"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." - President Ronald Reagan.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Trump Threatens Cuba With 'Full and Complete' Embargo

Above, El Capitolio, or the National Capitol Building, of Cuba last week. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

A little while ago, my "honorary sister" sent me an email saying, "Good thing you are back from that trip!" Meaning, rising tensions between the U.S. and Cuba over Venezuela may possibly cause problems with American nationals touring Cuba.

I just returned from Cuba last weekend.

Along with her email, she sent this:

According to Fox News:
As Venezuela plunged into a dramatic televised scene of chaos and violence on Tuesday, President Trump warned he would impose a "full and complete embargo" and sanctions on Cuba if its troops do not cease operations in the ravaged South American nation. 
National Security Adviser John Bolton alleged earlier Tuesday that Cuban troops were keeping Maduro in power in Caracas. 
“It’s a very delicate moment,” Bolton said, adding that "all options" remained on the table -- including, potentially, a U.S. military intervention. “The president wants to see a peaceful transfer of power." 
Trump's dramatic threat came hours after his administration resoundingly endorsed an ongoing Venezuelan opposition effort, headed by Juan Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez, to spark a military uprising against embattled President Nicolas Maduro. The Trump administration also has worked to roll back Obama-era easing of Cold War sanctions on Cuba. 
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Tuesday that Maduro had been on his way out of the country bound for Cuba, but that Russia told him to remain. Bolton, meanwhile, warned Russia against interfering. 
The U.S. government said about 20,000 Cuban troops and agents have been working in Venezuela to prop up Maduro's government, a figure disputed by Cuba.
The next 48 hours are sure to be very interesting!

To read more, go here

Touring Havana, Cuba, Part Two

Above, El Cristo de La Habana. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

During our tour of Havana, Cuba, we headed out of the main part of the city to visit the El Cristo de La Habana (Christ of Havana) statue and the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña.

This massive statue of Jesus was completed in 1958, a year before the Cuban revolution. The statue overlooks the city from its hilltop plaza.

Above, our ship, Majesty of the Seas, at Havana Port. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While at the El Cristo de La Habana, I found a good spot to take some photos of our ship, Majesty of the Seas in Havana Port.

Above, a Cuban government faciity near the El Cristo de La Habana. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Nearby, is the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, which is an 18th-century fortress complex featuring museums, cultural events & a nightly canon-firing ceremony. The only place we went to there was the cigar and rum store. At the fortress, wreckage parts of the U-2 spy plane that was shot down during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis were displayed.

Above, parts of the U-2 spy plane that was shot down during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Originally, I thought I didn't take a photo of the U-2 wreckage pieces, but while going through my photos, I found that I did take a picture of them.

Above, Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

At the store, I bought ten Montecristo No. 2 cigars. For every five cigars purchased, they give one free cigar. So I ended up with a dozen cigars. I also bought the legal limit of rum (1 litre).

Above and below, a cannon and gun at Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After we made our purchases, we then made our way back into the city. Along the way, we passed Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro, which is an iconic symbol of Havana's seagoing past. The fort dates back to the late 16th century.

Above, vintage steam locomotives were displayed outside of the flea market/bazaar. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Back in the city, we went to a flea market/bazaar for more shopping. Mitch Geriminsky bought some cigars there and since I only had seven pesos left, I ended up getting a small (3 inch) wooden carved Indian figure for five pesos.

Above, inside the flea market/bazaar. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After shopping, we then headed back to the ship. It was a fun excursion. It was interesting to see Cuba. I found the people there to be nice and friendly, which is not surprising since our issues are with their communist government and not with them. It looks like some capitalism is slowly creeping back into Cuban life, which is a good sign.

Above, as we were sailing out of Havana Port, here's a shot of the port's entrance with Castillo
De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro and its lighthouse on the right. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Actually, I wouldn't mind going back to Cuba for a return visit.

Above, the entrance to the cigar and rum store. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

To see part one of our Havana tour, go here.

Above and below, inside the cigar and rum store. Photos by Armand Vaquer.

Touring Havana, Cuba, Part One

Above, yours truly at the Plaza de la Revolución. Photo by Mitch Geriminsky.

Last Thursday, the big highlight of our cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas took place when we arrived in Havana Harbor in Cuba.

Above, approaching Havana from Florida. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

When I was first approached about taking the trip (the price was great and never a factor) by Mitch Geriminsky, I hadn't given any thought to taking a cruise. I went on a cruise in 2000 with my mom and daughter to Alaska. Seeing Alaska was nice, but I found that being on a ship to be on the tedious side, especially since it was cold outside despite it being a summer month.

Above, the terminal where we were processed into Cuba in the foreground. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Still, I was intrigued about a cruise to Cuba. Anyone can go to Alaska, Spain or anywhere else at anytime. But Cuba? I figured, "Why the hell not? I'm retired!" So I agreed to make the trip. (This may be one of the last cruises to Cuba according to recent news reports.)

Above, an old "rust bucket" of a ship in Havana Port. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

We arrived in Havana Harbor (formally known as Havana Port) at about dawn. The harbor wasn't too busy. I noticed a ship not too far away that can be accurately described as a "rust bucket". The terminal buildings were either gutted of any exteriors or rundown.

Above, yours truly with Mitch Geriminsky in the terminal building. 

Before we could disembark the ship, Cuban authorities had to provide clearances. So we had plenty of time to have breakfast up in the Windjammer restaurant on the 11th deck.

Above, Havana's Sloppy Joe's Bar. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

When it was getting closer for us to be able to disembark, we had to go to one of the main dining rooms to be organized into tour groups. Ours was #22. We signed up for Royal Caribbean's "Old Havana City Sightseeing". This was essentially a bus tour of Havana with stops at the Plaza de la Revolución, Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, Colon Cemetery and shopping.

Above and below, some 1950s vintage American cars. Photos by Armand Vaquer.

Once we left the ship and entered the terminal, we were surprised to see the interior in far better shape than the exterior. We were able to exchange dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) (this is the currency for foreigners). I figured $130 in Cuban Convertible Pesos should be sufficient to buy cigars and rum, so that's what I exchanged.

Above, the El Capitolio. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Immediately after our bus left the terminal, we saw the famous 1950s American automobiles that the Cubans still drive. They have employed a number of inventive ways to keep them running, including installing Russian engines in them.

We passed Havana's Sloppy Joe's Bar. We also saw one in Key West the day before.

Above, a bust of Abraham Lincoln in a Havana park. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The driver took us around Havana. In one park in the city, there is a bust of President Abraham Lincoln. I guess Lincoln is still revered in Cuba. We also passed the El Capitolio, or the National Capitol Building. It is modeled after the U.S. Capitol and currently undergoing renovation.

Above and below, apartment buildings. Photos by Armand Vaquer

One thing that stood out for me were how drab the buildings in the city are. They looked as though they hadn't been cleaned or painted for a long time. This includes private homes and apartments. Our guide said this has been the case since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, thereby cutting off the money spigot. Prior to this, Cuba was called the "Jewel of the Caribbean".

Above, the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza de la Revolución. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Our first stop was at the Plaza de la Revolución, where major gatherings of the Cuban government and celebrations take place. In the center is the José Martí Memorial, a national hero of Cuba. On an opposite end of the plaza are two government buildings. One has the image of Che Guevara, with the quotation "Hasta la Victoria Siempre" (Until the Everlasting Victory, Always) and the other has Camilo Cienfuegos (sometimes mistaken for Fidel Castro), with the quotation "Vas bien, Fidel" (You're doing fine, Fidel).

Above, Che Guevara. Photo by Armand Vaquer.
Above, Camilo Cienfuegos. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After about a half hour in the plaza, we re-boarded our bus and headed to the next stop, the Colon Cemetery (its official name, El Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón).

Above, elaborate tombs at El Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

According to Wikipedia:
El Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, was founded in 1876 in the Vedado neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba to replace the Espada Cemetery in the Barrio de San Lázaro.. Named for Christopher Columbus, the cemetery is noted for its many elaborately sculpted memorials.
Above, the Cuban flag at El Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The cemetery was interesting to see and the tombs were quite elaborate.

Above, Mitch Geriminsky at the Plaza de la Revolución. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After the cemetery visit, we then headed to Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. That portion will be covered in a separate blog post. To view it, go here.

Key West Shipwreck Museum

Above, inside the Key West Shipwreck Museum. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

While in Key West, Florida last week, one of the things I did was to check out the Key West Shipwreck Museum.

In a nutshell, here's what Wikipedia says about the museum:
The Key West Shipwreck Museum is located in Key West, Florida, United States. It combines actors, films and actual artifacts to tell the story of 400 years of shipwreck salvage in the Florida Keys. The museum itself is a re-creation of a 19th-century warehouse built by wrecker tycoon Asa Tift.
Above, salvaged artifacts. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After paying admission and going inside, guests are treated to a video on shipwrecks and salvage operations in the Florida Keys. It is an interesting film featuring vintage photographs, actor recreations and, surprisingly, some familiar footage. That footage was from the Ray Milland-John Wayne-Paulette Goddard-Susan Hayward feature from 1942, Reap The Wild Wind. I just got the movie last year. Later, while touring the museum, I found is also a Reap The Wild Wind display.

Above, the Reap The Wild Wind display. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After the video, guests wander around the museum set up in different levels and finishing with a "hike" up a lookout tower, used to spot shipwrecks. I only went part way up (no need to invite a heart attack).

Above, a 64 lb. silver bar. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a vintage diving suit. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

It is an interesting museum with lots of artifacts salvaged from shipwrecks. There's even a silver bar on display with the challenge to visitors to lift it.

Above, at the entryway to the lookout tower outside. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the lookout tower. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, more salvaged artifacts on display. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, assorted recovered bottles. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

The Key West Shipwreck Museum was well worth the visit. To access the website, go here.

Winchester 94

Above, the Winchester Model 94 lever action rifle. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

As I reported yesterday, upon return to New Mexico from the Key West/Cuba cruise, I had to stay a night in Albuquerque to pick up The Beast from the Ford dealer and, following that, my Winchester 94 rifle from Ron Peterson's Firearms.

I bought the rifle over a week ago on layaway. This way, the gun shop would hold it until my return.  It wouldn't do to try to bring the rifle on the plane to Fort Lauderdale (and back) or onto the ship. This also served the purpose for me in case I overspent on the trip and could pay the remaining amount later. But that turned out not to be necessary as I had plenty of cash on hand.

I also bought a box of 30-30 Winchester cartridges.

Above, 30-30 cartridges. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

After getting the rifle, I noticed a couple of stuffed elk heads in back of a pick-up truck. There's a taxidermy next door to the gun shop and I was amused by the two heads. They appeared to be looking skyward. So I couldn't resist taking the photo below.

Above, in the parking lot in back of Ron
Peterson's Firearms. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, Key West

Above, the front of the Hemingway Home. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

One of the stops during the trolley tour of Key West, Florida was the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.

From the official website:
The Hemingway home was built in 1851 in the Spanish Colonial style, and was constructed of native rock hewn from the grounds. The home was in great disrepair when it the Hemingways took ownership, but both Ernest and Pauline could see beyond the rubble and ruin, and appreciated the grand architecture and stateliness of the home. The massive restoration and remodeling they undertook in the early 1930’s turned the home into the National Historical Landmark that thousands of tourists visit and enjoy today. 
A unique and extraordinary feature of the grounds is the pool, built in 1937-38, at the staggering cost of $20,000. It was the first in-ground pool in Key West, and the only pool within 100 miles. The exhorbitant construction costs once prompted Hemingway to take a penny from his pocket, press it into the wet cement of the surrounding patio, and announce jokingly, “Here, take the last penny I’ve got!” Tourists are invited to look for the penny, still embedded between flagstones at the north end of the pool. 
The Hemingways’ personal touches still abound throughout the house. Many of the unique furnishings are European antiques collected during their stay on the continent. The trophy mounts and skins were souvenirs of the Hemingways’ African safaris and numerous hunting expeditions in the American west. Ernest’s presence can still be felt in his studio where he produced some of his most well-known works. In addition, a very visible and living link to the past are the descendants of Hemingway’s cats. The story goes that Hemingway made the acquaintance of a sea captain who owned an unusual six-toed tomcat, which captured Ernest’s fancy. Upon his departure from Key West, the captain presented the cat to Hemingway. Today many of the numerous cats that inhabit the grounds still possess the unusual six toes. 
Ernest’s friends Charles Thompson, Joe Russell (also known as Sloppy Joe), and Capt. Eddie “Bra” Saunders, together with his old Paris friends became known in Key West as “The Mob.” The Mob would go fishing in the Dry Tortugas, Bimini, and Cuba for days and weeks at a time in pursuit of giant tuna and marlin. Everyone in The Mob had a nickname, and Hemingway was often referred to by his friends and family during this time was “Papa”—it was a moniker that eventually stuck with him throughout his life. Hemingway’s Key West was a town unlike any place he ever experienced. It was filled with interesting people, ranging from well-to-do businessmen and lawyers, to down-on-their-luck fishermen, to shipwreck salvagers. Throughout his career, Hemingway freely used the people and places he encountered in his literary works, and many Key Westers appear as characters in his novel “To Have and Have Not,” a novel about Key West during the Great Depression.
Here's some photos:

Above, the view from the street. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above and below, some of the 50+ cats. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a latter day photo of Hemingway. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, posters of movies based on Hemingway's novels. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the kitchen. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a portrait of a young Hemingway. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above and below, one of the cats on the Hemingway bed. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the second floor balcony. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the stairway leading to Hemingway's office. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above and the next three photos, Hemingway's office loft. Photos by Armand Vaquer.

Above, a fountain made from a former bar's urinal. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the cat cemetery. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the front entrance to the house. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Above, the second floor balcony. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

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