Halifax woman shares tale of Cuban vacation gone wrong

Ceilidh Cherrett and a friend went to Cuba last week and said virtually everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Ceilidh Cherrett says she worried she would be detained by police for 2 weeks after her passport was stolen

Ceilidh Cherrett, right, had her passport and money stolen at the beach while vacationing in Cayo Coco, Cuba. (Ceilidh Cherrett)

It was a trip down south Ceilidh Cherrett, of Halifax, says she would like to forget.

Cherrett and a friend went to Cuba last week and virtually everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. It started, she said, when they had issues with the housekeeping at their resort, Hotel Playa Cayo Coco.

"There were lineups at the hotel of at least eight or nine people deep complaining about the same situation," said Cherrett. "We had no toilet paper, no clean towels, no working phone."

On the third day of their trip, a man stole her bag while she was at an outdoor nightclub at a nearby resort. In it was her passport and money, which she hadn't left in her room because the safe was broken.

"He put it in his duffel bag and he walked over to a corner and started counting money," said Cherrett. "He physically took my money out and starting counting it and he put my passport in his back pocket. He was caught by the security at the resort who tackled him and then the police were called."

Stolen passports

Cherrett said the man had stolen other passports from vacationers from Switzerland and Australia and he had taken money from other people on the beach that day.

When police became involved, Cherrett said she became scared. "They placed me in the front seat of the same car where he was in the back seat uncuffed and there was no police officer in the car. It was terrifying."

When police later searched the man, they found a small knife in his pocket, she said.

After CBC published this story, a Canadian couple who helped recover Cherrett's purse said it was stolen after she had dropped it at the nightclub during an altercation with another guest.

Resort security quickly sprang into action and blocked all the exits while they searched for the missing purse, said Taylor Pinto, who had seen a man pick up the purse and walk through the crowd in the chaos of the altercation.

"My boyfriend found the guy inside, counting money," said Pinto, who lives in Edmonton.

Pinto's fiancé went to the local police station to answer questions and disputes that Cherrett was put into the police car alone with the man. A Cuban police officer was seated next to her, they said. 

The local authorities asked Cherrett to wait at a jail for several hours while they dealt with the thief's case.

The man was from Moron, a community about an hour's drive from Cayo Coco. Police wanted Cherrett to go to Moron the next day, where the matter was going to be dealt with.

"They said I might be detained for two weeks until his trial, that they could take my passport and not allow me to leave," said Cherrett, who had been to Cuba on two other occasions.

Turning to Facebook

After returning to the resort from the jail, Cherrett said she was unable to make calls because the phone in her room didn't work. She was stuck there with no money, wasn't sure if she would be able to get off the island, and was coming down with a case of strep throat.

Cherrett said she texted her boyfriend back in Nova Scotia, who then contacted the Canadian Embassy in Cuba. They told him to tell Cherrett not to go with police to Moron and to instead go to the nearest embassy or consulate. 

But that would have required lengthy drives to Havana or Varadero. "That was the point where I realized nobody can do anything for us."

That's when Cherrett put out this frantic Facebook post on March 16.

Ceilidh Cherrett took to Facebook asking for advice after her purse was snatched from a Cuban beach. (Ceilidh Cherrett/Facebook)

Cherrett said one of the police officers had returned her passport, but she was nervous when she went to the airport to fly home.

She was able to board her return flight with no issue but said her Cuban vacation was the most stressful week of her life.

"Is it safe to go to a resort and have a week of all-inclusive? Maybe," said Cherrett. "But in this situation … I have never been so scared in my entire life."

Cherrett booked her vacation with Air Transat. Aside from being unhappy with police, Cherrett said she is upset that basic things like toilet paper weren't available in her resort room and that she couldn't call back to Canada.

Others happy with resort

CBC has since heard from a number of people who said they had no issues while staying at the Hotel Playa Cayo Coco, including one woman who said she used a telephone in the hotel lobby to call back to Canada several times.

Adam Motruk, a college student from Harrow, Ont., spent a week at the 3.5-star resort with a friend and said "we never had any reason to complain."

"We had toilet paper, we had towels in our rooms; our door locked, our safe locked. Every day, the cleaning staff were there, refreshing things," he said. "I would highly recommend that resort to anyone who wanted to go."

Motruk said he worries that one story that makes the resort "sound like it was a nightmare" could do damage to a place where he felt "absolutely no fear."

One of the Cuban beaches Cherrett visited. (Ceilidh Cherrett)

Pinto said she and her fiancé also enjoyed the resort and were in a room that was cleaned daily, located just two doors down from Cherrett.

The hotel had been damaged in Hurricane Irma last fall, when the deadly Category 5 storm ravaged the Caribbean, but were working hard to bounce back, said Pinto. 

"The people were amazing, the staff were so friendly; I think that's what made the resort," she said.

Debbie Cabana, Air Transat's director of marketing, social media and public relations, said Cherrett has not informed the company of any problems with her accommodations. 

"She can contact our customer service if she wants to file a formal complaint," Cabana said.

Cherrett refutes the company response. She said she was in communication with an Air Transat representative at the resort.

While Cherrett said she wants to put the week behind her and move on, she said she will be filing a formal complaint with Air Transat.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Ceilidh Cherrett's bag was stolen from a beach lounger at the resort. In fact, it was stolen at an outdoor nightclub at a nearby resort.
    Mar 23, 2018 2:32 PM AT