Words by Rachel
Walking into the dining hall, of our all inclusive resort on Cuba’s north coast, or the feed lot, as we have renamed it after 6 days of resort living, the gnawing unease I have felt for the past few days bubbles to the surface. “So much waste!” I think. And not for the first time wonder: Why is it that people desire this sort of getaway? How do they get to the point that they become hungry for a week of blissful gluttony, needing a panacea, a quick shot in the arm to numb the realities of the grind and the stresses of modern life?
We are here on a mini-break from our adventure. After 9 weeks on the road, the last 5 or so seeing us move around every day or two, we were all travel weary. And even though Gary and I are not resort people we recognise the very real needs of the whole family craving some down time, the girls in particular. And with Amalia’s birthday turning up at just the right time we give ourselves the license to splurge.
So we have come to Cayo Ensenachos on Cuba’s north coast to stop for a week and recharge the travel batteries. The girls are ecstatic, and even Gary and I grin at each other as we pull into the low rise resort sprawled across two of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches. A week of lizard lounging and cocktails sounds perfect.
Resort living can be great, don’t get me wrong. All inclusive (our first ever, so new to us) is easy. You check in and get a key to a lovely room that gets serviced every day, there’s hot water, drinks on tap, food whenever you want it, entertainment, swimming pools, and if you’re lucky a beautiful beach. On the one hand we love it here – we don’t have to be on high alert daily keeping check on belongings, passports, cash, kids; no unpacking and repacking for a week; no negotiating transport; and no need to carry a wallet, everything is already paid for.
But on the other hand, something irks me. Underneath the blissful ease, I start to question: is this the best we, as a society, can do?
People come here to escape reality. They work really hard all year, save, and splurge. Each and every person here no doubt feels they deserve this – the huge buffets, the overeating, the 10am cocktails, the servants fetching and carrying and cleaning. But I guess that’s where, after a few days, I start to question the sanity in all of this. What is so bad about real life that we feel the need to escape? And why does escape look like this?
Looking around me as I write this there are people of many nationalities (mostly Canadians), and all shape, sizes, ages and colours. There are no Cuban holiday makers, this place is way too expensive for the locals in peak season. Despite that the staff are incredibly friendly and genuinely happy to be of service, a testament to the wonderful people of Cuba. We really could be anywhere, however – Cuba, Fiji, Thailand, Cyprus. It’s warm, there’s a beautiful beach, locals cater to tourists’ every need, and there is lots and lots and lots of food and drink.
But despite the potential variety of people it all seems a bit vanilla, a bit bland. And it definitely feels completely excessive. Parents farm their kids off to kids club, missing the opportunity to interact with them on possibly the only family break all year; families pile their plates high with food they don’t eat, leaving a trail of waste behind them as they step back onto their planes home without a thought for the locals; water glasses are filled and not drunk, in a country where drinking water only comes in plastic bottles; and… Well, the list could go on. But it’s not necessarily the fault of the people who come here. They’re sold the dream by the travel agent or website. And the resorts create the environment they think people want and expect. And many people DO expect, that is for sure.
Which brings me back to my question: what compels us to desire this? What drives us to need an ultimate escape filled with so much excess? Are we creating lives that are unfulfilled and are looking to fill that hole?
Having recently left a job I was stressed in and which I was wholly unsatisfied, yet which was a great job and one that paid well (and definitely contributed towards being able to sell up and travel the world), I’m not so far from the people around me as I might first think. Sure, I’m not a resort person, never have been. I’d prefer a bungalow on a quiet beach and a few local restaurants. But I’m also not adverse to luxury and I can see the appeal of coming away and not having to think, especially for parents of young kids where the joys of kids club can give parents an often needed break from the relentless day-in-day-out routines of child rearing.
But do we really need this much to relax and escape from our ordinary lives? Why do we need to gorge ourselves on all you can eat buffets each and every meal for a week or more? How many eggs are laid just to service a 500 room resort each day? How many fish, how many prawns, how many cows, chickens, pigs, are farmed to feed the frenzy? And how many places are there like this the world over? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I do know that we could reduce the amount of food by half and every person here would still be well fed and satisfied, and some.
We will roll out of here slightly heavier on the scales, of that I have no doubt. But hopefully we do so with some self awareness. Gary and I talk to the girls about all of this. We talk about the fact that we have had a great week. That the resort is beautiful. That we are well rested and ready for the next adventure, and to get back amongst it inside the real Cuba. That we are grateful for our time here, together. And we also talk about the excess and how it feels too much. That we know that there is more food than we need, and that there are plenty of families who do not have much, and who would love just a small slither of what we have.
I don’t have any solutions right now, except to express my thoughts here. And for our little family, we think next time we’ll opt for the bungalow and meals we can buy as and when we need them, rather than the gluttony the all inclusive can’t but help to encourage. And perhaps I will write a letter to the resort chain, expressing just this – we love the beach, the luxury, the staff, the pampering, but perhaps with a little less waste and a little more thought to the end to end realities of what all inclusive really means.
And as I sign off I think, perhaps this is another life lesson to add to the list on our adventure?