Cuba: Tiny Grains of Rice


We were riding through the countryside, the agricultural heartland of Cuba, on our way to Trinidad. Then we moved to the other side of the road and drove past this – half the road covered with something raked into rows. It was rice – tiny grains of rice. Because there was just one lane of traffic (luckily there aren’t many cars on the roads), I wasn’t able to stop for photos so I rolled down the window and clicked away.


There was a man who walked, pulling a raked to turn the rice over. This is how they dry the rice for processing. The asphalt heats up under the very hot tropical sun – maybe even toasting the rice a little. We would pass a long line of drying rice and then we would drive a little way, maybe through a village, and there would be another row, maybe on the other half of the road.


Mid-afternoon we saw men with brooms, sweeping the rice into a row. Down the row men were scooping the rice grains into bags. Bending over scooping rice with a metal rice scoop.


We learned the bags are taken to warehouses, and then brought back in the morning; repeating the process for three days. No mechanization here, this is a manual labor intensive process.


I continue to think about this, probably because it is so different than the highly mechanized society I live in. But this is a poor country where there is complete government control and the government owns almost everything. And the government doesn’t seem to be doing a good job of providing for its citizens. Even professionals, like teachers, engineers, and doctors leave their professions or leave the country because they don’t make enough to support their family. But one of the characteristics of the Cuban people that I admired is their resourcefulness. When I mentioned this to our driver, he smiled at the compliment and said that people have to make do with what they have. And I continued to see evidence of pride in this strength as I observed other parts of their culture.

And I ponder if one way of life is better than the other – or just different. This looked like the “good ol’ days” we long for when life was slower and we start to buckle under the stress of our fast-paced life. I will continue to ponder the questions in my mind as I write about other aspects of their culture. Stay tuned!

The introductory post in this series on Cuba shares the unique nature of this custom tour. You can read about it here.

Linked to The Daily Post.

Cuba: Traveling on the Edge


Last Spring I called my daughter who loves to travel and said, I wanted to go to Cuba – she agreed. It was decided.  JB wasn’t too excited until I got online and told him there are tour companies that have trips to Cuba. He prefers traveling on a tour where someone else makes arrangements for where we will sleep and how we will get from here to there. He has no desire to drive in a foreign country, except in Canada. They are our Michigan neighbors, his father immigrated from there, many of our Florida friends are Canucks, so Canada isn’t a foreign country).


I wanted to learn about Cuban culture and history because the islands are not very far away from our southern Florida home and I remember hearing news about the Cuban Revolution and the US/Cuban Bay of Pigs crisis so many, many years ago. JB was eager to see the vintage cars that he has heard so much about – we grew up a short way from Detroit, down I-94. We grew up when now-classic cars were new models we eagerly awaited each year, and Motown played as we cruised the Ave.

I called a tour company we have used in Europe and they said they were booked through 2017, but would take our credit card number and book us if there was a cancellation. JB went to a travel agency in Naples and picked up some literature. The travel agent said they worked with a Naples company owned by Cuban natives that would be willing to develop a custom tour to meet our unique needs and desires. I was a bit leery but we got an itinerary and quote. I also got online and checked them out – and I read the big tour companies’ glossy paper brochures, especially the pages of rules and regulations in the back.


The itinerary looked good and the price was right so the three of us agreed to use Positive Things and Destinations. I sent the information to friends in Michigan and they booked along with Lynn’s niece. We were excited but all of us were a little worried. This company was started in 2015, operated in a different way, and we were booked to go to a country where touring is a new opportunity for U.S. citizens, even though people from other countries have been vacationing at resorts for years. For us it was kind of like the scary excitement that comes from living on the edge.

As we exited customs at the very small Havana airport, having come from the huge Miami airport, we were met by two people associated with the tour. It didn’t take long to know we had made the right decision. Confronted by local customs that were not instantly comprehensible to me, our guides took us figuratively by the hand and loaded us into two taxis.


For the next eight days, the six of us rode in two taxis to Varadero, then down to Trinidad, and back to Havana. One driver was fairly fluent in English and was eager to answer our questions. JB enjoyed riding with him because they shared an interest in identifying old cars and discussing modification that had been made to them (not much to exterior).

We had a tour guide who spoke excellent English and rode with the driver who didn’t speak English. The guide was the one who negotiated the time of pick-up each morning, gave us options for things to do, and made decisions about how to fit in the sites that were on the itinerary. He was also sensitive to pace and listened to what excited us most so he could modify itinerary as we went along.


1950 Chevrolet and driver.

This taxi made JB’s heart beat a little faster because he has owned two 1950 Chevys. Both cars had been updated with diesel engines, air conditioning, and the 1955 had power windows. The climate of harsh sun and salt air is hard on paint so they have had several paint jobs. Both drivers were very proud of their cars and felt great pleasure in our enjoyment of them. Judel was especially proud of owning his 1955 because it had been purchased new by his grandfather.


1955 Chevrolet BelAir

It was this type of interaction with our tour guide and two drivers that added that special human element to the tour. We learned about girlfriends, wives, children, saw photographs – and had special interactions with a mother and friends – but you will have to wait to hear more about that.

What I comprehend more now than at the planning stage, is that this company will structure a trip to meet special interests. If our group would have been smaller, only two or three travelers, I could have told them that I wanted to pace the trip to take lots of photographs. Travel companion, Gary, could have played a round of golf or two or three. Lynn could have gone snorkeling or horseback riding (almost every family outside of the major cities has a horse or two), Sharon and I could have attended a ballet or concert.

Traveling in a small group allows more flexibility than a tour of 25. Having two taxis allowed us to go anywhere a car can go, and sometimes to split up to meet unique needs. There are a wide variety of lodging options and some of us would have enjoyed staying in small hostels and homes. Some on our trip wanted en suite accommodations and we didn’t know enough about small establishment so we asked to stay in four or five star hotels. I will tell you about them in later posts. We had the opportunity to see both rural and urban living. We went to parks and World Heritage Sites. We shopped at a variety of markets and walked through city streets. And we felt safe knowing that our guide, Lester, was in charge and was dedicated to helping us learn about his country.

I look forward to sharing my observations, in words and photographs, along with some of my thoughts about their country, people, and history in future posts. You can obtain more information about this tour company by clicking here: Positive Destinations. I am not on their payroll nor receive any kickbacks. I’m just a satisfied customer.

Chaos in Cuba


Ben Huberman’s The Daily Post photo challenge this week is “chaos.” We just returned from a tour of the central portion of Cuba, traveling by private taxi with a tour guide. We drove through small villages and down country roads, giving many opportunities to view Cuban daily life. As I attempted to understand their culture and living conditions, I experience mental chaos over the difference between my lifestyle and the lifestyle I was observing. Because I was frequently forced to take photographs from a moving, bouncing car, some of them are out of focus causing visual chaos.


We stopped at several markets – this one was at Iznaga, a few kilometers from Trinidad. It was the only one that featured locally made pulled-thread table linens. I was interested in purchasing something and when I stopped at booths the women who made the articles were eager to tell me about their merchandise – even though their English was very limited. A couple of women urged me to, “Remember me. Remember me.” That was effective. The larger woman in the photo kept an eye on me as I thought about what I wanted to purchase – and followed me to her competition a few tables away. I kept reminding her that I would “remember her.” She was pleasant and happy and very tenacious. I bought something from her and also her daughter who is standing with her.

As I walked back down the road, women saw the articles I was carrying and assumed I was a buyer. Mental chaos ensued as they came at me from multiple directions. Our guide had taught me to say, “No, gracious.” But one woman chastised me because I had promised to remember her and I had bought from someone else. She had even written my name “Peat” (spoken with two syllables) on her hand. I had to buy something from her as repentance for my transgression.


Climbing above the roof-line usually gives me a sense of peace. In this culture that was so exotic for me, seeing the roof tops created more mental chaos. Here I didn’t see pattern nor grasp the function of various aspects of the roof-scape. It is this type of mental chaos that leads to fruitful questions and thinking about cultural differences. I will be sharing more posts of photographs and thoughts (sometimes chaotic) stimulated by my travels through the Cuban culture.

Link to Daily Post.Chaos

Nostalgia for Great Britain

I just checked out the blog “breathofgreenair” where Seonaid takes us on a tour of her neighborhood – Edinburgh. She did such a great job and it made me all nostalgic. One of the things that I lost when I developed symptoms of Fibromyalgia was taking students on three-week culture trips to England, Scotland, and Ireland. I think my memories and nostalgia were also triggered by a post by Megan Sayer on traveling. She is excited about traveling with her family to the US later in the year but also talks about not being able to fulfill this strong desire to travel earlier in her life. Isobel, along with her cat MasterB, lives in London and gives me a regular fix by posting photos and telling us about life in that wonderful city and her trips around UK.

My trips with students were so much work and were so strenuous. I guided students in learning about culture and specifically about the uniqueness of British culture through the study of the major cultural institutions of religion, family, government, economy and history. We rode trains and walked. We stayed in youth hostiles and B&B’s. We lived on the cheap because most students don’t have a lot of money and I wanted to teach them that it is possible to travel light. I also wanted them to learn the joy of becoming engaged in the cultures they visit.

I think I went 6 times. I was engaged. I met so many wonderful people and I walked so many wonderful streets. I miss these experiences so very much. Here is what I wrote in my journal as I was grieving all my many losses.

I love introducing students to travel and expanding their world views, and it is just plain fun to go places as a part of my work. I know I’ll never be able to do England/Scotland again and I grieve this decision. So many things trigger memories. I went enough times that the places we visited and the people I interacted with became “old” friends.

I don’t feel like I had an opportunity to say goodbye so I can relish the memories instead of feeling pain. I miss Bath and can feel myself walking down the hill past the post office toward Bath Abby. I want to sit in the sun in the plaza between the Abby and the Baths to watch the pigeons and the tourists. I want to take the students for tea and scones with clotted cream.

I’ll never go to Avebury to walk around the stone monuments, walk the streets of Lacock, or buy greeting cards in the gift shop in Castle Combe. I miss Edinburgh, even the youth hostel. I can see the buildings of old town as I walk down the Royal Mile past St. Giles Kirk (without stepping on the stone heart that people spit on).

My years of memories blend together so that sights and sounds blend into one wonderful experience. I long for a meal in the Indian restaurant on the Royal Mile where I never know what I’m ordering but always get a wonderful meal. I want to walk down the steep winding streets to the park for a “Mark & Spencers’” take away lunch while I sit on a bench listing to Princess Street traffic while gazing at the “Old Town” skyline. I want to go to the museum one more time and feel my legs burn as I climb all the stairs back up to the castle.

I miss York, too. I won’t ever listen to Rev. Greg Hoyland explain the Church of England ever again and I won’t ever stay at a B&B on the Ouse River. I won’t walk through the park past the ruins to that special place where York Minster looms bigger than life over the busy city street – almost like a time warp. I miss Evensong. I won’t shop the narrow, twisting market streets that I have learned well enough that I almost never get lost. I won’t go for “special coffee” in my favorite pub or have their wonder meals.

And I’ll never stay on the Isle of Skye again. I’ll never experience the absolute quiet of Kyleakin or experience rush hour in Porttree, the main city that doesn’t have enough traffic to warrant stop signs. I’ll never have supper by the harbor with the fishing boats anchored on the still water. I’ll never see the mountains and the sheep, and the cliffs, and the wooly coos, learn Gaelic words, and hear the Gaelic legends. I won’t hear passionate tales about the Scottish clans and climb on castle ruins.

I won’t ride the trains and see the stone wall fences. I won’t walk uphill from the train to our lodging pulling my luggage over cobblestones. 

And I miss London. I miss candle-light concerts and bread pudding at St. Martins in the Field, I miss Leicester Square, Parliament and Big Ben, Sunday worship in St. Pauls, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden in the evening, hearing “Mind the Gap”. I miss the English breakfast and the warm hello I received from the Valodes every morning. 

I miss going to Oxford and Cambridge and Windsor. What wonderful experiences, what wonderful memories. I cry because I will never go back. I didn’t say goodbye when I was last there. 

I still feel the pain in this journal entry deep in my heart. Maybe there is some pain that never heals. I can live with the loss because I am so glad I had these experiences.