As much as Torontonians love getting away from the cold and soaking up warmth from a tropical island, there’s only so much time I can spend on resorts before feeling the pans for a return to the life I’ve established back home.
I’m not the type to lay on the beach all day without a care in the world, drink in one hand, book in the other, letting all my worries flow out as I enter a state of unbridled relaxation. I’m not the type to party recklessly through the night, acting unashamedly, willfully ignorant of my actions’ consequences, doing things I wouldn’t dare do in my backyard. The place I feel most comfortable is the home I’ve built myself on the Internet — and you can’t take me away from that spot for too long before I start to feel a certain itch.
It wasn’t Cuba’s fault — the Cubans are super friendly, excited to see a Black Canadian with a cute mixed baby, and likely partly because I’m a good tipper*.
*NOT SO FUN FACT: The average Cuban worker earns about 25 convertible pesos (CUCs) a month — or just over 31 Canadian Dollars. With prices for Cuban all-inclusive resorts so low, please make sure to tip generously!
And Sarah’s family isn’t the idle kind — many bore easily, so we filled our days with food, drink and trips to Varadero’s downtown and Havana when weather permitted.
In fact, for most people, a reprieve from the Canadian cold is a welcome vacation, a glimmer of hope that the dreary times will end and a joyous return to cookouts, camping and patio cocktails will soon come.
But after more than 30 years, I’ve realized — we Palmers aren’t most people —
Cuba — Great for Partying and Relaxing; Not Great for Blogging or Parenting?
The Cuba I’d have loved to know was far from my reach, the Casey of a different time out drinking, dancing and exploring all the island has to offer once the sun goes down.
I’m still getting used to my travels with a baby, our only previous experience a road trip to Ottawa last summer to visit some seldom-seen family, and October’s trip to Chicago, a setting not too different from our Torontonian urburban lifestyle.
But as much as you love them, babies are the antithesis of R&R, so how do they work into one’s all-inclusive getaway, where you’re meant to forget your cares and put life on hold, if only for a week?
There I was after the first full day of a family vacation to Varadero, Cuba, face-down on the couch in our bungalow, wondering where I’d find the energy for the rest of the week. My 5-year old nephew was expecting me to keep up, splashing in the sea and building sandy fortifications to defend us from the unstoppable force of the waves that continually make themselves known. My 14-month old son was amid another sick spell, making strange with his extended family and often choosing only Mommy or Daddy to hold, bathe and feed him.
I was grossly unprepared for this trip, with Toronto on my mind — I was woefully unaware that many of the outlets in Cuba are European due to Russian construction all those decades ago, leaving me more disconnected than I’d like; my wardrobe was painfully devoid of casual shorts and comfortable sandals (as pools, beaches and large bodies of water rarely cross my path) and my third of a suitcase from the three we packed sparse on my usual tricks and toys; and the constant niggling feeling that my ass was grass upon my return to the T-Dot, having abruptly left my world without an adequate backup plan, not knowing how many balls might’ve dropped without me constantly juggling them in the air.
In short, when you’re used to grinding as often as I do to shape the life you want, vacations can prove vexing when you’re unable to live life out to your standard — and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Sometimes, life gives you a break from yourself — even when you don’t recognize that you need it.
“Sometimes it’s better to worry less about the overwhelmingly MASSIVE picture, and more about the tiny things we CAN control, one task at a time.”
–advice from a friend
I may have a strong need to grind, thinking I can somehow do everything possible, but I started the year stressed out from everything I was trying to do!
I first felt like the year started out on a good note with the beginnings of strong brand partnerships, fun at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, and big plans and hopes for an amazing 2015, feeling I was finally getting my act together in the digital realm.
But the best-laid plans of mice and men all too often go awry, and the creative Casey who’d been scribbling away in his notebook was suddenly replaced by a shell of himself, feeling like every new idea he found had already been written; like he had nothing worthwhile to share through audio or video; and like he was still full of ambition to grow his brand greater than it’d ever been… but also devoid of the time and energy to make it happen.
Long story short, I’d already started 2015 running on fumes.
Let’s not get it twisted, though — there was plenty of good that came from this trip, mental baggage holding me down or not.
What my week in Varadero did for me is have me think differently about how I use my time.
When you get rid of the digital distractions we so readily accept, filling 24 hours can get very… creative.
Life is different when you need to fill a 24-hour day and the Internet isn’t an option. I may have jammed on the Candy Crush: Soda Saga, pegging away on a level I found rather troublesome; and I may have brought my portable keyboard to polish my scrawled ideas on my iPad, making sense of the fragments I usually stash all over the place.
But you can’t do that all day.
Group vacations — especially those with family — especially those with in-laws — forces you to spend more time doing things you might normally not do enough of — like catching up with conversations about how you’re really doing, and what your future may have in store.
My time spent on the beach was cathartic, drink often in hand as I watched over my napping son and sifted through my thoughts. With an all-inclusive resort, you regularly see many of the same faces, and despite a bit of a language barrier, I felt like I made some great connections with several members of the Sol Palmeros staff — ones who I could see myself sharing a beer with, rather than the ones showing you kindness because they have to.
The food was often passable, though I found some favourites — the lunchtime white fish in La Panchita buffet, the fare at the “Oshin” Chinese restaurant, and La Casa on a day trip to Havana; our bungalow cozy (though I did never figure out how to convert the sofa into a bed); and the one time I got hit on, it was because I’d taken my wedding band off to play with my nephew on the beach — a mistake I didn’t make again!
I guess to put it best, I had my time in the sun, free to think about my life and what I was doing, finding the gusto to handle the changes ahead.
But there was only so much I could do from Cuba, disconnected from everything I’d worked at for so long. I needed to put these insights into action and make the changes needed to get the weight off of my shoulders and the strength to really make something of the mish-mash I call my digital presence.
It was time to go home.
Ultimately, there’s no place like home.
“You ain’t gotta go home, but you gotta get the hell outta here!”
— various attributions**
**Googling the original source of the quote will tell you that the quote came from every Black character including Will Smith, Martin Payne and George Jefferson, but I’ve only been able to find the source for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. So hey.
So over a week, likely dozens of litres of Cristal beer and 1000+ photos later, what can I tell you of my time spent in Cuba?
That it was likely just what I needed to get me back on track and put some valuable perspective back in my life. Though I’ll have finished writing this before returning to work and dealing with the maelström waiting for me there, I’ve already felt far better about my efforts, knowing I’m building things that’re starting to show my growth as a creative.
That despite my apprehension to sun and surf, preferring the hustle and bustle of a city to the serene calm of the waves lapping up on the shore — this trip was exactly what I needed.
Some things never change — I return ever more grateful for the things I have, pining less for those I do not, realizing that others lead their lives on a lot less than what I have for mine.
While not necessarily rested and refreshed, slave to the villains of volatile baby emotions and creeping cabin fever, I’m not returning feeling like I missed out on anything in Cuba, opting instead to fix my gaze to the fun that lay in my path ahead.
But most of all, it’s like getting a part of my soul back, returning to the tools and conversations that help me be… me.
There’s no place like home, and the reminder’s only made ever stronger each time I leave it.
It’s good to be back.