On the last day of our trip we finally made it to the ocean! My father announced it would be a crime to visit Cuba and not go so, on the advice of our fearless leader Jesús, we chose Tararå Beach for its proximity to where we were staying. Little did we know this beach club and resort had such a unique and interesting history.
Driving up to the club itself is a lot like everything else in Cuba, stunning views but eerily quiet and lacking a crowd. In fact, not only was the resort sparsely populated, it was practically deserted and resembled a scene from The Walking Dead. My first thought was “I should have brought my sword,” and my second was “what the hell happened here?”
You could see that this place was once a source of relaxation and a vibrant oceanside community filled with active families escaping the bustle of the city. Over the years it morphed into a weird populace of partially inhabited homes, a kiteboarding experience and lesson center and a yoga studio. Yeah, I told you it was odd.
There was a pool area, which was completely empty when we first arrived, a bar and breathtaking views of the ocean, which was a short walk from the pool.
We were informed there was very little on the menu (pork and chicken) and our beverage choices included two kinds of beer (Bucanero and Crystal) and rum and coke served in the smallest plastic cup you have ever seen. Being that this was day seven of our trip, we fully expected the paltry choices and were just happy to at least have choices. How quickly our American sense of “everything at anytime” morphed into “grateful for what we have.” Even the kids were happy to eat the chicken (it could have been pork but we told them everything was chicken) and fries. The fries were a treat and it was not lost on them.
The kite surfers on the ocean put on a show as the kids ran into and out of the waves, screaming and laughing and enjoying the shocking 77 degree water temperature. I could not get over how downright warm the ocean water was. As a hearty New Englander I feel I need to earn my way in, inch by freezing inch, for a three second dip only to run back onto the sand and bake in the unrelenting sun. This was very strange indeed.
It was only after leaving Tarará that we learned about it’s unique history. It was my father’s cousin Luisito who explained that it was developed by an American named Sylvester Webster as a complete town, with a church (Santa Elena), a yacht club, 400 residences, stores, a movie theatre, a marina, a public park and beach facilities. It was once considered to be one of the most beautiful on the island, with its boardwalk a popular weekend destination.
It was hard to imagine and heartbreakingly sad.
Luisito peaked my interest and so I did a little more digging when I came home. It’s part of my investigative reporting nature. Plus, I love research.
This is what I found:
Mr. Webster, the founder lived there with all of his children. The entire Webster family, twelve who were born on Cuba, and eight who were originally U.S. citizens, were forced to leave the island after Castro’s police confiscated their homes, personal property and business records at gunpoint.
After the Cuban Revolution, in January 1959, Che Guevara went to live at a summer villa in Tarará to recover from a violent asthma attack.
At the height of tight Cuban-Soviet relations, the town housed Russian officials stationed in Cuba, and for a while (early 1990s) functioned as a recovery resort for Ukrainian children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. After 2000 (and the partial opening of Cuba to foreign investments), it was a popular place for foreign companies.
In 2005, the town was turned into a recovery resort for blind patients from Venezuela, part of a deal between Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, in which Cuba offered medical expertise in return for Venezuelean oil.
In 2007, the town began to receive Chinese students, especially high school graduates, under a project in which the Cuban government provided scholarships and facilities for Chinese children to learn Spanish.
The Tarará beach houses can now be leased or rented from the government. In previous years Canadians, Italians and Spanish visitors rented the beach houses for long stay vacations between 1-6 months, but this has not been in practice since before 2009.
Luisito told us he and his wife had just recently stayed there for 10 days. I seriously could not imagine, with my American mind, staying there for 10 days! It would certainly be quiet and you wouldn’t have to think about what you would eat or drink.
Have you ever heard of this place?
Would you want to stay there for more than an afternoon?