Tag Archives: resorts

Cuba

In the late 1980s, with one wintry week off, my boyfriend and I decided to go to a resort. We found a last-minute deal in Cuba.

Havana-harbour-D-Stewart-photosOur fellow passengers on the  flight were mostly labour union people. Many had been in Cuba often, on educational tours and seminars as well as vacations at the resort we were going to. The tour company was linked somehow to Ontario unions.

Parasito-D-Stewart-photosThe only one on its bay, the resort was between Havana and Varadero. Good food, a cottage near the water. The usual things to do. A pool, theme parties, a riding stable, tennis courts, and the ocean. Bus excursions to see the countryside and people.

We went to Havana for a day. A woman invited us to eat with her family after she and my boyfriend talked in Spanish outside her house on a down town side street. Her kids wanted to know about North America, we wanted to know about Cuba.

We went to a Hemingway bar – a famous little hole in the wall, the Bodeguita del Medio. Mojitos are the specialty. Decades of drinkers from-Havana-Museum-1988-D-Stewarthave scratched their autographs into the walls. We did too, and bought a t-shirt. We walked along the Malecón, looked at the beautiful crumbling old buildings, the dance clubs and theatres from Havana’s heyday as an American playground. Before Castro, before the embargo. Vehicles filled the streets. The only new ones were Russian. The others were from 1950s America, engines rumbling the way only V-8s do.

At the resort, we saw how the cars were kept running. A man had the hood of his car up, working on it. We went over to watch. Pretty much everyone with a car knew how to make some parts, he said, or adapt them. Metal fabricators specialized in making engine parts. With string, wire, metal and wood, those cars kept going. They sounded and looked like the pride of Detroit.

Havana-1988-D-Stewart-photos

Americans in Cuba, again

The half-century old embargo likely will be lifted now. American hotel executives are with Obama on his trip to Cuba. Deals are being made. American tourists will join the Canadians and Europeans on the beaches. New cars will be sent. I think it’s been long enough now that everyone knows the museum value of the American cars kept alive in Cuba longer than anywhere except the garages of classic car collectors. The cars are not of intrinsic value as examples of their model, having few original parts anywhere in them. Their worth is as works of art, industrial art perhaps. They show the ability of machine and mechanic to stay operational. Adaptation and invention are highly developed skills in Cuba. I hope they survive.

El-Tropico-Cuba-1988-D-Stewart-photosIt’s a long time since I was in Cuba, about half the lifetime of the old cars. I bet the island changed less in those decades than it will in the next year or two.

Goderich, Prettiest Town

Statue standing by courthouse, Goderich, after tornadoThe slogan of Goderich, on Lake Huron, is “The Prettiest Town in Canada.”  It’s never seemed like hyperbole to me.  Last Sunday, downtown Goderich was slammed by a tornado.  It devastated buildings, trees and vehicles.  A man was killed.

We had a cottage just south of Goderich when I was a kid.  Bluewater Beach was my favourite place.  Dad built me a tree house and I spent hours in it and prowling around in the woods.  Also hours at the beach – in the water, building sandcastles, picking up beachstones, on the hill up from the beach.

Aerial view of Goderich square, postcard 1984Then we’d go to town.  I loved the main street of Goderich – the square.  It’s more a circle around the beautiful courthouse in the middle, with huge trees and a bandshell.  Spokes go off all the way around, streets leading to the beach and other parts of town.

There was a five and dime on the square – we spent hours in there.  A glorious old hotel on one corner. I never went inside, but thought it was the most elegant building I’d ever seen.  Sometimes we’d swap Bluewater Beach for Goderich beach with its fine white sand.

We also went to the Maitland River at Benmiller.  We’d go in to the rock-bottomed river, St. Christopher's Beach at sunset, Oct. 2009lie in shallow pools of warm water or play in pockets of deeper water.

The old airport was a favourite stop, to visit the parrot who lived in the waiting room and talked a blue streak.  We’d drive along the industrial side of the harbour.  Sometimes just to look at the mountains of salt waiting to be loaded on ships.  Sometimes to go out in Dad’s boat fishing or just in the harbour steering around the huge Great Lakes vessels tied up.

Hindmarsh Horses

First time we went, to look at the cottage for sale, it was winter.  We heard sleighbells.  It seemed like a magic Christmas card, snow sparkling on the ground and evergreens, snowflakes falling.  It must be our imaginations, but our imaginations were all hearing the same thing.  And through the snow, we saw a horse-drawn wagon coming toward us.

The driver whoaed the horses and asked if we wanted to jump on.  Two Clydesdales were pulling a hay wagon full of kids and adults all bundled up.  Thermoses of hot chocolate were passed, people introduced themselves.  We rode around the small complex of streets, then people began jumping off at their respective cottages, saying “Thanks John, see ya later.”  We did the same thing when we got back to our car.

Angers' Retreat, cottage at Bluewater Beach 1961My parents bought the cottage and we went up in all four seasons.  Every winter, the horses would come through.  You’d hear the harness bells jingling, and run toward them and jump on the wagon.

The man with the horses was Mr. John Hindmarsh. His family had published The Star in Toronto.  I would walk out Bluewater Road to the highway where the Hindmarsh farm and another were kitty-corner from each other.  At both, the horses would amble over to the fence for handfuls of grass I’d pluck.

We referred to them as “the millionaires.”  I don’t know if they were in terms of bank balances.  But the late Mr. Hindmarsh certainly was in terms of generosity of spirit.  The Hindmarsh farm has been donated to the Ontario Farmland Trust and there are many walking trails and protected lands around Goderich thanks to the John Hindmarsh Environmental Trust Fund.

Goderich Rebuilding

Aerial view of Goderich town square after tornadoIf you’ve ever enjoyed driving around the square, or relaxed under the trees by the courthouse or on the beach, Goderich needs your help now.  You can donate to the Red Cross (1-800-481-1111 Canadian Disaster Relief), the Salvation Army, Perth-Huron United Way, Huron County SPCA or check out the open Facebook pages Goderich Help Link and Goderich Ontario Tornado.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

727 suite, Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaIt started with an email I received.  You may have also got it, it’s making the rounds.  A woman turned a jet into a house for only $30,000.  It’s astounding, as is where it’s situated.  I thought, well, you might luck out on beautiful wood and fixtures at the scrap yard.  And just because you didn’t spend much converting it doesn’t mean you don’t have the money to buy ocean-view land in the tropics.

My husband delved into it further (sorry, links are no longer valid). The email is partially true – more accurately, it’s two true stories mashed into one.  A woman did convert a 727 for $30,000 – on a country lot in Mississippi.  And there is a converted jet with Hotel Costa Verde photo from its websitefabulous teak paneling and chandeliers overlooking a beach at the Hotel Costa Verde in Costa Rica.  That’s it in the picture at top.  My husband’s opinion was that the real story of the $30,000 conversion is interesting on its own, as is the story of the fancy hotel one.  I agree, but for me the story really hit home when I checked out the hotel jet story.

I yelped with almost physical pain when I saw Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Manuel Antonio is my very favourite Manuel Antonio, playing in the surfbeach in the world.  There is a public beach and a national park side by side.  Here it is as I remember it.  Never crowded when I’ve been there – maybe it is when Costa Ricans take their vacations, but not when tourists flock to resorts.

There really were no resorts there then, 20 years ago.  Some small hotels, clusters of cabañas on the beach.  That was it.  Especially near the national park, a wildlife refuge, there were no tourist developments.  You had to make sure you took your own water and food into the park because you wouldn’t be able to buy me and parrot at beach bar Manuel Antonioany there.  On the public beach, small huts sold food and drinks.  Picnic tables to eat at. This is a small bar on the beach where they also rented surfboards and bicycles.  There was a bar parrot, here sitting on my head.  Also a bar cat who patrolled his territory but would deign to eat a shrimp if you gave him one off your plate.  The food was delicious, the owners delightful.

plane on airstrip at QueposManuel Antonio wasn’t hard to get to.  Drive or take a bus, fly to nearby Quepos and take the small bus to the beach.  If you wanted to only hike in the park, walk a couple hundred yards from the bus stop across the beach and you were at the park entrance.

Now, I can’t imagine it.  A private path into the wildlife refuge for hotel guests.  Special packages for wedding parties.  Edgy brides frightening the bejabbers out of poor monkeys who thought they were safe in the protected forest.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.  Yet I can’t help but think about it.  I had a special experience with a dog here, a dog with no name so I called him Perro, Spanish for dog.  I pigs scavenging on beach at sunset photo Dorothy Stewartwonder if the stray and feral dogs still roam the beach, most not friendly but a few like Perro enjoying human company.  Pigs too roamed the beach, at night, cleaning up the scraps left.

Aren’t there enough beaches and islands that have become resort-land?  Don’t bridal parties and package holiday seekers have enough options already?  Do they have to go to Manuel Antonio too?

Perro has stayed in my mind for 20 years.  A few years ago I started writing a story about him.  I finally finished it to my satisfaction last year.  Click here to read it.

Resort Towns (Feb. 2/11)

Brighton, in December, although still a fairly bustling city, bore little relation to Brighton in June or August.  Jury often felt there were few things bleaker than a seaside town in winter.

– Martha Grimes 2002, A Richard Jury Novel, The Blue Last

resort towns Port Stanley, on lake ice bankI usually agree with Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury on everything, but not this one.  You could call summer resort towns bleak in winter, but it’s a beautiful bleakness.  I like summer resort towns much better in their off-season.  They can also be lovely in their season.  Sun, sand, fun – that’s why we go.  But, for me, too many of us go.

I went to Brighton once, in April.  It wasn’t as wind-swept and, yes, bleak as it would be in December.  It was cold; there was no bathing in the sea.  But there were the arcades, the beach walks – and, best of all, there were no crowds.

Port Stanley beach in summerI live near a lakeside resort town.  Port Stanley on Lake Erie is beautiful in summer.  Wide expanse of sand beach, wide expanse of fresh water warm for swimming.  Small downtown streets with interesting shops.  A pier with fishing boats tied up or chugging into port.  Teeny cottages cheek by jowl in a rabbit warren of lanes near the beach.  Mansions on the beach and up the hill, built as summer homes for wealthy merchants of a century and more ago.

Lifeguard station in JanuaryI rarely go to Port Stanley in summer.  But I love going in winter.  The beach is empty.  The wind howls in off the lake.  On a good cold day, when your ears are ringing and your eyes streaming from the wind, you can run into Mackies on the beach and warm up with a hot drink or a cheeseburger or hotdog with the famous Mackies sauce.  Walk another block or so and go in the shops, most still open in winter.  Go into a bar and it’s local people, fishermen and schoolteachers, talking about next year’s fishing quotas or whether there’s going to be a ferry or not.  They’re drinking ordinary beer from bottles, not asking for fancy stuff on tap.

Mackies on the beach in resort town Port StanleyGet a take-out pizza or go to a fancy dining room.  There are a lot of good restaurants in Port Stanley, more than in the average small town.  That’s because it’s a resort town, I guess.  The volume of business is there in the summer to support a year-round operation.  That’s nice for the winter visitor – excellent food and no one waiting for your table, wishing you’d hurry up with your crème brûlée and get out of there.

I’ve been in a lot of summer resort towns.  I’ve found I prefer them in their off season.  It’s not that they’re better; they’re just different.  Port Stanley Harbour winterThey’re sleepier, cozier, nicer.  They’re hibernating, getting their strength back to deal with the hordes of sunworshippers, wannabe models, families with overexcited children, slow-walking pensioners.  The off-season is when a town is what, and who, it really is.  And the added bonus, of those in cold climes, is the wind whipping at you, making you feel alive.

(winter photos by Jim Stewart, beach in summer from Environmental Defence.)

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 31/10)

Simon looks out at his fighting familyNot really a “scene” this week – a shot and a background, both part of the same storyline.  Poor little Simon, looking out the door at his feuding family.  That child can tear the heart out of you.  You can feel how confused and frightened he is about the behaviour of the pack of jackals (and jackasses) he now must live among.

Barlows fightingIt is rare to see child actors, especially ones so young, be able to carry their parts in a storyline all by themselves.  Simon’s emotions and reactions do not need propping up or explaining by the adults at all.  We’re more accustomed to children whose expression basically doesn’t change and we only know if they’re happy, sad or upset by the context of the story, indeed even the verbal explanations we’re given.  “Look at —, he/she is upset now!”  Ok, thanks for telling us.  But we don’t need that with Simon:  he tells us or shows us quite well on his own. I hope he stays on the show for a good long time.

And thinking of characters who may or may not require explanation – it was nice to hear John refer to Schmeichel this week.  I’ve been wondering what happened to him.  It’s been so long since we saw him or even heard him mentioned.  Schmeichel is also a blessing to the show.  Like Simon, he can hold his own in a storyline

George & Eve with Simon on Blackpool pierNow the background of the week – Blackpool.  So nice to see the beach and the arcades and lights in daytime and at night.  I had a hard time concentrating on the story because I wanted Barlows & George on Blackpool street at nightto see everything behind the actors.  It’s been a while since we had a Corrie trip to Blackpool, and especially the night shots on Friday were spectacular.  I’ve never been to Blackpool, always wanted to go.  Thanks, Corrie, for the little New Year’s Eve trip.Carousel at Blackpool at night

And thanks, CBC, for finally posting Sunday morning’s omnibus sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning so I could finally post these pictures!