Resort Culture: Authentically Inauthentic

Apr 3, 2014 by

          Ladies, if you want compliments with your travels, head south. In Cabo, guys toss beautiful and gorgeous at women like dollar bills at strip clubs. Despite my flying attire of leggings, an old U of G sweatshirt, and socks in combination with flats (#MissAmerica), I felt like a model from the moment I got off the plane at Los Cabos Airport last October. In Cuba, they’re even more cunning than they are in Mexico. They don’t just tell you that you’re beautiful, they do it with charm. (Ugh, I’m such a sucker for charm! Just ask the last guy who made his way into my pants.)

          “Maria, you have a very beautiful smile,” the late-twenty-something Cuban host of my bus transfer from the airport to my resort told me.

          “Thank you!” I blushed.

          “Welcome to my country. Really,” he emphasized, “welcome.”

          Before you make assumptions about my easiness, understand that you had to hear his tone and see his gaze for the full effect. I was made a little uncomfortable by his instant liking to me, but I was flattered nonetheless. When he asked me to stay on the bus with him, disappointed that my hotel was the first of five stops, desperation replaced charm.

 

***

 

          “You’re in Cuba by yourself? No boyfriend?” the Cuban concierge at the resort asked.

          “No boyfriend!” I confirmed.

          “You have a beautiful smile. You’re a beautiful girl. How come you don’t have a boyfriend?” he wondered. (Why do guys think this question is a compliment? P.S. I’m beginning to think that maybe this “beautiful smile” thing isn’t just a bullshit line that guys have been feeding me. Good to know. P.P.S. I wish you could have seen my hair. Actually, I’m glad you could not. Humidity does not treat my hair well. I looked like I had just walked out of someone else’s bed. I’ve noticed the whore-hair look really does it for some guys. Also good to know.)

          “Ask the boys in Canada!” I said.

          “The boys in Canada, they know nothing,” he assured me.

          I laughed before quickly having to think up a polite rejection to his request to take me downtown that night, the next day, or the next time I’m in Cuba. He gave me options. I clung to his suggested “next time” as my out, and added a preceding “maybe.” As much as I love the idea of living Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, I was in Varadero.

 

***

 

Resort culture does have its perks!


Resort culture does have its perks!

          Last weekend, I went on an independent adventure to Varadero, Cuba for one night/two days. I was genuinely beginning to believe that Toronto’s winter would never end (and despite recent days’ temperatures rising above zero, which is like Mexico for Torontonians, I’m still concerned that it may not), so I was determined to take matters into my own hands. I flew to the beach. To be honest, Cuba has never been high on my to-go list. It was one of those places I said I’d only visit if I was craving a plane and had little money to work with, as was the case last weekend. It is not somewhere that I would have gone out of my way to save money to see, because Cuba is not a destination for foodies. To quote Mike Palumbo in reference to the food on Cuba’s all-inclusive resorts, “. . . food was as scarce as a North Korean soup kitchen. I spent many-a-day hoping (and praying) that NATO would drop supplies onto the shores, parachuted down from a military helicopter . . . Or that the Red Cross would make their rounds through hotel lobbies, providing humanitarian aid of some sort. Yeah, I was hungry.” This made me laugh out loud the first time I read it last summer (and again now that I’ve reread it. This guy is seriously funny. Read his writing!). Still hilarious, it loses some of its humour when you realize that you yourself are on your way to that soup kitchen. It is because of warnings like Mike’s that I knew to stick to fish and rice on the resort. I could manage for two days (bless those of you who go to Cuba for longer), because I wasn’t going to Varadero for the food (even though I go everywhere for the food). I was going because I wanted sand, ocean, and sun on the cheap. I was not disappointed. Although Cabo’s Divorce Beach is still the best beach I’ve seen so far (and not just because I love that it is ironically more beautiful than its neighbouring Lover’s Beach, as if in support of my pro-divorce stance), Varadero Beach’s white sand and clear water hit the spot.

          I booked my flight a week and a half before departure, but kept it on the down-low until people began asking me about my weekend plans a few days leading up to takeoff. I was determined to fly solo (literally) as a personal test of independence. My big trip to Europe will most likely be a solo venture, so I wanted to see how well I’d fare in travelling alone. (I went to Vancouver for two days and Montreal for one day by myself a couple years ago for my previous employer, but solo business travel doesn’t count. I was working, and there were people to work with when I arrived.) I knew that telling people would prompt one of three responses, depending on the person: (1) wanting to go with me, (2) trying to convince me that going alone is crazy/unsafe, or (3) priding me on my autonomy and sense of adventure. The third one was awesome to hear. It was the first two that I was avoiding. I didn’t want to be tempted to take willing friends, knowing that would have of course been fun, or let anyone taint my excitement. I also didn’t want to give my mother a heart attack. She was asleep when I left, so I wrote her a post-it that read, “Hey Mom! I’m in Cuba Saturday to Sunday. You’re asleep, so adios! Have a fabulous weekend!” I waited until my return to tell her that I went solo, so she could functionally breathe while I was gone. She said she knew from my note that I went alone. When I asked her how, she laughed and said, “That’s just something you would do.” Many of my friends made similar comments. I love that people expect independence and adventure of me. This time last year, I never thought I’d ever travel solo. Now, I apparently radiate autonomy.

          Although I went to test myself, I didn’t learn any more about my self-sufficiency than I already knew. I think I’ve reached a point that I’m confident enough in both my independence and my ability to socialize with strangers that I don’t need to prove them to myself. Whether I’m staying local or crossing borders, I comfortably interact with new people in new settings, because my social skills come with me. I used to worry that I’d be lonely once I get to Europe, because I won’t know anyone upon arrival. To knock that fear out, I forced myself to go out on my own a few times. Being by myself has granted me access to free bottle service (though I had to stick to water because I was driving, but that is beside the point) thanks to four guys I met in the street, landed me inside a commercial kitchen for a baking all-nighter with someone I met at a food event the evening before, and scored me free fudge in Niagara because I started chatting with the guy behind the counter. I’ve gotten good at meeting people in random places, because I’m open to it, so I didn’t really need to go all the way to Varadero alone to assert independence. I’m self-reliant regardless of where I am. I’m going to make friends in Europe, even though I’ll be arriving with none, because I already proved that I can go from zero friends (this is not an exaggeration; I really did not have a single friend at this time one year ago) to a social life so active that my family forgets I live with them (and, honestly, so do I). So, #solotravel, #independentadventure, and #goodforme, but I actually learned a lot more about my travel style than my independent disposition.

          It took spring break 2011 in Cancun, a girls’ weekend in Punta Cana, one week in Cabo, and two days in Varadero, but I think I’ve finally realized that I’m not a fan of all-inclusive vacationing. The flight I took to Cancun at age 21 was the first I had been on since age 5, and I felt like I had arrived in heaven: endless quality food, mornings of BBCs and evenings of amaretto sours, and a beach that looked like it had been Photoshopped. I thought all-inclusive was the life of the gods. I had yet to know cities like New York and Rome, where people not only vacation, but live. Going the all-inclusive route lacked lustre after experiencing other cultures, my primary motivation for travel. Resorts don’t offer culture. – I take that back. They don’t offer real culture. Consequently, there are four cities in three different countries that I’ve been to, but feel like I’ve never seen because I slept on resorts. At resorts, you could be in any sun destination in any part of the world without knowing the difference. You can’t distinguish resort towns the way you can Messina from Mykonos, for example. You don’t get to know the place; you get to know your accommodations. You don’t get to meet the locals; you get to meet the staff. You don’t get to uncover people; you get to uncover their vacation alter egos.

          You experience resort culture, a fictitious way of being created by a collection of people who aren’t themselves because they don’t have to be; they’re on vacation. Four resorts have taught me that they’re all essentially the same, because they share the same purpose: to entertain, to serve, and to fuel economies. Thus, they attract the same people: North Americans (and occasionally Europeans) who fall somewhere along a spectrum that starts at relaxation and spans to intoxication. If you’re just after hot weather and a life break, there’s nothing wrong with this. Personally, I travel for regionally authentic food and culture that resorts do not deliver. Although I’ll probably go to all-inclusive resorts again because I can affordably do so through work, they are not my preferred way of travel. I don’t sit well. I like to explore, which requires novelty. Once you’ve been to one all-inclusive resort, all of them seem familiar to you. Going off the resort on your own (as opposed to on a tour or an excursion) can expose you to some uniqueness; but, like resorts, resort towns all tend to look alike. Last weekend, I wanted to meet Cuba. I wasn’t properly introduced.

 
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