My Time at Cuba’s Farallon del Caribe Hotel

June 11, 2016 | Print Print |

By Fernando Aramis

View at the Farallón del Caribe hotel.

HAVANA TIMES — When I was still illegally peddling coffee back in 1994, a door was opened to me in the middle of the labyrinth I’d lost myself in. I found light in the middle of the darkness. And with this light, my days as a peddler ended.

One fine day, I bumped into a musician friend of mine (Alberto Camejo) and when he saw me he said: “We were just looking for you with some good news. “What’s it all about?” I asked.

It just so happened that in the Pilon municipality (Granma Province), a luxurious hotel had been built in collaboration with a Canadian company. My friend was playing the tres guitar in a traditional Son septet (Septeto Canoy), which performed for tourists staying at this hotel. Luckily for me, the septeto’s main singer (Ivan) had met a Canadian woman who he’d then married and was now moving to Canada. Therefore, the band was desperately looking for a replacement and Noida Gonzales, the group’s director, had thought about me. Alberto assured me that it was a very good job and that they earned a lot and that if I agreed, we would go to the Farallon del Caribe Hotel in three days.

Without giving it a second thought, I immediately accepted his offer and we went to Noida’s house to iron out the details.

Three days later, we were on our way to the hotel and that’s how a period of great relief and stability began for me bang in the middle of the “Special Period”.

Pilon is a very small municipality in the Granma Province, located on Cuba’s southeastern coast. Its inhabitants lived off of farming and fishing and so they had no means to get hold of valuable dollars. Therefore, this hotel represented an opportunity for the townspeople to improve their lives.

We arrived and got settled in at one of the boarding houses which stood a few kilometers away from the hotel. It was in fact a little closer to the Marea del Portillo Hotel, the hotel for Cubans, which was by then a small remnant of what it once was. That same night we began playing at the Hotel.

The Farallon del Caribe hotel in Granma province.

The job involved playing a two hour set, from 9pm until 11pm, and then Alberto and I would stay on to liven up the night at the hotel lobby bar. It goes without saying (for Cubans) that the hotel’s rules and restrictions didn’t allow us to interact with tourists, rules which we of course broke for obvious reasons.

Tourists were mainly Canadian and Austrian, although there were also Germans and Italians. After thinking about it, I realized that in order to take advantage of this opportunity I had to speak a little bit of English, so I put my head down and began to study.

This hotel stood out like a sore thumb in the surrounding area. So much luxury and such stunning architecture in the middle of so much misery and need. The first time I stepped inside the workers’ dining room at the Hotel, which had nothing to envy of the hotel restaurant’s buffet, I was amazed to see just how much food they had. I immediately began to think about all those families in Bayamo who have nothing to eat, who have to turn the city over in order to get something to put in their mouths.

At that time, all of the bodega neighborhood stores were empty. Butcher shops were also  empty establishments where you would only see the butcher twiddling his thumbs waiting for something he could sell. Meanwhile, at that hotel, there was a lot of food, so much food. And not only was there food but they used to throw out so much food that it was really distressing to see such injustice.

That was one of the first immoral acts I experienced at the Farallon del Caribe Hotel. I hadn’t been taught at school about anything that I was living. Everything contradicted the principles and values of equality that had been instilled in us since we were children.

I worked at the hotel for over 4 months. We had to play at the Hotel for 25 days and then we would spend 5 days off with our families. We always returned with more than 400 USD in our pockets and at that time, the dollar was worth 120 Cuban pesos. It was a time of financial abundance and comfort. When I used to get home, I’d buy a pig and a lamb for my family. They’d all wait for me with open arms. Gifts, presents and all the comforts that that implied. It was five days of partying and pachanga; we literally threw the house out of the window.

Dining room at the Farallon del Caribe hotel.

One day, on one of those package deals that came to the Hotel every week, a German lady named Trixi arrived. I began a relationship with her that lasted for just over a year. However, in order to win her over several deplorable things had to take place. That’s when my first experiences as a jinetero (hustler) began.

She wasn’t travelling alone and so we had nothing but an unfinished relationship. However, it was enough for a platonic bond to form between us. When she left, she gave me some electronic devices, money and a letter.

And I continued living my life as a musician at the Farallon Hotel. Amongst so many basic needs, I was able to live comfortably. I remember that we used to buy huge blocks of cheese from the hotel’s chefs for a reasonable price, which we then smuggled out in the group’s drums.

Everybody had their own hustle at the hotel, and although those were happy days so to speak, the hotel’s restrictions and extremism, led me to follow my path elsewhere. Our contract finally ended because they’d taken on another band.

After having worked at the hotel, I decided to go to the beach in Varadero in search of the dollar. That was the only option we musicians had at the time. And because the city where I was born didn’t have access to the sea, we didn’t have opportunities to run into the dollar.

When I left the hotel, I continued to write to Trixi, the German girlfriend I never had. A year passed by and she returned to Cuba to find me. My partner Nadiezka had to put up with that unethical relationship out of necessity during that terrible time that was the Special Period. We met each other once again at Guardalavaca Beach, but that’s another story…


What's your opinion?

  • bjmack

    Cool story and the pace is superb! I played music in the late sixties and got paid a lot as well. Your description of the hotel and the workers food reminded me of when I secured my first job in Hawaii, 1972 at the Kuilima and the workers food was equal to the guests, some of us would actually drive to the hotel, days off, just to eat the incredible food. Yes, compared to the others we were rich.

  • sandra lally

    I travelled Cuba for a few years helping Sudanese students and as fate would have it, I chose this place for my first ever resort experience (in my lifetime) . Ironically the “hotel for Cubans” the Marea Del Portillo is preferred by most of the tourists and not the more luxurious Farallon because of the Marea’s close proximity to the beach. Over the last 10 years I have seen many changes come to the resort but one thing has never changed, that of which you speak Fernando. I will not judge you because I don’t know what I would do in your shoes, having a family to feed and clothe, and yet being privy to such abundance. The stores of Pilon may be a little more stocked now, but still it’s patience and playing the waiting game for microwaves, washing machines, etc. to show up in the stores. I finally gave up and brought in the microwaves myself. The families in that area have to contend with the worst transportation system imaginable so if a microwave could in some small way ease their daily toils, then it was worth it to risk what customs puts me through. You see, I am one of those tourists there (and there are many of us) who bring zip lock bags and small containers into the restaurant so that some of this abundance can be dispersed to the many families who do not have access to tourist dollars . We don’t neglect the musicians either, we know how to get packages of sandwiches out to them on break , and guitars do make good hiding places. Having never been to another resort, I have no idea is this “misappropriation of food” is commonplace elsewhere. So let the jineteros carry on , I do not judge them , I judge their victims who should realize there may be a wife or girlfriend attached to that jinetero.

  • Gerard Matthews

    The same situation as at Sandals in Jamaica when we visited years ago, so much available for the tourists and so little for the locals, also plenty of older European women seeking a holiday fling with the local men. Wherever you travel in the world it is not so different!

  • Trish Hyatt

    Thanks for the cautionary tale.

  • Gordon Robinson

    Over the past 24 years I have been to this complex over 30 times. I was there two weeks ago at the Marea side. There was lots of Cubans in the resort. I rate the three resorts of this area to be the best budget resorts in Cuba. During the summer only one plane flies to Manzanillo from Toronto but you can taxi down from Holguin.

    2

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Gordon, you regularly remind us of your now 91 research trips to Cuba. I understand from a recent post, that contrary to my understanding, your research has not been into obesity, but into the economy.

      By now, you must have reached some conclusions about why there has been a steady decline of production year after year in virtually every sector of the economy except tourism.
      Do you think that Circles Robinson as Editor of Havana Times would be kind enough to publish an article by you giving the results to date of your research?

      I imagine, but you may correct me if I am wrong, that you have had access through Machado Ventura to Marino Murillo and his statistical data base. I think that such an article would be of great interest not only to myself, but to many others who regularly read these pages.

      • Gordon Robinson

        You must remember that only a few years ago Cubans were not allowed into resorts as guests. My Cuban – Canadian children were allowed into resorts but their mother had to be on the beach. Rome was not built in a day – Si !!! In 1993 the cost of everytthing was one US dollar !!!

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          Sure Gordon I remember having been ejected from the Tropicoco Hotel at Santa Maria one lunchtime in 2011, because my wife is a Cuban. That reflected the lack of freedom imposed upon Cubans by the Castro regime.

          But tell me, if Circles invited you, would you write an article for Havana Times describing the results of your research?

  • Gordon Robinson

    I strongly believe this site should do a resort / hotel review each week.