Monthly Archives: January 2017

Havana, Cuba

In January 1959 Fidel Castro took control of Cuba and placed Guevara in charge of La Cabaña prison. He was later appointed president of the national bank and minister of industry and did much to assist in the country’s transformation into a communist state.

Countries such as the United States and those allied with it ceased trading with Cuba. Supplies were rationed. Questionable friendships were struck with members of the Soviet Bloc. The people suffered, as they always do.

Times are now changing for the tiny Caribbean Island nation Cuba with the United States restoring diplomatic relations on 20 July 2015, which had been severed in 1961 during the Cold War.

All signs are ready to go from Miami Airport to Cuba with instructions for Americans to complete their applications for entry and a ‘Ready Stamp’ at the desk.

For an update on visa requirements for Australians please see the tab Visalink on this website for updated entry requirements.

The currency in Cuba can be a little bit confusing because it has two currencies. The Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC$) – simply called convertibles – and Non-Convertible Pesos (CUP) / Moneda Nacional (MN$) simply – Cuban Pesos.

Non-Cubans use mostly convertibles. That’s what you exchange foreign currency for and that’s what you pay goods and services with. 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 is considered equivalent to $1.00 USD.

Personally, I exchanged Australian Dollars in Fort Worth, USA for USD before leaving the country – at a bank which I’ve found to give the best rates (in fact anywhere). It was worth the effort as my AUD was not accepted at the airport in Havana. The commission charged on a USD100.00 transaction was about 14% and you are very much a ‘captured tourist’ in that taxis weren’t permitted to take USD either. The major hotels such as the Melia for example, were somewhat better in its exchange rate.

Note: Canadian Dollars are widely accepted almost everywhere as Nationals do not need a visa to enter Cuba.

  • However, Australian travellers often experience problems accessing funds in Cuba. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted in Cuba if issued by US banks or Australian banks affiliated with US banks. This includes all American Express, Visa and MasterCard cards depending on the issuing bank and Westpac Bank cards. To avoid being caught without money in Cuba, ensure you have a variety of ways of accessing your money. Take an emergency supply of cash, enough to leave Cuba if your bank cards do not work. In the past, foreigners without access to funds have been detained and deported by local authorities.
  • Source:

And, if you want to relay any emails about your travels to your mates, you’ll need one of these cards for wifi. Generally two CUC to purchase one with plenty of street vendors and hotels selling them. They are valid for one hour with the ability to sign off and use later. You must find a place such as a hotel or eatery which has wifi to connect to before using it.

News was out the day before I arrived, ‘Castro Dead’. Plagued for decades by revolutionary struggle, crippling poverty along with social and political isolation, Cuba is slowly beginning to open up again to trade and tourism. No dancing, partying or music allowed in the streets. Nor any drinking of alcohol for nine days. unless you’d already pre-booked an all-inclusive rate at your accommodation and only there is where you could have a ‘quiet one’.

So being an accidental witness to a time in Cuba’s history was a moment I wasn’t expecting. The line up was growing by the minute to view Castro’s memorial which was announced on the Monday morning. The crush which took place after me taking this photo, led to the military being called in on standby; once they made their presence nearby, everyone settled very quickly and orderly.

Ministry of Interior building in Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) where we inched past this iconic façade on our way up to the memorial.

Once inside the monument which hosted Castro’s memorial the line was kept moving and after two hours of waiting, I thought it was worth the wait considering this had been an historical occasion in Cuba’s diary.

See the guy in the green shirt? That’s who I was pushed up against in the crush to view the memorial. I’m not complaining or stalking, I was just wondering if he was going to line up again …

After standing in line for so long it was great to take a little yellow taxi back to the hotel. They’re everywhere and quite cheap.

However, one of the best ways of taking a quick look at Havana city and surrounds is by Hop On, Hop Off Bus and cost 10 CUC (at the time). The cemetery being one of the interesting places to visit even if you’re not a local. You can also bargain with an owner of one of the classic cars to take you around for an hour or so at a comparatively low rate if there’s a couple of you.

Walking around the streets and in many ways, Cuba hasn’t changed at all. It has stayed exactly the same, trapped in a time capsule dated 1959 I’m told. I believe it.

Beyond this point I might not have gone alone, but it’s great when you pick up three Canadian guys to walk around with … And have lunch with them too.

You’ll meet quite a lot of Canadians and happy to say here at lunch; myself, Stephen, John and David all did well with a delicious (rico) locally-made traditional pizza each. Include a drink – all four came under 10 CUC – bargain! Though I have to say, Cuba is not known for its culinary delights.

By passing the butchers, we decided not to go in for a closer inspection.

Stalls along the streets are plentiful with in-season fruit and vegies.

We were fortunate enough to be invited in to see an old cathedral being gutted and in the process of being restored. One place we’ll return to and check on what transpired from it all. The builders said in about a year it would be finished.

This is not the only construction being built or renovated at the foreshore in Havana. Hotels are gearing up at breakneck speeds to invest. Obviously money is coming in …

Cutesy coffee shops There are no smartphones to distract people from the human chatter which echoes from the buildings lining Old Havana’s potholed calles. A welcome relief in having the technology unavailable.

Did I tell you before old doors are my ‘new thing’ to photograph? No shortage here.

Cars are everywhere – Vintage American cars – Dodges, Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs and Fords, all still trundle along Havana’s crumbling streets as though they’re on their way to some collectors’ rally.

Plaza Vieja, Havana – ‘Hold My Fork While I Mount this Rooster’. Sure, seeing it’s the Chinese year of the Rooster, I’ve no doubt it’ll be the most photographed Rooster ever.

Have a seat? Maybe next time I visit.

I’m also wondering if this will look like Woolloomooloo Wharf in Sydney next time I return.

Ship in port and for passengers it’s walking distance to some sights. I’ve been reading many of the travel industry articles of late and there’s been a number of  approvals given to new entrants which will add to mass tourism undoubtedly.

Moro Fort across the water as seen from the Malecon is a must see. Great walk all around here with magnificent views of ships coming into the port.

Sunset – doesn’t come much better huh?

Café serving fresh fish and vegies, cake and a  glass of red 7.90 CUC (straight across the road from the sunset) with good-old fashioned service thrown in.

Near the Melia Hotel it’s one of the best walkways along the foreshore with locals as well as tourists soaking up the atmosphere. And, if you’re wanting a ride home, there’s a parade of old chevies and the like which are also taxis – way to go!

Next post more of Havana and onto Varadero via the eastern beaches.

Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas – USA

If you’re heading to Dallas and Fort Worth’s International Airport (DFW) in the United States, then you’ll know it’s one of the longest flights in the world from Sydney with Qantas Airways travelling 13,804.95 kilometres. And after 15 or so hours flying time, the staff onboard my flight, namely Matthew and Kiet who looked after my section couldn’t have been more helpful. Fresh and still able to share a joke at the end of the journey. The A380 was always kept immaculate and with touch on-demand inflight entertainment from the moment you step onboard the aircraft until arrival – the time just seemed to fly.

Things have changed considerably since my last visit to Dallas – and for the better. A train service now operates from the airport to downtown Dallas. The cost? A whopping $2.50 one way per adult and valid for two hours. Make sure you have some US dollars before arrival as the machines are located in the train terminal and platforms.

DFW is one of the best airports to arrive as they now offer passport control very much like here at home (in Australia), whereby you scan your document and have finger prints taken all in a matter of minutes. No long queues as previous trips to the States. For Australians – make sure you’ve completed your ESTA online form before departing – see link for applications

See for more information as this is one of the quickest and easiest ways for ground transport as the rail line will slice straight through to the main parts of the city.

(Information given here was correct at the time this blog was posted.)

Perched 170 metres above the ground, Reunion Tower’s newly renovated GeO-Deck lets visitors glimpse an impressive view of the city skyline.

From this angle I can see Fountain Place located at 1445 Ross Avenue in the Arts District which is a 60-story modern-styled skyscraper which was used in the last seasons of the TV series Dallas. If you were anything like me, you were glued to the TV screen wondering what JR Ewing was up to next.

Equally impressive is the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza which is a timeline of John F. Kennedy’s life and presidency. The exhibits are thoughtful, respectful and reflective of the events of what happened on this day 22 November, 1963.

The road where President Kennedy was shot more than 53 years ago when this photo was taken. It shows even after all this time, people are still curious about the assassination and the circumstances surrounding his death. It seems people still have their own theories as to what really triggered the calculated slaying.

Jacquie and John F. Kennedy will always be remembered and as this museum is a dedication, it’s one of the most visited in Dallas. It’s also part of the CityPASS which allows you easy access and discounted admission to many of the popular attractions, which incidentally are mostly within walking distance to each other. By buying it ahead of time allows you to skip the ticket line and gain entry to the crowd pleasers of which most are within walking distance to each other.

I’m here with Jeb and Jamie from Efrogs recommending a choice of crafted beers from one of the tour’s breweries. Starting at $70.00 The Brewery Tour is a fun way of making new friends and not having to worry about driving as it’s all taken care of.

Efrogs which is an acronym for Eco-Friendly Rides on Green Shuttles and is a tip-based transport service, also providing free rides for office workers, hotel guests, restaurant and bar patrons, as well as visitors at parties and sporting events.

At the Community Beer Company during our tour, I had to ask the old pick-up line. “Do you and your dog come here often?” Owners from around the neighbourhood and afar come here with their pooches to socialise and listen to some good music. Dogs are permitted due to no food being served on the premises.

Band at the Community Beer Company giving us a few tunes to either dance along, or there were a number of other activities you could partake in.

At AT&T Stadium Dallas Cowboys in full flight against Baltimore Ravens makes it a super charged game and the crowd was electric. There are various tours available ranging from VIP, Self-Guided, Art and Educational which can be booked through and definitely worthy of a visit even if there’s no game on during the week.

Dallas Cowboys are world renown as a football team and even if you don’t follow footy of any code, you won’t want to miss going to a game just for the atmosphere.

Free trolley ride anyone? Everyone loves this especially the young ones as it trundles from downtown to uptown with a number of stops along the way.

And the delightful Klyde Warren Park is one of the stops and central to everything. A wonderful open space which was built over the top of the freeway.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science (allows entry with a CityPASS) and is home to one of the most impressive gem collections in the United States. A new dinosaur species just recently discovered can only be viewed here.

The Trinity Rail Express (TRE) operates between Dallas and Fort Worth with each city having its own unique attractions and events making it easily accessible. The TRE is provided by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). Trains operate Monday through Saturday with no scheduled service on Sunday. Fares are US10.00 per adult one way see for timetables and updates.

The Stockyards at Fort Worth are a must see especially if you have children who love the idea of being in the Old West. The Cattle Drive as shown here happens daily (weather permitting) at 11:30 am and again at 4:00 pm.

The Museum at The Stockyards showcases some of the best-preserved and restored wagons, buggies and farming methods of this era.

And if you want to have a really good time, then try the bucking bull.

There’s so much more to Dallas and Fort Worth and I’d recommend at least three to four days for a fun time and soak up the southern hospitality.



Patan, Bhaktapur and Khokana – Nepal

Our group stopped at a school on the way back towards the Kathmandu Valley to inspect some of the more earthquake affected towns of 2015. The school children at Ketaaketi gave us not just a tour of their class rooms, but showed us their talent as dancers too! I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but please give some of your excess stationery items such as pens and paper as it’s always greatly appreciated to any school you may wish to offer them.

Visiting earthquake ravaged places such as Khokana which is a traditional Newari village, people went about their daily business as best they could considering the amount of damage which had been caused.

Buildings in need of repair are very slowly being reconstructed. Unfortunately, the community cannot afford to pay for the heavy machinery and skilled labour needed to remove the rubble.

Goats always seem happy no matter where they are, there should be more people like goats – maybe that’s why Aries is my compatible star sign? They seem to have a natural curiosity like this fella.

Ladies were also involved in the heavy workload in shifting debris from some of the temples which were destroyed and hopefully enough funding will be forthcoming to restore them.

Ladies hand weaving carpets at a Tibetan Refugee Camp which allows them to earn an income as their skills are highly sought after for the creation of magnificent woven rugs which are offered to the international market.

Exquisite rugs on display of hand-knotted wool and silk  – a purchase of a life time.

Time for lunch, more yummy Nepalese food.

So many well-made handicrafts makes choosing difficult and it’s best to declare these coming back into Australia as wooden items are subject to scrutiny. Wouldn’t be too happy losing one of these to Customs.

As you walk along the streets, you’ll find dozens of masterful wood carvers and sculptors offering you handcrafted items at bargain prices. Most of them work from home and they may even offer you other articles for sale as well.

Mmm look very much like mushrooms on steroids, wonder if they’re magic ones?

Pottery being made by this family for over six decades at Bhaktapur.

Staying at a Buddhist Monastery Guest-house in the peaceful location of Neydo Tashi Choeling was a highlight of our journey with Australian tour operator Crooked Compass.

At 5:00 am the bell rings for the monks to wake and make their way to the main hall to chant for about one and half hours for world peace. As well as prayers of aspiration and longevity, they are offered to the upholders of the Dharma.

At nearby Patan it’s a time to reflect at the Pashupatinath Temple  which is a famous sacred Hindu temple and located on the banks of the Bagmati River, 5 kilometres north-east of the Kathmandu Valley.

We were honoured to witness the ongoing celebration and cremation of many Nepalese people who have just recently passed on.

Cows meandering around oblivious to the crowds who gather here daily to observe the ritualistic cremations.

Take a front-row seat along the Bagmati River for a full viewing …

Cremation Ghats of the Pashupatinath Temple and at the holy Bagmati River (which is a tributary of the Ganges River), a funeral fire was already burning as we arrived in the late afternoon. 

The Ghats in essence, welcomed families carrying cloth-shrouded bodies on stretchers and prepared them for the formality whereby each was carefully unwrapped. Then, the bodies in turn had their feet washed in the river water and laid on a prepared pyre – all the while prayers from the family members being said to the lost loved one. At the top of the Ghats were stacks of wood where families of the deceased had arranged for the cremation.

Shown here, the Aarti is the magnificent event during the evening as it allows you to experience the great act and fills you with inherit spiritual thoughts, particularly of your own mortality. All the priests who perform the Aarti wear the same cloth and perform with the same brass lamps which are accompanied with the customary mantra chant. And, in the presence of a huge crowd who is also gaining momentum in dancing and singing along, it’s mesmerising and almost hypnotic.

The true heart of Nepalese culture is seen during the many festivals that are held in the country. The multitude of different religions and sects that are present in the country lead to more festivals than days of the year. There may be celebrations throughout the country, in a city, or in a village of a single neighbourhood  and family. These are moments to unite the people, even if apparent to different castes or ethnic groups which share the same values ​​and prayers together for the good and happiness in the future.

The dates of the festival changes, as most of them is linked to lunar cycles and Buddhist, Hindu or Nepalese calendars and they do not correspond to the Gregorian calendar.

Smiley faces of the Nepalese makes you want to return in the future without doubt … Namaste!

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