Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Viva Cuba!

Very reluctantly, I'm home. Happy to be home with Schaeffer and Fandango...with a comfy bed and great food...but those are pretty much the only thing I'm happy to be home for. Our trip was amazing, I had an absolute blast, the time of my life. Every time I return from Cuba I feel like a different person. I have a returned sense of what is really important in life. My trip had a greater affect on me this time. I feel as though I have been born into the wrong lifestyle. The people and the life in Cuba feels more like home to me than this life I live ever will. I'm having a hard time shaking the experience of Cuba since I've been home. I don't know if I will be able to.
The weather was incredible. We had 8 days of sunshine, warm breezes, and incredible starry nights. Carnival was nothing less than expected. There was some amazing Cuban music, very famous Cuban performers, great atmosphere and the best dancing in the world. We only had three nights of the Carnival left when we got there, so we made the most of it. At the airport we picked up two bags of cerveza for $20 cdn. They sell plasitc bags of beer at the airport, how amazing is that? We arrived at the resort at about 12:30am. We checked in, had a few drinks and headed straight out. We drank Cuba libre and danced until 4 am. We made a few friends and got to know our new home for the week. We crashed at about 4:30am. I brought my pillow from home and boy I'm glad I did.

Day 2 martes

We both slept really well, but it was a short sleep. We got up at 8 to make it to our meet and greet and get details on excursions we could book. We decided to book a trip to Playa Bonita. It's a catamaran boat cruise to the coral reef, then seafood lunch on a private beach. On the way home you stop and pick star fish out of the water (returning them of course!). We decided we'd go the next day. After our meeting we had breakfast and discovered the best orange juice known to MAN. I hate orange juice, but I LOVED this stuff!! They used the juice squeezer and squeeze it fresh right in front of you. It was heaven!!! After breakfast we hit the beach and went for a walk down to Oasis Brisas which is at the end of where the resorts are. On the walkway to the beach we saw our first horse. A cute little chestnut tied to a tree with a 30 foot rope. Obviously, we had to go give him a neck scratch. Practically all the horses in Cuba are stallions. The mares are kept for breeding only and the studs for work. There is very little gelding done there. This guy was grazing away, he was in good shape and his feet were nicely shod too.

At Brisas we met with the horseback tour guide and booked our riding slot for 1:30pm. On the way back to Mayanabo we met Louis. Louis is an artist from Camaguey who makes sculptures to sell to tourists. Since my roomie is also an artist we sat and talked to him for a good couple hours about life and work in Cuba. He told us he works everyday on his sculptures and doesn't party much. When he has a few good pieces he brings them down to the beach in Santa Lucia to sell them. Naturally, we wanted to see his work. His sculptures were beautiful, and we took two home with us.

We went back to our room only to change and get some goodies to give away before we had to meet up with our ride. We went for the one hour ride down the beach and through the laguna. My horse was very lazy, and NOT trained to go off the leg. Instead, he went off the *kiss* sound. Every time I put my leg on or used my reins to push him forward he would kick out and all the other tourists would scream. My roommate and I were laughing and giggling the entire ride. The trail guide was on a beautiful bay mare. She was in really good condition and he rode her in a rope halter and bareback. I had some pictures but they got deleted...more about that later. His mare was a lot bigger than most of the horses on the island, and you could tell he really loved her. He spoke absolutely no English but I told him I liked her in the best Spanish I could manage.

The best thing about riding on holiday is the people who have never ridden before and the comments they make. I kept kissing my horse to trot and the other horses would all trot away, The other people thought it was the guide and were saying "why does he keep making that noise! My horse won't stop running!" haha. Alright, maybe I'm the only one who thought it was funny. After our ride we relaxed, had a nap, then got ready for dinner and our night out. Our resort consisted of mainly old retired Italians and French-Canadians. Not much liveliness going on there. We filled our cups and headed out to Carnival for another incredible night of Cuban music and dance.

Day 3 miércoles

It was a late night, and an early morning. We hit the dinning room for some OJ and waited for our bus for our trip. Only - our trip was cancelled due to high winds. Oh well, we were up so we were going to make the best of the day! We spent the day relaxing and soaking up the sun. We had our afternoon nap and then got ready for some serious Cuban partying that night. At our resort there was a bartender named Jose. Jose had this, "thing" for me. Jose was quickly named "No way Jose", by my roommate and myself. He would constantly beg us to stay on the resort and drink at the piano bar instead of going out. He made it almost uncomfortable at times for us to get our drinks filled for the night. He decided since we were heading out he would close the resort bar early and come out and dance with me later. I just prayed I wouldn't see him. We met up with some amigos we had met the night before and headed to Mar Verde. This is the best place! It's a building, but when you walk inside, you walk right back outside. There are four walls but it's basically an outside club. Every night they have a show and then the DJ plays after. This night they had a Cuban stand up comedian. Apparently, he was hilarious. I wouldn't know, I could only understand every 20th word or so, but our amigos were splitting their sides. At one point I could make out he was joking about Canadians and shampoo....I so badly wish I knew the rest.

At 2am Mar Verde closes and we head to Rombas. Rombas is an outside club that is open till 4am and is packed with locals. We danced until 3am and spent the night cruising in a 52 Buick, visiting our amigos horses and casa's. That is where I met my new puppy. Our one friend had 3 of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. I was in love! We went to bed around 5am, it was going to be a short sleep to be up early for our Catamaran trip the next day!

Day 4 jueves

Up early for our trip! I snuck away for breakfast cheesy poofs and filled our room Thermos with the delicious OJ for our trip. Lifesaver! Wow, what a gorgeous day we ended up having for our trip. It was really hot at 8am and there was no wind- good news for us! We got the bus for a 5 minute drive to th
e marina. We boarded the catamaran and the sunrise over the ocean was breathtaking. We cruised the ocean for a couple hours with some cervezas and music before arriving at the coral reef. It was my first time snorkeling and the captain gave us a run down for the beginners. The water was warm and the waves were calm, it was perfect conditions. I saw
so many incredible fish and coral. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. We snorkeled for about an hour and then hit the boat again. After the snorkeling we headed to the private beach known as Playa Bonita.
This beach was incredible. Completely uninhabited and untouched, only a restaurant there. We had a delicious seafood lunch with cold cervezas. MMMMM Buchanero, my favorite! We also had a guest sit with us for lunch.

Meet "Dinky". Dinky is owned by one of the workers at the restaurant. He spends his days greetings tourists and eating scraps from them. I love this dog. LOVE love LOVE him! He was absolutely adorable, sweet, and great markings. After lunch we played with him and he got all wound up and was doing laps around the restaurant at 100mph. His owner was just laughing at us. We stayed on the beach and soaked up the sun for 2 hours before heading back on the catamaran. On the way home we chatted with other tourists about their resorts, and what they thought of Cuba so far. One lady told us about their resort and their night entertainment, telling us we should come by and check it out. Apparently the Amigo Caracol resort ran out of wine, and liqueurs, the travellers were not too impressed!

We stopped again to see the starfish. The captain stopped the boat and popped a couple out of the water to pass around. We learnt they eat seaweed and are the only animals that have their asshole on their head! Ha ha. They also lay about 200 eggs and only 2 out of that many survive. This is why it is so important NOT TO KILL THEM by taking them out of the water. They can die in half an hour. There were a lot of people at the resort who were grabbing them out of the ocean to take home. Not only are they killing them and endangering the species, you will NOT get these things through customs! SO please please PLEASE if you, or anyone you know goes on holiday do NOT take the starfish! They are very pretty, but they belong in the ocean.

That night we decided to head to the resort at the other end of the beach called Grand Club Santa Lucia to check out their entertainment. We packed a Thermos of Cuba Libre with much thanks to No Way Jose and walked down there. There is something about walking in the night air in Cuba that you can not compare to anything else. Thank God we were told about this resort, their night show was HILARIOUS! We were laughing so hard my sides hurt. The entertainment staff was incredibly talented in both dancing and acting. The MC was great and really brought out the best of the audience. Before the shows every night they have the staff take people staying there to dance with them, and they teach you a bunch of different Cuban dances. They are incredibly nice and make you feel very comfortable. After the show we headed out to our regular place Mar Verde and danced the night away...
Day 5 viernes

This was the first day we got to sleep in! We pretty much just lazed around all day, got sun, walked on the beach and talked to people. We went to the local "strip mall", or center du commercial, and met up with some fellow Canadians. One of the guys we met was staying there for a couple months and apparently he stays there quite often. He gave us some insight on Cuba and what it's like being there so often. I envy him - big time. That night we packed our drinks and headed to Gran Club for another great show. I can't emphasize enough how great their entertainment is there. The staff told us we could stay at their resort all day as well and use their facilities, they do activities all day too and it sure beats the old fogeys who sit around doing the hip-replacement shuffle at Mayanabo. After the show we met up with our amigos and went out dancing. We went to a party at a friends house after the bar closed and I got to see my puppy! The houses are so clean and well kept, for being shanties they just aren't at all what you would expect them to be. We got home at around 6 am...somehow the others staying at the resort knew this...haha

Day 6 sábado
Another day where we slept in slightly! Once we got up and had lunch, we headed to the Grand Club resort to spend the day tanning. That resort was a lot livelier than ours and a lot more going on. We got dancing lessons and watched the staff play pranks on people - it was pretty hilarious. We walked around a bit but really did nothing important. The good stuff came that night...midnight was the strike of my roomies birthday. After dinner we headed to Gran Club to watch yet another amazing show. After the show we headed back to our resort to the piano bar to have some birthday shots. The bar was empty besides one worker and No Way Jose, who promptly put on our music of choice and invited me behind the bar to make shots. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to concoct my favorite shots out of the limited Cuban liqueurs they had available. I taught Jose how to make Polar Bears and Crispy Crunch. I had 2 massive tequila shots, god knows how many shooters, I was pouring cerveza for would have thought I worked that bar my whole life. We filled our cups with Cuba Libre and headed out after an hour of downing these things...the party was just beginning.

Onto Mar Verde where we danced and drank, and drank...and drank. The music was amazing, it was hot and the Cuban air smelt amazing. We closed the bar and headed to Rombas where we proceeded to climb palm trees and hang out with Cuban transvestites. God I love this place! We closed the bar...our friend who drives the Taxi gave us a ride home and what a blast those Cuban chariots are. I hope my roomie had a good birthday, at least she didn't forget it this time.

Day 7 domingo * ¡Feliz cumpleaños! * Roomie!

The day I realized what dying feels like. I felt great by the time we got up, but after an hour and sitting in the dinning room my body had had enough...I was pretty sick for a good couple hours. I almost blacked out at one point but I survived. You can't have THAT much fun behind the bar and not pay for it. Why is that someone always has to be drunker than the person who's birthday it actually is? Needless to say we didn't venture too far off the resort that day. We did manage to get our tan on, and at noon-ish we made it as far as the beach where we met up with Louis! He told us hes had the flu for the last few days, I told him I was sick from too much cerveza. I told him it was roomie's bday and being the sweetheart he is, he gave her a sculpture to hang on her wall. I love these people. We hung out until sunset and then walked around Santa Lucia for a bit. I was getting very sad at the thought of leaving, but it was our last night and I wasn't going to let it get me down.
We went to dinner early and had to wait in line, and sit with a random old couple. They were really nice but had seriously thick accents and it wasn't much for conversation. I guess the oldies go to dinner early, we should have known. We headed to Gran Club for one last time and were delighted by a Fashion Show from a designer from Camaguey. The clothes were interesting and certainly showed what the women had, but failed to show what the men had. The shirts were so loose and boxy they looked like little SpongeBobs all over the stage. Not flattering and certainly not doing these models justice.

It was a great show and afterwards the entire crowd jumped on stage and did the Gran Club dance. I miss that dance. We stuck around the resort and had some drinks with the staff. They were trying to convince us to stay and go to their resort disco that night. "The Jungle" is the bar at Gran Club. It costs five cuc if you aren't staying at the resort and you drink free. Well, we are cheap so we didn't want to spend the five bucks when we could drink for free or go to Mar Verde for 1 cuc. Those boys are relentless though, they said they would take us in so we could get in for free and they would get us our drinks all night. Can't argue with that, besides who could say no the Cuban version of Ryan Gosling? He was a professional dancer who was the Cuba National Dance Champion at one point. This guy could win So You Think You Can Dance at the audition round.

The inside of The Jungle was pretty cool. It looked like, well, a jungle. It was all tourist and resort people so basically a club like home, but in Cuba instead. Not typically our style, but hey we had Cuban dancers showing us how it was done so we were game. It turned out to be an incredible night, one I will never forget. I have never had that much fun dancing, and enjoying the night. Ryan Gosling taught me a lesson in life I will never forget, and I am forever grateful to him. I lost my roomie and walked home alone. I was trying to hold onto that night forever.

Day 8 lunes
Our last day :( We got up early to catch as much sun as we could and get one more day of amazing orange juice. We headed back to Gran Club for the day, which turned out to be the hottest day we had there. We tan, and swam, and said goodbye to the friends we made. We promised we would be back, and that next time we would be staying at the Gran Club. At 4pm we got on our bus and said a final farewell to Mayanabo and Santa Lucia. Goodbye for now, but not forever.

Arriving at the airport, we hit the duty free and stocked up on Havana Club and Buchanero. We had 8 Buchanero there and had a good buzz for our flight home. Oh Cuba, land of the drinking anywhere and everywhere. They played Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 on the flight home. Good thing we were drunk because, that movie was crap.
So that was Cuba. It was intense, and I can't quite shake the experience. It's a place that will change you forever if you let it in. Viva Cuba!

Friday, February 13, 2009

I'm Going, Going, Back Back, to Cuba Cuba...

(Ripped off from Bigge's Back to Cali song). It's official, I'm going back to Cuba! I received my itinerary yesterday and after some problems with my travel agent (itravel2000) I finally got things sorted out. My roommate and I are heading to Club Amigo Mayanabo for one week.

The resort is in Playa Santa Lucia Cuba. Santa Lucia Beach is on the northern coast of Camaguey Province, in the east-central part of Cuba, around 338 miles (545 km) from Havana. It has some of the most beautiful beaches of Cuba.

Santa Lucia has 13 miles (21 km) of wide, white-golden sandy beaches bathed by warm turquoise water that is always calm, thanks to an extensive coral reef. This reef is the longest one of its kind in the western hemisphere. In one area which has 35 scuba-diving sites, you can see ridges nearly 33 feet (10 m) high, and the wealth of underwater flora and fauna is complemented with many sunken ships-some of them dating from the 19th century.

It is my third time visiting Cuba, and my second time to Santa Lucia. I first went to Santa Lucia in February of 2007 with my roommate. We stayed at the Brisas Santa Lucia resort and had an amazing, unforgettable time. That first trip was where I learnt about the festival Carnival. It's an outdoor music festival they hold every February that includes 24 hours of non stop music, dance, and partying. Cubans from all over come in on buses, livestock trailers, and in their old unmarked classic cars. We spent every night there. We learnt how to dance the Rumba, and made amazing local friends who showed us a side of the island we would never have seen staying solely on the resort.

I instantly fell in love with Cuba, and it is number one on my list of favorite places to travel. The muggy air, the sea breeze, the untouched un-commercialized lifestyle that is so different from the one I live every day. The Cubans take great pride in their work, their home, their families. I admire them greatly. They are the friendliest, most honest people I have ever met.

There are horses everywhere. They keep them tied up with rope or not even tied at all. They are a means of transportation for them, and despite what people think they are generally very well cared for. One morning I was walking back to th
e resort after a night of exploring the island, I came across the mare and foal pictured. They were tied in an open field, and the foal was tied to the mother. Obviously, I went straight over to them. They came right up to me, and let me hug them and play with their manes. These horses were absolute sweethearts. No fear, not a care in the world. The mare was obviously a cart horse at one point, you could tell from the marks on her nose from her bridle and gear. They both were in great health, and happy in spirit. I was loving Cuba more every minute.

This time I am going prepared, with lots of goodies to give away. I want to find a local school to drop of some school supplies for the kids. I read about someone doing this on and I guess the teacher and the kids went nuts. They were really appreciated and brought a lot of smiles to those students that day.

I also grabbed some nice leather halters I had and am going to give them away. They don't have access to new tack, and I'm sure they can fi
nd use for them. They were hanging in my tack room collecting dust anyhow. I will definitely get some pictures of the horses wearing them!

It's only a few days away, I'm so excited but there are still a few days to get through before I get to bask in the beauty that is Cuba.

Friday, February 6, 2009

February ~ Find your Fitness ~

I know everybody gets all motivated in January to get fit and change their lifestyle, however I'm choosing February as my motivating month to improve my fitness level for the upcoming year. I'm hoping I will avoid the fade away resolution syndrome that happens when people associate getting healthy with a new years resolution. I'm not looking to lose weight, I consider myself to be in decent shape, but I want to improve on that. I want to look and feel the best I can possible, and in turn become a better rider. I have always ate healthy, but I have cut back on things like pop and munchies. Weather permitting I walk the dog for an hour + a day, plus I try to ride every night. I work at a hunt barn on weekends for 4 hours and get my share of mucking out work out, hay throwing arm workout, and sweeping cardio. I just don't feel it's enough at the moment and would like to sculpt and trim myself into a hard body.
In 2007 I did a lot of modelling, promotional modelling mostly and in the summer in Toronto I was working at the World Fitness and Model Expo. This was NOT the type of modelling convention where you find 6 ft lean beauties, but an Exposition for body builders and fitness models. Talk about a blow to your self-image. These people were RIPPED, tone, not an inch of fat, hell not an inch of skin! Not to mention the the tans. This picture is the Mens bikini contest, these are the boys who were the LEAST muscled up. Hard to believe isn't it! It was an interesting insight into the world of body building. I never want to be that sculpted, but I would like a nice tight package.

I had seen a lot of work-out videos at the Salvation Army, and figured I could head there and pick one up cheap and give it a try. I specifically wanted an 80's style high impact cardio one that would have sweet 80's music and old style Aerobics. My mom used to teach aerobics when I was younger and I was having visions of myself re-living those days of hers. I found the "Jane Fonda Complete Workout". It sure looked 80's enough and was only $.99, what did I have to lose?
I popped the video in Wednesday night since it was too cold to ride (even inside), and took it for a test drive. I knew I would love it instantly. The body suits, the hair, the legwarmers! It was totally my style, and hilarious at that. There is a description of the video work-out on her website:

"Jane Fonda's Complete Workout Fat burning aerobics, cardiovascular conditioning, muscle strengthening, shaping, toning and increased flexibility. What more could you want? Few aerobic workouts are as extensive to this degree. Jane Fonda's Complete Workout is a powerful program in one box. For beginners to advanced, you have everything you need to a healthier, well toned, better you.

The complete workout is for all fitness levels. The innovative 30 minute aerobic section combines both low impact and higher intensity movements. Choose one or the other, or alternate between these different moves to create an "interval training" cardiovascular effect - and maximize fat burning! The class can be personalized 4 ways to fit into your busy day! 1.) A 35 MINUTE CLASS WITH AEROBICS AND STRETCH 2.) A 50 MINUTE CLASS WITH UPPER BODY TONING, AEROBICS AND STRETCH 3.) A 55 MINUTE CLASS WITH LOWER BODY TONING, AEROBICS, AND STRETCH 4.) A 70 MINUTE CLASS WITH UPPER AND LOWER BODY TONING, AEROBICS AND STRETCH"

The video was great, I didn't listen to the commentary since I like to use my own music, but there were good angles of all the moves, and honestly, this video is hilarious to try and follow. The moves are random, and you need decent co-ordination to follow it. Click Here to see the stills. I still didn't get a hang of all the moves by the end, but I was laughing the entire video. I worked up a really good sweat, but didn't feel exhausted. I did the cardio and arms workout, and although my arms didn't feel anything that night the next day they were a bit sore so I know it was targeting some good areas.

I think this video will become a regular part of my fitness routine, along with pilates and the everyday things I do. It's convenient and cheap, I refuse to buy a gym membership!

I'm hoping I will become stronger in my core and through my legs, and thus improve my seat, especially for dressage since I will be focusing on that all that spring. Fandango has started getting back into shape since having a month off. Once the snow melts I can incorporate road work to tighten his tendons and improve his stamina - since he blatantly has no endurance. Archie is still off for the winter trying to finish relaxing before spring. He is extremely easy to get into shape being an x racing Thoroughbred. Plus he is such a joy to hack and he much prefers that I have no problem doing road and hill work for hours on him. I hope to get Fandango looking like William here in this picture, he was a little *too* fit for BN eventing in Scotland, but he looks amazing, nice even muscle tone and shape. He felt like a million bucks....until we entered the dressage ring lol.

The Jane Fonda's Complete Workout Video is available at Amazon:

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