I love the ocean something fierce, but I’m not a beach vacation type of person. Even when I travel to a seaside place with the intention of relaxing, I often end up discovering how much there is to do there and try to tackle as many activities as I can. But that urgency and eagerness to do everything is fading with time. And on that day specifically, I just wanted to spend hours lazing on the beach and releasing the previous day’s craziness. We all wanted that.
And we were in Maria la Gorda, an ideal place to do so with its abundance of therapeutic sun and sea and lack of things to do. The “resort” we stayed at, along with the International Scuba Diving Center that is located there, are all there is to Maria la Gorda. It’s an isolated place on the western edge of Cuba, closer to Mexico than it is to Havana.
We didn’t have ocean view rooms in Maria la Gorda, what we had was better—rustic cabanas connected by a series of wooden walkways. During the day, in the foliage between and underneath the walkways, there were hundreds of butterflies swirling around.
I went to check out some snorkel gear after breakfast. After being sent back and forth between the scuba center and the hotel reception and waiting much longer than was really necessary, it was determined that the only matching sets of flippers were way too big. But I at least procured one of the last snorkeling masks they had available. While I was at reception, I inquired about the international phone I’d seen at the hotel.
“You can buy a phone card, but the phone doesn’t work,” responded the receptionist nonchalantly, not even making eye contact with me.
Es Cuba. You can let the blasé Cuban customer service offend you or make you angry or you can let it go and not take it personally. It’s only when you get past it that you can embrace Cuba for what it is and enjoy it fully.
Out on the beach, we found a cluster of palm trees for shade. We laid. We snorkeled. We read. We slept. We let go.
We took a break for lunch. The tuna fish sandwich I ordered tasted incredible to me and the Aussie Vegan couple raved about their toast. No, they weren’t the most spectacular things we’d ever eaten, they were just different from what we’d been eating. If you’ve had just one incredible meal in your life, Cuban food will not taste good to you. There’s no sugarcoating that. You do get used to it and after awhile, a good meal consists of “different!” or “more flavors!” but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll reach the level of memorable tastiness of a coconut curry in Thailand or a mole in Oaxaca and so on.
Back on the beach, we continued our morning routine, until the sand flies became too much to handle. The casa mother in Vinales had warned me about them. She’d asked me where we were going next. When I told her we were heading to Maria la Gorda, she puckered up her face and repeatedly pinched her arm. That was a pretty accurate description of late afternoons and evenings there. The sand flies are vicious little things. They all seemed to be saying, “Take that DEET and shove it!”
So we headed indoors to enjoy our non-electric showers (In Vinales, all of our casa particulares had electric showers that sparked and sizzled when we adjusted the temperature and threatened to electrocute us.) and watch a bit of World Cup before coming back together for dinner.
If it wasn’t for associating that day with the intense day that came before it, it would not have been memorable. No, it was not the day gripping travel stories are made of, but that non-crazy, non-spectacular day was exactly what we’d wanted and needed.