The Proposal

Today was the day.

First and foremost, there was to be the proposal. Second, we had decided it was time to venture off the resort to explore at least a little of the Cuban culture.

We realized that breakfast was more or less the same every day except say a few minor additions like another style of bread thrown into the mix (the bread and buns are really good), or slightly different meats. Either way it hits the spot.

Cheyenne wanted to book meals in the other resort restaurants before we left so we sat down with Kaly who I could tell out of the corner of my eye, couldn’t stop smiling during our conversation. ‘No reservations at Varadero 1887 for tonight’, Kaly tried to say in a serious manner.

So for now, so she thought, we at least had evenings of Cuban and then Italian cuisine booked for Friday and Saturday evenings.

While Cheyenne took care of a few things at the front desk, I followed Kaly over to the Cafe Bar to confirm the details for later that evening. The flowers, champaign and music were all set.

It’s about a 10 minute walk from the resort to the main road to catch a double decker tour bus. It was finally a clear day although there was enough of a breeze that it still wasn’t overly hot.

We enjoyed the old cars driving by for 5 minutes or so while we awaited the bus, and it seemed every second vehicle honked their horn or slowed down, in an attempt to offer you a ride.

We started our excursion on the bottom level of the bus, with the view of the open air through the stairway to the top a bit intimidating at first for this height challenged traveller. A couple of stops in, paused long enough to feel safe to venture into the blue skies atop the vehicle, we found a couple of seats with the warm breeze against our faces. Cheyenne took the outside railing seat and was a bit intimidated by this freedom from enclosed quarters at first, but after building up speed a few times and a few twists and turns into various resorts, we settled in and enjoyed a trigger happy ride.

At least where we are, it’s about a 20 minute walk we’d guess from the Oceans edge of our resort, to the other side of the island peninsula of Varadero. Although it’s a little river with trees on the other side and catamarans parked along the shore, it feeds into the Atlantic just a little ways up from us.

With how high you sit above the roadway, each direction of the bus trip provides you with a vantage point that makes you feel like you are driving along the shoreline ready to topple into the ocean at any moment. It makes for a breathtaking view of vast open waters with the shoreline of Cuba’s main land in the far of distance.

There are quite a number of stops between our resort and midtown Varadero where we got off, but we didn’t mind. We finally felt like we were in Cuba rather than any American resort in say South Carolina, California or Florida. Not that I haven’t loved the people and places when I visited these destinations but other than the marvel of seeing outside your country, and the various accents from the coastal cities I have seen from those mentioned above to New York, Boston, and New Jersey, this was unlike anything else either of us had seen before.

Our first stop was the bank as being unknowledgeable travellers, cuc’s (cuban convertible peso’s), were going fast and we also were relying on American credit cards which are of no use. The building was quite bland but cool, and we quickly learned that only one person could stand at the counter at a time. They weren’t mean about the request.

From there, we walked for a bit taking a few pictures before being enticed to jump on a horse and buggy ride for 5 cuc’s each. We weren’t riding more than 5 minutes before we asked to get off to use the bathroom (bano), which cost us another 10 cuc’s. Thankfully we just stopped at the bank.

Conveniently for us, the bano was at the flea market that we wanted to stop off at. We spent a couple of hours at least buying gifts for family back home including those watching over our dog and our cats.

The artwork was breathtaking from wood, leather, oil paintings, jewelry and even rum and smokes. We sat half way through for dose cervaza and enjoyed some time to just watch the people. We fell in love with one little dog who had in turn, fell in love with a gentleman and his little girl as while he and another fellow stood and chatted for some time, the dog slept peacefully in their shadows.

We enjoyed talking in great lengths to the vendors who spoke really good English. They chatted about their families, shared photos, talked of their family business, and at times dealt with rude tourists. One vendor however was that guy you are warned about by Ernesto, and before we knew it we were unwillingly paying 20 cuc’s for a leather wallet scribed with your name and year. “Come in. Come in. Free wallet for the lady. Please write your name down here. Beautiful yes? 20 pesos.” Of course we could have walked away but it was far more charming than Cheyenne’s wallet that was likely made in China.

We bought everything we wanted to and more, before taking a nice stroll through the streets with no plans, and nowhere to go.

Eventually a charming gentleman called us down into his restaurant where we enjoyed hamburgers and French fries with a cervaza for me and a Pina Colada or the lady.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day weather wise.

We were finally ready to head back well into the afternoon, so we found a tour bus stop and took photos for some 15 minutes of all the old cars and the fascinating variety of taxied beeping by. “There goes a tilt-a-whirl.”

We decided we would take the bus to the end of the peninsula of Varadero which in hindsight, might not have been a great idea after a long day. There were many breathtaking sights but the ride atop the bus was very windy and bumpy and after a 45 minute detour from our resort, we were ready to put our feet up over a quiet coffee.

At this point, Cheyenne still thinks we are just headed to the buffet tonight but thankfully, I was able to delay the surprise a little longer because she wanted to finally get dressed up nice.

Perfect.

To make it look like I had a wallet in my pocket and not a ring box, I put the room key and money in my shirt pocket. I awkwardly trying to hide that pant leg for the next hour, nervous all night (as I had been throughout this trip thus far), hoping she wouldn’t catch any hints from me or staff in on the surprise with coat hangers in their mouths and big wide eyes.

We returned to the lobby about 7 o’clock with an hour to spare before our dinner reservations. Cheyenne chatted a bit with her daughter while I sneakily shared some pictures and explanation of our day with friends and family, with the last picture being the ring I was about to propose with – hiding Cheyenne from viewing the post.

“We should head up to the dining room”, Cheyenne motioned around 7:45 – both starved after a busy day. This is when I told one more small lie after telling her at least, that we were heading to Varadero 1887 (more of a fine dining restaurant within the resort), for dinner.

I told Cheyenne that our tour guide Ernesto, pulls the gentleman aside after the orientation to encourage them to plan a romantic evening with their partners. She was excited and surprised, but bought it hook, line, and Cohiba.

Upon entry, I say my name and the waitress throws me a big smile. I didn’t notice until Cheyenne pointed it out later, but our table had flower petals spread across it which looking back, was a beautiful touch. There was also a bottle of champaign, at our table only, but I told her that was also courtesy of this romantic package. She thankfully was still not suspicious although at this point I think she’s dreaming of Ernesto being on our date instead of me.

Of course by now the nerves were high and my heart was pounding. This was also due to the fact that although many locals at the resort speak decent English, some words are lost so I really I had no idea when the flowers were coming or the table side music.

Apparently everything was planned for when we sat down for soon after, they brought Cheyenne her breathtaking arrangement of pink roses in full bloom. That Ernesto.

Just a few moments later, Cheyenne looked bewildered as the singer walked forwards us, and she looked around wondering if she was only going to sing to us. At that moment, with her looking the other way, I stood up, walked to her side, struggled to pull the box out of my pocket and then get it open with the ring case still in side. Had I planned better, I should have left the box back at the hotel but I threw that on the floor before Cheyenne turned around in shock as I opened up the ring case to expose the ring.

The singer had an astounding voice, singing a beautiful rendition of Ava Maria as, bent on one knee, I asked Cheyenne to be my bride. It took her a moment to catch her bearings, so I jokingly asked ‘maybe?’, before she said ‘yes, yes, yes.’

With tears in both our eyes, the room erupted into clapping and congratulations, and even a cheers from the couple behind us who had been married for 37 years – wishing us the same happiness.

Dinner was wonderful, especially with Cheyenne glowing against the stage, in utter shock, staring constantly at the ring, and then back at me with that smitten look that always captures my heart.

Earlier in our relationship, in the midst of a horrible divorce, I had stated that I didn’t want to get married again, but I did know early on that Cheyenne was the one. Last year however, I realized through everything that we had been through as a couple, that I indeed want to marry again and so tonight, almost three years together and one and a half years sharing the same roof, we took that next step.

Throughout the rest of the evening, as Cheyenne smiled with roses in hand walking around the resort, the congratulations kept flowing along with the cervaza’s.

I told her at this point that everyone – I mean everyone, knew what was happening tonight except her, so we had a few moments of WiFi time, welcomed by some 100 or so messages of congratulations.

We checked out the rock show by the pool later on with a talented female lead seeing songs from Joan Jett, CCR, AC/DC, and many others. It was a fun and energetic show.

Our last stop was the discotheque for a couple of drinks and a bit of dancing. It was full of life this time. As we watched the exuberant silliness of the young tourists, mostly in their late teens we gathered, we wondered ‘why we hadnt done these sorts of things in our youth?’ I am not sorry because I have certainly appreciated this trip that much more, but what stooped us from such adventures?

One couple came over while we were dancing, who had been in the restaurant to witness the proposal, and joked about how we made everyone wait for dinner,and then we had his wife in tears. He then asked ‘shouldn’t you be somewhere else celebrating?’

We didn’t want this night to end.

Somehow our girls and families kept this secret for months, which made this already perfect night, that much more special.

Cheyenne Gallagher was now my fiancé. Soon, she would be Mrs. Taylor.

The Sneaky Tourist

Day one of our Adventure in Paradise is in the books, and I would say operation peace is Fait Accompli

The point at which total and utter relaxation set in, Cheyenne and I both determined, was that moment we found ourselves lathered in vacation protector, side by side on a lounge chair, at the pools edge with drinks in our hand, books to read (or not), and nothing to do, shortly after breakfast.

Our first full day wasn’t the hottest of days. The morning was mostly cloudy, cool and windy but when that sun did finally show its welcomed face and the wind subsided, it was just the warmth that our internal doctors ordered.

Breakfast was just about anything from fruits and sweets, to pancakes, French toast, breakfast meats, beans, screamed eggs, omelets, tasty breads, juices and even smoothies. The coffee we just realized, is not true Cuban coffee in the common dining area but we did find by the end of the day, that the best and finest was just down the stairs at the Cafe Bar in the lobby. I hadn’t had caffeine in almost seven months but it hasn’t stopped my ticker yet. It certainly is tasty

The staff are wonderful. I know they have to be but from what we’ve encountered, their sincerity it seems is both unforced and natural.

We took another walk to the beach in daylight but we didn’t stay long as it was overcast and the wind was brisk. Mind you we we’re in shorts and t-shirts so it wasn’t the cold we just left behind in Canada from any means. The shot above is about as long as we stayed. ‘We’ve seen the beach. Look at how blue it is. I’ve never seen Turquoise water like this. It’s gorgeous. It’s cold. Back to the pool?’

We seen more dogs in the daylight and one cute little female pup stopped to let us say hi.

Cheyenne and I have talked a lot about wanting to understand Communism and the complete political and social truths of this country. Although the security might have been intimidating at the airport – perhaps it should be in a country we are visiting, the hospitality and bright smiles more than make up for it and have us eager to know more.

The orientation was fun. Ernesto our guide had us laughing as he called his wife a scary tiger and told us our travel company had special dolphins. There are so many great adventures we can take but so far we have not left the resort or really planned anything. We are just ‘being’.

After orientation, while Cheyenne was back in our room, I pulled Ernesto aside as I began my day as The Sneaky Tourist.

When I realized that we were going to Cuba just a few weeks before we landed, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to finally ask her to marry me. I had individually asked my girls and Cheyenne’s daughter their thoughts on me popping the question many months before. Neither of them hesitated and somehow, kept this whole thing a secret all of this time.

I snuck off one afternoon a month ago, and made the hour each way trip to ask her father for his permission for his daughters hand in marriage. I took him out for lunch in their small waterfront town, and we had a wonderful conversation in which he expressed he and his wifes unwavering support.

Now all I needed was a ring, and when and how this would all occur. I had met a local artisan, Kathleen, a few months back who makes her own jewelry and we finally hooked up to find the perfect ring for the occasion. Because funds are not in abundance, the artist suggested a ring she had already made that was in her Toronto studio, that she thought would suit the location of the deed.

When Kathleen and I met, I easily chose her suggestion as the one. It was to be a temporary ring and when we were ready, we could go back and exchange for the purchase value, so we could sit together and design the perfect forever keepsake.

With ring packed in my suitcase, I kept it locked up each day to ensure there was no way Cheyenne would accidentally see it. I was constantly conscious each time I opened my suitcase, to ensure it wasn’t exposed. Talk about a stressful first couple of days.

Ernesto hooked me up with our meal planner Kaly, who eagerly planned flowers, champaign, and a vocalist to sing during the big moment with a big smile. I slipped her 20 cuc and I was to return the next morning to finalize the plans. I was hoping to do it that night but it was too late for both reservations and to get flowers sent to the hotel. I was anxious to have my nerves and my sneekiness put at ease but one more day after almost three years together, was not a big deal.

We met our housekeeper Olga who is a sweet lady who speaks a bit of English. We chatted for a bit before she signed off with Happiness Day in this soft, seemingly more African accent but it’s a phrase that captured our hearts.

We missed lunch somehow although perhaps it was the constant flow of cervaza’s that was playing tricks on our time management – or maybe we had just finally said forget you time. We also realized that we really feel lost in this void of time because when asked last night what time Cheyenne’s daughter had, it matched our phones. Is their DST later than ours?

It’s liberating not having access to phones and having spotty Internet. Although I have spent time typing these posts on my mobile tele, there have been no games, no mindless social media or Internet searching. No news or knowledge of what’s happening in the world, although we did hear of the unfortunate passing of Stephen Hawking.

We’ve mostly just been in the moment and it’s blissful.

We attempted some Salsa lessons on this day which perhaps wasn’t a wise idea a few drinks in, but it was quite fun and I at least, laughed a lot. Cheyenne got it but it didn’t surprise me coming from someone who has a lot of energy and who loves to dance. I was perhaps too much into the band and wishing I could be up their playing harmonica with them rather then paying attention to my two left sandals.

At one point watching the band set up beforehand and showing a couple of locals how to play the bongos, I suddenly felt like another Canadian Jack, Jack Kerouac – In the Air if you will. For a few brief Cuban moments,I was in some San Francisco bar hearing Slim Gaillard before the world knew the charming, playful sounds of his big smile through songs like Potato Chips or Serenade to a Peddle.

The beach side host (I’ve yet to get his name or partake in his fun pool-side games whith Cuban rum as the prize), is as dark as an overcast, rural summers night, but his smile, caricature and energetic bounce with musically timed whistles to the constant flow of Spanish music, has me giggling and following him around from my comatosed horizontal position by the pool. He is constantly on the move around the vast, double pool. There is something almost comforting hearing his fun-loving voice and that whistle both as he walks by you, or in the distance, doing his best to engage us and make our days memorable ones. With all the available day trips, it seems it’s a tough gig but I for one appreciate his efforts. He gets everyone laughing.

I’ve already come to the conclusion a day and a bit in, that Cubans have this passion that along with everything else, makes the language, people and the music the most romantic I have encountered.

We had our first dinner in the dining lounge having not really been too worried about making any plans yet never mind planning meals at the eating spots that require a little better dress and reservations. The food isn’t fancy or as tasty as say a good Italian or French feast but I enjoyed it. I tried a bit of everything and there wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy.

The dining room is quite large and is a very well oiled machine considering the number of people that pile through through those doors over he duration of each sitting. Its fascinating seeing people leave toiletries for tips. We brought them on recommendation for our housekeepers, but we didn’t think of it for other staff. We have virtually anything at our finger tips in North America. Once again, so much to learn about this mysterious island and it’s hard working and intriguing peoples.

In this sitting area within but slightly raised from the lobby, the same band that played during our Salsa lessons played for us. It was a remarkable show. The lobby is so electric when the there is a show there. Some folks are downstairs getting a wifi fix, some are another raised level above us sitting in chairs along the ledge or at the round bar, and some are dancing in front of us or at one point, engaging in a few laughs over a game of musical chairs. Once again with a bottle of Havana Club Rum on the line.

After the band, we all made our way out to the pool area to catch a water dance. There are a couple of bleachers by the pool, and two rows of chairs were also set up. We were lucky to get front row seats.

Three woman and Three men constantly changed costumes and braved the bitterly cold water and cool winds to put on an amazing show for us including a romantic one on one coreogrpehd to the scene in Titanic where Jack finally tragically sinks into the arctic seas. The lights, the music, the cheers and bodies flying and moving to the sounds echoing through the night air were a wonderful way to end the evening.

Even without making plans, days here can be as busy or as relaxing as you want. We slept well that second night.

Little bitty, ’bout Jack & Cheyenne

Day 174

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Jack and Cheyenne (but not really)

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 19: Little bitty, ’bout Jack & Cheyenne

Jack and Cheyenne met 6 months into Jack’s first term as an elected official, in the middle of his last ditch effort to reverse the decisions to close IMH.

Jack shared equal access to his two girls. He had been separated for 3 years when he and Cheyenne met. That time together had enabled him and his daughters to create a very strong bond between them. Jack found the kid inside. He found patience, determination, and will. Most of all, he found the dad he longed to be and the father he always knew was within him.

Jack had dated a little bit over those years but for the most part it was just the three of them until that Spring of ‘15.

Cheyenne was a single mom who had full custody of her daughter. They had been on their own since her child was 2. Cheyenne was a very successful local manager of a not-for profit and involved in fundraising events when Jack stumbled across her social media profile.

The first connections were really no more than two people building their social  networks, and engaging with like-minded individuals. A month after that first connection however, after many messages back and forth, the two met for the first time over dinner.

They talked for hours about their lives, their work, passions, family, and of course, mostly their children. Jack’s girls, were 8 and 6, and Cheyenne’s daughter was 7.

From that first night, the two were inseparable.

When their kids finally met, at an Annie sing along at a local community theatre, it was also love at first site for the three clowns. They ran around the theater, up onto the stage, through the aisles, and joked around and laughed well into the night in the streets outside the show.

The girls had their troubles over the years as siblings do, but it was always evident when push came to shove (literally), that the occasional cat fight was not something they ever wanted to get in the way of them all being family.

Cheyenne was Jack’s cheerleader – all of their biggest boosters. She was constantly lifting all the girls up, complimenting them and when it came to Jack and his dreams and goals, she was quick to share them with anyone and everyone with great pride and genuine belief.

When Cheyenne believed in something, she would stop at nothing to ensure it got the credit, time, and exposure it deserved. The year before Jack and Chy (shy) met, he had started a little community event for his children after he realized he wasn’t going to be able to spend Halloween with them for the first time. He called it an alternate Halloween that happened a week before the actual holiday, which consisted of a gathering in the park with games earlier in the evening, followed by actual trick-or-treating through the neighborhood at participating homes. That first year seen about 20 kids and a dozen or so participating homes but by the fourth year, the event had ballooned to 250 kids, 40 participating homes, insurance, permits, bouncy castles and so much more.

It was all her. A man is only as good as those he surrounds himself with and Cheyenne was a big influence in all of their belief in themselves. She made Jack stronger. Made him feel like he could conquer anything and everything – including the world which is what this project often felt like. It was a substantial endeavor but somehow she made it feel small – manageable.

From the moment Jack first mentioned the idea for the school and its related entities, Cheyenne was iN. She had questions. She was also Jack’s best critic, but not out of disbelief. On the contrary, she pushed him hard which in turn, helped him strengthen, expand on, and better clarify his vision.

To Jack, Cheyenne was this sweet, giving, forgiving, connector. She was a natural networker in all aspects of her life. Before the idea of the school had even been floated, Cheyenne was making many valuable and sincere community connections. She literally connected people in her full time role, and all those that surrounded Chy benefited holistically from her natural instinct to want to help and the hard work she tirelessly put in behind the scenes. Cheyenne made sure that those she felt needed to get together to achieve like-minded goals, from finding a job/an employee to making a dream come true, met.

One day early on in the project, Jack thought to himself, ‘would I be here today attempting to achieve such a lofty endeavor, had Cheyenne not come into our lives?’. The answer was a resounding no. Chy added so much to their lives. She brought this peace. An understanding and patience with him, his girls, and everything life threw at them – which was a lot. Somehow after all these years together, she was still there by all of their sides. Sometimes she looked a little beaten down, but she still found a way to look at Jack with an adoring love. She would cock her head slightly, do this thing with her lips, and stare so innocently and child like his way.

There were many days where Jack wondered why Chy had stuck around as long as she had. They had been through so much in a relatively short time, but he knew by now that her love was unwavering. He trusted her love for all of them and her pure, and dedicated commitment to being there through everything and anything. There was no doubt in his mind that this woman’s heart was one he could always count on.

Divorce had taught Jack that he didn’t need anyone. It allowed him to see what a great father he was, and that he could do anything he set his mind to surrounded by the right people. Now that he had Cheyenne by his side, he also knew that even though he could survive on his own, he no longer wanted to. Cheyenne was the final romantic path for Jack. It took 40 plus years, but now looking back through everything life had thrown in his way, Chy was worth every obstacle. Every heartache. Every tear.

Jack and Cheyenne. Two Canadian kids doin’ the best they can.