Old Reviews – Brisas Covarrubias

January 2005 just got back from a wonderful week in Cuba. We went the same dates as last year, January 8-15, and are already planning for 2006. After reading some very negative reviews, I wonder how much investigation was involved. Covarrubias is NOT a place to visit if you’re looking for a wild night life or big time menus. The “animacion” or entertainment is what I would call “fun”; lots of music and dancing, theme nights and audience participation. A new friend we met almost laughed herself sick one night at some of the actions of guests who were called up on stage. My wife and I took my 77 year old mother with us this year. She had the time of her life and is looking forward to going back. We were greeted with hugs and kisses the first day in the dining room from last year’s staff. Alexander, Luisa, Maria, the list goes on, are very good at their job. They are attentive but not “in your face”. Here’s our review: Arrival at Holguin Airport: Quickly processed through customs although, last year I was asked to open my suitcase. It contained mostly over the counter stuff like Advil, burn ointment, etc. and I was allowed through with it. We traveled to Covarrubias (VC) via small 30 passenger bus. It took about 2 hours. Because it was during the day, we were able to see the “real” Cuba; pretty distressing from a Canadian’s point of view. Old cars, trucks, bicycles and tractors make up the transportation modes. Housing is interesting to say the least. What strikes you though is the cleanliness of the people. With dirt for your front lawn and one 60 watt bulb in the house it wouldn’t surprise you to think the kids would be dirty. Not so. We found the trip to CV enlightening. Arrival at Villa Covarrubias: Lots of handshakes and hugs at the front desk were the norm. The staff actually remembered us which is quite remarkable when you think of all the faces they see in a year. We rented a safe in the room for $2.00 a day Cuban Convertible Peso. I bought a Net card for $8.00 (1 hour) and then porters take the bags to our rooms and we got settled in.

Meals: We ate all our meals except one in the main dining room. The exception was in the outdoor dining room off the beach. Food is pretty basic; mostly chicken, eggs, fish, pork and a little beef. One meal we enjoyed calamari. There were lots of salads but not in a Canadian sense. Foods we would serve hot, they serve cold. It makes it interesting. Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, beans, cabbage, plantain, cucumbers, onions, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, (and some stuff we didn’t know what it was) etc. There is enough fruit variety to give you a diabetic fit: oranges, pineapple, fruitabumba (papaya actually but in this region, the word “papaya” has a bad connotation), bananas, grapefruits, watermelon, etc. A good bit of Spanish to remember is Que es eso?, what is it? All meals are buffet and include everything. There is a hot grill where you can get omelets, hamburgs, etc. There are a variety of beverages such as café con leche, pineapple and orange juice, milk, sodas, beer, wine etc. There was lots of bread and rolls plus a variety of desserts including ice cream made on the premises. The hours of operation allow sleeping in as well as catching a late dinner at 8:00 p.m.

A special meal was served for returning guests. There were about 35 to 40 of us with one gentleman having visited VC 13 times since it opened 6 years ago. Another couple had stayed 12 times. It would appear their expectations had been realized. The meal was wonderful.

Staff: I can’t say enough about them. Courteous, watchful, friendly, accommodating, come to mind. Even with the obnoxious, overbearing and ignorant guests, they remained a great example of decorum. One guest suggested that perhaps our Canadian service industry should be sent to Cuba to learn some manners. When I asked our waiter if he would be working the morning of our departure, he said it was his day off but if we wanted him to, he would come in anyway and say good bye to us. Try that one on a North American waiter.

Rooms: Because of a water shortage, there is a notice in the washroom that says to leave the towels on the floor if we wanted them changed, otherwise, hang them up. The water does come out yellowish when the taps are first turned on. So, you let it run a second or two. (We have exceptionally hard water where I live and the water sometimes comes out brown and that’s in Canada.) I read in one review that the writer was distressed to have to brush his teeth with that water. I guess he didn’t understand that the bottled water wasn’t just to drink, poor soul.

The rooms are cleaned everyday and unless the sheets are on the floor, they aren’t changed. The “sand in my bed” comment cracked me up. What we did was brush the sand off with our hands. It worked!! The maids leave a large bottle of water everyday and will leave two if you ask them. The fridge is a typical bar fridge and keeps everything nice and cold. Every day, the maids create a sculpture out of towels to greet you when you get back after lunch.

Tipping: Since American dollars are not used any longer, you can get Canadian money changed to the Cuban Convertible Peso at the resort. The exchange matches the $US which at the time writing was about $.77 on the dollar. Do not take any Canadian currency that is crushed, torn (even a tiny tear), or mutilated in the smallest way as they won’t take them for conversion. There are two kinds of pesos so make sure you are getting convertible pesos if you buy anything and you get change back. The people peso is worth about one third of a cent Canadian. That is the peso used by the Cuban people. This brings us to tipping. Please do not tip with Canadian dollars. We had staff asking if we could take the damaged money and give them convertible pesos at value. The $CAN was just a worthless p! iece of paper and the coins were even worse.

We always get a pile of one dollar pesos to tip with. At meals we leave a Cuban dollar and also leave one at the end of the bed for the maid. When you consider that their monthly pay is between 200 and 250 pesos (approx. $10 to $12.00 Canadian), it’s not hard to understand how much a dollar tip means to them. We also take gifts for the staff. We find out if they are married, have children, what the health conditions are for them and their family and take stuff to help. Shoes for kids are in great demand as is pain medication, vitamins for kids, vitamin E for adults etc. Hair elastics, sewing kits, deodorant, hair care products, paper and pencils or pens, stickers, underwear for kids, toothbrushes and paste, combs, soap, calendars, etc. are just some examples of what is appreciated. Use your imagination but don’t take junk. They are worth more than that! Be generous, it will give you a lift.

Beach: White sand as far as the eye can see, warm water as green and blue as you can imagine, straw thatched cabanas, chaise lounges to relax on (there are some with the wheels off but hey, it’s a beach not a drag strip), catamaran sailing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, pedal boating, and most importantly, sun bathing, are all you need for a week or two at the resort. If you are hungry, get a hamburg or hot dog or Cuban Sandwich from the pool bar and get back to what you were doing. Drinks are available all day and into the evening so you won’t get dehydrated in the 80 degree sun. No one tries to sell you anything and you can be totally alone in your book or thoughts or you can make new friends and have a great conversation with people from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, China, Quebec, Britain, etc. One year we met someone from Hawkstone, Ontario and they were living in a house that once belonged to a couple I had married.

General: If you want a wild and outrageous holiday, don’t choose VC. It’s a great place for families with children. The resort runs a program for kids from 4-12 and is kid friendly. The pool isn’t for laps or 10 metre diving. It’s great for getting wet without the wave action. It has a swim up bar so you can get wet inside and out.

We met some young couples who had a good time but the majority was in their late 30’s and up. We don’t have to pose at the beach at my age. What you see is what you get. It was nice to see others who had a little bulge over the top of their bathing suit and didn’t particularly care what you thought. I have made myself a promise though to lose a pound or two but that’s because all that homemade ice cream goes right to the “bulge” very quickly.

Puerto Padre: It’s a typical coastal town with streets and buildings right out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western (Fistful of Dollars, etc). Not much to see unless you like to take in the old structures and meet the people of Cuba. We enjoy attending church on one of the Sundays we’re their. Ask for Daniel if you need a cab and don’t forget to tip him.

Final Analysis: My wife and mother and I would recommend Villa Covarrubias for anyone wanting a place that is not too expensive and gives you freedom to do what you want when you want. If you need a 5 star with all the bells and whistles, this probably isn’t for you. If you want to make friends for life, give a little back to humanity, come home refreshed and content, go to Villa Covarrubias.

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