But you know what makes the cold and snow of a Canadian winter bearable?
A week ago at this time, I was chillin' on the beach. In fact, exactly one week ago, I spent the entire day on the beach. It was bliss.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. This story all starts at about 2 AM on Friday, January 14th, when a big yellow school bus pulled into Wayne's yard...
That morning, 22 tired but super-pumped people headed off to the Ottawa airport to board a flight to Veradero, Cuba.
By 3:30 PM that afternoon, we had finally reached our destination: The Breezes Jibacoa resort, nestled between mountains and ocean, exactly one hour from Veradero and Havana on either side. By that time, I was able to cross a lot off my 101 list already - my first time flying, my first time going South, my first time dabbling my toes in the ocean. (I promise, the 101 List will be updated soon!)
It was windy and overcast when we landed, but I didn't mind - my first glimpse of ocean!
That first afternoon, we familiarized ourselves with the beach bar and grill, we napped, explored the resort, had dinner at the buffet, and then witnessed the longest game of pool ever played. So long, in fact, that Lindsay eventually gave up her cue to Sarah, so that she could finish the game with Ryan.
We were zonked. First night in Cuba, in bed by 9. Wooooooooooooooo!!
But then we were totally rested up for the next day. The first couple of days were pretty windy, so we spent a lot of our time hanging out by the pool, where it was a little more sheltered. On Monday, we had made plans with the entire group to go to Havana, and I was very excited to see what Cuban life was like off the resort.
Our tour guide taught us the word of the week on that trip: Suuaaaaavéééé. We said it a lot. He explained that it meant "slowly", and that's the way to approach life in Cuba. We learned that he really meant it on our walking tour of Old Havana, when he literally strolled the streets at such a mellow, relaxed pace that we had a hard time staying behind him. (He also didn't seem to understand the urgency of needing to PEE, either!!)
The Havana trip was one of the highlights for me, as we were able to take pictures in Revolution Square, and then tour the old city, with stops at Hemmingway's favourite bar in Cuba, a colonial-style home that had been turned into a hotel (we saw a peacock there!), a huge and majestic Catholic church, and just mingle with the local people and take in their culture and lifestyles. We also made a stop at the market, which was a little scary...you couldn't move through the vendors without them shouting, "Hey, lady! Look at this!" every two steps. Eek!
Most of our group in Revolution Square
We had lunch and then took a trip up to the fortress that used to protect the island from invaders. There we were able to buy rum and cigars before leaving to go back to our resort. We had opted for a shorter tour that was supposed to get us back by 2 PM, but because our guide was so "suavé", and then because we were stalled in traffic due to a roadside fire, we didn't get back until about 4:30. Everyone hurried to their rooms for bathing suits and headed to the beach for the last few hours of sunshine!
The next day was one of my favourites of the whole week. We spent the morning on the beach, and it was Cuban Day at the resort. They had a giant blow-up boxing ring and over-sized gloves and sumo wrestling suits, which everyone had a lot of fun with, whether participating or taking pictures! They also had a guy making drinks out of coconuts for us, and a huge pork barbeque on the beach.
By mid-afternoon, we were all showered and dressed, back on the beach for Kerry and Jeff's wedding. What an absolutely stunning location, and the couple looked amazing! They made a VERY strong case for a down-south wedding. I felt so fortunate to be there to share their special day with them. Afterwards, we all danced and sipped champagne in the gazebo, and then had drinks and laughs in their suite (which was right above our room). We all gathered for dinner at the Italian a la carte Martino's, and celebrated with the newlyweds!
Wednesday: Officially spent the entire day at the beach. Awesome. I loved every minute! We took a paddleboat out and had a great time inspecting the coral reef from above. Then later that afternoon, Kerry loaned me her snorkel gear so that I could go out with Brenda, Wayne, Sarah, and Cowan to do some underwater investigating. It was surreal! We saw some kind of ray swimming along the reef, and all kinds of fish that swam right up to your face. Swimming in water that blue...it was truly a dream for me!
Thursday was another beach day, but we were starting to gear up for our departure. I tried to relax and enjoy the last rays of sun and the feeling of the salt water on my skin, but my mind was already racing to thoughts of re-packing the suitcase, making sure I had the right documents for the airport, and figuring out what to take with me and leave behind so that my suitcase didn't exceed the weight limits.
I was ready to come home. The week had been filled with good drinks, good food, good friends, and fabulous memories, but I was ready to fly home. I was dying for good ol' Canadian junk food, and my own bed, and my family and friends that I'd left behind.
But the memories are there, in the pictures, and in my mind. I just close my eyes, and it's there.
Nelson's omelettes in the morning. Watching the kids try to walk in flippers. Blue Lagoons in travel mugs. The old guy singing in the piano bar. Dancing with the German mullet head in the disco. The little lizards. The dead crab. Suaaaaavvvééééé. Yeffy! Yimmy! Barrieeeeeeeeeeee!! Running to guess songs from movies and TV shows (and only getting there once.) The buns. Hockey on the beach. The light blue banana hammock. Bad little Winnipeg boys. Snorkeling. The names Wayne & Terry gave the fish. ("C*cksucker!" "And his brother Motherf*cker!" "Ah, Sonofabitch!") Jimmy from England. Owen's amazing dance moves. Cha-cha-cha'ing in the gazebo. Threatening Cowan's life to get him to dance with me. The Pina Coladas with no rum. "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts - REAL ones!" My 3 little seashells that cost a lot of toothbrushes and gum. The McDonalds war. Gasolina!! The bus that was nicer than the plane. Weighing ourselves in Jeff & Kerry's room. Michayla yelling at Barry to stop giving away his clothes for necklaces. The peacock. The paddleboat. The guy who made weird dolphin noises in the pool. My "teeth" from the sea. Guantanamera. The sun dance. The paparazzi. Terry & Jimmy sumo wrestling. The entertertainment dude lip syching to Shania Twain. Slush with rum. Rinsing cups with vodka. The towel swan wearing my shades.
Kerry & I
Wayne, Brenda & Sarah
Yes. We did sing "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts..."
Jeff & Kerry exchanging vows on the beach.
A week I'll never forget!
I have a million more pictures I'd love to post, but it would take forever! I'm hoping to upload most of them to Facebook tomorrow. Also, since Kerry & Jeff have yet to share wedding pictures with many of their family & friends, I'm only posting the one wedding picture for now! :)