My second trip to Cuba was from December 28, 2014 – January 4, 2015. I was fortunate to travel with my newlywed husband and my in-laws (parents and brothers) to spend the New Year at the beautiful Pestana Resort in Cayo Coco.

A Caribbean Paradise.

Cayo Coco is a Caribbean Paradise.

The beach was every daydream I’ve ever had about a Caribbean paradise. The reality was this imagined fantasy come true:

Fresh air, a warm breeze, an icy drink that melted your mind and body into calmness as you walk past a charming rustic hand-made open hut of an outdoor spa.

The spa table was inviting and the white linens gently swayed in the wind. Now, look up and see the vast bright blue sky. And in the far distance, notice how the sky has a meeting point with the sapphire sea, a marriage of heaven and water. The waters were a jaw-dropping scene of a magnificent mass of graceful translucent green-blue waves that slowly tumbled its way towards a pristine coastline.

Step into the clear water and feel the refreshingly perfect temperature and inhale the invigorating hints of sea salt and seaweed that decorated the air. Added to this symphony of the senses, notice how the wavy tides majestically rolled closer to the shore and then became a white break of vibrant foaming pearly bubbles that transformed into a liquid crystal-clear spillover onto the warm slope of fine white granulated sand, the wet sand now glistening in the brilliance of the sun. Witness the beach being kissed by each visiting tide, that which was lazily dragged back into the inviting sea like a transparent wedding veil swept across the floor.

As for sounds, you barely notice the gentle clash of water on the beach and the effervescence of the little pearly bubbles because the peacefulness of it all is too good to be true. It is beauty before your eyes.

You align the beauty with gratitude. Part of you that yearned and fantasized for this inner peace found the reality, the truth, the experience –there is beauty in our world. There is beauty in my soul. The realization echoes within you. Your mind knows it. This is where you need to be.

This was the scene at the back of the resort.

Some parts of the beach were secluded: a nice walk along the Cayo Coco coastline brought me to beautiful sights –more uninhabited beach and the back view of neighboring resorts. Follow the path of the coastline on the sandy beach, or if you choose, wade knee-deep in the clear water. (Bring water shoes –as some parts are rough with jagged pieces of lime stone, seashells and the unexpected conch shells in the soft sands beneath the water.)

Other parts of the beach were populated with hundreds of tanning tourists deservedly sleeping on extended blue beach chairs. It seemed like a scene from a glossy magazine. A few children and adults made sand sculptures, but the ambiance would not allow for anything rowdy. The ambiance disarmed us. The scene was like the spa of the Caribbean –no spoken word. It was a collective retreat from the noise in the cities, the noise in our lives, the noise in our minds. A walk on a slightly winding pier from the resort introduced us to this splendor.

***

At the front of the resort, a grand open lobby vibrated with a classic charm and peacefulness –lounge chairs telepathically invited visitors to relax. Along the perimeter of the lobby, long curtains cascaded down and gently billowed with each passing breeze. Friendly staff wore nice uniforms and smiled; they were helpful and had a wonderful caring demeanor. All of the staff seemed to speak French, English and obviously, Spanish. As for the visitors, in the daytime they were often quiet, soaking in the ambiance of the resort, the sun, the peace. Friendly smiling and relaxed visitors were mostly from Canada, South America and European countries.

Added to the warm Caribbean hospitality and the scenic Caribbean charm was the romantic presence of a beautiful black baby grand piano near one drink station within the open lobby. A professional and serene pianist played Adele tunes and the classics. Behind him was a bar where you could have your pick of tea, coffee, strawberry slush, pina colada (colada or colado? Tomato or Tomatoh?) and alcohol. Ah, the all inclusive resort.

Food Phobia.

For the first few days, I avoided drinking any water, juice, mixed drinks and anything with ice. I feared what I call “the traveler’s plague” (aka a vengeful traveler’s diarrhea and/or food poisoning) and instead I opted to drink soda, or the bottled mineral water that the staff placed in each visitor’s room. I also brought with me canned food (beans, bruschetta tomatoes, mixed fruits, apple slices), nuts, dried bread (Melba toast), pretzels and protein meal-replacement drinks (Boost). And my husband brought some Toblerone chocolates and foil-wrapped Christmas chocolates. I only ate the baked bread at the resort buffet. I avoided the salad and cut fruit for obvious traveler’s concerns. I had a difficult time digesting being hypersensitive to the smell of the water and the salt in the food. However, everyone else around me, the other 500 guests, seemed to be doing just fine. After the Christmas chocolates were coming to an end, I was running out of food options. And energy. With a leap of faith in the Cuban medical system, I jumped off the proverbial bridge (because everyone else did).  Guess what? I was fine. No poopies. Except, I will say that mineral water isn’t for everyone. (You can get diarrhea from that depending on the sensitivity of your gastric system.) And in the words of Forrest Gump, “And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.”

So, breaking free from fear to eat and drink resort food (primarily because I was becoming dehydrated and really hungry), I anxiously tried the strawberry slush. It was awesome. Strawberry-infused pellets of crushed ice teased the palate that thirsted for more. And the water served at the resort tasted great (I will add that there were no special after effects *ahem*). I had ice in my drinks. Easy sailing. The desserts were great. I had a guava pie –a guava candied-fruit filling in a fresh pie-shell crust, fluffy chocolate cakes cut into tiny square serving sizes and pastel yellow ice cream. It tasted like nutmeg! Could it be eggnog ice cream? Mind blowing! What else… A fresh coconut with fresh coconut meat. The fresh bread was always good, there was an assortment of fine cheeses, etc. Everyone I spoke to or overhead seemed to have had a pleasant dining experience.

An Escape to Illusion.

The night entertainment consisted of a group of amazing and beautiful dancers: slim muscular men and stunning women in fine form. One dancer in particular stood out: “Francois” the choreographer had short blond hair, a slim build and a serious chiseled face with sharp cheekbone structures. He had an entertainment presence and finesse that screamed world class. How much did the world know about him, I wondered. And with the warming up of US-Cuban relations, I cannot wait to see what will become of the many talented Cuban performers and musicians. And hopefully, entrepreneurs.

All in all, this is the beauty of a resort. Like our Cuban bus spokesperson said, “The resort is not the real Cuba.” And that stands for any resort in the world. Resorts are built for the visitors’ comforts. I would love to return to Cuba and visit all of it. I want to see and experience living there.

I heard stories from other tourists about suspected living conditions for Cubans. There were stories about tourists bringing supplies (medical, personal/hygiene, school notebooks, crayons, clothes, candies, etc.) to distribute to the locals. Cuba, I would love to discover and help you. Just prior to my departure to Cuba, I was happy to hear media announcements of a warm front for US-Cuban relations. And I am truly happy. At the end of the day, it is about giving people accessibility to opportunities. I am not criticizing the politics of the embargo nor condoning any particular political system. The past is the past. What matters now is that all people have opportunities and the freedom to create their destinies. And I am hopeful that more positive relations between the two countries will bring this into a reality.

I heard Cuban staff and tourists talk about the medical and education system in the Castro regime. Apparently, it is a good one in the communist country. But what would free enterprise do to a Cuban economy? I think it would prosper nicely if business resources and liaisons are made available to the Cuban people. This would be a gift to many families and ultimately, the world. And Cuban experiences, present and past, reaching the rest of the world would be a gift to all of us.

***

The rooms were clean and nicely decorated. I was surprised to find a flat-screen TV, and even more surprised to find Canadian programming (in its original English and French broadcast), American programming dubbed in Spanish, and English American channels featuring American movies. I watched one American movie called “Divergent” (2014). What an ironic parallel to life and my experience in Cuba. “Divergent” is a film about trying to fit individuals in a cookie-cutter system dictated by the elite. It is an artificial environment. My experience of staying at a resort –a place created to cater to the particular tastes and comforts of vacationers was also an “artificial” setting, as I recalled by the bus guide, but albeit an enjoyable one. To what extent does conditioning happen in Cuba? The censorship, etc. I am pretty sure local Cubans did not have access to American TV. Do they? To what extent is conditioning happening all over the world? “Divergent” was a great movie for food for thought.

Gratitude.

On Old Year’s Night, it seemed as if everyone in the resort was at the main lobby. People were vibrant. The entertainers danced and the tourists joined in. The rhythms of Cuban and American music flowed in our veins. Before we counted down, parcels of plump red grapes were distributed to anxious resort guests anticipating the arrival of the new year. And with each countdown number, we chomped on a grape until the entire island was screaming, “Happy New Year!”

Tears formed in my eyes and I was choked up as I felt gratitude for having my first New Year celebration with my husband. What an amazing relationship journey and the New Year experience was another precious milestone that was worshipped within my heart. I love you, Handsome. I hugged and greeted my in-laws. And prayed in gratitude for my parents, family and friends back home: I love you, Mom and Dad. I miss you! And another prayer went out for love and peace in this world.

The Journey.

After the hype of New Year’s, I retreated into relaxation mode again and got caught up on some more rest. 2014 was full of excitement, business ups and downs, personal and business development. Notably, I registered for a business and personal development package in early 2014 and my partner and I traveled several times throughout the year to the USA to learn and network. The frequent travels and being away from our businesses hit my pocketbook and it was also tiring to travel and be locked into long seminars with minimal or no time to relax.  When we returned from each trip, we had to sprint to catch up or save our businesses. But the knowledge and insights we gathered were priceless. (I will write more later about the travels we did in 2014. In a nutshell, we completed the Quantum Leap Program by Peak Potentials, were active in the Peak Potentials’ Global Mastermind Program (GMP) retreat hosted by CEO Adam Markel, attended Ken Courtright’s Digital Footprint seminar, Bill Walsh’s Ultimate Wealth Camp and Berny Dorhmann’s CEO Space. We met each of these wonderful people who helped guide thousands of professionals around the world. We made friends, received support and priceless masterminding for our businesses by amazing experts. Thank you!)  So, the travels resulted in much knowledge and lots of strategies. The experience was well worth it. Go!

Reflecting back, 2014 was also a major dream come true for me. THE DREAMS OF ALL DREAMS of my life. My boyfriend (yes, that same wonderful partner I referred to above) proposed in March and we married in August 2014. Even prior to the magical wedding and the unforgettable proposal, I was ecstatic every day from the moment I met him. It is not only the dream of getting married, but the beauty of crossing paths with him. Our eyes, minds and hearts connect. One glance at him and I am suddenly staring in silent admiration -pauses occur mid-sentence, whether I am speaking to him or someone else. I am giddy and floating away like a helium balloon. If I am on the bus, I miss my bus stop thinking of him.The laughs, the support, the cries, the silent moments, prayers and more, all electric. I am so grateful for having you in my life. God granted us this gift. Dear Husband: Hi.

P.S. I Love You.  🙂

He is a wonderfully charming and caring man with wonderful family and friends. Our families are mirror reflections of values, love, care and respect. And in the words and teachings of New Peaks’ CEO, Adam Markel, “I LOVE MY LIFE!!!”

Moving Forward.

There’s something refreshing about a “new year.” Isn’t it? As if a new page was turned. Truth of the matter, we could turn that page and have new resolutions any day, any moment, but we are so programmed into thinking that a New Year means a fresh start. Anywho, in my old programmed “new year” thinking, I reflected forward on January 1 and realized I had a lot of work upon returning to Montreal, Canada. I had to write business proposals, get caught up on phone calls and emails, and continue writing my book. So, I did what I could in Cuba: I pulled out a giant legal-size yellow notepad from my suitcase and wrote a few chapters near the resort poolside. It’s not work if you enjoy it, right? It was certainly playtime for me. And I loved every second of it while sipping another icy strawberry slush under the bright Caribbean sky.

Explore.

I have not posted any pictures nor videos because if any of the descriptions I used above resonated with you –descriptions of beauty and peace— if you ever had a gut instinct that there was a place of perfection, then you need to go out there, find it and experience it. We judge a photo and scrutinize if the experience was beautiful. Do yourself a favor and visit your dream destiny. I did not bother to take any pictures because I was too absorbed in the moment. And prior to the trip, I had no interest in looking at pictures because I wanted to go in and feel the experience. For those of you whose curiosity is eating away at you, you can find a few nice videos of the resort on the internet. But take a referral or two from a friend, check the trip reviews, get your passport, board the flight and go forward and follow your heart. It’s like everything else in life, just go with it. Explore.

I also did not include any photos in this article because this author was busy writing her book at the resort. And part of that story contains a scene describing the resort.  Any who…

Posted: Jan 10, 2015, 1:44am EST


Emily Ramdas is a mastermind consultant, writer and entrepreneur with a creative overdrive and an eye for detail. She is also the author of a zombie blog, a best selling creative journal on Amazon.com with many more forthcoming projects.