By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Guardalavaca cove is like a haven in front of the immense ocean, with its warm beach, of unrivalled grandeur. The low mountains of the Maniabon range almost reach the sea, giving the landscape greater beauty and individuality.
Extremely white sand covers dozens of meters inland and the beach extends over half a kilometer at the end of the cove. Rocky crags display themselves as guards on the furthest points of the cove, which stand above as if they were natural lookouts.
Beach-goers come from all over Cuba’s East in buses, trucks and family cars. In spite of it being off-peak season, there are many foreign tourists along with the Cubans who are on their summer holidays. The beach is always full, but it doesn’t get packed out because it’s perfect everywhere and nobody prefers to be in one spot or another.
The water is so clear that you can make out the depths of the sea up to 2 meters deep and everything that passes around you. A buoy marks the meter and a half mark, 50 meters away from the shore, along with the lifeguard’s whistle which warns the most daring.
From the water, the cove looks like a retouched postcard because it’s so beautiful. From the sand, the view is even more impressive. The seawater changes color by layers, with streaks of blue, green and turquoise, interposed by the white foam which the gentle waves create.
People are happy, enjoying their dip in the sea and the natural beauty that surrounds them, which is magnified by the conditions created by tourism. There is sun and shade. Many sea grape trees give shelter to visitors, supported by rustic human made shade made with palm tree prawns. Two large outdoor restaurants serve drinks, ice cream and sodas.
You can hire out a plastic lounger for the whole day for one CUC and you can take a rest from the sun under trees in the area, which there seem to be enough of for everyone. Employees from the outdoor restaurant take plastic tables with chairs and drinks to the shore itself, if you ask them to. Incredible customer service which amazes, ordinary Cubans, from afar of course, who are used to the humiliating food options they have in regular Cuban pesos.
Lots of pedal boats constantly cross the cove from one side to another, which sometimes alternate with a sailboat or a motor boat. All of these are rented out for two hours, on one side of the beach, for a price which is the equivalent of three 8-hour working days of an average income (3 CUC). It’s a lot of fun and children really enjoy them.
Several hotels and villas can be found in its surrounding areas. Others are currently being built. Many other installations complete the services on offer: a shopping center, bars, cafes, large reserved bus stations, taxis, car rental stores and even a small airport-heliport which transports tourists to other areas in this extensive resort zone. Well paved streets and beautiful gardens.
The private sector has also sought out its niche in this market, in spite of restrictions and its secondary role, which is pushed into the background by the State. They move towards the edges of the beach like fugitives, as they aren’t allowed to step foot on the sand, an exclusive area where only state-run outdoor restaurants can sell.
The private vendors sell everything, from a sandwich to a tailor-made lunch, given in boxes. Even under these conditions, this sector covers at least two thirds of food demands. And leaving the beach, you can see the signs of the first of many private rentals. You can also observe the prosperity of the local population in the many elegant homes and others in good condition.
Guardalavaca, along with Pesquero and Gibara (other places on the north coast of Holguin will be included), is the third largest tourist attraction in Cuba, just behind Havana and Varadero. But, it’s estimated that, within a decade, it will take first place, if the 65,000 rooms that the province must have are secured. A figure which is the same as that of the current number of rooms which are being used for tourism in the entire country today.
There’s no doubt about the immense tourism potential our beautiful Cuba has. The harmonious co-existence of national and foreign tourism is particularly striking, without obvious differences. Only their purchasing power divides them, but you can’t really notice their suffering that much, because it only pesters the minds of wage-earning Cubans who suffer personal restrictions, who have come in a truck or “in shared” transport, and can’t even buy a soda.
Next to them, but completely over the moon and happy, able to do everything, are the self-employed entrepreneurs, others who receive remittances or are with a relative who has emigrated and has come back to visit them, and foreigners, who take in our tropical sun and have a magic “all-inclusive” bracelet.
Guardalavaca is an idyllic place, like thousands of other places in our privileged archipelago. For a short time, people forget about their everyday problems and imagine that they are in a different Cuba, where it seems we can all equally enjoy this country’s beauty and wealth. It’s a shame that this is just a mental escape from our harsh reality.