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Courtney Brooks: I am a 21-year-old American student living in Havana for three months. I am studying Cuban culture, history, film and music at Casa de las Americas. In Boston, where I attend Northeastern University, I study journalism and international affairs. I grew up in Vermont with my parents, two brothers and sister. My goal is to be an international journalist, and in the last few years I have traveled to Costa Rica, Ireland, Spain, and South Africa. I have also worked at newspapers in Vermont, Boston and Cape Town, South Africa. This summer I am going to be working in Dublin, Ireland and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Resort Life

April 6, 2009 | Print Print |
Varadero Beach, photo: Brainless Angel

Varadero Beach, photo: Brainless Angel

By Courtney Brooks

Last weekend I went to Matanzas and spent Sunday in Varadero, which was probably one of my strangest days in Cuba.

After a few weeks in Cuba I ceased to feel like a tourist. I’m obviously not a local, but I am a student who would rather spend the day hanging out on the Malecon seawall with Cuban friends than desperately trying to knock tourist attractions off of my to do list.

But although I often don’t feel like a tourist I am almost always treated as such, whether it works to my benefit or not.

Spending the day in Varadero with a slew of sunburned tourists was a very different experience than the one I had been having. Being in an all-inclusive resort and then thinking that you have been to Cuba it a strange notion to me.

Whether I was trying to order drinks and food or looking at the overpriced jewelry people spoke to me in English. If I spoke in Spanish first they responded in English, whether or not their English was better than my Spanish. Some people even pretended that they couldn’t understand me, when I have never had that problem before.

The only Cubans we saw were working there. Earlier we had heard that it was technically legal for Cubans to use the beaches in Varadero but police would often discreetly force them off if they tried, just another example of police trying to stop Cubans from “bothering” foreigners.

Of all of the many times Cuban men have bothered me on the street I have never had a police officer intervene. They are actually often the ones honking, whistling, or yelling at me from cars and sidewalks.

As a visitor to this country I can say that I am perfectly fine with families building sand castles on the beach. Having police cars honk at me and officers make advances in the street is what actually bothers me.

In Varadero we eventually found a resort where we wanted to order drinks and food. The bartenders told us that we couldn’t pay, it was an all-inclusive resort and only guests could place orders. Then they winked and asked us what we wanted to drink.

They may have seen the desperation in our eyes at the prospect of spending another hour looking for a resort that wasn’t all-inclusive. Or they may have sensed that we were actually wayward travelers, not tourists.

Either way at the end of the day we had our own touristy sunburns, found new Cuban friends in the bartenders and left a good tip that would go to the people that actually deserved it, not a resort franchise in Europe.