Today we met up for our special "honeymoon" welcome drink at the Gazebo looking out over the Atlantic. There were about eight couples there and the setting was quite spectacular... but the rest of it was pretty ordinary. A drink of cava, some nondescript nibbles and the chance to fill out a hotel survey on our treatment at the Paradisus so far. Then, after a couple of pictures, we were invited to stay and enjoy the moment... unfortunately the cava, the nibbles and the band which, coincidentally, played Guantanemera departed immediately.
Right, so are we going to stand in this windy spot overlooking the ocean without food or drink? Are we hell.
We headed back towards the main bar and only then a voice came from behind us. "Hey, you guys are English aren't you? Wasn't that a load of cr*p."
Enter Southmead Simon, purely coincidentally another gashead who used to live in Bristol but is now based in Weymouth. He and wife Sarah came to the Caribbean last Friday to get married in the Gazebo. It went alright, apart from the fact Simon had to stifle giggles at one of the women carrying out the ceremony, who was boasting a full moustache on her top lip.
The aftermath didn't really go according to plan, either. When all the guests turned up to one of the restaurants for the reception they were turned away because they were improperly dressed in shorts and t-shirts. This did not please the groom, who stormed into the lobby and using some rather colourful language got a full-scale apology from the manager and the free use of a private villa, complete with swimming pool, for the week. It obviously pays to complain.
We were invited to see said villa and sat around drinking cava and beer. Later he introduced us to one of his two best men, Dave, and girlfriend Amy. All the girls wanted to go to play bingo in the Gazebo - something arranged specifically for the British tourists. How sad when you have a beautiful beach, massive swimming pools and bars that sell free drinks all day all the Brits want to do is mark numbers on a card and shout "House" now and again.
Fortunately Southmead Si and I managed to prolong the drinking interlude with discussions about the Gas. It is even more significant because he actually works for the Gas Board. If you are visiting the Mem any time soon you might notice quite a few youngsters sporting jackets with Gas written on the back, courtesy of the Gas Board and Southmead Si. "I order them and give them to my cousins," he explained candidly.
Later we moved on to the bar where we bumped into a few other Brits including a Luton Town fan and a Manchester United fanatic. A good evening turned into a good night and by 10pm Mrs
Rippers and I stumbled off to bed.
Today was another excursion on a sun cruise across to an island called Cayo Blanco. But on the way we stopped to swim with dolphins in the sea (even though they were inside tanks and had been trained to kiss each tourist that jumped in with them). Good fun, though, which is more than I can say for the snorkelling which followed.
Mrs Rippers has been going on to me about how much she loves snorkelling after a trip to the Barrier Reef some years ago. I have always resisted it. I can't get my head around the fact that the goggles block off your nose and you have to breathe through your mouth courtesy of a tube.
Anyway, we were all turfed off the boat into the Atlantic and when I dipped my head under the water all I could see was dying coral. Oh yes, and a floating leaf of some description. When I raised my head again I was a fair way from the boat. There then developed a desperate swim back to safety as the captain blew his whistle to call us back on board. Men were climbing over children and ladies pulling each others hair out to get closer to the boat - it was like that Olympic open water swim which David Davies took a silver medal in during the Olympics. Thankfully I grasped the side of the boat and climbed on board, still wearing my swimming trunks.
Then it was on to Cayo Blanco for lunch and a couple of hours sunbathing on golden white sands under palm trees and taking the odd dip in the sea. Very nice.
On the way back our boat the Calypso was playing some fantastic Cuban Hip-hop music. Ironically Castro, who hates everything American, openly supports the new music movement and there are now about 50 artists bringing the new sounds to the public - it's better than Guantanamera I've got to say, and Mrs Rippers and I clubbed together to buy a CD so no doubt you'll be hearing more of it in future.
Two miles out from Varadero and our host Luis, a guy conversant in nearly every language under the sun, announced that it was tradition to dance our way back to land. Then the music struck up and the crew members joined in some kind of synchronised dancing routine, imploring the passengers to do the same. There was no escape but it was a great laugh.
Mrs Rippers and I returned home shattered after a thoroughly enjoyable day. In the evening we could just about drag ourselves into the restaurant for dinner then finished the night off with a couple of cocktails.
This morning our honeymoon breakfast arrived at the room. It was ok until I bit into some of the fruit on offer. There was water melon and figs, of which I am not a fan, and a bright orange fruit which looked like another type of melon. Biting into it though sent my whole mouth into somersaults of distress. In the words of Mrs Rippers "It actually tastes of vomit". Now speaks as you find, I say, but the offering I am talking about is Papaye. Whoever was the first to pluck it from a tree and say, "Yum this is nice" must have had seriously depleted taste buds. It is absolutely vile.
Later we watched a bit of the Madrid Open tennis final - Nadal v Djorkovic - before retiring to the pool for some leisurely reading in the shade. My body is now burnt beyond recognition and I've had enough sun. And the mozzies, who seemed to have held off from their favourite food - me - until now have suddenly decided they actually like the taste of the double deet I have been spraying on myself to protect me.
Luckily Montenegro, one of the hotel gardeners, came to my aid by cutting a leaf of Aloe Vera from a tree and rubbing it on the bites. He then dragged me away to cut down a coconut for me, slice it open and offer it to me for a drink. "Good for the stomach," he told me. If only I had known earlier.
Of course, nothing comes in Cuba without a price, though. Lovely people they may be but you don't get something for nothing. His eyes perused my Gashead top and he asked me how much it was in Cuban pesos. I told him and his eyes betrayed his shock. What the hell? I gave him the shirt for the three bambinos he may, or may not, have. He fell to his knees and literally prayed to me. It was only a top from two seasons ago anyway. No great loss, and at least it means that someone in Cuba will be walking around spreading the good name of Bristol Rovers for years.
Anyway, Mrs Rippers and I head for home tomorrow. I get a massage later and a honeymoon special meal tonight. It is lobster, I believe. I sincerely hope they don't serve it up with Papaya.