Stepping Away…

Thank you for stopping by my blog. Monday Musings is currently on hiatus while I tend to other projects. I’ve left links below to some of my more popular topics in case you’d like to browse. I promise most of them include gorgeous photos.

Or you can pop over to my bookshelf or excerpts if you want more information on my books.

I’ll see you all in a few months. Happy reading!

Link to:  My experience with torn and detached retinas

Link to:  Cruising around historic Cuba

Sunday Funday Adventures – Exploring the Okanagan

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Link to:  Beautiful beaches and hiking trails on Vancouver Island

Link to:  Monkeys and more at Sandos Caracol and Riviera Maya

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Link to:  Fun in Palm Desert and San Diego, California

Steamboats on the Old Man River, trolley cars and beignets…Adventures in New Orleans

Icebergs and rowhouses…Exploring Nova Scotia and Newfoundland

Favourite Furry Pets – And a few not so furry ones, too

 

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Whirlwind Day of Appointments in Vancouver

A quick recap on my series of eye health posts. (Start from beginning here) In December 2016 I experienced a retinal tear in my left eye, which has left me with unstable vision. In April 2017, I had a vitreous hemorrhage in my right eye, and still don’t know the full outcome from that episode. I want to reiterate the importance of recognizing and understanding the symptoms and dangers of torn or detached retinas.

As our eyes age, the clear vitreous gel that fills the central eye cavity liquefies and separates from the retina. This is a natural occurring event that happens in most people between the age of forty and seventy. When the gel separates, a person will often see floaters—dots, spots or curly lines, which move with the eye. Usually this quickly settles down and everything returns to normal. Sometimes, most often with people who are extremely nearsighted, the retina will tear or detach when the gel separates. A vitreous hemorrhage can occur when blood vessels are damaged during the above process, filling the eye cavity with blood.

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

I ended my last post with our rushed trip to Vancouver to see a retinal surgeon. We had a nice view from our hotel suite, and I wished we were there under better circumstances.

The eye clinic was huge and crowded, but operated like a well-organized production line. I filled out some paperwork, then had drops put in my eyes and various tests done. After a thorough examination, the retinal surgeon explained he could see enough of my retina to confirm it was severely detached, so I told him the ultrasound had shown the retina was okay. He said that might’ve been true at the time, but it had since detached, with potentially dire consequences. He didn’t offer false hope, but promised he’d do everything he could to restore as much of my vision as possible.

I asked if now that both eyes had experienced the vitreous gel separation, there’d be no danger of this happening to me again. He replied that some retinas keep falling off even after being reattached several times. This worried me because my left retina has had to be repaired twice since tearing.

He told me it could take a full year to know the quality of vision I’d end up with. I asked if that meant the sight in my left eye might still improve and he said no, but I’d probably adjust to the blurry vision. Damn, eh? Got my hopes up for a moment.

I filled out reams of paperwork and received pamphlets explaining what a vitreous hemorrhage and a detached retina were, and which procedures would be used during surgery. One procedure is called a Vitrectomy. This involves making small incisions in the eyeball so the surgeon, using a microscope and special lens, can insert micro-surgical instruments to clean the vitreous and blood from the middle eye cavity.

The other procedure entails sewing a silicone scleral buckle around the outer wall of the eyeball to create an indentation inside the eye. This pushes on the retina and effectively closes the break. Scleral buckles usually remain on the eye indefinitely.

After all that cheery news, I had to have my blood pressure checked (Surprise, surprise, it was way higher than normal). After lunch, Hubby dropped me at another clinic to have an electrocardiogram. I’m not sure if this is standard procedure for all the eye clinic’s surgery patients or if it’s because I have an aortic valve insufficiency. Regardless, the test was performed quickly, with no problems detected.

We picked Roxy up from our son’s place and headed to Kit’s Beach for some relaxation.

About 25,000 pot smokers, who’d gathered at Sunset Beach for the 420 cannabis rally, began disbanding about the same time we were returning to our hotel. Extra police presence with road blocks to monitor those partiers, combined with the usual rush hour traffic and few left-hand turn lights, meant it took us two hours to travel what should’ve taken thirty minutes. It was certainly frustrating, but rather than getting all worked up, it became almost a game to us – let’s see if this street will take us where we want to go.

After dinner, we did a dry run to Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, where I’d have my surgery the next morning. Hubby likes to be prepared, and he didn’t want anything unexpected making me late for my appointment. Thankfully, the crazy traffic had dissipated and the trip there and back took no time.

Our hectic day ended with this lovely sunset.

Next week, I’ll share my eye surgery experience. (next post here)

Old Beauties of Cuba

I hope you like old cars, because the following is a tribute to all the beauties we saw while in Cuba. Cubans call them rustic, the rest of the world call them legendary. Classic, vintage, antique…Whatever moniker you give them, they’re must-see wonders, especially in Havana where they’re renown, but all over the island, as well.

I’ll start in Havana, because that’s where our Cuban journey started. Within minutes of stepping off the cruise ship, everywhere we looked, our gaze feasted on the impeccably restored relics of 1950s North America.

In and around old Havana.

Plaza de la Revolucion Square is a treasure trove of old beauties. It’s quite amazing to see the number of antique cars still running. Because of the US embargo in 1960, repair parts haven’t been available for quite some time. Cubans have had to manufacture their own replacements to keep these old gems operating.

Most are used as taxis or rentals for sightseeing tourists, and they do a brisk business.

Havana’s El Morro Fortress is another excellent place to view them.

And you’ll always find them cruising along the Malecon.

Some have more character than style.

I chuckled over this oldie. Despite having a body containing more bondo than metal, it still sported some impressive decorative chrome.

Not all the cars in Cuba are old classics. As is evident by the parked cars in the photo below, many are newer model vehicles, most notably Toyotas and Hyundais, as well as assorted SUVs.

And there are plenty of modest old Russian Ladas and equally battered Peugeots.

Cienfuegos has fewer old beauties, but the ones we saw were top-notch.

There are an abundance of boxy little cars, mostly Ladas and Peugeots, in Cienfuegos, too.

Santiago de Cuba also boasts some classic oldsters.

And some relatively modest ones.

This poor character certainly falls into the more bondo than metal category, but check out the chrome!

There’s many other means of transportation, besides the profusion of vintage vehicles, including modern, full-sized buses.

We noticed a number of Russian-era lorries, smaller trucks and modified SUVs jam-packed with locals. Perhaps transporting workers to and from job sites.

Motorcycles of all shapes and sizes are a common means of transportation on the island, although most popular in Santiago.

The majority of police officers we saw rode bikes as well.

Wherever you go on foot, you’ll be asked if you want a taxi. Most are of the 50s vintage, but many are typical newer model vehicles.

Then there’s the cute little yellow bugs, known as Coco-Taxis.

Touristy horse-drawn carriages are in abundance.

Horse and buggy are also used as a personal form of transportation by some locals, particularly in rural areas.

And that wraps up my Cuban trip. For those of you who followed me through to the end, I hope you enjoyed viewing my travels. For anyone interested in reading my previous Cuban posts, they start here and each post has a link at the end to the next one.

I’ll leave you with a few more old beauties of Cuba.

 

A Twenty-Two Hour Day To End A Fantastic Trip

Even though I’m seriously not a fan of early mornings, I was on deck before the sun came up, determined not to miss our cruise ship’s arrival in Havana. As a reward, I got to see this.

El Morro at sunrise.

Havana skyline before full light.

The cruise ship traveled slowly toward Havana Bay, as the sky gradually lightened.

A massive yacht left the harbour as our ship approached. While Hubby admired the yacht’s sleek lines, I fretted that it was headed into our path.

Although our ship’s engines were cut, it still had some forward momentum and the yacht crossed way too close for my comfort.

No wake as we wait for the pilot boat.

A fisherman in his teeny-tiny boat checks out our gigantic ship.

The sun rises above Castillo del Morro.

The sun’s arrival brought Havana’s colourful skyline to life. Modern Havana.

New blends with old.

Old Havana

Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, on the harbour’s east side.

Castillo del Morro lighthouse

The Battery of the Twelve Apostles

Castillo del Morro

Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña

Hubby couldn’t resist another photo of the Christ statue.

The Malecon runs along the harbour’s west side.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza

Approaching Terminal Sierra Maestra.

The pilot boat’s job is almost done.

One last look at the mouth of Havana Bay.

Terminal Sierra Maestra

Skyline shots from deck nine.

Statue of Mercury, the god of commerce, on domed roof of the Produce Exchange building.

An underwater tunnel connects Havana’s east and west sides at the mouth of the bay. Each time we took it, I had to pretend we weren’t in a tunnel built almost sixty years ago, with forty feet of water above us. Our bus to Varadero couldn’t cross that half-mile of darkness fast enough for me.

Pit stop at Peñón del Fraile.

Royal Palm trees are native to the island, and we saw vast valleys of them.

Matanzas is situated between Varadero and Havana.

It’s known as the City of Bridges

We arrived at the Varadero airport at 12:30. Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 6:40, and we couldn’t even check our luggage until 3:30, giving us lots of time to kill. The check-in area only had six chairs and, of course, they were all taken. During our search for something to eat, we found three tables with chairs and, yay, two chairs were available. Nothing to eat, but at least we could sit.

I stretched my legs quite often, but Hubby refused to budge from those chairs. Three long hours later, we checked our luggage and headed to security. The immigration wickets empty directly into the screening area – which was complete chaos. With no defined queue lines; people just herded into the general area closest to where they’d exited immigration. Naturally, our ‘line’ moved the slowest.

After clearing security, we went directly to find food. It’s almost comical, but mostly annoying, how every vendor in the airport would accept US dollars (we’d cashed in our CUCs), but not one of them could make change. If we wanted it, we paid extra.

The departure screens didn’t show a gate number for our flight, and there wasn’t anyone from Transat to direct us. About 6:00, long after we should’ve already boarded, a gate was finally assigned. With all the noisy pandemonium around us, we couldn’t hear the announcements, and it was only by chance that I noticed people queueing up at an unmarked side door, near our assigned gate. I convinced Hubby we needed to check it out and, sure enough, it was our flight departing. Don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t spotted that lineup.

We arrived in Vancouver at midnight and breezed through the self-check customs. The city had just been hit with a substantial snowfall, and we shivered in the dark, waiting for the hotel shuttle.

I checked in while Hubby retrieved our suitcase from our snow-covered car. By the time we’d thawed out my pjs and got to bed, it was 1:30. With the time change, that made it twenty-two hours since we’d awoken that morning.

Some final thoughts on the trip:

Cuba should improve the way it welcomes tourists. We crossed through Havana’s immigration six times and twice at Varadero’s airport. Each time, I was treated with varying degrees of unfriendly suspicion, which occasionally bordered on hostile. Those experiences left me feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. Only the immigration personnel at Santiago de Cuba went out of their way to greet us with smiles and friendliness. I understand that entering another country is a privilege, not a right, and custom personnel have an important job to do, but if Cuba intends to encourage tourism, less mistrust and more civility would go a long way.

If you want the beach, drinks and sun experience, Mexico is probably a cheaper and easier destination. But if you’re interested in learning about Cuba’s tumultuous history of genocide, slavery, invasions and counter-invasions, replete with centuries of revolution, and combine that with incredible architecture, along with the sun, sand and scenery, Cuba is a must-see. And we’re so happy we went.

If you love vintage cars, join me next Monday to discover the old beauties of Cuba. Click here to jump to that post. Follow my Cuban posts from the beginning here.

Contemplations On An At-Sea Day

With our week-long cruise reaching its end, we only had one last at-sea day to relax and enjoy our surroundings. A ship or boat occasionally appeared to break up the endless horizon.

Mid-morning, Dr. Jorge Arocha, a professor of philosophy at the University of Havana, gave an entertaining presentation on The musicality of the Cuban people and unusual Cuban musical instruments. Dr. Arocha discussed the importance of music and dancing to the Cuban people, and described some of the African and European influences on Cuban musicality. A band member, whose name I can’t remember, demonstrated some unique Cuban music and instruments.

A shekere, originating from West Africa, is a dried gourd filled with beads.

A guiro is also a gourd, played with a scraper.

Double-headed Batá drums.

Son is a Cuban musical style with its own distinctive beat.

Fruit and veggie carvings on display in the buffet.

The Latin Souls, a local Havana band, entertained us throughout the cruise.

After lunch, cruise director Danny introduced the Canadian Renfrew Highland Pipe and Drums Band. With the Cuban Government’s permission, the band played in public plazas at each port of call, and they gave a special performance for us that day.

Flag bearers

The members came from all over Canada.

They performed a touching rendition of Amazing Grace. I think bagpipes sound hauntingly beautiful, and Amazing Grace is a powerfully emotional song. Hearing the two together, especially while grieving for my mom, left me in tears.

That afternoon, we watched a documentary on Cuba. It spoke of the Cuban people’s many challenges and their growth throughout the years, which left me contemplating all I’d learned during my visit.

Based on little more than ignorance, I’d gone to Cuba with preconceived ideas. I assumed it was a deprived country, suffering under oppressive Communist rule, and I expected to find the people downtrodden and impoverished. Mostly, I was wrong.

While Cubans certainly aren’t rolling in money and have few material possessions, their wealth is defined in other ways. Cuba is culturally rich and architecturally superb, with unbelievably luxuriant landscapes. Cubans take pride in their arts and culture, and their high literacy rates. They aren’t defined by communism; they’re indomitable and adaptable despite communism. They’re proud, passionate people, who show affection easily and often. Cheek pressed to cheek with air kisses, and exuberant hugs, are common greetings. Cubans love their sports and are as obsessed with baseball as we are with hockey.

Basically, Cubans, young and old, dress much like we do. Some modest, some more chic.

This fine fellow reminds me of a musician from days gone by.

Popular North American logos might be missing from their clothing, but the younger generation dress as fashionably as their American counterparts. Hair styles are also every bit as current.

Not once did anyone push communist ideals on us. Politics were only mentioned on tours and during Dr. Arocha’s lectures, strictly as an explanatory topic. I kind of almost understand why the “little people” may have loved Fidel Castro. He gave them free healthcare, free education, jobs, essential food, and places to live. It came at a cost to their basic freedoms, but for those who had nothing, they came to accept those sacrifices.

I can also see why the vast majority, especially the wealthy, intensely hated Castro. He took everything away from them. Not only their material possessions, but also their hopes and dreams. If they were fortunate, they escaped the island with what little they could take with them. Anyone opposing Castro’s government often found themselves imprisoned, tortured or killed. Like Fulgencio Batista before him, Castro was a brutal dictator who ruled with an iron fist.

Life is slowly improving for Cubans. Although they still have little disposable income, they can go into business for themselves, own property, and have more of the basic freedoms we take for granted, such as limited access to the internet.

After that enlightening documentary, Dr. Arocha did a presentation called Cuban cigars: the story behind the smoke. I left Hubby to learn about the country’s beloved “Habanos”, while I went to our cabin to pack our suitcases.

Another dramatic, cloudy sunset.

Because our beach day got cancelled, Celestyal Cruises gave us an on-board credit that just happened to cover the complete cost of our photo package, including a DVD on Havana. A serendipitous bit of luck.

The evening entertainment, Revolucion, a love story at the time of the revolution, was excellent. It told the poignant tale of a Cuban and an American who fell in love just before the revolution that severed ties between those two countries. And how, as elderly people, they found their way back to each other, thanks the current thawing in relations.

The talented young Cuban cast.

Fitbit says we covered a paltry 5.91 kilometers that day.

Next Monday I’ll share our last day in Cuba, including photos taken from Havana Bay. Click here for next post. Follow my Cuban posts from the beginning here.

Santiago de Cuba, Take Two

After a stimulating morning touring the city of Santiago de Cuba, we were ready to kick back and relax in the balmy Cuban sun aboard the Celestyal Crystal. It’s always fun to search the surrounding skyline, in hopes of spotting places we’d just visited.

We could only pick out the twin spires of the Metropolitan Cathedral.

The government boat, waiting to escort our cruise ship out of the harbour, was a sad reminder our visit to Santiago was soon coming to an end.

Tourists aren’t allowed to take Cuban pesos out of the country, and we worried about finding an exchange at the airport, so after lunch we went to the cruise terminal’s money exchange to cash out our CUCs.

I wish we’d had time to wander around the attractive pier next to the terminal.

Several people were fishing off the pier. And interesting to note, most of them only used a line with no pole.

And we’re off into the sparkling sunshine.

Sierra Maestra Mountains

The escort boat meets the pilot-boat.

Some stylish houses along the bay.

Up on the bluff, overlooking the entrance to Santiago Bay, stands a bronze statue of Frank Pais. A contemporary of Castro, and a commander of the Revolutionary Movement by time he was twenty, Frank Pais was mysteriously assassinated in Santiago, at the young age of twenty-three.

Many shoreline homes are modest and even slightly decrepit.

That last photo intrigued me into enlarging it to get a closer look at that little captured moment in time. It appears to be three generations of a family gathered on the porch of a very rundown home, yet they’re all smiling and happy just to be together.

Approaching Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca.

I don’t know if this is part of El Morro Castle or if it’s the remains of a military battery. Would be fun to explore it.

Seeing El Morro Castle close-up from the water, makes me wish even more that I’d had the time to thoroughly check it out when we were there that morning.

My writer’s imagination came to life when I saw these mysterious caves at the base of the fortress. I wonder where they go?

The only thing better than a castle is a castle with a lighthouse. I love lighthouses.

One last goodbye glimpse of Santiago de Cuba and Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca.

Fluffy clouds above the Sierra Maestras, and sunshine on a blue sea. Idyllic.

The waters of the Caribbean always amaze me. Gorgeous azure and turquoise in the shallows, and an incredible deep navy when out to sea.

As the afternoon wore on, clouds thickened in the sky. At one point, the sun broke through to bathe these small hills in bright light.

Foreshadowing a dramatic sunset.

A distant sighting of the infamous Guantanamo Bay.

The sunset lived up to expectations.

Right to its breathtaking end.

This is Danny, the cruise director. Besides being a super friendly, outgoing fellow, Danny, who’s from Romania, is also fluent in at least seven or eight languages. I was so impressed with how he transitions flawlessly back and forth between all those different tongues. I’m barely fluent in my own native language, never mind attempting any other ones.

The evening show, Afro-Cuba – forkloric traditions of the afro-Cubans, told the spellbinding story of the African kidnappings and arrival on the island as slaves, and their transition through the years to where they are as Cuban citizens today.

We walked 9.86 kilometers that day, according to Fitbit.

Next Monday, I’ll share my sea day contemplations of Cuba. Click here for next post. Follow my Cuban posts from the beginning here.

Historic Santiago de Cuba

Our warm welcome at Santiago de Cuba was a pleasant surprise after the rigorous immigration procedures in Havana. We were greeted at the door of a bright, little building where we simply approached smiling clerks seated at open tables to have our passports and visas checked.

The first stop, on our Panoramic Santiago tour, was the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia. One of the most important cemeteries in Cuba, it’s the final resting place of many historical figures, including José Martí, Carlos Manuel Céspedes, Fidel Castro, and Emilio Bacardi Y Moreau, of Bacardi Rum fame.

With much pomp and ceremony, the guards at José Martí’s imposing hexagonal mausoleum are changed every thirty minutes. Because we opted not to pay the five CUC photo-taking fee, we didn’t get any pictures. Being short, I could barely see the goose-stepping guards through the massive crowd.

After climbing the granite steps of the mausoleum, we looked down at Martí’s wooden casket, draped in a Cuban flag.

Fidel Castro’s monument is modest in comparison. A large boulder simply bears a plaque saying Fidel.

While in line to photograph Fidel’s monument (which is free to take), I surreptitiously snapped a few more.

José Martí’s mausoleum

La Barrita de Ron Havana Club is a tourist bar attached to the Santiago Rum factory, which was the Bacardi Rum factory before being expropriated by the Castro government. Along with rum tasting, entertainment and high-end cigars are also offered.

Santiago de Cuba’s humble streets, viewed from my bus window.

Broke my heart to see this poor little bird’s cage attached to an outside wall, with no way to escape the sunshine.

Santiago’s Plaza de la Revolucion.

Monument to Antonio Maceo y Grajales. General Maceo was a principal figure in the Cuban struggle for independence.

These twenty-three large machetes symbolize the fight of machete-wielding Cuban Mambís (mulatto revolutionaries).

Cuba’s National flag and Revolutionary flag.

Teatro Heredia Conference Center, with a depiction of Juan Almeida Bosque, a Cuban politician and commander of insurgent forces.

Loma de San Juan is where the final battle of the Spanish-Cuban-American War was fought. Next to the memorial marker stands the Tomb of the Unknown Mambí.

That’s quite the mint twig in my mojito, at the scenic El Morro Restaurant.

Known as El Morro Castle (same as the fortress in Havana), this military fortress’s official name is Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca. El morro means ‘bluff’ or ‘headland’ in Spanish.

At the entrance, we were asked to pay 5 CUC or have our cameras confiscated. Hubby and I had our cameras tucked away, so didn’t pay or hand them over.

Built in 1638 to protect the Bay of Santiago from pillaging pirates, the fort was converted into a prison by the Spaniards in the 1800s. I could’ve spent hours exploring all the nooks and crannies, but we were hustled through quite quickly.

Fortress view of Santiago’s coastline, with the Sierra Maestra in the background.

The moat

Outside, vendors sell everything from artwork to clothing to cheap cigars.

In our entire week in Cuba, sadly, this is the closest we came to seeing a beach.

These little places remind me of mobile homes, only cuter.

These ones look like huge shipping containers.

Santiago de Cuba is a city of motorbikes. Everywhere, motorbikes. Some are even used as taxis.

Everyone wears helmets, and looks as if flip-flops are also acceptable.

Many riders had bandanas over their faces, I’m assuming to avoid breathing exhaust fumes.

Céspedes Park is the main square of Santiago de Cuba. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was the revolutionary hero who later became President of the Republic of Cuba.

Ayuntamiento (city hall), built in 1950, where Fidel Castro gave his first public speech in January 1959, after overthrowing the Batista government.

The Casa Granda Hotel

The Metropolitan Cathedral. Restored in 2015, some parts of the cathedral are more than four hundred years old.

It’s compulsory for young Cuban men over sixteen to do two years of military service. Women may voluntarily join.

Museum Casa de Diego Velázquez is the oldest building in Cuba. The mansion, built in 1522, was the official residence of Diego Velazquez, a Spanish conqueror and the island’s first Governor.

Santiago de Cuba has many colourful buildings.

The Communist Party Building.

Back at the Celestyal Crystal.

I’ll wrap up our day in Santiago de Cuba on Monday. Click here for that post. Follow my Cuban posts from the beginning here.