Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The dolphin argument

During my trip to Cuba, I had the opportunity to book a day on a catamaran which included lunch at a restaurant on Cayo Blanco and an interaction with dolphins.

Although I come from an island, I've only seen dolphins in the wild once, on a catamaran trip about 7 yrs ago. The dolphins were totally free, we were able to see them because the fishermen knew their usual whereabouts but it was entirely up to luck whether you'd actually see them or not. We were lucky that day, they came and swam alongside our catamaran for about 30 minutes.
My only other dolphin sightings were the occasional dolphin show in a marine park of some sort, never within arm's reach though.

So being told that we would have the chance to get our pictures taken with a dolphin was enough to get us all excited about the whole experience. The dolphin enclosure, which was a structure built in open sea, had a number of large pools that had platforms built-in for people to stand on and stairs leading down to them. The dolphin trainer, Abel, asked about 10 people to step on the platform at a time. We were allowed to touch the dolphin everywhere except for the eyes, the air orifice and the genitals. One of the three dolphins, whose name was Nemo, would follow Abel's instructions to swim slowly along the row of people on the platform and a second time to swim on its back, giving us the opportunity to feel the texture of its "skin" on its back and the underside as well. Then, we each got a "kiss" from Nemo before he showed us how to clap and wave goodbye. Then if you chose to, you could have your picture taken by a "professional" photographer and later buy the picture for 10 pesos.

In addition to all the above, I had 2 "intimate" moments with the dolphins. I was the first in the water with my group, so furthest from Abel when he started with instructions for us. One of the dolphins swam right towards me and I stood there, backing up a little with my arms apart and out of the water and Nemo came and poked my belly button. It was U N R E A L. It's funny the thrill I got out of it. I felt so special *sigh*.

Later on, while waiting patiently for everybody ahead of me to get their professional picture taken, I was slapping the water a little to see if one of the dolphins will respond and surely enough, I caught the attention of one of them. When he approached, I held out my open hand just under the surface of the water (I've seen Abel do it!) and it slowly swam to my hand and poked it before swimming away. I dreamed then of having a dolphin as best friend. :(
Nemo gave me a big, sloppy, tongue-out kiss for my "professional" picture. Yes, I totally felt like a princess.

One of my friends had something to say on my dolphin experience. When I posted the picture of the dolphin enclosure, she said that the dolphins should be released and said that I should watch "The Cove" if I don't agree. I have not watched the film, the Wikipedia page says enough. I know enough about myself to know that I would not be able to bear the movie. That said though, the other remarks that followed from my friend were like personal attacks, blaming me for slaughtering the poor mammals almost.

My friend's point was that dolphins should be free and not held in captivity. I agree to that, I don't think ALL of the dolphins in the world should be held in captivity. I however do not blame ALL marine parks or EVERYBODY who condone such activities that would bring them closer to dolphins in captivity. She pointed the finger at me because by going through with it, I was encouraging dolphin-hunting according to her. Okay, there's only a limited number of marine parks around the world, with only so much demand for dolphins. My argument for dolphins kept in captivity is that they bring awareness to the masses. After all, not everybody can afford to go see dolphins in their natural habitat. Someone who has seen a dolphin in a show is more likely to be interested in the fate of the mammals than someone who has been watching the Discovery channel.

Maybe I would have felt different if I witnessed a dolphin being ill-treated. The ones I have met though looked happy and playful enough. There was a 3-year old little boy from Quebec in our group and he cried his eyes out when his mom took him out of the water. Now tell me that this kid is not going to remember this day for the rest of his life and feel a special attachment for dolphins and you would be lying. Is this little guy going to grow up to become a dolphin-killer? Is he already a dolphin murderer because he wanted to touch an otherwise inaccessible animal? You tell me.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Cuba...the discovery of a communist country

I came back yesterday from a week-long trip to Varadero, Cuba.
C U B A, such a sweet sound to my sunburned ears right now.

Most people probably associate that country to Fidel Castro, the US embargo, beautiful white sand beaches and what not. Yes, like most people I've done my research before going there. However, the research was mainly to address my comfort level when I get there, not on the country itself. So funnily enough it is only today that I have read the wikipedia page on Cuba.

Last Tuesday, I was on a day trip to Havana, the capital of Cuba. During the 2 hour bus trip there, the tour guide gave us anecdotal details about Cubans alongside the historical details that made the country what it is today. One thing that hit me right away was the number of people waiting by the side of the road.  I soon realized they were waiting for a ride...not a specific ride, just any car that would pick them up.

Now, that fact in itself is puzzling to me who have never hitchhiked, the result of a sheltered childhood and the absence of a situation where I'd absolutely need to go somewhere without having the means. Now Cubans are not rich, so I would understand that the vast majority of the population would have to use public transportation. Coming from a "poor" island myself, I am aware of illegal cabs, especially in regions where the bus service is less than par. This was my original thought. These people by the roads are waiting for a car which would stop and take them wherever, for a minimal charge. But to my surprise, the tour guide was quick to correct me. The rides are free. Huh.

Ok, so if I was poor and had a car that is falling apart, why would I pick up people I do not know by the side of the road and drive them to where they need to go? Of course, out of the goodness of MY heart, but not everybody has a golden heart like mine. So here's another thought: the car does not belong to you. It belongs to the state and your position within the government entitles you to a car, but since everybody is working for the good of everybody else, you SHOULD stop and pick up people if you can! Errr...okay.

Yes, I was born and raised in a Capitalist country. The idea of not owning anything except the clothes on your back is MIND-BLOWING. Cubans are not allowed to sell their houses because they do not own their houses. They can agree to exchange houses and pay a tax to the government for it, but the government still owns their houses. When the tour guide told us about the house exchange, I thought of a conversation in my head that would go like this in between 2 Cubans:

Man1: Ola, I think my house is getting too small for the family and your kid is in high school in the countryside most of the week. What do you say we swap houses?
Man2: Ola. Hmm, true, I guess we only really need the room just for the week-end when he comes back, but we could all squeeze nicely into your house otherwise.
Man1: Is that a deal then, should we go pay the tax?
Man2: Okay, let me run it by the wife and give you a final answer tomorrow.
Man1: Awesome, let me know.

It's probably not the way it goes. The only way it could happen would probably be between relatives who would sacrifice themselves for the good of the people they love. Why else would they swap houses??

Have I read the wikipedia page beforehand, I would have had way more questions for the tour guide....That would teach me to barely skim the surface when "researching" my vacation destination!