Growing Up in Cuba, An Interview with Tania Vazquez Paldi, Part 6

To read previous parts of this interview, click below:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

In our last post, Tania was telling us about her work as a tour guide in Cuba in the 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba had to adjust to the loss of significant economic aid. The development of leisure tourism was one plan to make up for the loss and the country invested in tourist infrastructure and services and allowed foreign hotels to come in.

Tania: After ten years getting to know the tour operators, the ministers etc., Melia decided to create this office in Havana. They were in the beach resort, in Varadero before, but when they moved to Havana because they had so many hotels that they needed to be in the city and they needed a corporate office to do the sales and marketing, rather than the contractors. They needed a team, a bigger team and they decided to hire guides. Why tour guides? Because it’s easy for a tour guide to sell a country because you know your country and its history and everything and you know the industry and the tour operators. You sell first the destination, then the product. So, they called different guides and 2 out of 50 were approved.

Kyna: And you were one.

Tania: I was qualified for the British and English-speaking market and my colleague, Frank, he speaks German and English, so we could share different markets. So, out of 50, 2 were approved. I was lucky. They were so in need of marketing, I started to work in September and in October I was already in Glasgow and all over the UK traveling.

London, 2006 - Tania and a Melia Hotels executive at a gala dinner to announce the novelties of the Melia Hotels in Cuba to UK tour operators and press.

London, 2006 – Tania and a Melia Hotels executive at a gala dinner to announce the novelties of the Melia Hotels in Cuba to UK tour operators and press.

Kyna: Was this the first time you had been out of Cuba?

Tania: No, the first time was in the Bahamas, but it was like being in Cuba, it’s very close. That was 1993, when I was a tour guide.

Kyna: You started traveling to Europe in 2000…

Tania: 2003

Kyna: How was that?

Tania: It was an adventure. Traveling is an adventure every time you go out. But for me it was okay because I developed the skill of traveling when I was a tour guide. Even in traveling your own country, you know, you get a plane, you check into a hotel, you have to find your way, you have to ask and be social, so you get all those skills once you’re a tour guide.

Kyna: Plus you had been working with people from these countries.

Tania: Exactly, it was the best experience. I have no issue, anywhere I go. Even if I don’t speak the language, I always find my way. You cannot imagine how many times I got lost in London, sometimes with the telephone battery dead and people helping me, giving me their phones to call. Everywhere I go, I always get lost and I ask people. People help you. It’s fun. As long as you respect people and they respect you back. In 2003, when I started to travel I realized I always had the dream of being a tourist instead of a tour guide, and now I am a tourist.

Kyna: How does the Cuban government chose people who will be traveling outside of the country. They want to pick people who are a low risk for defection. You had small children at home…

Tania: You go through a background check but there is always a risk. I have friends and colleagues who decided to defect. Most of them did not have kids. I had several opportunities but I didn’t. Not because of my kids because in the end you can file a claim and get them out. I didn’t do it because the company put trust in me. Morally I couldn’t do it. Some people understand that, some do not. I had a good life. Not all the Cubans that live here or abroad defected. Some, like me, they married or came to live with their family. Sometimes, when I speak with Cubans who defected, they are very negative about Cuba and assume I agree. I understand maybe they had bad experiences but my experience was not bad. It’s not black and white. You have to be pragmatic. I know there are bad things about Cuba but there are good things too. I have met a lot of Cubans abroad, some are doing well, some not so well, but most of them would like to be back in Cuba. I’m sure when it changes, many will be back.

This concludes my first interview with Tania. We plan to sit down again over coffee and treats, probably after the holidays, so stay tuned. I have a list of things I want to talk about, including religion and the black-market in Cuba. If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to ask Tania, please let me know.

Who’s a Pretty Birdie? The Amorous Parrot of Tusan

view from Tusan Hotel, Canakkale, Turkey

view from Tusan Hotel, Canakkale, Turkey

About 9 miles outside of Canakkale Turkey, nestled in a pine forest overlooking the Dardanelles Strait, is the Tusan Hotel. For accommodations, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s clean and comfortable with a homey charm. The hotel’s best asset is its position.
The buildings are surrounded by pine trees spaced perfectly to let in plenty of dappled light and nicely framed views of the water while still providing a sense of woodsy shelter. We use the hotel in our Bronze category.

I stayed there a few years ago while escorting a group of travel agents around Turkey. It’s close to Troy, which we visited the following day. After dinner, I played a few games of backgammon with our driver in the sitting room off the lobby. I was the only woman among 5 or 6 men, gathered to watch and comment on the game. After about an hour, I said goodnight and headed off to my room.

In the lobby of the Tusan is a beautiful gray parrot. I stopped to admire him and tell him what a pretty bird he was. He came right over to me and I stuck my finger through the bars of the cage to give him a scratch. To my delight he perched on my finger. Then, to my horror, he began to have his way with my finger, vigorously. ( I won’t use the most descriptive word for what he was doing, as this is meant to be a professional blog, but it rhymes with jump…) I couldn’t get away! People were walking through the lobby and there I stood, the captive of an obscene bird. It felt like a public shaming. I guess I stood like that for five minutes, although it seemed like an eternity, when one of the men who had been watching the backgammon game came to my rescue. He worked at the hotel and was familiar with this bird and his tricks. He lured him off me with some treat that was even more delectable than my finger. I suggested they put a sign on the cage warning fools like me to keep fingers outside.


Yes, we’re talking about you.

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