Helping out: Cuba’s Special Period – 1991

How did this happen? How did I end up sitting in front of this Communist official, completely dependent on him – or someone – helping me get back to Varadero?

It’s 1991, in a town several hours from Varadero. I’m sitting on a wood chair in front of a Poder Popular official. I watch him open his desk drawers one after another, riffle through papers and pull out all manner of miscellany. Except for the gas ration coupons I need. Continue reading “Helping out: Cuba’s Special Period – 1991”


Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 2

Even though it’s December, 1991, and I’m in Varadero, Cuba, this won’t be a beach vacation.

I have two suitcases full of clothes, soap, shampoo, aspirin, toothbrushes, toothpaste and sundry other items. Two people in need stand next to me. Only problem: at this time, getting around the island unobtrusively is next to impossible for your average tourist.  Continue reading “Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 2″

Helping out in Cuba – Soap, Shampoo & Che – Part 4

I stare at Che. The iconic poster hangs on the wall behind the official’s desk. It’s hot and stuffy in the office; air-conditioning hasn’t hit this part of Cuba. Was I insane, or just stupidly naive about my hare-brained scheme?

The Poder Popular fellow stops his search.  He sits back and looks at me.

“Maybe you’ll have to stay here in Cuba.”

He laughs. “I can’t find the gas ration coupons.” Continue reading “Helping out in Cuba – Soap, Shampoo & Che – Part 4”

Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 3

I’ve driven straight into 1959.

Not many people are on the streets, and hardly any vehicles, except for an occasional 40-year old Chevrolet behemoth.

The town must have been lovely at one time with its pastel-coloured houses and their red-tiled roofs. Now it needs several coats of paint and the broken patches of cracked plaster and stucco repaired. Continue reading “Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 3″

Hugged A Tarantula Lately? A Trek to Nicaragua

The lookout

As the plane flew over the sub-tropical forests on our approach to Managua, Nicaragua seems to be a thousand shades of green with a sprinkling of blue lakes and smoky grey volcanoes thrown in for good measure.

I would soon be introduced to another commonplace aspect of nature in this spectacularly scenic country, involving tarantulas dropping by to say hello. Continue reading “Hugged A Tarantula Lately? A Trek to Nicaragua”

El Chocoyero Nature Reserve, Nicaragua

“Shh.”  Manuel, Nicaragua’s own Dr. Doolittle, motions up and ahead of us on the forest trail.

I hear what I think are vehicles on the highway, then I realize we’re too far away for any traffic sounds to penetrate the dense sub-tropical forest we’re exploring.

“Los monos.”


Howler monkeys. Continue reading “El Chocoyero Nature Reserve, Nicaragua”

Hugged A Tarantula lately? Part 2

“El subjuntivo: presente, pretérito imperfecto, pretérito perfecto y el pluscuamperfecto.”

Classroom, Mariposa Spanish SchoolBergman valiantly tries to recapture our attention to the importance of Spanish subjunctive verbs as we watch hummingbirds flock to a tree just beyond the open window of our classroom.

A rooster saunters into the classroom, a hen following along behind. Continue reading “Hugged A Tarantula lately? Part 2”

Dance on an Empty Highway – Cuba 1991

“In case anyone asks, tell them you’re our cousins visiting from Canada,” Raul instructs us in Varadero as we drive off in a massive 1953 Oldsmobile, our transportation for the week.

I wonder how Claudia (a young Latin American friend who’s come with me on this trip), born of Bolivian parents and 8 shades darker than I am, and myself who, although pretty fluent in Spanish, am obviously not Latina, could be cousins to people who have never left Cuba and don’t have any relatives living in the U.S. or Canada. Continue reading “Dance on an Empty Highway – Cuba 1991”

Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 3

The transport truck drops us off beside a path that cuts through a field at the foot of the mountains. We skirt around a hefty bull grazing near the woods, and in about 20 minutes we arrive at a small, wood-framed house, half hidden amongst the trees. Continue reading “Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 3”

Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 2

At each stop on this trip, the state of the washrooms deteriorates at an inversely proportionate rate as the scenery grows more spectacular.

“What’s wrong?”

Claudia has suddenly sat up at the edge of the bed.

“I have to go to the bathroom and I’m too scared to go out there by myself.”

That makes two of us. Continue reading “Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 2”

Frugal Travel for the Over-40 Crowd

Why over 40?

I don’t know. It’s just a random age.

Frugal travel is, of course, for everyone so inclined. I figure that young people are already all over this idea so I’m putting it out there for those of us over (or way over) 40. Continue reading “Frugal Travel for the Over-40 Crowd”

Solo Travel For Women

Do you hesitate – or refuse – to travel alone? Think  it may not be safe? Worried you’ll be bored?

As an older solo female traveller, this is what I’ve done to cure solo travel apprehension.

Why Go Alone?

On my last few trips to Europe and the U.K., I traveled on my own, and as every solo traveler knows, there are advantages to this type of vacation: Continue reading “Solo Travel For Women”

Barcelona – A Disappointment

To my surprise, Barcelona disappointed me in ways I hadn’t expected. To quote Samuel Johnson, I needed to learn to “regulate imagination by reality”, and see things as they really are. Here you can find out what not to expect.

Determined Optimist

I had so looked forward to visiting Barcelona. I read about the architecture, I loved the operatic history of the city, the cultural riches.

I knew it would be a trip to remember. The only thing that worried me was dreading the return home after my visit there. I envisaged chaining myself to a Gaudí lamppost in Plaça Reial, with a “hell no, I won’t go” placard around my neck.

I didn’t have to worry. One by one my cherished illusions were ripped to shreds, and all the positive thinking in the world couldn’t change the reality of the city I tried so hard to like. Continue reading “Barcelona – A Disappointment”

My Dream Shatters – Barcelona’s Liceu Opera House

My knees crack against the seat’s armrest.

Without so much as an “excuse me”, “permiso” or even the Catalan equivalent of “get the hell out of my way”, a woman shoves past me and into her seat next to mine. Since I have an aisle seat, I’m first in the line of fire, with no other bodies next to me to cushion the blows and give fair warning of impending injuries. Continue reading “My Dream Shatters – Barcelona’s Liceu Opera House”