Category Archives: Our Travels

Zimbabwe Africa Safari: One Thing We Did That Takes Nerve

After tracking the Big 5 in South Africa, we set our sights on one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

This led to an interesting encounter that took a bit of nerve — more about that later.  This area of Africa is at the cross section of 4 countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

You’ve probably seen Niagra Falls – an enormous waterfall that borders the USA and Canada. Victoria Falls, bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia has been billed as the greatest falling curtain of water on this planet, making it one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Victoria Falls

It is enormous and awe-inspiring. There are some small pools of water at the edge of the falls and we saw people swimming right up to the edge of the falls, we did not have time to do that but it would have been incredible.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

Zambezi River Sunset Cruise

The Zambezi River feeds Victoria Falls and we took a sunset cruise along the banks of the river. It’s all you-can-drink as you meander down the river. Arriving at the launch point, we saw warthogs grazing on the property.

Zambezi River Warthogs

It’s interesting that they take a kneeled posture to get closer to the ground as they graze. You can see that a lot of the grass has been cleared by their efforts.

Zambezi River Warthogs Kneeling

In South Africa, elephants eluded us until our last day and were the last of the Big 5 we spotted. On the sunset cruise, it took all of 5 minutes to spot an elephant drinking from the river.

We also saw a hippo family with a baby hippo following close behind.

Zambezi River Hippos

As we floated quietly down the river, we saw a tower of giraffes feeding. The guide said that it is not an everyday occasion to see a giraffe. As we cruised down the river, sipped on cocktails and took in the view, we discovered how unencumbered wildlife is in Africa.

Lion Encounter

Earlier, I mentioned that we did something that takes a bit of nerve. Just outside of Victoria Falls is an active conservation program called Lion Encounter. Here, you can get up close and personal with lions.

Lion Encounter Petting

These lions are actually cubs – 19 months old. They were born in this conservation park and will eventually be put into the wild. Lion Encounter was started to raise money to conserve lions and to prevent poaching.

Are these lions tame? No, they are wild animals and they hunt game right in the conservation park. The rangers told us that this pair recently killed a baboon and zebra. However, they’ve become accustomed to people and aren’t likely to attack. In our group, there was a ranger with a gun (just in case), nicknamed Rambo!

During your visit, you can walk with the lions. You must carry a stick because in the unlikely event they get unruly, it takes their mind off attacking you if you dangle the stick in front of them.

Lion Encounter Walk

It was a treat to spend time with these magnificent beasts and to learn about the conservation efforts to prevent them from becoming extinct.

Lion Encounter Cubs

Would you have the nerve to walk with them?

Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana

Just a 2-hour drive from Victoria Falls is a game reserve called Chobe.  It’s unique in that it offers a river and land safari so you get to see wildlife in their native habitat from boat and land cruiser. We started our adventure by boat and as we cruised out to the Zambezi River, you immediately appreciate the scenery.

Chobe Marine Island

Pictures don’t do justice to how pretty this place is. You see all kinds of wildlife, like the Cape Buffalo grazing below.

Chobe Marine Hippos

Crocodiles and hippos bask in the sun and you see more birds than you can easily recognize.

Chobe Crocadiles

Chobe Hippos

Chobe Birds

As we meandered down the river, we saw a heard of elephant crossing the river ahead. They don’t seem fazed by the depth of the water, they just swim until they reach the other side.

Chobe Elephants

The younger elephants stop on the other side to play in the mud, using their trunk to stream mud and water onto their back.

Chobe Elephants Playing

As you cruise down the river, you cross over from Botswana to Namibia. As you cruise the river, you see hard-to-reach villas lining the shore.

Namibia Villas

There is even a bar and restaurant called “The Raft” that is only accessible by boat.

Namibia Floating Bar

Many of the locals live along the shore and take a water taxi to get to the mainland each day.

Namibia Water Taxis

After the water safari, we boarded a land cruiser and continued our journey. Not as impressive as the water safari but it does offer a different view.

Chobe Land Cruiser

Along the way, we saw giraffe, monkeys, impala, and kudu.

Chobe Giraffe

Chobe Monkeys

Chobe Impala

Chobe Kudo

Giraffes are built to eat from the tree tops, it is funny to watch them try to graze on grass.

Chobe Giraffe Kneeling


I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Africa. We also visited Cape Town, South Africa, a beautiful port side city, we will chronicle that trip in a few weeks.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had from the Chobe Marine water safari, couldn’t you imagine hanging out here for a while?

Zambezi River View

South Africa Safari: Bet you can’t name the Big 5

Imagine visiting a land where giants roam the bush with indifference for humankind. True indifference — you’re not a staple of their diet yet they aren’t intimidated or scared of you. That’s when it hits you – Africa is a spectacularly unique destination.

Kapama Private Game Reserve

As you meet others that have visited Africa, the first question is almost always

“did you see the Big 5?”

As soon as we landed in Hoedspruit, South Africa, we were met by a young, funny and quick witted ranger named Ruan. He whisked us off to the Kapama Private Game Reserve. Along the way, he said we would be driving through the private game reserve to our lodge and that we would be on alert for animals along the way.

Young Ranger for Kapama Private Game Reserve

Ruan asked “what did you come to Africa to see?“. I quickly said “elephants and lions” and he said “Can you name the African Big 5?“. Big 5, eh?  Not sure but my guess is “elephant, lion, hippo, giraffe, and zebra”. Well, I got 2 of the Big 5 right, they are:

  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Black Rhino
  • Cape Buffalo
  • Leopard

Just minutes on the way to our lodge we spot a giraffe. We’ve all seen this lanky animal at the zoo but to see it within a stone’s throw away was amazing.  We stopped as it contemplated drinking from a nearby watering hole.


It quickly spotted cousins and made its way to join the pack flanked by a lone zebra. By the way, a group of the giraffe is called a Tower, you can kinda see why:

Tower of Giraffe

At that moment, Ruan grabs his binoculars and excitingly focuses them in the distance. He sees something a half mile away and tells us to hold on. With dust flying and our backs pasted to the seat, we go flying down the road to come to an abrupt stop. As if seeing it for the first time, Ruan exclaims that one of the more difficult-to-find of the Big 5 is just ahead. He kills the engine and we wait as the giants make their way within feet of our land cruiser.


If you’ve never seen a Rhino in person or especially without any protection between you and this mammoth animal, it’s a bit intimidating.


Ruan explains the plight of Rhino. They are often poached for their horns, as just a small section of the horn can sell for over $100,000. When Rhinos mate, it can last for up to 45 minutes and local folklore mistakenly suggests that eating Rhino horn can increase your stamina. Go figure. It’s become a huge problem in South Africa, about 2,000 of these wonderful animals have been poached in the last year.

As we continue our journey to the lodge, we see a few more animals, mostly antelope. In less than an hour, we’ve already spotted one of the Big 5.

Wow, this is going to be a great trip! 

Kapama Karula Lodge

Once we arrive at the lodge, we are greeted by name by the staff at Kapama Karula. This professional staff is very welcoming and give us a tour of the place. Their reputation is well deserved — they realize you’ve come a long way at considerable expense and want to ensure that you enjoy the absolute best experience possible.

After providing refreshments, they show us to our private villa, an incredible lodge complete with a huge deck with a private pool with direct views of the bush.

Kapama Karula Pool

View from the pool

The accommodations are 5-star, with beautiful architecture. It comes with a fireplace, private pool, indoor and outdoor showers, soaking tub and incredible furnishings. The staff explains that the mini bar is fully stocked, anything we desire in food and drink is at no additional cost — enjoy everything they have to offer.

Kapama Karula Bedroom

Kapama Karula Bathroom

Twice Daily Game Drives

Each day, we were awakened at 5:30 a.m. for our first game drive. It’s a bit cold — South Africa is in the southern hemisphere so our summer is their winter. Most days, it starts out at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. We make our way to the restaurant for a quick snack before we start our game drive. We again are greeted by name by our assigned waiter. His name is Themba, a native South African with a kind manner and eager spirit. We sit by the fire as we enjoy a cappuccino and pastries as we anticipate our day.

At 6 a.m., it’s time for our first-morning game drive. Ruan introduces us to our tracker, a native South African named Nick that grew up in the bush. As a young boy, Nick learned to read animal tracks to determine which way animals are migrating. Nick sits at the front of the land cruiser and instructs Ruan as to where to go as he reads fresh tracks along our path. The picture below is not of Nick (it was another oncoming tracker), but it illuminates the vulnerable position of the tracker — they can be very close and unprotected from big game.

Safari Tracking

Although chilly, they provide blankets and a warming pad for the morning game drive. My hope was that we would see a lion today and it wasn’t long before Nick was hot on the trail of a pride of lions that we quickly found.


The lioness had cubs that were just a few weeks old. They were running around playfully, learning to become quick and nimble. In the afternoon game drive, Ruan told us of 3 male lions called “the 3 brothers” that had formed an alliance to take over the pride from an older lion. The brothers were about 4 years old and during the day they would hunt independently and come together at night. We were fortunate to track the 3 brothers on the first night and saw them at dusk taking a nap.

The next day during our drive, we spotted one of the 3 brothers out hunting. We watched as he walked across the bush in search of a warthog, one of their main staples.

Lion on the Prowl

As we approached the massive lion, he seemed oblivious. It was a bit eery as he made his way within feet of our land cruiser. If he made a quick jump, we could be his next meal.

Lions in Kapama Private Game Reserve

He had his sights set upon a warthog just a few hundred feet ahead. The lion began to crouch as he made his way towards the warthog who got spooked and luckily made it safely out of harm’s way.


On our second day, we heard that the most elusive of animals had been spotted nearby. It was the leopard, many people on safari never get a glimpse of this elusive animal. We raced out to the spot where he was last seen and as we arrived, he was making his way to the road, spraying his scent as he marked his territory.

Leopard in Kampala Private Game Reserve

As the leopard approached our land cruiser, Ruan warned us to not make any quick movements and not to stand up. I nervously snapped a few pics as the leopard walked a foot from our cruiser.

Leopard up close

After seeing the leopard, Ruan and Nick spotted buffalo tracks. Within 10 minutes, we came across a buffalo heard making their way to their morning drink.

Buffalo in Kampala South Africa

We watched as they drank and playfully splashed around in the pond.

Buffalos at a Watering Hole in Kampala

Wow, in just two days we’ve seen 4 of the Big 5.

In Search of Elephants

Lynn and Ruan have similar personalities. Both are great conversationalist, fun loving and are always joking and teasing, so they got along well. Lynn kept teasing Ruan because he would see animal scat (like a huge pile of Rhino dung) and would pick it up, inspect it for what the animal had recently eaten in an effort to help Nick track its location.

Since we had not seen elephant to round out our Big 5, Lynn and Ruan made a bet. Lynn told Ruan that if he would find elephants, she would pick up some elephant dung. If you know Lynn, she is a slight germaphobe, so picking up dung would certainly be out of character.

It was our last morning drive and we had yet to see any elephants. Ruan and Nick spent all morning tracking elephants. They spotted tracks and sectioned off quadrants of where they thought the elephant would be. But they were elusive, each time we thought we got close to seeing them, they were nowhere to be found.

Although we saw lots of other animals along the way, I could sense that Ruan and Nick were frustrated that we could not find elephants. We saw zebra, antelope, and Impala.

Zebra in South Africa

Antelopes in South Africa

South African Antelope

As we were finishing our last morning drive, we stumbled on a heard of hippos getting a bit of vitamin D.

Hippo lounging in Kampala

They are loud and rambunctious. We learned that hippos are the most dangerous of all African animals — big, nasty and can sprint at 35 miles per hour on those short legs. If you are between them and their watering hole, you could be in great danger.

We returned from our last morning drive without seeing an elephant. We had scheduled a massage at the lodge spa and that wiped away the disappointment of the elusive elephant. Lynn and I get massages often and we left the spa both thinking that this was the best massage we’ve ever had. The masseuses at Kapama Karula are simply the best.

Settling the Bet

It’s now our last game drive at the Kapama private game reserve and elephants have been elusive. Ruan and Nick are feeling the pressure of their bet with Lynn. They want to track an elephant in return for Lynn stepping out of her comfort zone in picking up and inspecting elephant dung.

We spend hours tracking fresh elephant tracks. Each time we feel we are close to finding them, we speed up to the area they should be and we see no sign of them. It doesn’t look like we are going to see them this trip, but 4 of the Big 5 isn’t bad. I can the see frustration in Ruan and Nick’s eyes as we drive mile after mile with the same result.

Earlier, Lynn and I told Ruan about a recent movie we saw that we really loved called Baby Driver. It is a story about this young gifted driver that was the getaway driver for a gang of robbers. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a must — one of the best movies we’ve seen in a long time.  Ruan is a great ranger and incredible driver, so much so that Lynn teased Ruan as being “Baby Driver”.

The sun is setting, it’s our last game drive. The prospects of finding elephant look dim and Ruan apologizes to Lynn for not spotting any elephants. We stopped at a water hole and Ruan asked if Lynn would still pick up the elephant dung. Lynn’s a good sport and decided to do it even though we had not seen an elephant.  The picture below doesn’t do it justice, but Lynn was squirming back and forth as she handled the dung.

Lynn and Baby Driver picking up elephant dung

We decided to make our way back to the lodge and along the way, Nick spots more elephant dung and fresh tracks. Ruan quickly reverses the land cruiser in the direction of the tracks and speeds forward. After a couple of turns, I hear Ruan exclaim “there they are!“. In front of us stood not just one, but a huge herd of elephants.

Elephant in South Africa

Mission accomplished.


I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Africa. We visited a lot more areas than just Kapama, I will be chronicling those visits in the coming weeks.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had each day at the end of a game drive as we made our way back to the Kapama Karula lodge.

Sunset at Kapama Karula

If you are planning an African safari, I can’t say enough about the warmness of the staff at Kapama Karula lodge. If you want to learn more about Kapama Karula lodge, click here.

Cuba: Living Like it’s 1960

As mentioned in our last blog post, my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Cuba. Visiting Cuba is like stepping back in time — to the 1960’s. This post is to provide a little background information on Cuba (based on what we learned and by talking with Cubans). The Cuban people are friendly, warm, and welcoming to Americans.

Cuba From Ocean View

A Bit of Cuban History

Up until 1492, Cuba had been inhabited for 10,000 years by an indigenous people, similar to our Native Americans. The Spanish (Christopher Columbus) began conquering the island in 1492 and eventually killed off the indigenous population with European disease. The Spanish ruled until 1898 when Cuban and American forces defeated the Spanish in the Spanish-American War and made Cuba a free land.

After the war, America occupied Cuba for a few years as it transitioned to a democratic nation with elected officials. Corruption was rampant and the American mob began running the island with the backing of President Batista during the 1950’s.

In 1953, Fidel Castro (a well-educated lawyer) with a group of other intellectuals wanted to overthrow Batista by storming the Moncada Barracks, you can still see the bullet holes in the front of the building. Fidel’s aim was to free the Cuban people from corruption, eliminate the mob, provide literacy training for all Cubans and to provide a better life for Cubans.

Moncada Barracks Cuba

The coup attempt effort failed and the members of Fidel’s group were either killed or jailed. Fidel was sentenced to 15 years but was soon released by Batista as amnesty was given to many political prisoners. Fidel fled to Mexico and resurrected his attempt to overthrow the government. He succeeded in 1959 and Batista fled the country.  Fidel ruled the country as a communist state until his death in 2016.

Why Were Americans Banned from Visiting?

America provided arms to Batista during the revolution and Fidel resented it. In 1961, the USA also tried to overthrow Fidel’s new government when the CIA invaded the country at the Bay of Pigs but the attempt was thwarted. Relations deteriorated as Cuba began imposing high import taxes on American goods. America responded by imposing a trade embargo, not allowing any American companies to do business with Cuba and preventing Americans from visiting.

Cuba High Rises

The Soviet Union seized this opportunity by offering to support Cuba by replacing all American trade with Russian trade — Russia would purchase anything America was blocking with the trade embargo. As Russia and Cuba solidified a closer relationship, Cuba transitioned to a Communist state.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In1962, relations deteriorated with Cuba and Russia when American spy satellites spotted Soviet nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba, pointed at the USA. This resulted in a dangerous confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union, bringing the USA to DEFCON2 level — the closest we’ve ever been to a nuclear war.  After tense negotiations, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev quelled the crisis by Russia agreeing to remove the missiles if the USA agreed to remove nuclear missiles in Turkey and agree not to attack Cuba. If you want to learn more about this, check out this article.

The Cuban Revolution

After Cuba and the USA cut ties, Cuba began trading with Russia and transitioned to a Communist state. Cuba nationalized all American owned companies, which means the Cuban government took over the companies, the casinos that were previously run by the mob, and took possession of all of the mansions that lined the coast of Havana.

Cuban Mansions

Castro gave these mansions to Cuban peasants with several families living in the same home — an incredible improvement in their lifestyle. They also turned many of them into government offices.

Cuba Forts

Castro also implemented a 1-year project (Cuban Literacy Campaign) to eradicate illiteracy in small towns all around Cuba where literacy was just 60%. The effort was implemented by deploying teenagers, young adults and teachers all around Cuba to teach illiterate Cubans to read and write Spanish. This campaign was very successful, resulting in 96% of Cubans becoming literate within a year. Many of the Literacy Campaign’s volunteers went on to pursue teaching careers, and the rate of teachers is now 11 times higher than it was before the revolution.

A Socialist Cuba

As Cuba converted to Communism, the government continued to trade heavily with the Soviet Union and many Cubans will tell you that life felt better than when under Batista’s regime. Although Cubans could not start their own businesses, they received food, free education and healthcare, cheap housing and employment from the government.  Many of the peasants felt much better off but entrepreneurial Cubans felt trapped and many fled the country.

However, the government did not invest in Cuban infrastructure. We visited many parts of the town and you can see the impact of that with buildings beginning to crumble from neglect. Cuba is now starting to invest in renewing buildings but the problem is overwhelming.

Cuban Neglected Buildings

Cuba Neglected Buildings 2

This is not to say that Cuba does not have beautiful buildings, they really do. There are squares and really old buildings that are impressive, especially in Old Havana, where you see cobblestone streets and Spanish-inspired buildings.

Cuban Squares

Cuban New Architecture

Cuban Squares

As you take tours, they take you to the new Havana and they are very proud of this area. However, to Americans, it feels like a place stuck in time. The buildings are reminiscent of 1960, with an architecture similar to what you would have seen in 1960’s Miami.

Cuba New Architecture

Cuba New Architecture 2

Cuban New Architecture 3

And of course, you see all of the wonderful 1950 American cars. You will see some newer Russian and Cuban cars but about 70% of their cars are pristine 1950’s American cars. It is like being stuck in time — in a wonderful way.

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

American 1950 Cars in Cuba 2

American 1950 Cars in Cuba 3

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

American 1950 Cars in Cuba

Normalizing Relations with the United States

After Fidel Castro’s death, the USA and Cuba began normalizing relations. This now allows us to travel to Cuba as long as we do in as an Educational Exchange tour. I actually prefer this because you get to learn a lot about Cuba.

It’s not fully normalized yet. For example, if you bring American currency, they charge you a 10% tax just for converting the money. If you are planning to go to Cuba, purchase Euro or Canadian dollars from your local bank and convert those when you get to Cuba so that you don’t incur the 10% penalty.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Cuba was left without a major trading partner and it really affected them economically. The average wage for a Cuban working for the government is just $25 per month but most get their basic needs met from the government with free education, healthcare, low-cost housing, and food.

Cubans are also resourceful. Many Cubans have relatives living in other countries that send money. Tour guides also take tips so they can earn hundreds of dollars per day — much more than the normal Cuban government wage.  We found Cuba to be extremely safe, you can walk around at night with no worries. The people are incredibly friendly and appreciate the warming of relations with America. Although they have endured hardship from their government, they are a proud people who love their country.

Now is a great time to visit Cuba because it still feels like a land stuck in time. Eventually, as normalization matures, Cuba will become more wealthy and this nostalgic feeling will subside.

Things to See

When visiting Havana, you will obviously want to visit Old and New Havana. But here are a few things you will surely want see that’s a little off the beaten path.


Fusterlandia is a town on the outskirts of Havana that was renovated with ceramic tiles by a local artisan, fashioned after the works of Gaudi.  When we visited Spain, we saw similar architecture by Gaudi in Park Guell.





Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for over 10 years and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls there. One of his favorite hangouts was the Floridita, the birthplace of the daiquiri. Enjoy latin music and sip on the best daiquiri you will ever drink.


Old American Car Tour

For just $40 an hour, get a personalized tour of Havana in an old American car. Our driver took us to find Cuban cigars, to a nature preserve and a ride along the ocean.

American Cars

American Car Tour

American Car Tour


I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Cuba, you can see last month’s post about Cuba here.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had as we entered the bay into Havana as we viewed the iconic Morro Castle.

Morro Castle



Havana Cuba: Cigars and old American Cars

My wife and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and began looking for a unique trip to remember. Previously forbidden for Americans, Cuba fit the bill and did not disappoint. In fact, it’s the best trip we’ve taken in a long time.

Havana Cuba Old American Car

Where is Cuba?

Cuba is the largest Caribbean island (about the size of Florida) and sits between Florida and Jamaica.

Map of Cuba

We elected to take a cruise from Jamaica (we spent a couple of days in Jamaica first) with Celestyal Cruises. The cruise took us to Santiago de Cuba, then to Havana, and finally to Cienfuegos. Because it was an educational exchange, we learned about Cuban history, the culture, the people, and the normalization process with America.

Celestyal Cruises

Why Cuba?

What made us want to go to Cuba? Until just 3 years ago, it was a forbidden land for Americans. Even now, the only way to go to the island is via an educational exchange tour where you learn about the history and culture of Cuba. I’ll talk more about Cuba history and why Americans were forbidden to travel there in an upcoming blog, but if you want to know more check out the Netflix series called The Cuba Libre Story.

Santiago del Cuba

Old American Cars

Havana is the capital of Cuba and the most vibrant city we’ve visited in a while.  It feels like a city stuck in time. Because of the American embargo, Cubans could no longer purchase American cars after 1960 so the streets are full of beautiful American cars from the 50’s and the buildings look like buildings you would have seen in 1960’s America.

American Cars in Cuba

Old American Cars Cuba

Old American Cars Cuba

Old American cars were everywhere. Not just a few — tons of them.

You can grab a taxi tour in an old car for about $40 an hour. Lynn and I took a 2-hour tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our drivers were 2 young men (23 and 21-year-old brothers) whose vintage car was handed down from their Dad. They took us to the major sites of the city and by special request, they helped us track down a specific type of cigar we were looking for (Montecristo number 2).

Cuban Cigars

Before leaving for our trip, I had 10 people ask me to buy as many cigars as possible to share with them.  As you may know, we can’t buy Cuban cigars in the USA and that’s what makes them so special.

With cigars, you have to keep them in an environment that’s about 70 degrees and 70 percent humidity or they will dry out. Cuban cigars are not cheap — between $10 and $30 per cigar is the norm, so you don’t want to pay that kind of money and have them dry out.

I decided to purchase enough cigars to give to a few to friends and keep a few. You can bring back 50 cigars per person but I brought back 38. I also bought a few humidors to ensure that they kept to 70/70 for the temperature and humidity. That amount filled an entire backpack. In hindsight, I probably could have brought back 100 (50 for me and 50 for Lynn) and put them in a humidor once I got back to the states because it is humid enough in Cuba and they would not have dried up by the time I made it back.

I had never smoked a Cuban cigar before now. I did a bit of research and found that the most popular brand is Cohiba. They range in cost from $10 to $50 each, the ones I purchased were just over $20 each.

Another popular brand is Montecristo. In fact, Montecristo number 2 was voted best cigar in Cuba a few years back, so that intrigued me. The cost ranges from $10 to $30 per cigar. Finding the Montecristo number 2 became a challenge because they are so popular. We visited about 5 cigar shops before I finally found them so I purchased more of these than the Cohiba.

I’m not much of a cigar smoker and have only smoked a few cigars over the years. I’ve never had a good cigar before I found the Montecristo cigar and boy do I get it now. What a great cigar, it has a smooth taste, does not leave a bitter aftertaste and does not wreck your throat the next morning.

The Floridita

Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for over 10 years and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls there. One of his favorite hangouts was the Floridita, the birthplace of the daiquiri. Lynn and I made our way there.

Ernest Hemingway

As we walked in, a Cuban band was playing latin music so we moseyed up to the bar and ordered a Mojito (a popular Cuban drink). The bartender said, “you sure you don’t want a daiquiri”?  Not thinking, we said “no” and the Mojito was great. Then we noticed everyone was ordering daiquiris and finally saw the sign saying that it was invented there. Wow, the best daiquiris we’ve ever had. One turned into two, two turned into three — you get the picture.

Floridita Cuba


I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Cuba, keep an eye out for upcoming blogs on Cuba where I will explain more about the history and culture.

We found the Cuban people to be warm, inviting and full of passion. They love to dance and to spend time with friends and family. Even though they’ve gone through hardships economically and politically over the years, they take great pride in their homeland and are glad that relations with America are finally normalizing.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had as we entered the bay into Havana.

Havana Cuba Bay



Lush Rain Forests of Tahiti

It was 2010, just a year after selling our business, and our boys were 16 and 17 years old at the time.  On our way to Bora Bora, we spent a few days in Tahiti.  Tahiti is in French Polynesia, halfway between the USA and Australia.

Tahiti map

If you zoom in, you can see that Tahiti looks like an infinity symbol. The left part of the infinity symbol is Tahiti Nui and the right part is Tahiti Iti.

Tahiti map

Tahiti was settled in about 1,300 BC by Southeast Asians wanting to expand east.  It is part of the “Polynesian Triangle” which includes Hawaii to the north, Easter Island to the southeast, and New Zealand to the southwest. Tahiti has lush rain forests, waterfalls, lagoons, and black-sand beaches.

Tahiti Waterfalls

This was the view from our hotel room, the island you see in the distance is Moorea.

Tahiti Acommodations

During our stay, we took a bumpy ride deep into the rain forests in a 4-wheel drive.

Tahiti 4 Wheel Drive

Along the way, we stopped at massive waterfalls, water vapors filled the air as we got closer.

Tahiti Waterfalls

We visited several swimming holes where the boys and I practiced doing cannon balls after hurling ourselves off the rocks.

Tahiti Rock Diving

As we ventured deeper into the jungle, we arrived at a mountain home owned by a friend of our guide. We took that opportunity to learn more about their culture and to take in the views.

Tahiti Mountain House

Our guide was Polynesian. He sported many tattoos, each thoughtfully inked based on family stories. He told us that he continues to expand his tattoos as he ages and accumulates more life experiences.

Tahiti Tattoos

The word tattoo originated in French Polynesia. The legend of Tohu, the god of tattoo, describes painting all the oceans’ fish in beautiful colors and patterns. In Polynesian culture, tattoos have long been considered signs of beauty, and in earlier times were ceremoniously applied when reaching adolescence.

Tahiti Tattoo


I hope you enjoyed this little blast-from-the-past of our trip to Tahiti. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture taken on the flight from Tahiti to Bora Bora. If you would like to see more pictures from our Bora Bora trip, click here.

Flight to Bora Bora




Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen): Mexico’s Caribbean Coastline

Slide the dial back to 2006 and our boys were 12 and 13 years old. After working long hours building our business, Lynn and I planned a family vacation to Riviera Maya, Mexico’s Caribbean coastline.

Playa del Carman

Located on the northeastern Yucatán Peninsula just south of Cancun, Riviera Maya has beautiful white sand beaches flanked by ancient Mayan ruins.

Play del Carman Mexico

Playa del Carmen Mexico

Playa del Carmen is a popular vacation destination for many Americans because it is relatively inexpensive, quick to travel to and offers access to a culture different from our own. It has also been popular with TV shows, as The Real Housewives of Vancouver shot a couple of episodes here as well as appearances on The Amazing Race and The Celebrity Mole.

Playa del Carmen resorts

Tulum Mexico

Just south of Playa del Carmen is Tulum, an ancient Mayan port city. Tulum was a thriving Mayan port during the 13th and 15th centuries, and was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya.  We took an excursion to visit the ruins and they did not disappoint.

Tulum Mayan Ruins

Mayan Ruins Tulum Mexico

On our way back from visiting the ruins, we stopped by a Mayan village. The villagers still live in small shacks with dirt floors and hammocks for beds. As we arrived, a group of women were making fresh tortillas and generously offered us a taste. It was the freshest and best tasting tortilla I’ve ever had.

Mayan Ruins Tulum

Xcaret Park

On our flight to Mexico, I was chatting with a couple that talked about a prior visit to Playa del Carmen. They said that when visiting, I had to go to Xcaret Park, so we planned an excursion.

Xcaret Park Mexico

Xcaret Park is an ecological park with jungles, beaches, caves, sinkholes and underground rivers.  It also sits atop an archaeological site.

XCaret Mexico Ruins

This was the first time I had ever done Snuba. Snuba is a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving. You wear a mask similar to scuba but the tank floats across the top of the water and moves with you. It is for shallow diving (about 15 feet) but gives you a taste of scuba diving without having to be certified.

Snuba Xcaret Mexico

Around Riviera Maya

We also ventured out a few times around the Riviera Maya area. We took a tour that had us cliff jumping. Well, I say us, Lynn watched safely from the shore. She almost had a heart attack as I coaxed our 12 and 13-year-old boys to jump off the cliff. As you can see below, Ryan took the plunge just after me. Cameron followed.

Cliff Jumping Riviera Maya

We also visited caves that normally just the locals visit, it was a treat to get off the beaten path.

Mexico grotto

We took turns diving off the rocks.

Mexico Caves


I hope you enjoyed this little blast-from-the-past of our trip to Mexico. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with one last picture of Cameron lazying around in Riviera Maya.

Riviera Maya




Dolphins and More in the Big Island Hawaii

This is another post from past travels our family took prior to me starting this blog. It was 2005 and our boys were 10 and 12 years old at the time.  Since we had already gone to a couple of Hawaii Islands (Oahu and Maui), it was time for something a bit different – The Big Island.

The Big Island is the biggest of all Hawaii islands and the first to be occupied. The Big Island was believed to be the first island Polynesian voyagers from the Marquesas Islands set foot on 1,500 years ago.


When we first stepped off the plane, we knew this island was like no other. Many of the areas of the island are volcanic rock.



Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

One of first excursions was to visit Kaloko-Honokohau, a site early Hawaiians settled. They built sacred temples here and created fishponds that trapped fish.



You can see old artifacts that illustrate what life may have been like many years ago. The carving below was interesting enough to entice Ryan to stop using his Gameboy for a few minutes.




Here is a fishpond that would be used to trap fish to feed the locals.



Swimming with Dolphins

We arranged for the boys to swim with dolphins through Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and they loved it.  The dolphins are well trained and really put on a show.




The Green Sand Beach (Papakolea)

The locals kept talking about the Green Sand Beach and how beautiful it was. So we took the 2.5 hour drive along the Kohola Coast to find the trailhead.


What we didn’t realize was that it was another 2.5 mile hike just to get to the beach. Ryan was about to have a melt down by the time we made it there, as evidenced in the picture below.


But it was definitely worth the hike, it is beautiful.


The green sand gets its color from olivine crystals created from eruptions to a dormant volcano years ago. Nestled in Mahana Bay, this is truly a unique place and one of only two green sand beaches in the world.

Traveling around the Island

We saw most of the island and even took a helicopter ride to see the volcanic ash create new land along the ocean coast. I would love to show you those pictures but I accidentally deleted all of those pictures right after we returned. But I did save some of our pictures as we traveled around the island.





I hope you enjoyed this little blast-from-the-past of our trip to the Big Island. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of Cameron and Ryan.



Stingrays and Turtles in the Cayman Islands

This post is a blast-from-the-past. I started this blog after I retired in 2009 but we vacationed as a family since the boys were in diapers and experienced some amazing trips. So I figured I would go back and pull pictures from some of those old trips and post them on our blog.

We visited the Cayman Islands in May of 2001. Cameron was about 7.5 years old and Ryan was almost 6.

Cayman Islands 2001

Cayman Islands

If you’ve never visited the Cayman Islands, it’s located in the Caribbean just west of Jamaica.


A British territory, the Cayman Islands was first discovered in 1503 by Christopher Columbus. He originally named it Los Tortugas because Tortugas means “turtle” in Spanish and reporting seeing lots of sea turtles on his first visit.

Cayman Turtle Centre

We visited the Cayman Turtle Centre where you can hold turtles of different sizes, check out their website here.


Stingray City

They also have a hefty population of stingrays. We visited Stingray City, a shallow area in the surrounding waters of the Cayman Islands where stingrays will feed out of your hands.


Ryan was a bit unsure what to think of the stingrays but our guide eased his fears. After feeding this one, it crept up on my arm and I felt a sucking sensation on my arm. I almost freaked out to find out that the stingray made a move on me and left a hickey to prove it.


Meanwhile, Cameron sat quietly in the boat as the captain entertained him.


Cayman Island Beaches

The beaches in the Cayman Islands are beautiful. The water is turquoise met by white sand. The boys enjoyed building sand castles, making a sand turtle and lazying around in the hammocks at the resort.




Ryan Being Lazy

Devil’s Hangout

On one of our excursions, we ventured out to the edge of Hell and lived to tell about it.

Aye Matey

On our final excursion, the boys got to captain a pirate ship and were later forced to walk the plank.


Co-Captains of the ship


About to walk the plank


Cameron snagged a life jacket before walking the plank


I hope you enjoyed this little blast-from-the-past of our trip to the Cayman Islands. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of Ryan hanging 10.


Historic St. Andrews and Medieval Edinburgh Scotland

We end our trip to Scotland by stopping off at Culloden, then to a picturesque Blair Castle in Pitlochry, historic St. Andrews and medieval Edinburgh. Here is the path we took on our trip:



The battle of Culloden in 1745 was the last battle between the Scottish and English. You may remember from my earlier blog that King Henry 8th started the protestant movement after the pope refused to allow him to have a divorce from his first wife. This was in 1521 and during the time between 1521 and 1745, Britan’s aim was to spread Protestantism throughout the UK and to convert Catholics to Protestants.

Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart was a Catholic and a Jacobite (loyal to King James) and wanted the Catholics to regain the British throne. Prince Charles was Scottish and he found backing from a long-standing Scottish alley: France. After years of fund-raising and planning for a rebellion, the battle was short. It took less than an hour for the Jacobite rebellion to be over and Culloden was the battlefield.  Almost 2,000 Jacobites were killed in the brief yet bloody battle.

We visited the Culloden battlefield during our visit to Scotland. Not much remains but an open field and a few headstones that mark the clans that participated in the rebellion.

culloden-battlefield fraser-clan-culloden

During our visit to Scotland, I learned a lot of British and Scottish history. One of the travellers in our group mentioned a Starz TV series called Outlander. After returning from our trip, we began to watch the TV series and really enjoyed it.

It begins in 1945 when a British combat nurse witnesses a witch ceremony that transports her back to 1743, just 2 years prior to the battle of Culloden. She falls in love with a Jacobite Scottish warrior who is part of the planning of the rebellion. Being from 1945, she knew the fate of the rebellion and works to try to prevent it. It is a really cool concept for a show.

Blair Castle in Pitlochry

Our next stop was Blair Castle, a castle occupied by several Jacobites including Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart twice.


The castle is quite a spectacle surrounded by beautiful gardens.



Historic St. Andrews

Making our way towards Edinborough, we stopped off at St. Andrews Cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral built in 1158, long before King Henry 8th tried to put Catholicism behind the British empire.


As you can see, it sits in ruins today because in 1559, the new Protestants stripped the cathedral of its altars and images. By 1561, it was abandoned and fell into ruin.


Just steps from the cathedral is the University of St. Andrews, the college where Prince William and Kate met. They pointed out the coffee shop where they met as we made our way to the cathedral.

Our next stop was at the St. Andrews Golf Course, the iconic Scottish golf course that’s known to most as the “home of golf” because golf was first played there in the 15th century.


The Old Course is the home of The Open Championship and has hosted this major 29 times since 1873, most recently in 2015.


Medieval Edinburgh Scotland

Our final stop in Scotland was the Medieval city of Edinburgh. It is also the capital of Scotland and the 2nd most populous city. Notice the castle at the top right of the picture below, it is the Edinburgh Castle.


The castle is heavily fortified with cannons.

edingburgh-castle-2 edingburgh-castle

From the top of the castle, you can see the entire city.


Our guide was a stoutly Scottish fellow with a bit of disdane for the Brits. As he told us about the history of the castle, he intermingled British jabs along the way.


If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, Edinburgh will feel very at home to you. JK Rowling lived here while she wrote the Harry Potter series. She wrote a lot of the script in a coffee shot on Potter street and was influenced by the medieval look of Edinburgh. The owner of that coffee shop was named Harry. Howarts was influenced by this Edinburgh building:


During our stay in Edinburgh, we were lucky that the 2016 Royal Military Tatoo was being held. It was an incredible parade of military bands, music, dance and theater. It is held at the base of the Edinburgh castle at the beginning of nightfall. They shine images on the walls of the castle that are in time with the playing of the band. It’s really not possible to fully appreciate this event unless you see it yourself. One of the more moving parts of the show was a lone bagpipe man playing atop the castle.


I hope you enjoyed following along with our trip to Ireland and Scotland. In case you missed any of the other blog posts, here is a full journey of our trip:

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

Searching for Nessie, 007 and Herding Sheep in Scotland

The next leg of our trip to Scotland takes us to Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle, and to a small sheep farm in the Scottish Highlands. Here’s our route so far:


Loch Ness

From an early age, I learned about the Loch Ness monster. Portrayed as an aquatic dinosaur, it has eluded capture for ages. I was happy that we were visiting the famous home of Nessie.


There have been accounts of an aquatic beast living in Loch Ness for 1,500 years but the first official sighting was in 1933 as reported by the Inverness Courier.  Since then, there have been numerous sightings tracked here.

In the 1960s several British universities launched expeditions to Loch Ness, using sonar to search the deep. Nothing conclusive was found, but in each expedition the sonar operators detected large, moving underwater objects they could not explain. In 1975, Boston’s Academy of Applied Science combined sonar and underwater photography in an expedition to Loch Ness. A photo resulted that, after enhancement, appeared to show the giant flipper of a plesiosaur-like creature.

Loch Ness is a beautiful lake surrounded by rolling hills.


It is a huge lake, there is more water in this lake than all the other lakes in Scotland, England and Wales put together.


The lake is over 22 miles long and a depth of 754 feet.



Our next stop was Inverness. Inverness is located on the River Ness at the end of Loch Ness.


We only spent a few hours in Inverness but if I return I would like to spend a lot more time here. It is a large enough city to have lots of things to do yet it felt like a quaint city with a lot of character.


It also home to the Inverness Castle, a red sandstone structure that was erected in 1836 by architect William Burn.


Earlier castles have stood where Inverness Castle is located today and have been recorded as far back as 1548. Here is a drawing of The Castle of Inverness of 1548 (thanks to Wikipedia for the photo).


Eilean Donan Castle

On our way to Culloden, we made our way to Eilean Donan Castle.


Eilean Donan is one of the most iconic images of Scotland. Located on an island where 3 lakes meet, it is surrounded by beautiful hills, valleys, and lakes.


First inhabited around the 6th century, the first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century and guarded the lands of Kintail. Since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built.

It has also been home to numerous movie sets. In 1986, Highlander was shot here. If you’re a James Bond fan like me, you may remember the 1999 movie “The World is Not Enough“, parts of it were filmed here.


Sheep Herding

It was a real treat to stop at a working sheep farm. I was taken aback at how the farmer had such incredible control over his dogs. He would send a single dog out to round up dozens of sheep and the dog would take direction from whistles and hand gestures.  Many times the dog would be a quarter mile away and could still hear his commands.


Pictures can’t do this justice, you would have to see it in action to truly appreciate it.


Next Stop: Edinburgh

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and I will finish up our trip blog next week. The last blog will cover our visit to Culloden, St. Andrews, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here: