Friday, May 21, 2010

Xbox and the Beta Brain

There are many merits to Xbox, but there are also quite a few reasons why such a pleasurable game can be so detrimental to our younger generation.

What is the Beta Brain?

Firstly we need to understand that the brain operates on 4 different frequency levels, namely; Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta.

The Beta brain wave has the highest frequency between 13 and 40 cycles per second. This is associated with our normal waking state. Beta helps in logical thinking, analysis and active attention function. Stress could throw the frequency to the higher beta range.
Alpha brain wave operates between 8 and 13 cycles per second. This occurs during daydreaming, fantasizing and creative visualization. This is often associated with a deeply relaxed state and meditation.
Theta operates between 4 and 8 cycles per second. Theta is associated with intuition, otherwise known as 'sixth sense' and allows us to access our subconscious. It is activated during dreaming, sleeping and deep meditation states. Theta is also associated with creative thinking, and allows us to tap into our inner genius.
Delta has the lowest frequency between 0.5 and 4 cycles per second. Delta is produced during deep sleep.

So agree with me here; the Beta brain is the one used when we need to react quickly to something, like someone throwing a ball at us, or chasing after a Frisbee.  It’s also the part of the brain that is activated when kids play Xbox or similar computer games, and in particular when kids are gaming, their brains are operating at an even higher frequency cycle due to the associated stress and reaction time required to focus on these games.  Essentially they are developing their Beta Brain.

Years ago we used to complain that video or television games were bad for our kids because they encouraged them to sit on the sofa for an insurmountable amount of time, with the only exercises they got being hand movements.  The drive was to remove the kids from in front of the television or the computer and to get them outdoors to play these games for their health and of course exercises.

Recently a study came out suggesting that these games were in fact not such a bad idea for kids because they encouraged the beta brain to develop.  By encouraging the use of the beta brain one is able to speed it up and thus gain faster mental reaction and process.  Great, wouldn’t you agree?  Indeed.  However there seems to have been one very important factor missing in deriving from this conclusion.

While Xbox games and others are great for our beta brain, they are detrimental when it comes to creating a good conscience, moral fiber and the ability to know the difference between right and wrong.

Xbox encourages kids (and some adults) to react extremely quickly without though process and without conscience.  Thus when it comes to a game of shooting the enemy the player will react and shoot immediately without thinking of the consequences.  This is fine if these learning’s weren’t translated into our personality.

However, children’s immature brains do not have the ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy and therefore when shooting and killing the enemy on a regular basis or from a young age, the child becomes accustomed to reacting in this way without thinking of the consequences.

It would appear that we are creating a society with an infantile brain.  The person who spends a significant amount of time “gaming” has a world characteristically filled with violence without empathy and behaviors without consequences.

There’s no mystery as to why these bad behaviors become learned and transferred to the real world.  These people’s brains are being bombarded with violent images, sounds and compelling action.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as parents it is our responsibility to limit our children’s time spent playing such games.  There’s a healthy medium and one needs to tap into the good before it becomes a racquet. 

We should, however be concerned about the possibility of a brain-damaged generation of children.  A combination of late nights, video gaming and junk food is a lethal combination.

~  Vanessa

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

San Francisco Book Festival Award

We flew back into Yellowknife from San Francisco last night – arrived here at 11 PM.  Only got to bed after 1 am – after unpacking and cleaning up.  This morning I was up at 6 am again and then at 7.30 am I  realized that I’m a total idiot and that no one knows that I’m not asleep but sitting with bags under my eyes and dragging my frail body all over the house that I climbed back into my made up bed and slept until almost 11 am!  Not that this has made any difference to how I am feeling right now, and 6 cups of coffee hasn’t even given me the buzz I so badly need.  So I’m zombifying behind my computer with my eyes the size of saucers, road maps lining the whites in a delicate blood red and thinking of absolutely nothing – I can sooo get away with that, being blond and all.

 San Francisco was fantastic, we have both been there before and loved it last time too.  The awards ceremony was equally good.  I was so touched and honoured.  It was such a surreal moment for me.  On Friday night I was told that I have to say a speech when I go up to receive my award, which set panic in motion and the only way to calm my nerves was to drink heaps of alcohol.  My Saturday morning hang over was testimony to a wild Friday night.  The ceremony itself was great, I met many like minded people – some not so like minded and some air heads, but all in all it was great.  I was the second person called up and although Kim said my speech was fantastic, I thought it was all gobbaldy gook.  I managed to talk for about 7 minutes (you can’t stop me when I get going).

We spent Saturday walking around San Fran – if you are really clever, you can select the roads that don’t go over the hills and just walk around – your walk is longer but less tiring.  We walked down to the piers and then walked all along the water front to Pier 39.  There we caught a sight-seeing bus that lasted 2 hours.  It took us to all the famous land marks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, where I could get some really lovely photographs.  The weather was cool, so be warned when you go... Otherwise be prepared to buy yourself one of those $19.95 reversible jackets at the tourist shops (been there done that.  TWICE).  We went to some lovely restaurants, ate like pigs (sorry pigs - not your fault) but loved it.  It was unfortunate that our trip was so short because there was so much more that we’d love to have done but didn’t have enough time for.

My week in Vancouver was also great.  It was much warmer than Yellowknife, so it was a welcome change. I managed to do all the things I wanted to do.  I went shopping, went shopping and on the occasional day I went shopping!  I also went for walks - one morning I got up really early and decided to go for a walk around Stanley Park with my camera.  The beginning was great, but after walking for 3 hours I was already exhausted.   I spent the entire day walking – 7 hours of it!  Not by arrangement, but rather by accident.  I realized that I had gone far too far in one direction and it would take me longer to get back if I turned around so I decided to use my internal GPS to take a short cut back.  Unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be so short and eventually I was quite lost.  I was already exhausted after 3 hours of walking, so you can imagine how bad 7 hours were.  When I got back to my hotel room I was totally drained.  I lay on the couch in the lounge room and it took me 20 minutes before I could sit up again to take my shoes off.  Needless to say I didn’t make the mistake again.

I saw a raccoon while I was out walking....  I was quite a distance from him but saw him climbing out of the sea and walking between the rocks to the sea wall.  At first I wasn't sure what it was, it looked a bit like a goose but it's gait was rather different so I turned around and walked closer to see what it was.  He walked up to the sea wall and along it and I walked up to the stairs going down to the beach when he turned round, spotted me and then came after me.  He was not aggressive in any way, but because this is the first time I have ever seen one, I was cautious.  He walked right up to me with his big eyes and I backtracked until I was out of his way, then he walked past me and into the bushes behind the sea wall.  What a beautiful little fella he was.

Now back to the grindstone and life as it always is...

~ Vanessa

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Totally Enthralled

How wonderful to have heard that my book, Diamonds, Gold and Ice Road Truckers has received an honorably mention and that I’ve been invited to the awards ceremony on Saturday 16 May.

The fortunate thing is that I am on my way to Vancouver for a week – as I type this – so the flight from Vancouver to San Francisco will only be a further 2 hours flight!   Who would have thought….

So I’m sat in the business lounge at the Edmonton Airport right now, waiting for my flight to Vancouver.  Why is it that the business lounges in Canada offer such awful stuff to eat?  I say “stuff” because I guarantee you that one can never call what I’ve put into my mouth so far food. 

It is highly annoying especially in the light that I fly business class and such flights cost a fortune.  The flight from Yellowknife to Edmonton has no business class seats so even though I’ve paid a fortune to get to Vancouver on “business class”, I sit in cattle class because the whole plane is cattle class… and, I might add… if I wanted to have any food I’d have to pay for it!  Nothing for nothing, hey.

Then to make matters worse, I get to the business lounge only to discover that the stuff put out on the counter is not fit for human consumption and besides that, who eats lettuce leaves with a glass of wine or beer?

It’s annoying to say the least, but that aside – because I won’t allow them to make me angry when I’m in a very excited mood…. Here I am on my way to Vancouver for a week of shopping, eating out and photography!

I wonder what order I should do all these wonderful tasks?  I guess eating is what I have to do first and last every day, right?  So that leaves photography and shopping… perhaps I will get a bit of exercises first by taking my camera for a walk every day and exercising it, then I can hit the shops to spoil myself for the lack of decent shopping facilities in Yellowknife.

It’s going to be awesome having the only stress of having to decide whether I should eat scallops for dinner or have some oysters… drink one glass of wine or two…. Take 100 photographs a day or 1000…. Buy one book to read or a suitcase full…..

Decisions, decisions… I’m already stressed!

Until the next installment…   Bon au revoir

~ Vanessa

Friday, May 7, 2010

Things to Ponder and Other Wise Cracks

If you take a look at the side bar of my blog, you will notice two very succinct boxes with quotes in them.  “Funny Things to Ponder” and “Wisdom Quotes” .

These are particularly interesting for me; since this is the first thing I read whenever I log in.  I am always curious to see what those are, since they change every time one logs in.  This morning the following was listed: Funny Things to Ponder ~ If cheese is made of milk why is it Yellow? And Wisdom Quotes ~ A prudent question is one half of wisdom.

I particularly like both of these quotes, which is why I’ve chosen to write about them.

Why indeed does cheese have different colours?  The simple answer is this: It's orange because they dye it orange. You knew this, of course. The question really should be, Why orange as opposed to, say, a nice taupe? As near as cheese historians can make out, the practice originated many years ago in England.  Those poms can be an astute bunch, don't you think?

Milk contains varying amounts of beta-carotene, the yellow-orange stuff found in carrots and other vegetables. Milk from pasture-fed cows has higher beta-carotene levels in the spring and summer, when the cows are munching on fresh grass, and lower levels during the fall and winter, when they're eating hay. Thus the natural color of the cheese varies over the course of a year.   (Now will everyone get off my case about not eating vegetables?  Clearly you can see there’s a huge quantity of the good stuff in cheese – and I eat heaps of this)

Anyway, so cheese makers began adding coloring agents. Nowadays the most common of these is annatto, a yellow-red dye made from the seeds of a tree of the same name. Dyeing the cheese eliminated seasonal color fluctuations and also played to the fact (or anyway the belief) that spring/summer milk had a higher butterfat content than the fall/winter kind and thus produced more flavorful cheese. Figuring if yellow = good, orange = better, some cheese makers began ladling in the annatto in double handfuls, producing cheese that looked like something you'd want to carve into a jack-o'-lantern.

In recent years some smaller operations have rebelled and stopped using colorants. Be forewarned--according to one cheese making text, uncolored cheese is a "sordid, unappetizing melange of dirty yellow." But at least it's real.

Now for my take on the Wisdom Quote…. You remember of course when your children were born – or if you don’t have any children, you will remember hearing a little child’s inquiring mind ticking away every time s/he asked a question like “Why are the clouds white?” “Where do birds come from?” etc.  At times like these it is wise to use prudent thought processes before answering the questions….  Imagine if kids thought carefully before asking most questions?  I wonder if they would arrive at a better conclusion and therefore be able to ask a more prudent question, like for instance “if clouds are a build-up of evaporated water or humidity held up in suspension in the air, then what is the process that takes place for those clouds to transform from clouds to water dropping down onto the land?”

It’s a whole new topic for investigation, however it has been thought of from a different angle – in fact there has been thought process involved in the question… a simple question like why are clouds white has no thought whatsoever behind it and deserves one good answer:  “I don’t know.”  Why bother answering it if there was never any thought behind the question in the first instance.  Perhaps a rhetorical question is better to use in an answer:  “That’s a very interesting question, why do you think the clouds are white?”

Makes for an interesting conversation and debate!

So why are clouds white? In much the same way as why skies are blue, clouds are white because their water droplets or ice crystals are large enough to scatter the light of the seven wavelengths (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), which combine to produce white light. Clouds will appear dark or gray when either they are in another clouds shadow or the top of a cloud casts a shadow upon its own base.
The darkness of a cloud also depends on the background sky. A cloud will look darker when it is surrounded by a bright sky and lighter when it is in front of darker ones. Not always will a dark cloud mean rain.
More often, the reason we experience dark rainy days is because clouds are blocking the sunlight. Some of the whitest, most pure light can be observed when dark clouds "break apart" and sunlight filters through.

I could go on forever, but I reckon I have to stop at some stage.  I think I deserve a chocolate now, don’t you?

~ Vanessa

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Writers Block of the Worst Kind

Whilst I love writing and have NEVER struggled to write anything, I have reached a point in my novel (for the past few months - and perhaps even longer than that...) where I seem to have got to a stale-mate.

A stale-mate?  Indeed.

I've come to this spot often, however whenever I get here I am dumbfounded and don't really wish to continue - not the way I'm going anyway.  So I joined NaNoWriMo, hoping to get enough encouragement to set me back on a pathway - full steam ahead.  I was encouraged... I loved reading everyone else's posts, loved giving advice, love the whole whirlwind of it all until I realized it was time to stop procrastinating and time to start moving beyond my first 28 chapters!

I could end it right there and be happy with it, however I have so much to say with so few words to say it with.  Ever reached a stale-mate like that?  Like, I know where I want the story to go, but when I write - and I'm talking writing freestyle... I seem to go off on a tangent (in the wrong direction).

So I stepped back - a few times.  I love the story though.  Love the style, when I read it back I can hardly believe that all those words came out of my mouth - so to speak....

I am not a romance writer.  I do not write erotica, so how come that always seems to creep in at every opportunity.  I've never read a romance novel in my life and yet my style of writing (novel writing) keeps reverting.

I wonder what will happen to Vincent - or what happened to him (since I'm bound to get there).  Surely he can't die, cause heartache and pain while Jessica battles it out on her own?  But that's not quite what I had in mind... because Jess is certainly no longer with Vince...

Should she continue the life of debauchery and smut, or will she turn into a high class act and save the day - her own day?  Time will tell I guess.

Where is professional help when you need it?

Perhaps it's time to start something fresh and new with a whole new angle, perhaps it's time for another holiday, perhaps it's just time to hang up the gloves and retire?  No way!  As I said before, time will tell.

It's only Monday after all.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Argument Busters

The strategies below can be used to interrupt conflict patterns at any time. Try some small experiment in changing your own behaviour or responses. Notice what helps and do more of what works for you. Remember that relapse into familiar patterns is normal and it is persistence and practice that will bring about lasting change. Add your own ideas to this list and keep it nearby where you can refer to it.

Before an argument starts

  • Warn the other person if you are feeling frustrated, stressed or tired
  • Cut the other person some slack if they are feeling this way and don’t try to give them negative feedback at this time or when they are intoxicated
  • Distract your attention away from what you are stressing about
  • Ask yourself if it is really that important
  • Release any tension through deep breathing, talking with a support person, through exercise, or engaging in an interest or passion
  • Think before you speak “Will what I am about to do or say help or hurt this relationship”
  • Tell yourself that “The problem is likely to be with me” and consider changes you can make with what you are doing and thinking

During an argument

  • Don’t add ‘fuel to the fire’ through criticising, blaming, exploding, withdrawing or dwelling excessively on the past (except when your partner needs empathy about the past)
  • Remember that is it is more important to understand than it is to be understood
  • Remind yourself that there is more than one way to see a situation
  • Acknowledge the other person’s perspective and their feelings
  • If they are upset with you, apologise sincerely wherever you can for your part of the argument, for how your behaviour came across, or for the misunderstanding
  • Agree wherever you can, if not for what they are saying, then for what they are wanting
  • Share your own opinion respectfully (after you have first shown understanding) by saying, “This is how I see it …” and have as laid-back a tone of voice as possible
  • Be specific about what you want or would prefer, rather than what you don’t want
  • Offer a compromise or something for the future that involves effort just by you or by both of you. When a compromise or offer is accepted, make sure that you do what you said
  • Do something unexpected (that is safe and respectful) such as humour, a loving touch, etc
  • If required, exit and wait till you or both of you are in a better frame of mind to talk. This works best if agreed by both parties beforehand and there is an agreement about a specific time when you will talk about the relevant issue

After an argument

  • Whatever you normally do to make up, do it sooner
  • Remember to apologise wherever you can or consider trying some creative ways of making up, such as, a letter, singing your apology, or even an apology using a pet or sock puppet as a prop
  • Offer your understanding of their perspective and feelings
  • Ask the other person if they want a hug, or a loving touch on the arm or hand
  • Ask them what the best way is that you can make amends and do what they ask if you can
  • Offer something for the future that is also considerate of the other person’s wants/needs
  • Discuss what you can learn from this and what you both did that helped
  • Agree on a time you will talk about any outstanding issues and reach an understanding
  • If required, consider using another person who you both respect to help resolve the issue

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Preventing Burnout

Preventing Burnout

  1. Evaluate your goals, priorities, and expectations to see if they are realistic and if they are getting you what you want.
  2. Recognize that you can be an active agent in your life. 
  1. Find other interests besides work, especially if your work is not meeting your most important needs. 
  1. Think of ways to bring variety into work. 
  1. Take the initiative to start new projects that have personal meaning, and do not wait for the system to sanction this initiative. 
  1. Learn to monitor the impact of stress, on the job and at home. 
  1. Attend to your health through adequate sleep, an exercise program, proper diet, and meditation or relaxation. 
  1. Develop a few friendships that are characterized by a mutuality of giving and receiving. 
  1. Learn how to ask for what you want, though don’t expect always to get it. 
  1. Learn how to work for self-confirmation and for self-rewards, as opposed to looking externally for validation. 
  1. Find meaning through play, travel, or new experiences. 
  1. Take the time to evaluate the meaningfulness of your projects to determine where you should continue to invest time and energy. 
  1. Avoid assuming burdens that are properly the responsibility of others.  If you worry more about your clients that they do about themselves, for example, it would be well for you to reconsider this investment. 
  1. Take classes and workshops, attend conferences, and read to gain new perspectives on old issues. 
  1. Rearrange your schedule to reduce stress. 
  1. Learn your limits, and learn to set limits with others. 
  1. Learn to accept yourself with your imperfections, including being able to forgive yourself when you make a mistake or do not live up to your ideals. 
  1. Exchange jobs with a colleague for a short period, or ask a colleague to join forces in a common work project. 
  1. Form a support group with colleagues to share feelings of frustration and to find better ways of approaching the reality of difficult job situations. 
  1. Cultivate some hobbies that bring pleasure. 
  1. Make time for your spiritual growth. 
  1. Become more active in your professional organization. 
  1. Seek counseling as an avenue of personal development.

Destination: Cuba May 2009

Viva Cuba!

A Super-Charged vacation, which was full on and full of fun

Facts on Cuba:

v  Ruled by Fidel Castro since 1959 for 49 years, Cuba finally handed over the reigns to his younger brother Raul Castro in 2008.
v  Cuba is the most populated country in the whole of the Caribbean.
v  Cuba is home to hurricanes and destructive storms since it lies on the path of violent weather.
v  The island of Cuba is the seventeenth largest island in the world by land area.
v  The total land area of Cuba is 110,860 kilometers square.
v  Cuba attracts around two million visitors per year. 
v  It has a number of beaches, colonial architecture, favorable climate and a rich cultural history to invite tourists from all over the world.

Our Vacation in Cuba was specifically to celebrate my 21st birthday (again). I’ve always been intrigued by Cuba and this was my opportunity to explore!

We arrived in Cuba at about 6.30 pm. It was still light outside and very warm. We were received by a group of about 20 guards, standing fully armed all around the exit of the aircraft. I immediately felt like a POW and was sure not to make eye contact with any of them – just in case they thought I looked suspicious!

The guards let us into the airport terminal and directed us to the booths ahead (customs and immigration). There another guard would question every individual as to reasons for entering Cuba, prior visits, etc. The word “interrogation” came to mind.

Once outside of the terminal our large group were told to exchange our money at the money bureau and we were guided (amid more guards) to shuttle busses, which were waiting to take us to our respective hotels.

Cuba has two currencies; the Cuban Peso (which is the currency that the locals are paid with) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (a currency specifically used for and by tourists). 

Tourists cannot use the local currency and the Cubans are not able to use the convertible pesos unless they take the money to the bank to have it exchanged (at which point they will be investigated on how they received the convertible currency).  One Cuban Convertible Peso is equivalent to 25 regular Cuban Pesos.  $1.20 CND will buy you 1 convertible Cuban Peso, yes that’s right, the Convertible Cuban Peso is a stronger currency than the Canadian dollar!

As you can well understand this split currency causes much bribery and corruption, particularly in the tourism industry, where tourist guides and hotel staff, including waiting staff are able to get tipped in Convertible Pesos and when they bank their money there are no questions asked (by the government).

The average monthly wage in Cuba is 18 Cuban Pesos a month per person regardless of age, or profession. People in more senior positions within a business unit are liable for a better income, i.e 2 or 3 Cuban Pesos more than the average worker, however a maximum of only 25 Cuban Pesos per month can be earned by any one person.

The Government provides housing. Residents who are able to live in their houses for 10 years are eligible to own it with no money being exchanged. Sadly, if one moves around quite a bit the prospect of owning your own home becomes harder to grasp. Each home is occupied by between 12 and 20 family members!

Hotel Rules and Regulations 

The resort that we booked from Canada was massive – not quite my cup of tea, since I don’t particularly like crowds.

Check-in was simple. Hand over your credit card for incidentals and receive a blue plastic band on your arm to identify you. (I’m surprised we weren’t chipped or tattooed).

You sign for your room key and also for the lock to your safety deposit box. You are warned that if you lose the keys you will be liable to pay $25 pesos before you leave.

We paid for an upgraded package, which gave us one bottle of rum in our room, a daily mini bar restock, coffee and tea and an ocean view, however when we got to our room we had none of the above. Kim called reception to inquire about the mistake and we were asked to return to the reception for an exchange. The reception man looked at us and said the first thing that needs to change is our armbands! He cut the ones we had on off and replaced them with a silver VIP band, then he reassigned us our room.

Off we went in search of the new room, only to find that this one was even further from the sea and the room had absolutely no stock – especially not the rum we were expecting.

It took them three goes before we got an ocean view room and a bottle of rum – but no stocked fridge and certainly no coffee. In fact we got no coffee, no hand soap and no “stocks” for three days in a row. I spent my birthday in Havana – the capital city of Cuba. It was a lovely day. We flew into Havana at 6 am that morning and went on a tour of the city – by bus. We were then dropped off at Revolution Square for a day of shopping… Girls, don’t get all excited here… there’s absolutely no fun in shopping since they have no shops to speak of. Certainly no Burburry, Prada or La Coste!
Havana is a beautiful mix of colonial architecture and distant memories of a once extremely opulent and highly wealthy country.

Sadly after the revolution, the country was not kept to the same standard that it was previously in and it began to decline. The buildings are still there but they are very run down and shabby.

The streets are narrow and cobble stoned and there is evidence that the pavements were once tiled with high gloss ceramic tiles. 

Dwellings are among businesses and because there is absolutely NO advertising it is hard to know which doors one can enter and which one should stay out of.

The difference, I noticed was that if it was a shop of sorts, the doorway would be easily accessible, but if it was a dwelling then there’d be a person sitting at the entrance obscuring your entry.

The main mode of transportation is bicycle. There is a large number of bicycles on the roads and an even higher quantity of bicycle taxi’s.

One also sees a high percentage of horses with carts, ancient cars and people operating wheel chairs – I kid you not!

The Medico (hospital) is in the centre of Revolution Square, among shops, houses and dead street rats.

The average age of the Cubans is 35, with a 97 % literacy rate. There are only two pathways for any individual living in Cuba: the schooling pathway or rehab.

Most Cubans are very highly educated and due to the scarcity of jobs, there’s a strong probability that you will be served by your waiter who is actually a qualified doctor or attorney.

The Government opens up a certain number of positions a year for students. They will say, “right this year we have enough positions for 20 doctors”, if there are 60 qualified doctors then the other 40 qualified doctors can either go on to study something else, or they can enter into the working environment as something else which is more needed, i.e a gardener or cleaner.

Toilet paper is a rare commodity! Every trip out of the hotel we were advised to take our own toilet paper with us. The situation was so severe that when going to a washroom in the city (any city in Cuba) there is no toilet paper at all and if one goes into a hotel, one has to ask for paper – if you’ve forgotten to take your own... and in that event you are given three single ply blocks. 


My favourite activity during the entire trip was getting a ride in a hang-glider, which had a rubber duck attached to the bottom of it. The hang-glider took off from the sea and landed in the sea.

We spent time snorkeling in a marine breeding ground at the inlet from the sea into the estuary. The currents were wild and we had to hang onto ropes to be able to swim against the tide.

We went boating, twice. The first time we were taken on a boat ride in the mangrove swamps. A beautiful area filled with air plants and orchids clinging to the mangroves. We also saw a humming bird perched on its nest about 20 cm above the water.

Our second boat ride was riding in convoy two people per boat and swapping half way for a return ride. We did an obstacle course, which was awesome.

We went for a long bicycle taxi ride and visited a cigar factory. We also took a steam train ride and went to a sugarcane mill, where the locals put on a play for us.

We took a bus ride to the capital city of the province we were staying in – Ciego De Avila – about two hours drive from where we were at. 

We walked around the city and went to a museum. We went into a pub where the locals played music for us while we sipped rum punches.

We hired motorcycles for a day and rode all over the island. We went to a city called Moron – not pronounced like you think; it’s pronounced “Morong” and the locals are highly offended if you call them Morons!

The Cuban food is rather bland. Their main meals are seafood, pork and chicken – no beef even though the countryside is littered with roaming cows.

The Cuban people are very friendly, with a quick sense of humour. They have clearly been brainwashed over the years as their stories about the country and Fidel and Raul Castro are all the same – word-for-word.

They praise Fidel and continually tell of how fortunate they are to have him and Raul as their leader. They all say they are happy with communism and that they have absolutely no complaints.

But one can notice the corruption on the streets and in the resorts. The locals sell cigars on the black market, in fact they sell anything on the black market and they will do anything for a tip!

The country-side is very tropical with many palm trees. The beaches are very white and the water is an awesome aquamarine colour. 

We were told that no journalists – especially not from the USA - are allowed to come into the country to interview anyone or to write stories about what is going on within.

I went in search of books on Cuba but all I could find were books about the government and the country from a government perspective.

Magazines are nowhere to be found and cable or satellite television is unheard of. For those fortunate enough to own a television, they are still using the old bubble television; no modern wall mounted televisions anywhere!

The few shops that we did go into were incredibly hot and stuffy. The government switches off all electricity during periods of the day and luxuries such as air conditioners are not found. Some shops have the luxury of a small floor or counter mounted fan, but other than that, there is no other means of cooling the buildings down. 

The shops sell anything and everything – all mixed together. From plastic containers to tin food to material nappies! Shelves are sparsely filled, and what is there hardly seems worth the effort.

No one is allowed to take a handbag into any shops, handbags have to be handed in at the front of the store, no cameras are allowed in the shops at all – which I found rather confronting because my camera is part of my anatomy.

The banks are very secure too. One is ushered into the bank and told by a guard which queue to stand in. If that’s the wrong queue then when you get to the front the girl behind the glass partition will tell you to stand in another queue and so forth. One can go from one queue to the next all afternoon if one is directed to the wrong queue in the first instance. 

There are security cameras everywhere, so it would be really difficult to break the law and get away with it. One gets the sense that ‘Big Brother” is always on the look out for law breaking citizens. Cuba is well worth a visit if you are prepared to be transported into a bygone era. There is still a huge amount of beauty around and the people are incredibly friendly and helpful. 

If you are planning a trip however, do be sure to get all your inoculations up to date!

~ Vanessa