression that, at this place, despite having a more affluent clientele, there were a lot more people who didnít tip. Maybe it had turned into a vicious circle of no tipping and worse service and I donít know which would have come first, but the result was definitely noticeable in the service we receivedÖ or didnít receive as the case may be.

Leading out of the digression, the worst aspect of this resort, hands-down, was the cleaning staff. The grounds were maintained well enough, but our room could definitely have used a more thorough cleaning. Normally I put up the ďdo not disturbĒ sign at least every other day and only have the room cleaned once every two or three days. But I never did that this time, because there was never one day where the room was cleaned thoroughly enough that it was okay to leave it for a day. The linens were never changed on the bed Ė and we could tell because Grommet ate Cheerios and Goldfish in the bed and left crumbs one day and we were sweeping crumbs out for a couple of days after Ė and things kept happening like theyíd take our wet towels but not give us any new ones. The tub was only cleaned when we specifically left a note asking them to, and I donít think the sink was cleaned once. Grossest of all were the cockroaches we killed on a daily basis.

Now, again, I donít really blame the resort for the existence of cockroaches. We specifically requested to be on the ground floor because of the stroller and itís a tropical country. Bugs just come with the territory. But I would have thought the cleaning would then have to be that much better to ensure that bugs werenít attracted to the rooms. We could have asked to move to a higher level and Iím betting that that would have meant fewer bugs, but we elected to put up with them because of the convenience of being able to load Grommet and her supplies into the stroller and just wheel out the door. The buildings were all 3 stories high and there werenít any elevators.

The facilities, however, were awesome. There was a huge area for children with a vast wading pool with two waterslides, a playground shaped like a ship, a mini-club and baby club, and a snack canteen right there to serve up lemonade, hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream. We chose this particular resort for this very reason and I donít think weíll be able to go to one without these kinds of facilities for at least a few years. We didnít take advantage of the baby club and drop Grommet off, but we could have and if it had rained we might have brought her there and stayed with her while she played with the large selection of toys.

Grommet definitely made progress over the week Ė she was kind of chicken of the water at the beginning and didnít like walking on the sand, even in her shoes, when we got there. By the end she was willing to walk a short time on the sand in her bare feet if she was enticed by a reward like going down the slide, and she was a lot bolder in the water. I kind of like the fact that sheís on the cautious, fastidious side, since it keeps her clean and out of trouble, but itís good to see her exploring a bit too.

More later, and I will try to include a pic or two when I get more organized.

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