Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cayo Largo, Cuba—One Week at the Hotel Pelicano, January, 2014

Cuba, of course, is a (big) island—well, maybe too big for us… and we wanted to try something smaller and cozier. After some research we had our mind set on Cayo Largo del Sur, an island off the south coast of Cuba. It is approximately 25 km long an 3 km wide, has just several hotels (in its western part), an international airport and one of the best beaches in the world! Supposedly Columbus visited the island during his second voyage.

Just a week or so before our departure one of my clients called me and wanted to see me, but said that since he was soon going for vacation, we could meet at the end of January, 2014.

            “Where are you going?” I asked him.

            “We’re going to Cuba”, he said.


            “Well, to a small island called Cayo Largo”

            “And when are you leaving?”

            “On January 17, 2015,” he said

I was quite astonished—what a coincidence!

            “Well, let’s then meet at the airport or on the plane,” I suggested.

He became a little confused at my rather strange proposition.


            “Well,” I said, “we’ll be flying on the same plane—as well as I will be staying on the same island!”
View of the Sol Pelicano form the lookout Tower
And indeed, on January 17, 2014, we did meet him and his wife at the Toronto Airport, soon boarded a comfortable Airbus 310 and left just after 6:00 pm—no deicing was necessary. We had a very good food, average wine and I could see the full moon through the window. After exactly 3 hours and 33 minutes up in the air, we had a perfect landing. By the way—I did not conduct any business with my clients at that time!

We quickly cleared the customs, but had to wait for a long time to get the bags; a very nice, energetic and playful ‘working dog’ was sniffing at the bags, spending on some bags up to 10 seconds, but apparently did not find anything. The bus ride to the hotel took just 10 minutes—the shortest bus ride from the airport to the hotel in Cuba! Our luggage was unloaded from the bus while we were checking in. We were assigned room number 4319 (“Magnolia”) and also decided to pay 2 peso per day for the room safe. At the same time we exchanged $200 into Cuban pesos (got about 176 pesos).
The beach in front of the hotel
The room was on the second floor and faced the ocean. It was very spacious and had a telephone, TV, even a small fridge; the best thing was a big balcony with a generous overhand to protect us from rain. We could sit there, watch the ocean, listen to the soothing sound of the waves and admire sunsets.

Next day we were up at 8:00 am, showered and went to the buffet-style restaurant for breakfast—I had 3 eggs, piece of bread, yogurt, sausage, some fruits. The orientation took place at 11:00 am in the theater by our rep, Samir. He mentioned a recent accident: according to his version, a Canadian tourist, after having several drinks, got on the scooter along with her very small baby and had an accident in which her child was killed. She was detained in Cuba for some time, but eventually released and left for Canada. He also told us about the daily train that could take us to other hotels/beaches and other activities.
Every day we were playing with the three adorable puppies; their mother did not mind!

After the presentation we went to the beach and got a type of A-frame palapa, close to the beach caretaker’s hut. After a while we noticed that he had a dog… with three small, one-month old puppies! Sometimes we played with them and even took them to the palapa! The caretaker told us about the level 4 hurricane Michelle that occurred in November, 2001: before the hurricane, all the tourists had been evacuated and only a handful of Cuban employees stayed behind on the island. The island was hit badly and in no time was flooded due to a 6 meter storm surge. Even though most hotels have been rebuilt, one, I believe has not. Also, the caretaker told us that the beach had been much nicer and it had not had any rocks that we saw—apparently the hurricane had also devastated beaches, which used to be wider and more sandy.

There was a beach bar (Beach Ranchon) just on the beach that, in addition to serving snacks and drinks, served lunch—I love various salads! One evening we had a tasty a'la carte dinner there.

In the center of the resort was a viewing tower and we claimed to the top a few times, the view was quite impressive!
Catherine under the palapa with one of the three puppies
We also visited the adjacent hotels: to the east it was the Villa Lindamar and it catered almost exclusively to Italian tourists; to the left the Hotel Sol Cayo Largo, which we also visited—according to TripAdvisor, it was rated number 1 hotel on Cayo Largo; ours was number 2. Indeed, it was a bit posher hotel (had 4 stars, ours only 3), with nicer décor—but we liked ours very much! My clients stayed at the Sol Cayo Largo; one day we met up went snorkeling in front of their hotel.

The local 'train' took us to the Playa Paradiso, we waded in the shallow water and walked towards Playa Sirena. Both were quite pristine and wild; once we walked farther from the beach bar, there were very few people around. I spent almost an hour wading in very shallow water whereas Catherine kept going much farther, exploring other parts of the beach.
Unfortunately, the hotel did not have any bikes for rent, so we decided to go for a walk along the road near the hotel. Soon we reached the Tower Gardens (near an old water tower)—probably it had been damaged by the hurricane and now appeared to be quite abandoned. There were two ladies caring for a garden and one showed us an iguana that was suntanning near the garden. Later she told us to follow her and took us to a pond, where she pointed to crocodile sunbathing! We were observing it for a while and then he suddenly opened his mouth, giving us a good scare! We saw another iguana as well as an egret.
Real crocodile!
By bus we went to the village of Cayo Largo (called “Pueblito”), which is probably inhabited exclusively by Cubans employed at the tourist industry. We were told they work at the resort for several weeks and then have time off and go home; most of them live on “Isla de la Juventud”, Isle of Youth. All supplies to the island are brought by a barge and once we saw it, being towed towards the island.

We went to a restaurant, to a dock under which we saw plenty of exotic looking fish and to the turtle farm, “Centro de Rescate de Tortugas Marinas.” We saw a bunch of colorful turtles swimming in a pool. Turtle eggs are collected from the island and brought to the farm for incubation; once they hatch, baby turtles spend some time at the farm and later are released to the ocean.

Since the airport was located close to the hotel, we could see (and her) planes arriving and departing; some were smaller Cuban planes, going to and from Havana and their pilots often had meals at the restaurant, I chatted with the a couple of times.
Catherina at the Sirena Beach
On the day of departure instead of taking the free bus, we hired a taxi for the short ride to the airport; this way we got them before everyone else did and could find a great table in the restaurant. Later my clients jointed us and we spent over one hour chatting before heading to the plane. As always, I made all my shopping at the airport; I was glad I had cash, as the store did not accept credit cards due to technical problems. The flight was relaxing and we arrived in Toronto around 2 am.

Normally, when we travel to Cuba, we try to explore nearby towns, see local attractions and mingle with the locals. But we came to Cayo Largo to mostly relax on the beach—and we had a great trip!

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