Trapped in Paradise
in Cayo Levisa, Cuba on 15th April, 2013


We had an early morning bus ride from Viñales to the Island of Cayo Levisa. There were a mixture of day-trippers and people who were staying on the Island for a few days on the bus with us. When we arrived there was only a single resort on the island. There were no roads, just wooden docks leading everywhere. The beach and sea looked beautiful, the sand was white and the water colour was a mixture of light and dark turquoise depending on the amount of seaweed below. The room had air conditioning and CNN on the TV. Everything looked okay at first.

The first problem came when I found out they don't take any credit cards on the Island. Next I learnt that 'full board' doesn't include any drinks or any sort of liquids. The water on the island didn't work in the afternoon as it's imported and there are no taps with drinkable water. To add to that, most of the water coming out of the taps was slightly brown and pouring any into a cup gave you an eye full of bacteria and other items to look at.

I had withdrawn all that I could on Friday from the bank back on the mainland before it closed and I calculated I had $12 a day worth of money remaining to pay for drinks on the Island. It was 30C+ every day and we'd need water to keep going. A 1L bottle of water was $3 so we could get 4L a day and that was it. I felt like we'd been ship wrecked.

There were two boats a day leaving for the mainland. On the mainland there wasn't a nearby cash machine and I could probably expect to spend a whole day and $50 just to get to a cash machine back in Viñales. I thought if we ran into trouble I'd do the following: 1. Ask other travellers to buy us drinks; 2. Try and drink the tap water; 3. Just leave and go back to Havana.

The beach became pretty boring to look at after a while. People were working on their tans, reading books and doing excursions during the day. We did a bunch of gazing at the sea wishing we could swim to Florida on the other side. The enjoyment of swimming was pretty short-lived.

The beach had wooden shades every 10 meters or so. Under each would be two sun chairs but four could fit. Every single chair under a shade would have a towel on it by 7am reserving that place for some ageing, Euro-corpse. At one point I could see 20-odd shades reaching off into the distance with a grand total of six people sitting at their shades. Some looked to go untouched all day. There were some sun chairs out on the beach which didn't have a shade. Eventually I decided just to drag some chairs under a shade next to some 'reserved' seats.

The first time I did this an English woman came back to her seat, sat next to us, said "Hola" and just read her book. The second time I did this an Italian woman came up and shouted at us in Italian before her husband said there was enough space to all of us.

The third time a British couple came back and said "Are you American? You're too close, move away!". We said there is no unoccupied shades and we can share. They then began shouting and swearing at us. "You're a shitty country, you're shitty people! This is our fucking spot! The English don't do this, the Swiss don't do this. It's only you fucking Americans!".

The woman sat next to me and asked if I was American again. I told her I was British. I repeated we could share the space as we're all under the shade. Her husband picked up their stuff and went to take someone else's spot. His wife shouted that if he did that they would be as bad as us but eventually she gave up and joined him.

I wish I'd filmed them on my iPhone and posted it to YouTube. I had my iPhone in my hand while they were doing this. Opportunity lost.

I am glad they got so angry, I really hope we ruined their trip and made them nervous about their towel-reserved seats getting taken every time they lay a towel out in the middle of the night.

Dinner time was horrible. There was only one place to eat without paying extra and it served dinner at 7:30pm. Unfortunately most nights they wouldn't get around to opening the restaurant till 8pm. We were absolutely starving. Triin said the food service was like her first memories of the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was a single food hall, the food was horrible but you ate as much of it as you could as you didn't know when you'd eat again. All the food is dated leftovers mixed together as the items on their own wouldn't have the appearance of something consumable.

After a few days of having German pensioners swim topless in front of us, living off the minimum amount of water possible, watching the same story getting covered on CNN over-and-over and eating horrible food, we decided to leave a day early and head back to Havana.

Triin and I promised one another to not visit these 'Paradise Islands' again and to not visit any run-down countries in the near future. I was so jealous of all the people I knew who only stayed in Cuba for 3-5 days. The whole country felt like a prison.


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