By Fernando Aramis (Photos: Juan Suarez)
HAVANA TIMES — Living on Varadero beach for a while was a really comforting and rewarding experience, but a little sad at the same time. It was 1995 when my father and I arrived at this beach resort, him with his accordeon, and me with a guitar in my hands.
Luckily, we had a relative who lived just a few kilometers from Varadero, in a small town called Central Humberto Alvarez. Vladimir Tamayo, my father’s brother, kindly took us into his home. This is how our adventures began in Varadero, the other country…
A month before we arrived, motivated by my work at the Hotel Farallon del Caribe (Granma province) and the sweet taste I had acquired for green money (USD), I had gone to Varadero with my ex-wife Maria del Pilar Rodriguez, who I had a musical duo with called Imagtro (Imagen de la trova), to get a feel for the scene.
I could see with my own eyes that you could make a lot of money. When I returned to Bayamo, I went to see my father. He was laying in his bed and was very worried and somewhat nervous because he had been kicked out of the local Music Center, the institution he had belonged to as a musician for almost all of his life. In other words, he didn’t have a job because of an inexplicable cutback in staff.
– My son, he said – you know what this is like; they took away my job. What am I going to do now?
I put my hand in my pocket and took out a wad of dollars, it was about 400 USD in 20 dollar bills.
– Don’t worry dad, look…
– Where did you get that, my son? – He asked me in total shock, his eyes bulging out of their sockets.
– I made this money in Varadero- I told him. And when I go back again, you’ll come with me. Don’t worry about your job at the music center and all of its red tape. Now get up out of bed and let’s go out and celebrate, because there’s no reason for you to be sad or nervous right now.
We were going to and from Varadero for four years and living off of the juicy earnings we made from tourists. At the beginning, walking along the beach and busking, “passing the brush” like we say here in Cuba, and then we worked as permanent musicians at the Villa Granma Hotel on 30th Street.
There were many stories at that time in Cuba’s city of tourism, a place where everything was completely different to an ordinary Cuban’s immediate reality. In the city where you could find everything, everything that was scarce on the other side of the bridge, as soon as you passed over the bridge to Varadero, the bridge that separated two different realities, there was more than enough.
The Parque Josone, the Melia Varadero Hotel, 5 star Hotels, where luxury could be seen at a simple glance and where Cubans weren’t allowed to enter. The police’s relentless persecution of girls called jineteras, professionals who had decided to sell their bodies for dollars, and who dreamed of some man coming along to take them with him and save them from the precarious situation they lived in Cuba. The forbidden sale of lobster, PPG pill trafficking. Musicians banned from conversing with tourists. Corruption, the sale of drugs… It was quite simply a whole other world to the one we’d been shown and taught about at school.
Varadero had definitively become the first border we Cubans would come across. The place where everything was extremely expensive, where there was food and enough of everything.
It was quite simply, another country… Since then and after having decided that that wasn’t the world I had dreamed for myself, even though it did wonders for my financial situation, I haven’t returned to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But according to what I’ve been told, it hasn’t changed for the better, the opposite has happened actually.
It’s extremely expensive and now there are strict controls of everything that enters and leaves Varadero on the famous Varadero bridge, where there is a sign that says:
“Border Control Point”.