Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Tourist Zoo.

In this zoo, the animals are kept in air conditioned rooms and fed Mojitos and Daiquiris, daily, in giant thermos mugs.

As you step out of the airport, you are faced with rows of buses waiting to bring you to your hotel. Reps are waiting, clip pad in hand, while occasionally shouting the names of different hotels, wearing a shirt with the logo of the company that sold you your package. Some are Canadian, who are shipped off to sunny destinations on temporary contracts.

 It seems that they applied for these jobs in the hopes of adventure in an exotic locale, and that reality set in when they realized that they'd be working six days a week while staying in the shittiest room a resort has to offer, the one with the broken air con. They're tired and bitter. Here you are, bursting out with shiny eyes and your new summer wear, while they may have had food poisoning again for the second time that week, and woken up with a cockroach nestled in their hair. Oh and they're getting paid peanuts, which means they'll come home with empty pockets and irritated intestines.

In Cuba, it's all about the all-inclusive. You needn't worry about anything, except maybe paying for excursions and if you are generous, tips for the staff. Some have proudly brought a roll of American dollars. They'll be sorely disappointed the following day, as they try to book an excursion to Chichen Itza.

 Yes but I paid one price, I am not dishing out any more! will say an angry tourist. Okay, but did you know that they make an average salary of $20 a month, sometimes less? Did you know that they lack basic necessities like toiletries and headache medications? will say a more informed and obviously, more sympathetic tourist.

Angry tourist is hard to sway. He's been to other places before, he knows his business, he says. He's been to the Dominican Republic and Mexico. It's all the same! Soon enough, the debate ceases and angry and sympathetic tourist are both too busy admiring the palm trees and drinking their fourth Mojito to continue the conversation.

More after the jump...

When everyone embarks on the comfortable bus (reserved for foreigners, obviously), a guide, usually a Cuban who speaks two, three, sometimes four languages, will stand up and speak on the microphone for the twenty-minute ride to the hotels. He'll make a couple of jokes, and only one third of the bus will listen, while one sixth will laugh. He'll talk about the history of the cayos, the fauna, and the ecosystem while being interrupted by a loud,

BEER! WE WANT BEER! I'm getting drunk all week! Hell yeah!
Where do the people live? In the jungle? Is that a house over there?

Guide: There are no residences on the Cayos. It is reserved only for hotels...

Koh-mo Eh-stah see-nyor? Yo kee-yair-o unay sur-vayza! I speak Spanish! (bursts into laughter, morons join along).

Then the guide will continue his speech with a forced smile and explain the construction of the causeway that was built twenty-some years ago to connect the mainland to the cayos, and how previous to that, it was deserted except for the occasional fishermen and scientists.

FIDEL! Why do you guys listen to that dictator? Do you like being a communist?
Raul is the new president! interjects a slightly more informed person.
Same shit, different pile!

Guide: (laughs nervously) In Cuba, we are not eager to discuss politics so freely...

Do they have coffee in Cuba?
I'm ready to get tipsy, oh yeah!
Do they have pancakes at the buffet?

...and so, at this point you have realized that they are not keeping you away from the locals (as Cuba is a relatively safe country), but rather, the locals away from you, on these sets of tiny islands detached from the mainland.

I call it the tourist zoo.

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