Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cuba Trip 3/22 Day 5

Good Morning World !

Today we scheduled a jeep safari and all 8 of us went on the trip. We had to get up a little earlier than usual so that we were ready for the bus pick up at 8:15 . Everyone made it to the bus on time and it was about a 30 minute ride to several other hotels for more participants and then a drive to the other side of Varadero to the Jeep Safari compound. I was surprised to see about 200 Suzuki jeeps all lined up like an airport parking lot.

Our total group was 10 jeeps. The company rep. and the tour rep. led and we followed behind in 9 jeeps with 4 in each. When we first left the jeep storage yard, we went on several back roads through some cuban village areas.

Now these are really 3rd world poverty areas with people pushing old wheelbarrows, kids playing in the street, washing hung out to dry wherever a string could be strung, lots of 2 wheel buggies pulled by scrawny horses, lots of plastic bag remnants caught in the barbed wire fences, small really rough looking cattle and lots of small goats in the fields. Fields is much too good of a description for these lava rock enclosures with the odd blade of grass poking through. The rocks are all jagged and rough and cover probably 80 % of the surface.

We had heard that we should bring items to hand out to children we encountered on our step back in time. Every so often a mom would be standing by the road holding or watching young kids smiling and waving. The jeeps stopped briefly and handed out all manner of pencils, crayons, snacks, notebooks, etc.  Seems like all the Canadians had visited a $1 store at home prior to the trip and had these handouts to give to the kids.

The houses these people came out of were generally a concrete bunker type looking structure, maybe 10 feet wide by 25 feet long, with attached rickety lean to's and all manner of scrounged metal roofing. None of these places had windows. Concrete holes were boarded up or had primitive type shutters. Only the best looking places had a kind of wooden shutter that could be opened or closed like a large venetian blind.

These people with nothing all appeared very happy and friendly. The little kids all played happily and were actually really good looking kids. They all seem to have very beautiful faces and smiles. Don't know if I could say that about a bunch of Canadian kids. A tough existence but I guess the kids don't know anything different anyway.

Our first stop on the safari was for snorkeling in an underground cave. Now this was really cool and right up my alley. I was the first one into the water and had a blast exploring every dark corner of the cave. All the stalagmites and stalagtites were so cool to see and touch. The water was crystal clear and you could see clearly to the probably 40 foot bottom. Lots of strange and eerie shapes to view everywhere you looked. A really fun time for me.

Next we drove again over some more 4 x 4 type back roads and finally came to a working farm. Here they grow coconuts, bananas, pineapple, sugar cane, papaya and avacado. We ate fresh bananas off the tree, small ones about 4 inches long, fresh papaya, fresh cut and peeled sugar cane and chewed on the sugar cane stalks. There were chickens running around everywhere and a big old pig staked out for grazing. The locals were very friendly and always smiling.

More back roads and here we were able to go blasting through big water puddles and splash water everywhere. Lots of fun for me doing the driving, I'm not so sure about Steve's mom and sister in the back.

Next we had an interesting drive through the city of Matanzas. Old cars and trucks, people of all types on the street and just the narrow streets and congestion were wild. On one corner a guy with what looked like a pregnant woman in a swim top and small skirt and bare feet called out to me " Hey mister, you want this girl, this girl for you". Like I said, people of all types.

Next, maybe 10 miles of really rough broken pavement road out into a valley away from town to a country ranch where we were to have an authentic cuban lunch. Very interesting. A soup of some type of root vegetable (I think) or lentils, a plate of sliced orange and grapefruit, some boiled pork, a salad of greens and red cabbage, some really strange cake type bread, red beans and rice and then kind of a cheesecake type dessert. It was all quite good I thought, the bread was the wierdest and the dessert was next on the wierd scale.

They had a small lake where you could go out in a paddle boat or kayak. I chose a small sit-on-top kayak to try out. It was a little tippy and I probably exceeded the recommended carrying capacity. The odd part was the lack of a back rest so it was hard for me to sit basically with my feet a little higher than my butt and have to use stomach muscles (or maybe more acurately lack of) to hold myself upright. Too tough for me so didn't get too far. I'll probably feel it tomorrow.

There were a few horses there you could ride. Janet and Carmen tried this out, the horses went about 300 feet and stopped, turned around and headed back to the paddock. These horses knew the drill and weren't about to change.

They also had cattle and goats out in the fields, a big pig pen at the lake shore and chickens everywhere. We spent about 2 hours here then the drive back over the same rough road and through Matanzas again.

Next was a stop at a river for a big party boat cruize up the river. This was relaxing and on the way back we were entertained by live music and dancers. This was fun and the only time people had their hands out looking for tips.

Through some more back roads and bleak villagers to the jeep compound. Our 2 jeeps were definately the dirtiest. You could barely tell the color through all the mud and water. Back on the bus to the resort and got in just before 7:00 PM. A very busy day, full of adventure, excitement, smiling faces, bleak living conditions, new foods, mud and laughter.

Writing this journal and reading myself to sleep. Tomorrow is the wedding so that will be an interesting day too.

Bye for now.

Cuba Trip 3/21 Day 4

A pretty good sleep for me but Janet said she was up constantly with a toothache. Seems that an old filling has lost a chunk or some such thing and she was trying anbesol and pills all night to get by. In the morning its not too bad so hopefully the worst is over.

We decided to take the double decker bus on a tour of Varadero. The bus stop is only down at the end of the road we are told. As we leave the hotel, somebody else says its 2 km away. When we get to the street we find a horse and buggy and its so hot out we pay the 5 pesos and get a buggy ride. It's quaint and romantic and the clop clop down the pavement is a sound you don't hear much.

We get to the bus stop in about 7 minutes, not as far as we expected and the bus is just pulling away, so the buggy driver flags him down, kind of gets in his way type of thing and we get on the bus. We are rushing to the bus and I yell at the buggy driver " What's the horse's name ?" He says Chocolate with a big smile and I tell him that's a great name.

We get off the bus at different shopping areas and find most of the same stuff we had already seen, so not much buying to do. I get a Tilly type hat for 4 pesos to keep some sun off my head. My forehead and top of my head is burnt pretty good by now. I must be getting taller because I am growing right up through my hair. LOL.

When I get back on the bus there aren't many seats and I hit my head on a fan grate sticking down from the roof of the bus. It's sharp and cuts my head right through my new hat. The hats okay but the salty sweat stings like mad and the small cut / scape further adds to the scar tissue and hair loss on the top of my head. I'm not tall by any means, but I figure I must have been shorter in another life because I seem to hit my head a lot.

Back to the hotel for a late lunch and then back to the beach to read my book. It's called the Wolf of the Plains and it's about the life of Genghis Khan. He's only 18 years old so far and I've lost track of how many bad guys he's killed. Starting to wonder who is the bad guy after all.

Late supper tonight planned with the group of 8 and that means about 2 hours of drinking rum before we eat again. It's a tough life, but somebody's got to do it.

Writing this journal, then off to bed.

Cuba Trip 3/20 Day 3

Went to bed early last night about 10:00 PM and zonked out right away. Woke up at 2:00 AM and had to read myself back to sleep. Probably about an hour and a half. Woke up just before 7:00 AM and Janet was still sleeping. Went for a shower and let Janet slowly come to life.

Went for our first breakfast and it was a little intimidating holding the tongs while starring at a huge tub of bacon. There was probably 30 pounds of cooked bacon there. Took the bacon and went to the egg station and asked for 3 eggs over easy. The lady cracked 3 eggs side by side and when ready she flipped all 3 at once with a large spatula and never broke a yoke. On to the fresh orange juice line up and they have a see-through orange crushing machine. They keep feeding oranges into the top and out the tap comes the freshest orange juice ever. Oranges to orange juice in 15 seconds. Awesome. Then to the toast machine. Pick your bread from maybe 20 options and set it on the toast conveyor into the oven for toasting and then it slides out the bottom. I like it dark so I put mine through a second time and it was just right.

Mid morning we teamed up with Steve's mom and sister, taking a cab into Varadero for a shopping trip. Various stands of touristy things with many very similar products for sale. Bought a cuban conga drum set which included the shaker things, maraka's or something like that, drum sticks and two sticks you bang together. Some great noise makers for the grandkids. Janet bought a carved mahogany turtle and a couple of bracelets.

We toured the so-called mall and while interesting, not too much worth buying. Janet bought a scarf, nice blue colors like the water with dolphins in it. Back to the resort in another shared cab ride and back to the buffet for lunch.

After lunch we did the day on the beach thing, I went for a swim. Seemed cold at first but you get used to it and its quite refreshing. Definately a sobering effect, so back to the pool bar for some more rum. Must of had 15 different kind of rum drinks so far and each one several times just to make a decision if I liked it or not. Okay I exagerate a little. Never got stumbling drunk or anything close to it, just kept up with the warm and fuzzy feeling. It takes a lot of willpower to eat and drink this much. Fun in the sun and in the shade and then back to the buffet for another round with the ole feed bag.

After supper we mosied on over the the lobby bar and found a duet of a piano player and a saxaphonist doing their best at a lot of show tunes type of music. In the middle of one song while the piano player is pounding out a rythym, a big old rusty bolt falls out of the bottom of the piano and the foot pedals go off at some wonky angle. So the music stops and they are holding the bolt and looking under the piano. One guy leaves, goes outside and comes back in with a rock and balances the foot pedal assembly on the rock and it seems like it will work for now.  I'm right close by and walk up close, looking at this grand piano and see the manufacturer plate inside and its dated 1859 ! This thing is 150 years old ! Sounds good but needs some maintenance I guess. I ask the sax man about his saxaphone and its 1962. No shine to it whatsoever. He says its the salt air that has eaten the finish away. We stay and listen and drink some more rum until they shut it down. We head back to our room, a little TV and lights out.

I've had a sore throat since before we left, a cough and runny nose and its still hanging on. My body is fighting off the alcohol first I think. Thank goodness for the sinus medicine and cough medicine Janet brought along.

Bye for now.

Cuba Trip 3/19 Day 2

In Toronto airport we had about a 2 hour wait to get on the next flight to Varadero, Cuba. Here we met up with Dave and Carmen (yep my daugther Carmen's friend is named Carmen too) who are the best man and maid of honor for the wedding. They had flown in from Saskatoon, having driven from Grande Prairie with their 3 year old daughter. The grand parents were babysitting while they joined the Cuba trip. 

I took a long walk around the huge airport gates area, did a couple of crossword puzzles and we soon proceeded onto the plane.

In the breezeway just before getting on the plane, you could see into the cockpit and the co-pilot was reading some sort of manual. I joked with Janet that he was reading the instructions. Janet is a nervous flier and always grips my hand really tight during the take offs.

Once on the plane, the steward said "Papers" and I joked with him saying in a German accent " Papers, you have papers" , just like they do in the WWII movies. The pilot was standing right there behind the steward and he couldn't help chuckling and turning away.

We took our seats and and had this view out the window.

Just as we were taking off the sun starting peeking over the horizon.

We were now heading due south across quite a bit of city and part of the Great Lakes. Next was some really rough looking country with next to no development. A while later there was a really interesting looking 3 large mountain ridges that ran parallel as far as you could see angling out to the west. I think this is part of the Appalachian mountains. Most unusal terrain.

Being that this is the eastern US, I was surprised that such little development could be seen from the air. Next we were over Florida and a lot more development here with lots of potholes scattered around on the flat land. It looked like there had been a big meteor shower that made these holes all over. Quite a few looked perfectly round from our 35,000 feet.

Then everglades and the islands and bridges of Key West. Finally nothing but water and maybe 200 miles to get to Cuba.

Here is our first view of Cuba.

Landed in Varadero at this tiny airport terminal painted a bright kind of yellow orange color. Now off the plane down onto the tarmac and about 20 steps to get onto the most unusual bus you've ever seen. This thing was ancient, about 12 feet wide with no seats, just poles and railings to hang onto. This bus was so rusty and beat up it was unbelievable and the terminal was only about 300 feet away. We had to stand in this bus and wait for the whole plane to unload. Finally we moved towards the terminal and half way there the guy in the little tractor pulling the baggage carts pulled right in front of the bus and the driver had to brake fairly hard putting everyone standing in the bus off balance.

The driver was yelling at the other guy and this was a great example of culture shock. We weren't in Canada anymore !

Next, the baggage guy turns sharp and some luggage falls off the carts, so he has to stop and pick it up right in front of the bus. Some woman on the bus exclaims "Thats my new hard luggage". What a gong show.

The decrepid bus can finally proceed to the terminal entrance and we file off. We could have walked to the terminal maybe 20 times by now and the whole procedure was just so bizarre.

Once inside, we wait for the passport check in long lines of passengers from other planes as well. Less that half an hour and we are through the buzzer door into the baggage pick up area. We get our bags and thankfully they all are there because the suits and wedding dress, etc. might come in handy.

No security or customs/duty check of any kind. Outside we met the Air Canada rep. who directs us to walk to the resort buses around some construction area for the ride to the resort. I'm hoping for a better bus than the last one.

This walk now with all our luggage over the shoulders and in tow is considerably longer than the bus ride to the terminal. I still can't get over this one.

The resort buses are ultra modern with the big bug like mirrors out front with a wild paint job. Such a contrast to the airport bus you have a hard time believing this is all side by side. The haves and the have nots.

Here's Steve getting the baggage aboard.

Now we are in for a nice drive along the coast to the resort town of Varadero and the Zona Tourista, the hotels on a spit of land 11 km long out into the ocean.

The old cars on the road are so cool, mixed in with horse drawn carts. The area seems quite clean though and lots of people standing by the roadway waiting for rides or buses to come along I guess.

We got to the resort, the Breezes Bella Costa without drama  and check in was fairly quick. Only 1 of the 4 rooms was ready though so we put all the luggage into one room and headed for the buffet. We had been awake now about 30 hours. The foods are different and seem a little oily. I think they use a lot of olive oil in most things they cook. The bread and the beer is good, so no problem, eh !

Had a glass of wine with lunch also and this was really quite good. Janet and I took our Thermos brand stainless steel water bottles which keeps drinks cool for up to 12 hours, and headed for the beach. They mix a pretty stiff drink in these bottles and we exlore the resort and several types of rum drinks. A few glasses of beer and pretty soon life is good !

We get our room key and unload the luggage. King size bed and a towel sculpture.

We head back to the beach. I'm walking straight for the water and the lifeguard stops me. No one allowed in the water. Seems there is jelly fish and the ocean is closed all day. Bummer !

I go back to the pool and wade in, seems cold at first but refreshing and sobering. I take a quick swim and get another drink and sit down to relax.

I hear some shouting and go over to investigate. Seems they are having a combination sing-a-long and darts contest. We get in on it and after maybe half an hour of singing dancing and throwing darts, I end up with the high score. High 5's from everybody and I win a whole bottle of Havana Club - the rum of choice. I'll take it home because all the rum I can drink here is free anyways.

We start heading to the room to put the rum away and I can't find my prescription sun glasses. Oh no, I think they must have fallen off when I went for a swim in the pool. Back to the pool. Not in the pool, but I find them sitting on a poolside table. Someone had found them and put them in a safe place for me. Thank you whoever you are. I am reminded that bad things can happen when you drink too much. Go swimming with glasses and you'll find out this to be true !

After supper we are strolling the resort and find a laptop in a leather bag that someone has forgotten  on a sofa. We wait aroung for a while hoping to see some frantic face but no one shows up. We call security and they place it behind the check in counter and log it into their lost and found book. We got our chance to pay it forward for our good fortune of getting my sunglasses back. One good turn deserves another don't you think. Maybe they were drinking too much and making bad decisions too.

It's been a long 2 days without sleep so bye for now.

Cuba Trip 3/18 Day1

Travelled to Kelowna airport with Janet's brother, Ron, who will be staying with Janet's Dad while we are away. Ron will bring our SUV back to the airport the day before we return when he flies back home to Dawson Creek, BC.

Check in clerk at the airport seemed surprised that I had completed the online check in which made his job considerably easier. Next was the security check in and after taking everything metallic and placing it in the scanning tubs, I of course still set off the alarm because of all the metal in my leg. So I got a pretty complete hand scan while they tried to ensure that I wasn't packing a weapon somewhere. While you are standing there like an Inukshuk, other people are passing through and grabbing their stuff before you can and while your back in turned they could take your stuff too.

We got on the plane close to take-off time but then for some unknown reason we sat on the runway for a least 10 minutes or more before we could take off. The ride to Calgary was a little bumpy but I got to see a lot of snowy mountain tops on the way. The landing was good. We then faced a 4 hour wait for the next connection flight to Toronto.

We were met by our excited daughter Carmen and her groom to be, Steve.

They had already been there about 4 hours after their flight from Grande Prairie. Steve's Mom from Dawson Creek and Sister from Newfoundland were there as well. They had an 8 hour wait for the connection, so it was a long day for them already.

The flight to Toronto left about midnight and was uneventful and we arrived in the middle of the night. I read 5 chapters in a new book about the life of Genghis Khan, starting with his boyhood challenges of being the second son of 5 sons, all of whom wanted to grow up to be the next Khan. Then I watched a movie and when that was over we were descending into Toronto and there were lots of city lights to look at.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Me Bad

Me Bad.

Me not blog lately.

Me Busy.

Me taking a holiday.

Me travelling tonight to Calgary, to Toronto, to Varadero.

Me marrying off #1 daughter on beach next week.

Me probably eat too much and drink too much.

Me likely to get sunburn.

Me will walk in powdery white sand and warm ocean water.

Me will have lots of fun in the sun.

Me need to finish packing.

Me say goodbye now.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Where are the keys ?

Last year, between Christmas and New Year's, due to my uncle's death, I drove my parents and my aunt north through the winters snow some 500 miles to Prince George , BC. I drove Janet's SUV and she had my truck to drive while I was away.

The roads were snow and ice covered most of the way and while the trip was uneventful, it was stressful and lots of concentration on the road ahead. We stayed at the Ramada in Prince George on Dec. 30, attended the funeral on the 31st, back at the hotel for night in the boys room (Dad and I)  and then drove back on New Years Day.

This 2010 New Year's, Janet and I had planned a nice evening out for a change and had tickets for a New Year's Dinner and Johnny Reid Concert at the new event center in Penticton.

Of course as soon as I make plans, the plans always seem to go out the window. Consequently, I seldom make plans and am criticized occasionally for this.

Anyhow, during the local snow storm, Janet went to the concert with our daughter Shannon and by all accounts the drinks out before the concert and the concert were great. Johnny came out to the crowd during the show and Shannon got a big hug from him and Janet got to say Hello and a handshake. Happy girls.

The day after I got back from Prince George, we could not find Janet's truck keys. We turned the truck inside out and the house upside down, but no keys. Where were the keys ?

Now I told you the above three stories so that I could tell you this story !

Today the phone rang and from the call display I could see it was our local grocery store calling. They asked for Janet and while she was walking to the phone, I asked Janet why the store would be calling us. She makes the I don't know face and shrugs her shoulders and says "Hello".

A pause and then "Yes this is Janet". Now a really long pause and Janet starts laughing saying " No Way" and "You're Kidding". Meanwhile, me with the puzzled face.

Finally she gets off the phone and says "The store has my keys"

I say "How does the store know they are your keys and what took so long in letting us know ?"

Apparently a customer of the store was just at another event at the event center and had parked in the back corner of the lot. This was where the snow gets piled when they clean the parking lot over the winter. I guess now with the recent warm weather the snow piles have melted away and this lady spied the keys on the pavement !

Now for the keys to get to us, this woman recognizes a small customer tag from the store that Janet has on the keychain with a barcode that is scanned when she buys the groceries. The lady takes the keys to the store, they look up the barcode and our phone rings. How about that !

Apparently, Janet had both my keys and her keys with her and one pair must have fell out of her coat when she climbed into or out of the truck. Then when the parking lot got snow plowed into a mountain of snow, the keys were safe in this ice chest. A couple of months of warm weather  and there's the keys !

Friday, March 5, 2010


Have you ever written poetry ?
You have to use your brain

They say just let the words flow
So this it it - here I go.

I was going to call it - Poetry Please
But I think I'll call it - Memories


We've all got memories
But they're not the same

We've all been playing
But not the same game

We've all been places
With a different name

We've all held our hands
Too close to the flame

We've all made mistakes
And we know who's to blame

We've all wanted sunshine
But the rains, they came

We've all wanted riches
But maybe not the fame

We've all told jokes
And some of them were lame

We've all watched wild horses
And wished they were tame

If you are getting tired of this
Then I'm the one to blame

Ha Ha Ha. He's a poet and didn't know it !

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nice Buns !

Have you ever had a craving that just would not stop ?

I've been thinking about some fresh, hot homemade buns with butter and strawberry jam (from the garden of course) for a few days and to make that itch go away, I just had to scratch it !

And here is the proof positive that this man can cook !

The photo may have been better without a bun missing, but you know that is what happens when fresh buns come out of the oven. They are immediately eaten by the half crazed cook !

Can you smell the fresh bread, taste the butter on your lips and just enjoy this most basic comfort food ?

And that's not all, a second pan was baked and this time the photo was taken first !

Now I'm looking at this photo and getting that old feeling back again. I want to reach in and break one apart and enjoy.

My mother is always right and she says " You are a man of many talents."

When Janet gets home she looks at the table and she says " Nice Buns ". I turn around and pretend to pick up something off the floor and she says it again.

Nice Buns.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kids at the Park

Yesterday we arranged to meet with our daughter Michelle and her two daughters, Megan and Kaitlyn, at the park here in town. The kids rode in their side by side stroller and Michelle walked and pushed them the half mile to the park. We were in town running errands and it made for a nice break in the day.

I got to hold baby Kaitlyn for a while and make silly faces and strange noises so she would smile. Or maybe she just thinks I'm a crazy man at the park !

She is a sweetie and while we all thought Megan was a happy and calm baby, this little sister is ever more so. Quite content to look around and amuse herself. Something definantely needs attention before she will express herself. You know how it goes, it's either one end or the other. The feed bag or the diaper bag.

Of course she was held by her Nana too.

It was a sunny afternoon but still a cool breeze and relatively cool out.

Megan was very happy to get back to the park playground and she is very friendly with any other kids who come along.

Megan has a mind of her own and seems to take pleasure in not doing anything I suggested on the playground. I will have to spend more time with her outside now as the weather improves.

Here she is having fun on the slide.

It's always fun to go and play at the park no matter if you are my mom's kid, my kid, or my kid's kid. We are all kids at the park.