The last part of my wonderful trip to Oregon took me to one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen—Crater Lake. I stayed in a very rustic cabin in the park area and then made my way to a mystery house which I’ll describe later.IMG_4838

As I made my way around the roads and up to the top edge of the caldera, my first view of the lake took my breath away. It lived up to the hype for sure. The deep blue, clear water is pristine and beyond the tree topped caldera is a scene of mountains and valleys.

IMG_4844Crater Lake was once a very large volcano reaching 12,000 feet—it was called Mount Mazama. Nearly 8,000 years ago a violent eruption caused a collapse of the volcano in on itself forming the crater. Over the millennia, snow and rain filled the crater and created the lake we see now. It’s the deepest lake in the U.S. and one of the purest in the world.

IMG_4833I drove around the west side up to the northern rim and got out a few times to take pictures. At one point I started on a hike and ended up walking over quite a bit of snow that was still on the trail. Finally I had to turn back when the hillside was covered ahead. The scenes of the lake changed as I went around and stopped at different areas to hike. All the views were spectacular and I saw some wildlife including deer and cute chipmunks, and marmots which looked kind of like ground hogs.

IMG_6071The visitor center had a nice video of the history and science of Crater Lake and the rangers were very helpful. Some of the roads were closed but I did get down a little south to see some pinnacles. These structures are called fossil fumaroles, and were formed when steam and gases were released. They became hard after a time and stand out from the softer ground around them.

After a few hikes and lots of photos I drove back to the cabin area. Since there was no cell service and no Internet, I went down the road for another hike in the woods to see a natural bridge over the beautiful River Gorge.IMG_6086

The Vortex

On my last day, I drove a bit south and west to Oregon’s Mystery House—a place where there is a vortex that causes physics to be questioned. Many years ago the Indians that lived here avoided the place because their horses would not travel through the vortex. Miners came later and their mules had the same reaction, but because there was gold in the creek there, the miners stayed and set up shop. IMG_6152They built an assay office but soon abandoned the building to storage since the balances they used to value the gold were “not quite right.” The building later fell down the hill in a storm and sits at a weird angle.

As we toured the area our guide had a number of us stand at one end of a balanced platform and then switch places. It seemed our heights changed as we switched places. When we were in the building, some of us had severe motion sickness. I stayed to see the experiments such as watching a little girl roll a bottle downhill and watch it come back to her and I balanced a broom on its own. I was surprised how many people showed up there—considering it was in the middle of nowhere. But well worth the visit.

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Our northwest states are stunning and I encourage everyone to visit and take in the pure nature and beauty of the area. The people of Oregon respect that beauty and take good care of it, using alternative energy and recycling. The air is clean and people are nice and I am very happy to put this visit on my completed bucket list. I had a wonderful time visiting my niece and while I miss her, I’m glad she is living in such a wonderful place that’s good for the soul. God’s beauty can be seen everywhere in Oregon.

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Drake park in Bend.

My Oregon vacation continues with several days in Bend. It is in central Oregon and while there is a substantial population it has a small town feel of a kind or resort town. There is a mix of expensive boutique stores, outdoor sports enthusiasts, and new age hippies. With beautiful snow-capped mountains surrounding a cute pedestrian friendly downtown, residents enjoy hanging out in the expansive park along the Deschutes river and sitting outside in café’s and trendy restaurants serving local food.

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Archer meets a new friend.

My adventure in Bend began in the morning of July 4 when we walked from my rented condo apartment into downtown to check out the first of several parades that day. These parades actually rival the infamous Horton Bay parades up in Michigan. The first parade was for dogs and other creatures. Dogs small and large were dressed up and walked or carried down the road. I was amazed at the number of them and then even more so when I spotted other creatures—chickens and roosters, miniature ponies, goats, horses, and bringing up the rear some large snakes.

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Archer gets lunch on July 4.

We then headed down to Drake Park, a beautiful grassy area along the river filled with rows of retailers, artisans, and food tents. There were wonderful local businesses selling soaps, t-shirts, woodcarvings, dog products, recycled artwork, and much more. We gave McKenna her first taste of a delicious cheesesteak sandwich. It was the loveliest day and we enjoyed lunch on a blanket near the river in the shade of a warm sunny day.

The girls’ dog Archer was a fan favorite—about a hundred people asked what kind of dog he was—some of them insisting on his combination of breeds even though they were wrong. Archer is a funny looking and really cute guy—a lab, beagle mix. We took him over to the bank of the river to have a little swim. And he met many new friends, including a massive dog 10x his size.

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The endless bike parade. July 4 in Bend.

It was then time for the bike parade which basically was several hundred people on various bikes coming down the street cheering loudly—many drunk and/or stoned and in the most colorful outfits. The people of the town were very friendly and in spite of the revelry pretty much orderly and kind. We spent the afternoon swimming and resting before meeting for a delicious dinner and fireworks. We went to a school under the Butte in Bend where they set off the fireworks and evidently with the dry climate, they inevitably set fire to the place. Some geniuses near us set fire to some brush with some of their own stash.

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A view of nearby mountains from the river as we floated.

The next day we “floated the river.” The Deschutes river in Bend is very shallow (and cold) and it’s a daily activity for the residents to rent tubes (or many have their own) and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding area. We floated about an hour and passed by neat homes–some old and small and some newer and bigger. Many of them had cute decks and yards—one even had a bed. There were some rapids we bypassed and some random logs and such we sometimes missed and sometimes had to awkwardly maneuver around but the scenery was lovely the entire time—including some mountains, birds, and interesting people. We landed back at the park in town and caught a bus back. Our very fun day was topped off with another delicious dinner at Anthony’s—which had a wonderful view of the river. The food was mouthwatering and was made better by wonderful conversations and good company.

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The artwork around the restaurant was interesting. This sign was made up of silverware and railroad spikes.

My last day in Bend continued with another delicious meal—brunch at Chow—an interesting place with local artwork placed around the house, and a garden where they grow some of the herbs and vegetables they use in their meals. We all had tasty mimosas and yummy eggs and such. We sat outside because the weather was once again warm and sunny. Dogs were welcome and we had more wonderful conversations before heading out to Bachelor Mountain.

A short drive from Bend took us to the mountain where skiing is enjoyed in the winter and hiking and biking are prevalent in the summer. There was still a lot of snow on the ground so we couldn’t hike down, which was fine—we took the chair lift up and back and had wonderful views of the mountain ranges. The Cascades were in the distance and close by were the Three Sisters and The Broken Top Mountain. Little lakes dotted the valleys in between them. We took a little hike around the top after lunch throwing snowballs and taking in the views.

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McKenna and Zenia atop Bachelor Mountain. The Three Sister s in the background.

We spent some time exploring the shops and bookstores in Bend before I left for the south. We met some interesting people in town—a guy who set up a table with his small paintings and a book he wrote—about traveling around the west with mules. I can’t say I would be comfortable with his lifestyle but I really admire free souls like that who embrace life and nature. One of the wonderful gifts of traveling is meeting people who have such a different outlook and lifestyle as you—it gives you a new perspective of the world around you and makes you appreciate people much more.

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My niece and I on July 4 in the park in Bend.

This was the best few days I’ve spent in a long time. If I could live without working, I would rent a little place on the Deschutes River for a time each year and float on the river for some peace and rest.

Next stop and post, Crater Lake.

 

 

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The girls and Archer in Drake park, Bend, OR. July 4

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Archer wants that stick!

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The view outside Anthony’s in Bend. We floated the river there earlier that day.

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The houses on the river had the cutest yards like this one.

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This house knows how to enjoy the comfort of the river with a bed under a canopy roof.

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A view of the river as we floated along.

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McKenna takes the rapids and ends up flipping over.

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Lots of geese hang out on the river, some seem to walk on water and others were swimming alongside us.

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I think this is Mt. Ranier with windmills turning from the heavy winds blowing across the fields.

On my second day in Oregon, I got up from the wonderful home where I was staying in Hood River and headed east along the Columbia River. The scene was gorgeous and soon I was starting to see more desert landscape. The scenery was magnificent and changed continuously as I drove east and south. At one point as I was driving through low rolling hills and endless fields with wind generators dotting the horizon, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a huge snow-capped mountain. I pulled off the side of the road to get a good look and then scanned to the left and saw another mountain in the distance. I’m pretty sure the one was Mt. Rainier in Washington. I don’t think any other mountain that far away could have been as huge as the tallest peak in America. I saw it once from a plane and now viewed it from land.

While I normally dislike the journey and am more of a destination kind of person, I fully enjoyed the drive and stopped to take photos as the landscape called to me. Oregon has a natural history filled with geological turbulence and regrowth. Ice ages, volcanoes, water, weather patterns, storms, and more formed the beauty we see today. Fields and prairies, hills and low bushes, tall beautiful trees, mountains in the distance, and windy rivers all captured my attention and made me relaxed and happy.

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The stage coach station in the old west town of Shaniko.

I stopped at a ghost town called Shaniko. In the old west, it was a thriving place but when the railroad passed it by, it became desolate. So the locals now make some cash from selling antiques in the old stagecoach station and from people like me who stop off to see a little tiny old west town.

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The Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds.

After my short visit, I continued on a somewhat deserted road that turned sharply up and down the hills of central Oregon toward one of the locations of John Day Fossil Beds Parks. There are three sites that make up this park. I first went to the Clarno Unit, where I hiked about a mile and a half through in the high sun and along rough paths through ancient rocks. The scene of the tall rock monuments changed as I wound my way around the paths. These rock cliffs were formed from volcanic mudflows that swept through the area 44 million years ago and preserved a diverse assortment of plants and animals that inhabited a near-tropical forest. My heart was palpitating when I got to the top of a 450 foot elevation on a small rough path ending under an arch and a fossil of a tree embedded in the cliff.

I was in want of ice cream when I finally made it back to my pickup truck—the so called “economy rental”, but alas, no civilization was nearby so I continued along the windy roads to the next park, the Painted Hills. These colorful hills were beautiful. Reds, yellows, and spots of black flowed through the rolling hills as a result of ancient volcanic flows.

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The Painted Hills

The Painted Hills is one of those places where the view keeps getting better and different as you move along the paths. The hills look like sand but when you see it up close, it’s more like very dry, crumbly rock that has been colored. As I was making my way down from the top of one path, I noticed many people with dogs—they are allowed on leashes. And then, my eye caught one woman walking her little goat. He was on a leash, so I guess that works! One of the cool things about traveling is seeing all kinds of people who make it interesting enough to write about.

IMG_5306With my Fitbit buzzing at 10,000 steps, I called it a day and drove the final leg down to Bend where I would get to see my niece and her friend. More mountains dotted the landscape as I reached hippie town, USA. Seriously, it is a lovely town, about to burst at the seams as more and more people (and students) add to the 80,000 population. More on Bend and my fun with “Grasshopper” on my next post, but once again, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed the drive through this gorgeous state with seemingly vast resources and open land.

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My 2016 trip was a domestic experience that has reminded me how unbelievably lucky I am to live in this gloriously beautiful country. I have now found a new favorite state—Oregon. The word WOW came out of my mouth often as I drove around the state and saw different landscapes, each just as wonderful as the other. And the people! They were so pleasant, friendly, and nice, it made my time there so relaxed. I met a number of people who had lived in my area of Washington, DC and each time I said, “And so now you moved to have your real life start out in paradise.”IMG_5185

But the best part of the trip was spending time with my niece and her girlfriend. The girls were perfect hosts, showing me their home town and entertaining me in wonderful ways. If it wasn’t so far from my roots, I think I would easily transplant to this wonderful state. Two thumbs up for Oregon and I can’t wait to go back during the winter to see it in its winter splendor.

IMG_5237The trip started out not so great with United having troubles with planes and crews timing out. After waiting for about five hours, the crew they finally gave us said they were going “illegal” and working overtime. Praise to those great FAs who delivered us to Portland that night instead of cancelling. I finally made it to my Airbnb rental in Hood River and hit the pillow at 5 a.m. ET. The place where I stayed was wonderful and the bed was SO soft and comfortable. They were close to the downtown but in quiet place. They had a horse and the friendliest three-legged cat I’ve ever met which gave me a good feeling of home.

Day One: Hood River CruiseIMG_4927

When I drove in, it was dark so as I woke up and drove to the Cascade Locks where the Sternwheeler cruise was located, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. The river to my right was white-capped and surrounded on both sides by tall green trees covering towering mountains. I decided to take this paddle boat cruise up and down the Columbia River Gorge to see the sights from the water and a great decision that was. Not only was the boat fun, but we sailed up toward Hood River to see some windsurfers and the geological wonders that created the valley and then back down again under the Bridge of the Gods and past tons of docks along the river where the local Indian tribes people would fish. IMG_5086They throw out their nets and make a living from the river’s fish. And then we turned back at the Dam where several years ago, Lewis and Clarke took out their boats to go around the rapids that would have killed them if they kept on.

Bad Local Advice

After the cruise I grabbed a sandwich from a small local deli and listened to the owner chat away. It was nice to meet with so many people but unfortunately he convinced me to go way down the road to see some touristy places that ended up catching me in traffic that makes the DC commuter routes look like a walk in the park. So three hours later, after seeing a nice view from the top of the mountain (but not worth the traffic headache) I went back to what I wanted to do—just at a faster and condensed pace. IMG_4713I drove over the Bridge of the Gods because it looked cool and it was in that movie, Wild. And it took me into Washington—another state to check off the list! So I drove up the river coast on the Washington side getting cools views and then back over the bridge at Hood River where I got an incredible view of Mount Hood—so tall and snow covered.

Fruit Loop and Farms

I then sped on to a couple places listed on the Fruit Loop. First was an Alpaca farm where I thought there would be some cool things to buy. The cool things were super expensive so I just spent 25 cents on kibble and went to feed the funny looking guys in the barn. It was a quick stop and then I had time to stop at one fruit stand.IMG_4790 The jams looked yummy but I ended up just getting some peaches that I ate later on my trip—so much like candy! I decided to stop in town at an upscale pizza place that was packed. After walking the river path to see the last remnant of windsurfers (Hood River is the windsurfing capital) I then went to try out a glass of local wine and eat an overpriced personal pizza. But it was relaxing and nice way to end the day before heading to my rental place.

I had a wonderful relaxing evening on this mini farm, talking to my host, petting the horse and the kitty who meowed loudly at me as he crossed the paddock, and later gazing at the stars (no light noise makes the sky burn bright).

I could have stayed in Hood River longer but I got up early to head out for a long drive through the high desert and on to Bend, which I’ll discuss in the next post.IMG_5221

The Oregon Experience

Some things I saw a lot in Oregon were conservation efforts that put the rest of us to shame. They not just recycle but also compost, use solar and wind power, and act in lots of ways to protect our environment. I wish we could all make the effort they do to use natural resources but when you live in a swamp like D.C., it’s hard to see what you are protecting.

Also, in Oregon, drivers stop to let pedestrians pass everywhere—even in non-crossing places. In northern VA you are hard pressed to get cars to stop for people in walk ways. But you also get obnoxious pedestrians crossing against lights, so it’s lose-lose.

IMG_5296And then there were the marijuana dispensaries. It was interesting to see businesses that sold pot and to smell it around you, and it was all legal. But it really seemed to be a natural part of the culture in Oregon, which was pretty hippy but not in any weird or bad way—it all worked and seemed right.

Other observations to come, so read on if you want to hear about awesome Oregon!

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Know anyone who rents a tomb? I know of only one. He used it for three days and then left it empty. That emptiness of the tomb is a symbol of fullness in everything else. You can use that empty tomb to store all the useless things in your life you don’t need.IMG_0318

I tend to cry on Good Friday and Easter during services. I used to think it was because of the insane brutality of torture Jesus endured. Now I know it’s partly that but it is also the overwhelming feeling of being loved so much by someone that He would take the burden of all my sins and die for me an excruciating death.IMG_0311

When the women who loved Jesus went to clean Him up on that Sunday 2,000 years ago, they found the tomb empty. The men did not believe them. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. My pastor said this morning, when you are faced with bad times, indecision, hurt, or need help, run to the tomb. Run to Jesus.

Happy Resurrection day! Thank you Jesus.

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After our wonderful two days in Havana, we continued to sail west then around the tip of Cuba to a southern inlet on a beautiful beach at Maria la Gorda. It was a relaxing day that started with a short motor boat ride to a coral reef off the beach where we snorkeled for an hour or so. Not the best snorkeling I’ve seen but we had fun and then went back to the beach and found some chairs to soak in the sun. It was nice break and allowed us some rest.DSCF3421

Cienfuegos

Our final port of call on the island of Cuba was Cienfuegos. Once again we got our temperature taken before leaving the ship and went through an immigration office where we surrendered our temporary visas. We picked bus #6 again for our group tour and had a nice guide who on several occasions asked us what we wanted to do—indicating a very flexible agenda. This is why I think the Cubans will need to figure out some more formal and researched tours for future American audiences. They may have been feeling their way with us to see what we were interested in.

5670088876_6c9ac6b9f9_bOur first stop was the center of town—where we walked around the town square and learned a bit about some of the local buildings including a beautiful and magnificent theater. We went inside and were amazed at the restoration of this 1880s vintage theater with gorgeous paintings on the ceiling, old school chairs, and just the quaintest and classic setting I’ve seen. It was delightful. We weren’t allowed to take photographs but I googled one here and they don’t do it justice—it was one of those places where you had to soak in the ambiance in person.

IMG_4364We then made our way to an art gallery, the Sociedad Grafica de Cienfuegos. The gallery supported local artists and they share their talents with the neighborhood kids. The art was very interesting and I bought a small piece and got to meet the artist. Outside the gallery some of my fellow travelers were giving treats to some local kids who were loving the attention. One kid got some soap and had a broad smile when showing his mom his new gift. It was very sweet.

The sign in the window is an ad to sell the house.

The sign in the window is an ad to sell the house.

Along the way our guide told us some interesting cultural facts. Very few people in Cuba are allowed to own and sell their homes. He pointed out a sign on a house indicating the lucky owners who were trying to sell their abode.

We were very lucky as it turns out because our tour guide had some connections to a local artist who lived on a street of artists who were having a festival on the day we were there. So in a sense we got to hang out with locals who were having a block party. A banner across the street welcomed us to the creative zone. We were the only bus who got to go there, so this was a very special treat for us.IMG_4451

The locals were playing music, singing, dancing, creating works of art, and playing dominoes on a table in the street. One woman was working hard cleaning vegetables and potatoes that were going into the community stew pot. It was a huge black pot sitting on some burning logs right in the street. The guy behind her showed me a skull of some animal (a sheep maybe) with some meat still on it that was going to be put into the pot later.

There was also an interesting structure (for lack of better words) they created out of some kind of husks—maybe sugar cane since that is what the city is known for. It had a kind of a bulb like shape and was hanging on some poles. There were headphones attached and you could listen to music that was playing inside of it. There was some significance to this but unfortunately I could not hear our guide explain it. We shopped and explored several studios on the street that were basically the front rooms of the artists’ homes. It was a fantastic afternoon.

IMG_4472We asked our guide to skip a part of the tour that seemed boring—just a walk around of some tourist hotel and restaurant and instead opted to go back to the center of town to do some last minute shopping and explore the area. We had to get rid of the last of our converted pesos, so we helped the economy and bought some handmade jewelry, t-shirts, and dominoes games.

Final Thoughts

The Cuban people were interesting and friendly. We loved just walking around and exploring towns. The people have had to live through a lot of challenges through the last century—getting support from the Soviet Union and being in the middle of a fight between two super powers. They were living the good life for a while when supported by Moscow but have had to figure out how to survive living under an oppressive regime without financial support when communism failed in the Soviet Union. Change is coming (very slow to be sure but coming) and many of the people will probably be up to the challenges of living in a more socialistic society as opposed to a communist one. They are getting rid of some old policies but still are afraid of a government who maintains control and suppresses freedom.

Dominoes is a very popular game and the neighbors here are playing in the street.

Dominoes is a very popular game and the neighbors here are playing in the street.

Their infrastructure gets updated slowly—one building is about to fall down next to another that has been restored beautifully. The people have great education and health care but are very poor and have to work a lot to get any extra money for luxuries. They gather in public places to get Wi-Fi and as we all know, the Internet provides people with information and opportunities they need to become free. I felt very blessed to be able to see this country and visit with the people there. My hope is that someday their society will change enough to allow freedom for the people to seek God and worship Him openly, to find employment at will that allows for more comfortable lives, and to feel free enough to get rid of the Che Guevara postcards and express their opinions without fear of retribution.

IMG_4494With President Obama’s visit and the new policies to open relations with Cuba, we’ll wait and see if some of our democratic values will take hold in our southern neighbors. In the meantime, I would encourage Americans to visit now under the People to People program. And one note of interest, the Cubans also refer to themselves as Americans, which makes sense—so when there, you may want to be more specific when explaining where you are from.

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1 Greeting Cienfuegos

Our Cuban cruise continues. Santiago, our first stop is located in the Southeastern portion of the island. From there we sailed east and around the tip then west to Havana which is located not far as the crow flies but a long way via boat—toward the Northwest portion of Cuba. As we moved along in the early evening I saw a bunch of lights on the coast and thought…that must be Guantanamo Bay, and a minute later it was confirmed via announcements in six languages over the ship’s speaker. 
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Day at Sea

As we sailed for a day, it was relaxing on board and some of the options besides sitting in the sun, swimming, and having delicious daiquiris included a variety of lectures on the Cuban culture as well as their fauna, which we joked about but my dad attended and said was in fact interesting. At night, we were so far out to sea we experienced rough waves which had us rolling and cringing a bit, scared a bit and thinking about the collision last summer.

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Mom and Dad in front of the church in San Francisco plaza. The Mexican doggie sculptures were on display.

Havana

The following day we docked in Havana. As we stepped out of the terminal, we crossed a busy street and started our walking tour in the San Francisco Plaza. We were treated to a beautiful display of large sculptures of Mexican Chihuahuas—all painted differently—similar to many projects I’ve seen in the states—in Michigan they did Bears and my Aunt bought the blue Shakesbear which sits on the shore of Walloon Lake. But I digress…shakesbear1

Our guide, who was wonderful, took us to four different Plazas in the city. Each had its unique charm. As we approached one plaza there were some gentlemen sitting on chairs playing instruments. Throughout the city there were dancers, singers, human statues, artists, and other performers. A number of entrepreneurs were selling crafts, art, tchotchkes, and photo ops with little dogs.

Hemmingway's Hotel

Hemingway’s Hotel (tall pink building)

We passed by the hotel where Hemingway stayed and came to a plaza filled with people selling antiques. It was fun to check out the old books—encyclopedias, titles by and about the revolutionary leaders—as well as old cameras, stamps, vintage movie posters, and more. We had a chat with one young man who told us some of his relatives were in the states and never wanted to come back to Cuba.

Another plaza was home to a cathedral and had a huge human size nativity display. I recently talked with people in my church small group and prayed for a group heading to Cuba. These people had challenges ahead, including prohibitions against bringing bibles with them and stories of homes being bulldozed because the owners had meetings with more than a handful of people in attendance. I did not see evidence of Christian oppression out in the open because of all the open churches celebrating Christmas, but there are still many policies and obstacles to freedom to overcome for the people of Cuba.

The longest cigar in the world.

The longest cigar in the world.

In any case, we loved Havana. Later in the day we took a bus tour and visited a cigar store where they showed us how they rolled the leaves and we bought some contraband to bring home. The cigars were actually expensive so we only bought a few. After suffering through a bratty display of rudeness from a teenager and his obnoxious family who were berating our guide for taking us there to shop, we headed through the city catching a glimpse of our new embassy, stopping at a huge open area where massive crowds would gather to hear speeches, and then on to some museums.

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The Museum of the Revolution. Some hard core war machines dotted the lawn.

The Revolutionary Museum

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The US President’s depicted as “cretons.”

We couldn’t get into the art museum—for some reason it closed early—but we did get to see the museum touting the wonderful exploits of the revolution. It was a so-so place—pretty low tech but some interesting displays. It was heavy on the propaganda but did state some facts about how bad our CIA was back in the 50s and 60s. I didn’t really appreciate seeing three of our President’s displayed as dictators and Nazi’s but their policies of blocking Cuba from participating in international trade earned them a place on Cuba’s hate list.

Flea Market

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The piece I bought was an acrylic painting on some sort of linen. Beautiful colors and you can see the clotheslines, water tanks, and the Capital building in the back. It was done by a young girl with lots of talent.

Our guide let us off at a flea market for some quick shopping at the end of the day. I had to laugh at the hypocrites who yelled at our guide earlier but who now wanted to go shopping. We bought a few t-shirts and then I spotted a ton of beautiful art all along the outside walls of the market which was located in an old train station. I bought a piece by a local that represented the colorful houses you see throughout Cuba.

On Our Own

We spent the next morning walking around the city on our own and had the best time of the trip. We stopped in a tiny museum that housed arms—a collection of Castro’s rifles and more. We were drawn into the place because there was a DuPont sign above the door—presumably because of the company’s early beginnings in the gunpowder business. One of the museum guides did not speak English but did a pretty good job of telling us about some of the displays—writing dates on her hand and using some non-verbal language to explain what we were looking at.

Castro's collection of rifles.

Castro’s collection of rifles.

We toured a fort, shopped the local stores, had a quick lunch at a local restaurant, and took in the sights and sounds of the locals. I wish we had more time to make our way through more of the old city streets but alas, back to the boat we had to go. Havana was really a neat place. We only saw a small portion but it was a lot of fun walking around and experiencing their culture.

Next stop was a day at the beach!

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The old books and encyclopedia’s on the street vendor’s shelves.

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The vendor’s set up all around the Plaza de Armas in Havana.

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One of the many artistic sculptures in Cuba. This was outside one of the churches.

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Dad stands near one of the blocked off areas in Havana that run down the streets–it’s a sort of water system where the water comes from the hills and flows through the streets and you can collect water from these collection points.

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A local girl plays with the birds in Havana–and a street band plays behind her.

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Just like everywhere, neighbors chat with each other on balconies.

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This guy was selling some sort of fried chip. It tasted okay–evidently was a local favorite.

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More vendors around the plaza.

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This entrepreneur has two laid back dogs who help him earn a living–getting photo ops with tourists. Christmas was the theme this week.

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Nativity display.

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Old car, guy selling fruit and veggies off a cart, all typical scenes in Havana.

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The new American embassy in Havana.

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Tourists get rides in the beautiful old cars they have kept running.

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A strange sculpture in Havana of a young naked girl on a rooster with a fork. Your guess is as good as mine.

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Some of the vintage trinkets found in the vendor stalls in Havana. Almost bought one of the cameras!

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A little boy gets a kick out of the human statute who moves ever so slow to shake his hand.

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No shortage of performers in Cuba. Dancers and musicians walk down the street on stilts with hands out for payment.

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Sun sets over the city. A view from our ship at the port.

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A view of the city as we leave on the ship. A large park sits along the water with the capital building in the distance.