We quickly learned that our new friend Dilvenis (he preferred to be called “Beni”) loved American music (especially Blues), so we clicked with each other immediately!  Beni excitedly said, “You know who my favorite is, it’s Otis Redding!  Look!  It gives me goose bumps just thinking about him!”  Sure enough, he showed us his arm, and it was covered in goose bumps!  I replied, “You know all the words to ‘Dock of the Bay’ Bruce; so, how about you, Beni?  Do you know the words?”  Beni replied yes, so I said, “Hit it!  Sing it, boys!!”  And, here it goes, such as it is:  https://youtu.be/gXNdiCOk9vU .

Beni told us about all the concerts he had seen when he was in New Zealand:  Bruce Springsteen, Little River Band, James Brown, and more.  “You were in New Zealand?”  I wanted to know more.

While working as a bartender in a local restaurant, Beni met a woman from New Zealand and was able to get a visa to go visit her in 2004.  He stayed for nine months, and then returned again on another visit for six months.  While there, he got a New Zealand driver’s license and still carries it in his wallet.  He was proud to show me his license from my favorite country.

We chatted about all of the gorgeous places we had each seen in New Zealand, and some of the work he did there.  He was an extra in the movie, “King Kong” and worked at Miramar Studios.  (I was sure there were plenty more stories to hear about that!)

Unfortunately, the romance with his Kiwi girlfriend didn’t last, nor did his days as a movie star (well, make that an “extra”).

After hearing about his experiences in New Zealand, the conversation returned to music.  I told Beni I would send him music from some of his favorites if he gave me his address, so we exchanged contact info. and agreed to keep in touch.

Since returning home more than a week ago, Beni and I have sent e-mails back and forth almost every day.  We have learned more about his musical tastes, and his life in Cuba as a bartender, cook, and soon-to-be pastor.  (He just took the exam and will receive the results soon.)

Although Beni has written some of his messages in English, he finds it easier to write his more involved e-mails in Spanish.  Thank goodness for Google Translate!  I copy and paste into Google’s free online tool, and it immediately translates the message into English.  It doesn’t always make perfect sense, but I am able to understand it for the most part.

In turn, I write in English, and then I copy my message into Google Translate to convert it into Spanish.  I include both the English and Spanish in each of my messages back to Beni.  So far so good!

In one of his messages, Beni signed off with, “Big bear hugs to you and Bruce!”  That made my day…

This is what I have learned about Beni’s life:

He was born in the Sierra Maestra Mountain chain in Granma Province and is the youngest of seven brothers and sisters.  His family fought against Batista’s corrupt and repressive dictatorship during the 1950’s.

Growing up, he listened to English and American music by Paul Anka, The Beatles, James Brown, Elvis, and others.

Beni has two daughters (30 and 31 years old), and a twenty-year-old son, but he described himself in one e-mail as a “lonely man”.

One thing that struck me warmly in one of his e-mails was this: “If some friend wants to write me I am open to meet and make friends.  It’s time to tear down the walls and build bridges.  Do not be afraid to introduce me to more people.”

It’s time to tear down the walls and build bridges.”  There is so much I can say about that, given our current state of governmental affairs here in the U.S.A.!  He is absolutely right, and that is why the former administration loosened restrictions for Americans to travel to Cuba.  How sad we now have a president who wants to build walls and tear down bridges…

Overwhelmingly, the feeling we got speaking with Cubans was they were eager to make friends with Americans and felt warmly about us as people, regardless of how our governments feel about each other.  We (and everybody we talked with aboard Fathom Adonia) agreed that we feel the same way about the Cubans.  They are such warm and friendly people!  It is not them we despise; it is their repressive government.  Will Raul Castro be better for the Cuban people than Fidel was?  He is Fidel’s brother; however, I am at least optimistic that he and President Obama were able to come to some promising agreements.  We’ll see what the future holds between Castro and Trump.

What I do know is that Bruce and I plan on taking a land tour of Cuba in the future to see more of the country and meet more of its people.  Until then, Beni and Bruce will be groovin’ through the years at the “Dock of the Bay”.

Scenes from Santiago de Cuba:


This is Hector, a wood carver and painter.  We bought this sculpture as well as one of a couple dancing.


Two American 1950’s era cars were parked near our ship.


Looking back at Santiago de Cuba as we sailed away.



I spotted this man from the 9th deck of the ship and was able to capture him with a fully zoomed-in lens while we were cruising by.



This family came to watch us sail away.  They were sure having a good time!


San Pedro de la Roca del Morro (Castle)








Excerpts From A Past Travelogue: South Pacific, 2008

Before starting my travel blog, I used to send travelogues of my journeys by e-mail to my friends and family.  I saved some of those e-mails as a travel journal to look back on, so I thought I would share some of those with you.

In 2008, my mom and I taught arts and crafts to passengers aboard the Sapphire Princess, during a 32 day cruise, from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles.  Returning to that part of the world always brings back wonderful memories of my one year backpacking adventure to the same area, back in 1984.

Here are a few excerpts of one of my return trips to my favorite part of the world:

On Australia:


Wow, Melbourne sure has grown along the river since we were last here in 2000. We escorted a tour that included a cruise on the Yarra River and we were amazed at all the construction. Huge cranes and huge buildings under construction make up the landscape further down the river!






Australia is booming; especially Sydney and Melbourne. As our economy heads into the tank, Australia is headed in the opposite direction. Interest rates have been going skyward, increasing several times over the past couple of years. Currently, they are at 8%.

Inflation is heading up, as well. So many people on the ship complained how expensive it was in Sydney! I had to pay $7 for a bowl of muesli and yogurt for breakfast at non-descript cafe while I was there. Apples were $3.77 per kilo (2.2 lbs) at the market.

Pay has increased though. I heard the average salary is $65,000/ year. Waiters make $20/hour; much more than the $8/hr I earned waitressing and bartending in Sydney and Tasmania, in 1984.

Sydney was as wonderful as ever, though. We had a spectacular sailaway with the bridge behind us and the Opera House ahead of us as we headed out of the port. Since we sailed at night, everything was lit up so beautifully. The skyline was really amazing. I got some terrific photos before the ship sailed, too!










So, back onboard ship…

HOW SMALL IS IT??? Our bathroom is so small, you can sit on the toilet and reach over to turn the water on with one hand and the shower on with the other- at the same time! But, really, except for having to climb the ladder up to the top bunk (and climb down in the middle of the night to use the toilet), it’s not that bad. We do have portholes, so we get natural light in our cabin and a great view out to sea! And, the storage is actually pretty good, because it’s an officers cabin. All of our crafts supplies got stored with room left over!!! By the way, my suitcase weighed exactly 50 lbs. How lucky was that?  It was full with craft supplies, so guess what will fill up the suitcase on the way home? New Zealand Cadbury Chocolate!!!

As for service in our cabin, we have a room steward who comes in once each day, but only for making the bed and replacing towels, etc. I have become a cart thief to scrounge up lotions, shampoo, and- pillow chocolates!

It’s funny to see the look on the faces of the crew when they see my 80 year old mom strolling to and from our cabin. They think she took a wrong turn and is lost! We are having a good laugh! Our trips to the crew office for tour escort tickets and other business REALLY draw stares!

On New Zealand:


Milford Sound



A few quick notes about New Zealand that I didn’t add to my last e-mail:I jotted down some food prices at the grocery store, after I nailed the motherlode of Cadbury Chocolate.
How’s this for expensive? Keep in mind these prices are in New Zealand dollars; $1 = NZ $1.25:
Loaf of wheat bread- $4.49
Box of All Bran cereal- $6.17
Peanut butter (store brand)- $2.19
Boneless chicken breasts- $19.99kg (2.2 lbs)
Salmon $28.99 kg
Tomatoes $5.98 kg

That’s just a sampling…

Our day in Auckland, New Zealand was really enjoyable. Getting on the Link (local bus that does a circle around the city) for NZ $1.60 was the perfect way to spend an hour, because it gave me the opportunity to see how the city has grown and changed over the years. We got off several blocks short of the city center, so we could walk in and take in the sights, as well as do some photography.  Auckland has a Sky Tower, much like the Space Needle in Seattle. For around $100, you can now do a “Sky Jump”; a controlled jump off the top in a contraption that stops you just before you hit ground. Yikes! Needless to say, I didn’t do it; I only photographed it…





Next, Mom and I were on a quest for Tip Top ice cream. Now, I hardly ever eat ice cream back in the States, but Tip Top is the BEST! Since I couldn’t decide between the Hokey Pokey (vanilla with bits of butter brickle or whatever that candy is called) and Boysenberry (vanilla swirled with boysenberry), I opted for a double scoop! I HAD to have Hokey Pokey, the local favorite! And, the boysenberry is to die for. Needless to say, I enjoyed every lick…


After a lot of walking around the city center, we still had time to hit up a local pub for some New Zealand beer on tap. I know, I know…   Ice cream and beer isn’t exactly the healthiest “lunch”, but that’s exactly what we did. For those who know my eating habits at home, you know that’s a switch! So, I settled on a Speight’s on tap at “The Muddy Farmer”; a local beer brewed in Dunedin, the port we had to miss due to bad weather. Ahhhhhh…





A good day was had by all! And, it was a sad goodbye to New Zealand as we headed for Fiji…

On Fiji:


Yes, that’s the way Fijians greet one another here. I’m back in Fiji; this time not such a time warp shock, since I was here last September.

Today, my mom and I escorted a tour to the Arts Village. Although we were on separate buses, we were able to meet up there and enjoy the cultural show of firewalking and traditional Fijian dance and song. The show was excellent and the drive out to the village and back was scenic.










As many of you know, I spent 11/2 months here back in 1984, as part of my one-year trek around the South Pacific. Coming back, again, brought back great memories…

A few notes on Fiji:

Houses cost $80,000 – $130,000 for the nicer ones. Salaries are only $80-90 per week. Education is not compulsary and it is not paid by the government. But, healthcare and dental care is. Income taxes are 9% and locals also pay a “value added tax” of 12%. There is a 22% unemployment rate and crime is high. Native Fijians commit the most robberies and drug use crimes, however, the Indians (brought in from East India to work the sugar cane fields in 1874) commit the most murders.

Quick grocery store price: All Bran cereal cost Fijian $8.28. I’m not sure of the conversion rate, but I believe $10 would get you around $14 in their currency.

On American Samoa:




Here is some interesting political scoop: In American Samoa, the citizens were not able to vote directly in the primaries. Instead, the Congressman representing them voted on behalf of his constituents. He voted for Barack Obama, by the way…

American Samoa is very beautiful and lush, the people very friendly. It was the only place where every single kid (school just let out for the day and the kids were walking home from school) waved and smiled as our bus passed them. Everybody is so friendly there and the kids seem so happy. There is no poverty in American Samoa and nobody goes hungry, because of the wonderful food growing on the island. Nobody is rich, but nobody is homeless. And, families really stick together there, living on the same piece of land. They bury their family members on their land, too, because of their tremendous respect for their elders and extended family.















On Raratonga, Cook Islands:

Our next port was one I fully expected to miss, so I didn’t tell any of you we would be going there: Raratonga, Cook Islands. I was sooooo disappointed the ship missed it last September, because I wanted to see it after spending three weeks there in 1984, as part of my S. Pacific adventure. Little did I know, the ship misses the tender port 90% of the time, due to rough conditions (the ship has to tender on the windward side of the island). In addition, the coral reefs make it difficult for the ship to navigate in close enough to tender and they can’t anchor. Instead, they must use the ship’s thrusters to keep the ship in one place- off of the reefs.



Now, knowing all that ( I didn’t know all this prior to the Regal Princess missing Raratonga last September), OF COURSE I wasn’t expecting to make it there this time! But, amazingly enough, we woke up that morning, looked out the portholes to calm seas and screamed, “Yahooooo!” And, it sure was well worth it! We escorted a fantastic tour to a village high up in the mountains, overlooking the island and ocean below. The gardens were beautiful up there and we received a wonderful tour full of interesting history from one of the locals. That was followed by a surprise (it wasn’t in the tour description) “snack” of local foods, as well as a dance performance (this was in the description). This snack was a full-blown lunch, by the time all the food came out for this sit-down feast! We enjoyed Taro leaves that tasted similar to cooked spinach, chicken, native fruits, and their version of french fries, made from taro root, arrow root, and breadfruit- all incredibly delicious! We really, REALLY enjoyed it all!











I got talking with one of the dancers who was from Aitutaki, one of the smaller Cook Islands I visited. Back in 1984, there was only one small resort and some small guest houses. It was VERY remote and NOT touristy at all. I learned that Mama Tanui’s Guesthouse has since been dosed to make way for a large hotel. Evidently, Aitutaki has grown up over the years…

After returning to port, we popped into the grocery store for a price check. They use the New Zealand Dollar. US$1 = NZ$1.25: Cereal $7, apples $3.90kg, tomatoes 12.60kg, chicken thigh filets, 13.90kg.






On Bora Bora and Papeete, Tahiti:


Next port: Bora Bora, another lush beautiful island similar in topography to American Samoa and Raratonga. Mom and I escorted the same tour we took last September, so nothing new to report there. It was a wonderful day, though!










Onward ho to Papeete, Tahiti. Fortunately, we got to escort the full day tour complete with an outrageous lunch buffet. We were able to see the entire island and sample more native foods that we thoroughly enjoyed. Most memorable? The marinated raw tuna (oh my, oh my!!!) and the Poe Banane- banana marinated in coconut milk and sugar; decadent!
What a great day!!!

By the way, Papeete is VERY expensive. Homes all cost over $500,000 and a 1 bedroom apt costs $1,700 to rent.

Tahiti is one of the richest islands in the Pacific; France gives $7,000 to each person every year. They have excellent healthcare and retirement benefits. The state even pays to send their residents overseas for major surgeries or medical procedures, if it can’t be done locally. Minimum wage in Tahiti is $1,800/month.











Scenes from Honolulu:



Hilo, our final port: