Last Saturday (Sep. 14th) our group took a Brown-funded excursion to an all-inclusive resort located in Varadero, in the Matanzas province of Cuba. Having never been to a resort like this, I was overjoyed. But making the transition from Habana to the Iberostar resort made the shock all the more real.
On the over two-hour bus ride we passed incredible and contrasting sights, from tropical ravines and miles of white beach, to hordes of hitchhikers and increased displays of propaganda. After driving through miles of rural Habana and passing murals proclaiming ‘Socialismo o Muerte!’ and other slogans, our arrival at a massive all-inclusive resort seemed almost too ironic to believe. After being informed about all the amenities the hotel had to offer and being given single rooms (all with at least two beds and a couch) I was in shock at how much we had been gifted. After living for five days with irregular water and no toilet seats, Iberostar was to be well-deserved rest. Unfortunately, the initial euphoria was not to last. Rather than serve as mindless vacation, the next 24 hours would turn out to be an immersive education on the decadence and depravity of Third World tourism.
Destinations like Iberostar are the perfect symbol of capitalist excess. This place dared us to consume as much as possible in our short stay. And there was seemingly endless food, alcohol, and sun to be consumed. Buffets of mass produced “Cuban” dishes, bars at every corner, six pools, a tacky nightclub, and a horrid theatre show were all presented to us as somebody’s version of paradise. Indeed, the first few hours were a paradise, but it quickly devolved into moral hell. One walk around the compound’s grounds was like an exhibition of the seven deadly sins, a museum of moral decay that seemed to preface the dystopia Aldous Huxley had so presciently predicted. The only aspect of this place that I could truly appreciate without a guilty heart was the miles of beautiful beach and the crystal clear water, which even the potbellied European men with banana-hammock speedos couldn’t ruin.
So yes, for some it was paradise, but a paradise I could only enjoy while relaxing in the Gulf’s warm waters, not seated at the ‘Cuban Day’ show that over-exoticized the island’s culture and women to a vomit-inducing extreme. If I was forced to spend a week there I would either be driven insane by the force-feeding of ‘amenities’, or leave with leather skin from too many hours on the beach. Needless to say, skin cancer would be preferable to the den of gluttony that would degrade my soul faster than Habana’s seafront ruins.
After a day of ‘5-star’ resort living, I couldn’t wait to get out and return to La Habana. Such resorts are designed to be a vacationer’s utopia, but the place had sucked the life out of me. I simply couldn’t understand how so much waste and consumption could take place in a country in which so many go undernourished, all while it’s government purports to defend equality. Even more, the realization that so many of the resort’s would have their idea of Cuba rooted in this piss poor imitation angered me to the point of disgust. Just conjuring the images to write this short post brought by back un-fond memories. Leaving the resort was like being awoken from a dream that seemed perfect, but felt so very much like a nightmare. Luckily, after a long bus ride, the sight of the Habana’s faded buildings and waves crashing against the Malecón set my heart at ease.