Part Four
© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!
On with the story … trip to Mantanza! (I decided to split my trips up, so as not to overwhelm you––Havana trip will be Part Five)

Day six––deep into some of the real worlds of Cuba where, even though there are inklings of wealth, poverty abounds. Such conditions that people are living in, no matter what country they reside in, is a crime.
Elements of the old world that was built upon the Island of Cuba still exists in the crumbling buildings and hovels. The original beauty is trying to peek through the decaying walls, giving us a glimpse of what once was. Money is poured into building luxurious tourist resorts; however, I must add here that restoration and construction of new accommodations in the large towns and cities is also beginning in earnest.
The first stop on my tour through Mantanza and the Yumuri Valley was at the Canimar River where K and I went on a 30 minute boat ride. We sat on the upper deck, on the bow, and I snapped numerous pictures of the beautiful, natural landscape. Local musicians entertained us with guitar, violin, maracas, and their passionate voices. We were supposed to have watched a native dance, but were running behind schedule (because of having to wait for some people at a couple of the resorts) and had to leave. I did manage to zoom in on some of the festivity, and I think K managed to get some pics, as well.
From the river ride, we headed to the Bellamar’s Caves. If we wished to take pictures in the caves, we were required to pay five pesos. Of course, you might have guessed by now that I paid the five pesos. K and I were at the back of the pack––not where we started out––because of the frequent stops we made to capture the underground’s mysterious beauty on film. One spot had water flowing over a huge rock, the Fountain of Youth. Beside this were three minuscule puddles––Forever Love, Dreams Come True, and Puddle of Divorce! I dipped my fingers in the Dreams Come True … I think I have a forever love, and I definitely hope not to get divorced! One drawback about walking down into the belly of the earth is that one must climb back up. K and I were ready for a good-looking paramedic, but we would settle for a hearty lunch!
When we reached the top, the bus was almost ready to go. An elderly lady, tending a souvenir stand, enticed us over by pointing to her crocheted tops and dresses, indicating to us that they were only five pesos. Of course, when we checked out the wares, anything we wanted was way over the five pesos. Unfortunately, the woman did not earn a peso from us that day.
From the caves, we drove down through the Yumuri Valley. The countryside was spotted with farms. My heart burned for how these poor people were expected to eke out a living from the rocky soil. The majority of the homes they lived in were hovels; in our country they would not even be fit summer cottages. The sides of the roads were lined with livestock tied to fences. One way of keeping the grass cut, I guess. This was also a prevalent sight in towns and cities, as well. The bus had to stop as a cow, that had obviously loosened its rope, was led across the road by a white bird. It was quite the comical picture, and I began to notice that a number of cows had a white bird as a companion.
We had lunch at the Rancho Gaviota. The road we travelled to get there was filled with potholes, but the driveway into the ranch was more suited to preserving automobile longevity. The setting was spectacular. The cafeteria, where we going to have lunch, was surrounded by valleys, mountains, and water. Fowl life ran free; goats were tied to trees, and one lonely donkey was secured to a branch. Horses were tethered near a barn, saddled and ready to take the tourists for an adventure ride. I felt sorry for the old bull that stood saddled under the shade tree. He was held by an elderly man who tried to cajole me into taking a ride. I decided neither horse nor bull for me that day!
Lunch was a typical Cuban meal––rice with beans, beef, sweet potatoes, a beef soup, and salad that consisted of grated cabbage and carrots, and slices of tomatoes and cucumbers. K and I sat with a couple from Holland. After lunch, we had quite the adventure going to the washroom! I had thought we were going to have the opportunity to go swimming, so I had worn my one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. Foolish me––there was no swimming on the trip, and now I was faced with the arduous task of using the washroom. The washroom doors (yes, there were doors on these ones) had no locks, so, there I was, naked from the knees up, trying to straddle over a toilet with no seat when my door flew open. How embarrassing as I scrambled to restore my privacy! I finally managed to complete my task, re-dress, and carry on with my adventure in the fresh afternoon sun. As I was leaving the building, a young man stopped the line of women from going into the toilet stalls while he poured a half a pail of water in each of the two toilets. This is their flushing system––one step up from an outhouse.
K and I wandered around, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. A small farmhouse had been set up for display, and there was a fellow inside making Cuban coffee for the guests. He was funny, pretending to be Al Capone, who seems to be quite the hero to the Cuban people; or maybe, his former presence on the island is just good for the tourist business. One of the tourists (not from our group) caused a commotion when he tried to take a mother goat’s baby away from her. People should have left the man alone. I am sure the mother goat would have dealt with him! As we left the farm, the bus made a final stop at a little stand where we could buy coconuts or bananas. The guide showed us some pods, which when broken open contained an unusually delicious fruit that tasted like a pineapple/orange. He said it was good to fight against a parasite invasion in humans.
On the way back to Matanza, we stopped in a small town for a few minutes. One of our passengers had brought some things for the children. When we first stopped, there were only a few children; however, eventually we were swarmed as they poured from the houses. As we continued on our way, the roadside was spotted with mothers and children waving to the bus, with the hopes it would stop and some goodies would be thrown their way.
Before going to the Pharmaceutical Museum in Matanza, we stopped at the Montserrat Heights where we could see a full view of the entire city. There was also an old cathedral there. A service was going on, so we were not allowed past the door. I did manage to snap a couple pictures, though. Our last stop on the tour was the museum––a French drugstore that had been established in 1882. It had been closed down in the early 60’s; however, it had been preserved as it was on the day of closure. The walls were lined with jars of drugs and herbs, and paraphernalia to mix the medicines. There was also a large collection of books filled with the potions. The pictures I took speak volumes.
We arrived back to our hotel shortly after five. K and I felt sorry for the guys who were supposed to have enjoyed a day of deep ocean fishing; however, due to the windy weather their trip was cancelled. They were quite happy, though, to say the least, having spent the day poolside, playing cards and enjoying the Cuban generosity of free drinks––need I add more!
Ed and I closed the evening off by watching the Cuban show at 9:45. I wanted to get an early night because I was heading to Havana on Friday!
Come back to find out what happened in Havana in my next blog!


Review: Against the Law

Against the Law
Against the Law by Michael C. Eberhardt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Against the Law” by Michael C. Eberhardt kept me riveted to the edge of my chair from the opening page to the closing period. The only difficulty I had was some of the Hawai’ian expressions; however, I was so wrapped up in the story, I found those irrelevant.

Dan Carrier, the main character, is a man of integrity. He is a PA in the D.A. office, and he likes to look at all the facts before making a decision, especially when it concerns someone’s life. When Peter Maikai, a leader in the Hawaiian grassroots movement, is arrested for murdering the governor, Dan does not believe Maikai is capable of such a deed. Despite the bad blood that has existed for years between the two men, because of Dan’s youthful relationship with Maikai’s daughter, Lily, Dan stands up to the establishment, insisting Maikai is innocent.

What happens at the trial, opens a can of worms, revealing a corruption that goes deeper than Dan could have imagined. Maikai has a heart attack and dies. Case closed … not to Dan!

If you love a good mystery with lots of twists and turns that will keep you guessing, you will not be disappointed with “Against the Law.”

View all my reviews



Part Three

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour


The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!

            On with the story…

            Day four turned out to be a fabulous day, despite the fact that I was not aware of exactly what we were doing, other than the fact we were going to visit one of the families our friends knew. How long this visit was going to be, was a mystery, though.

            We set off around 10:00 in a van that Victor had rented. Along the way, as was becoming my signature, I snapped pictures through the van window, trying to capture the real Cuba. I managed to trap some of it in my camera but missed quite a bit. I was particularly interested in pictures of horses, cows, and goats grazing along the roadside, or tied in someone’s front yard; however, due to the speed of the van, I missed most of these shots. I rationalized I still had another four or five days.

            Upon arrival at the home of the friends, I experienced a humbling moment––strangers being welcomed with such open arms. The house itself was modern in comparison to many around it; however, it had taken 12 years to bring it to that point. At one time, according to V, the family used to run a restaurant from the house. He showed me the outdoor kitchen and, of course, I snapped pictures of the grill and wares they had used.

            The gifts that were brought for the family were spread out on the table. You would have thought it was Christmas, only I could see that these gifts, no matter how small or insignificant we might have thought them to be, (like candies and toothpaste) were accepted by truly grateful hearts. Would the adults and children in our country show such gratitude?

            The tiny house was filled with joy and laughter, and sharing of stories. Luckily, some of the family knew enough English to translate for the rest of us. In many ways, it reminded me of a Lebanese family (I married into a Lebanese family)––the greeted embraces, accompanied by a kiss of the cheek to complete strangers, and everyone talking at once.

            The family cooked some fish the uncle had caught the day before. It was meant to be an appetizer to hold us over until we had lunch at the restaurant. Alex and I (due to our gluten allergy) had a rice cake with peanut butter and jam beforehand, and we were scolded for eating in the living room when there was a perfectly good kitchen table!

            Eventually, we set off for the restaurant, which was about a ten minute walk from the house. The restaurant sat by the ocean, was open-walled and had a thatched roof. It was called La Salsa, and had a sizeable painting of a Salsa dancer on the wall at the entrance. Alex insisted on a picture.

            The funniest thing happened here––something we here in this country would find hard to believe. I don’t think I will ever complain about a broken door on a bathroom stall again, or, for that matter, a broken toilet seat! Despite the newness of the bathroom fixtures, there were two things missing––toilet seats and doors on the stalls! We were laughing and joking, and I took a picture of Alex, B, and L with just their heads peeking out the end of the stall! I was told it was to be a framed picture for the wall at the Knight’s of Columbus back in our home town. Well, at least the toilette paper was free, which in several washrooms throughout Cuba it is not. Someone stands outside the restroom, with a roll of paper, and you are expected to pay a peso for a piece. We had been warned about this, so always took along our own supply.

            When the family found out I was a writer, it was as though I was someone truly remarkable, and there was such reverence in their voices when they spoke to me. I was touched beyond words. I have promised to send a collection of my poetry and short stories for them to read. One of the family members is a musician and has the heart of an artist. He had been out of work for several months, just recently having attained a job. He hoped that would improve the depression he had fallen into. His sister is studying to be a doctor, and his nephew is working in the tourist industry. The little boy, son of another sister, was enthralled with the game system one of our group members gave him. Interesting enough, the matriarch of the family was a lawyer, and at one time had worked for the Castro government, yet she was so humble––one would never have guessed.

Of course, I snapped numerous pictures as we walked to the restaurant, and returned to the house, and of the inhabitants and street upon which this family lived––real Cuba––life as we would never dream. Our students, here at home, who go on school trips around the world to more affluent countries, should plan an excursion to a country like Cuba, in order to begin to appreciate the value of what they have in their own country.

One odd thing I noticed was water heaters on the roofs of houses––solar energy––I bet, in the mornings, or at night, you want to be first in the shower! Also, the old cars––wow!––cars most of us discarded years ago, from the 50’s and 60’s, still running (although the fumes were exhausting!) I managed to snap some pictures of school children, all in uniform. The colour of the uniform depicts which level they are in school. Education in Cuba is free, even at the university level. However, in order to get into university, one must pass an extremely difficult test. If they don’t pass, they are still able to go to college in order to learn a trade. There are also military schools, and, as in our country, the students can learn a trade there, as well.

            The van arrived around 5:30 to pick us up and return us to our hotel. The goodbyes took over ten minutes with everyone kissing everyone and hugging over and over again. I even noticed tears in the eyes of the family members, as though we were old and cherished friends. It had been a wonderful, and an educational day.

            To finish off the day, once we were back at the resort, Ed stayed back, partying with the group while Alex and I attended the night time International Show. The dancers were not bad––an enjoyable hour to finish off a  lovely day.

Day five…

            Up early, as usual. It was dark out, and Ed and Alex were still sleeping. I turned the balcony light on, and stepped out there with my vampire novel, thinking to do a bit of work on it. A few pages would be better than none at all.

            Breakfast was the usual for me––eggs. Ed was not feeling well at all, so he went back to the room to lie down. Plus, he was waiting for a phone call regarding a possible trip to Havana. I took a short walk to the ocean while Alex worked out at the gym. Back to the room to check on Ed and to see if there had been a phone call––not yet, and Ed was still under the weather. Out to the pool for a swim … Alex sunbathed, despite the fact there wasn’t much sun. Continued to check in with Ed … still no phone call. Checked at the front desk––nothing. Well, not to belabour the situation, the Havana group trip was a no-go. Our contact had tried to reach us, and the hotel told him we didn’t have phone service in our room! I was frustrated. I wanted to go to Havana, so I asked Ed if he minded if I went on my own––I would be safe with the tour group. Settled. I booked my trip to Havana for Friday.

            Stay tuned for part four of “What Happens in Cuba, Stays in Cuba”…my trips to Mantanza and Havana!

Review: The Seventh Commandment

The Seventh Commandment
The Seventh Commandment by Lawrence Sanders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Seventh Commandment by Lawrene Sanders had me hooked from the first page. I started it in the morning, and finished it in the early evening.

Dora Conti, who is an insurance investigator, gets sent on the tough cases. What I find ingratiating is that Dora, the heroine in this story, is not a super model type – she is an average looking woman, slightly overweight, but with a mind as sharp as nails when it came to getting down to the nitty-gritty truth of matters. Dora’s boss sends her to New York to investigate the death of the Starrett family patron who was knifed down in the street. The Starrett family owned high-end jewelry stores all over the world.

Page after page unfolds another twist and turn in the story. Dora plods along, working with John Wenden, a NY cop who develops a crush on Dora. However, Dora, as tempted as she might be by the flatery John pours on her, keeps telling John that she is a happily married woman. Does she succumb to his advances – read the book (LOL)

The Starrett family, and those who surround them, are a mysterious lot whose lives have become entwined with lust, greed, and murder after murder. Just when Dora thinks she has it all figured out, another body shows up dead, and it is usually the person she was thinking might be the mastermind behind the entire sordid affair. However, as Dora digs deeper, she discovers something even more sinister – something that steps outside the luxurious world of the Starrett empire.

For anyone who loves a great murder/mystery, The Seventh Commandment is a must read!

View all my reviews

Review: Road to Perdition

Road to Perdition
Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having seen the movie, “Road to Perdition,” I thought to read the book. I was not disappointed. I enjoyed the fact that the movie did not deviate from what the author wrote, as so many other movies tend to do.

The 1920’s and 1930’s were a very different world from what we live in, however this story still has a grain of the truth that lies inside parents … we don’t want our children to fall into some of the traps we found ourselves entwined in.

Michael Sullivan, a professional hit man, finds that he is in a position where his loyalty cannot be sacrificed, despite his love for the man, Rooney, who has been like a father to him, and also his employer/benefactor. This same man was a “grandfather” to Michael’s sons, as well. However, when push came to shove, Rooney proved to Micheal that blood was thicker than water when he supported his less-than-desireable son’s actions, and Michael had no choice but to protect his own son, not only from the mob, but from following the same path that he had.

A well written novel that will keep you turning the pages.

View all my reviews