Varadero, the Sea and Hope

2016 in Varadero

HAVANA TIMES – I don’t know why these days I remember that trip to Varadero in 2016 so much. It wasn’t really for pleasure; we were just going to pick up a tablet that a foreigner was donating to my son for collaborating with Havana Times.

My husband bought the tickets, and in that large bus where we could see the landscape through the front glass like the driver, I felt like a tourist from the first world. So, that’s the remnant that nostalgia brings out, like a flag of triumph: “remember the happiness, the freedom…”

However, the truth is that everything seemed very different from what I remembered of Varadero in the 1980s. Back then, it was so welcoming with its rustic cafes and restaurants, and that intimate, familiar atmosphere. I didn’t recognize anything; the streets seemed inhospitable without the presence of portals and with that scorching sun, plus the powerlessness of seeing horse-drawn carriages and the dejection in the eyes of those powerful animals subdued by a lucrative tradition.

The foreign donor was extremely brief during the encounter, which took place on the street. He limited himself to instructing my son on how to use the tablet and then immediately left.

We then walked around looking for a place to have lunch, but everything was extremely expensive. We finally managed to eat some pizzas whose taste I don’t even remember in a kind of enclosed place with glass where I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable even though I smiled as we took some photos. We also posed later in front of a bar restaurant with designs related to the Beatles, only thinking of my friend and colleague Irina Pino. The dream, yes, of functionality and comfort as a standard of life, trusting, as before, that this scene will be systematized, because “good things happen to good people…”

What I did find intact in its beauty was the sea, the crystal-clear water, and the delicate waves of foam. The silent force of the waves. The wind. Feeling as if it were the first day of the world. How can you live without this, I thought. How can you forget this peace, this innocence amid the hustle of daily survival, among destroyed streets, unstocked markets, and people full of resentment… I ran on the sand and tried to capture everything by recording a video, although my son insisted it was useless: “the camera is not subjective; it won’t capture what you feel…”

A while later, we were looking for a taxi to return to Havana because the bus ticket was one-way only, and we discovered how expensive private car drivers charge out of desperation. The exhilaration began to turn into anguish as the afternoon progressed without the possibility of staying anywhere. I remembered that on my first visit to Varadero, with a friend, in the same situation, we could only sleep a little in the cinema while watching the Korean movie “The Flute Player Against the Ninjas” and were surprised that this implausible plot had caused those huge lines when it premiered in Havana.

How everything has changed, I thought. The majestic hotels, the shopping center, the cafes… they seemed inserted by Photoshop for a population incapable of responding to that economy. A taxi driver asked us $30 per person! My husband had recently sold a painting, but even so, the expense was disproportionate. Finally, we got another driver to take us to Havana for a total of $60.

The escape had lasted a few hours, and the emancipating relief was replaced by anxiety about our pets, who wouldn’t understand the absence if something kept us from returning the same day. The whirl of the landscape showed me so many unknown places that I thought: I don’t know my own country… And I saw Cuba as an animal lying on the water, filled with inaccessible mysteries, even amid the long destruction.

In 2011, when I was returning from France (my first exploration of the world, at 45 years old), the plane entered the island’s sky amid an intense sunset and, looking down, I felt as if objectively an umbilical cord connected me to this land, and a mixture of pain and joy made me burst into tears, ignoring the amazement of my seatmates.

Then, suddenly, I understood what makes this trip to Varadero circulate in my memory, which wasn’t a triumph, nor equivalent to the liberating sensation of a vacation in a “normal” country. When I downloaded the photos and the video, indeed, the images didn’t convey the emotions I felt on the beach, and it seemed like a dull and depersonalized place. In the photo taken in the café, we looked astonishingly sad, as if the representation of enthusiasm, which was indeed authentic, for an adventure we haven’t been able to repeat in many years, had disintegrated.

But the memory of the beach that the camera couldn’t capture, like that of the sunset from the Paris-Havana flight, reveals itself more and more powerfully and clearly with time, although very hard to explain. The certainty that we are witnessing the last days of disaster, that a reverse process is coming, of reconstruction, where Cuba will burst with the strength of a spring dreamt of (and given up on) for decades.

That an integrative movement is coming, just like the systole of the heart, a movement of attraction and welcoming, to all the children of this suffering land. Although everything still seems so static and the struggle for survival still makes us cynically distrustful of anything that is not tangible.

Read more from Veronica Vega’s dairy here on Havana Times.

One thought on “Varadero, the Sea and Hope

  • the las vegas of cuba

Comments are closed.