MIAMI, United States. – Out of the 30 years I lived under a communist dictatorship, I remember only two occasions in which we took what could be described as “vacations” in a government facility.
The first was pleasant, although rare. Sometime in the 1960s, my abnegated and hard-working father was awarded one week’s vacation in Varadero, all expenses paid, something similar to what today we know as the successful “all included” modality in other Caribbean tourist destinations.
I remember that we were lodged at the luxurious Dupont neighborhood, a ghostly experience due to the absence of the original owners of those mansions that had been occupied by Castro’s troops.
The so-called “vanguard workers” would make up a quasi-middle-class for seven days, where the real middle-class had been either decimated or had taken the road to exile. After those seven days, the workers and their families would return to the torment of daily shortages.
The second revolutionary vacation I remember was not pleasant. It was the eighties, and workers already had stopped enjoying privileges, except those described by a revealing documentary, titled Fin de siglo, that shows how overwhelmed sugar-cane workers were allowed to do some cockamamie shopping – house dresses, shampoo, arts and crafts, underwear- in the once famous department store in Havana.
The tyrant required more sacrifices from his followers. He excommunicated them from the hotels and tourist centers in order to make room for foreigners, who would be called to bring Cuba those much-needed US Dollars. And then he invented a plan called “camping”.
On mountain slopes and close to rock-lined coastal reefs, the government built tiny cabins, more like dog houses, with common bathroom facilities. The food was mainly canned goods, snacks and other miserly provisions officially called “factura”.
Between the months of February and March, there are a lot of birthdays in my family, which we celebrate in freedom. We have made it a habit to go to places near Miami to enjoy those occasions. México and other Caribbean destinations have become the sites for quick but charming vacations.
This year, we explored once again the intense and well-known axis between Santo Domingo and Quintana Roo.
Frustration makes my compatriots say every so often that, without the suffering inflicted on Cuba by the revolution, Cuba’s geographical advantages and its people would have made of the island a been great competitor to those other Caribbean destinations.
After freedom returns to Cuba, it will be decades before the Cuban tourist industry can equal those well-greased and functional monsters that are Mexican and Dominican tourism, just to mention two of the most-loved sites for Miami Cubans.
This year, my good friend, the comedian Boncó Quiñongo, a showstopper in Santo Domingo beaches, recommended Risa Travel to arrange one of those birthday celebrations.
I talked for a long time with its co-owner, Mariela González, a successful Cuban woman who in 2014 founded the agency with her husband, in spite of uncertain forecasts a bout competition from powerful online businesses already handling this type of travel.
Mariela knows her trade to the tee, and she recommended we explore a beach at La Romana, in the Dominican Republic, that turned out to be a veritable paradise not only because of its geography on a cove, but also because of the staff’s meticulous attention.
When the driver who was taking us to La Romana realized we were Cuban, he started singing the praises of the radio program “La tremenda corte”, a 1950s Cuban radio show that is still broadcast throughout Latin America and which he had been listening to since childhood.
The next birthday we celebrated in Cancun, Quintana Roo, in an “all-included” hotel complex similar to the one at La Romana.
Mexicans know that they are competing against other destinations, and the attention and service they bestow upon hundreds of people from every corner of the world who come to Cancun to enjoy the pleasures of the Caribbean, seems personal, like among friends.
Families that travel from Argentina, Asia, New Orleans and some rural areas of the United States were also enjoying these exclusive vacations, where nothing is missing, where staff does not try to trick you or steals cutlery, like it happens in Cuba because life outside hotel facilities is totally dysfunctional.
Today, Cubans who live in Miami are the driving force of this kind of tourism, especially during summer months. Mariela and her company, Risa Travel, staffed mostly by women, service this demand with utmost care. Most of her customers are the productive workers of our community, the middle class that the Castro regime obliterated with premeditated malice.
Domestic tourism in Cuba leaves a lot to be desired because it lacks propriety and mistreats its clientele, while foreign tourism rests on the repression and poverty of Cubans.
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