My good friend Robin Speer invited me to join him as he celebrated his marriage to the lovely Miss
Tara Findlay in Varadero, Cuba in December, 2004. Here are a few pages of fun as we enjoy the sun in Cuba,
while Canada and the US sit freezing in snow and rain.
I joined Glenn Hubbard and Mary Ann Barker in Vancouver as we made our way to the charter flight to
Varadero, Cuba. This is Glenn loving the American bald eagle at YVR airport.
Here's Mary Ann, also in the airport. She picked up a Details mag to try to pass the time on the flight.
Here we are after arriving in Varadero, getting worked over in security (ask me why I'll never tell Cuban
officials I work and live in the US again), getting money changed to the new Cuban convertible peso, taking
a bus to our hotel, the Sol Palmeras, and finally finding our way to some food. Did I mention that this was
an all-included vacation?
Here are Robin Speer (right) and his brother Austin lounging on the beach in Varadero, enjoying what looks like
a Cuba Libre (rum and coke). I think I drank more rum this week than I did in my entire life previous to this trip.
Even though Cuba is fast developing a reputation for world-class climbing, this isn't it. The good stuff
is down in Vinales, south of Havana, and we didn't make it down there. Next time though. This is just
bouldering along the beach.
Robin's Impromptu Stag
To celebrate Robin's freedom, we held an impromptu stag party for him in the city of Varadero. Most of it was
just hanging out and having a few, but it was good nonetheless to celebrate Robin's last few days of not being
in shackles. In all of Cuba, old cars persist due to the extreme nature of the US-Cuban relationship, and also
the relative poverty of the island. This is a '55 Olds (thanks Don!).
Here are Robin, Drew, George, and Robin's dad, Don, walking through the streets of Varadero.
We started off with a drink at the Bar Benny, a very tiny jazz bar in memory of Benny More, and
then began a pub crawl of the city, stopping where it looked interesting.
As we were touring Varadero, Austin, Robin's brother, found this excellent old scooter inside a restaurant.
Naturally, he felt compelled to take a shot with it.
Here is Don, in front of Austin's namesake. I suppose it could be worse: he could've been named for a Gremlin...
We stopped at a little restaurant along the way for a drink and some pizza. When it was all said and done,
I think it only cost ~ 12 Convertible Cuban Pesos, or a little more than $12 USD. When you're not in the
resort side of Cuba, things are VERY cheap.
Glenn Hubbard and Robin enjoying a drink. Glenn is a very successful criminal defense lawyer in Vancouver, BC.
Robin and his dad, Don Speer. Don has just sold Speer Furnishings in North Battleford, SK, a staple of
the North Battleford business community for many years. He is now considering himself sort-of retired,
but only until he can figure out what he wants to tackle next.
Robin and Austin. Here you can see the very popular beer Cristal. Even if you learn no other Spanish,
prior to arriving in Cuba, "Dos cervezas por favor" is a crucial expression.
Don, and Don's friend George. George makes financial miracles happen in his office in Vancouver, BC.
I think here, they are solving the world's problems one at a time.
Austin and I saw this fire hydrant, and were quite frankly floored. There is absolutely no way that
ANYONE can get water out of it, as it's been paved right up past the valve that would need to open.
Austin is attempting the old "Scream at the Fire Hydrant Until It Opens" trick.
Instead of paying the usual 20 cents or so to use the restroom anywhere, Austin was just using the
sides of people's homes, and other conspicuous spots.
Heading fishing, but winding up in Matanzas instead
Following the light drinking of Robin's stag (and also maybe a bad pizza or two), Austin
was a little under the weather. This particular morning we were planning on heading off on
a deep sea fishing expedition, but the waves were far too rough. I think judging by both Austin's
colour and the fact that he brought his own bucket, he was pleased to go back to bed.
Here I am greeting the train that travels between the major hotels around our resort.
So instead of going fishing, we wound up catching a cab, and going into Matanzas for the day.
Our first stop was at the top of the hill in the town, at an old abandoned church called Iglesias
Montmartre. The church sat on a hill that looked down on one side into a beautiful sugar-producing
valley, and on the other side, down into the town. The beautiful foreground in this picture is
Mary Ann Barker, Glenn's wife. She is also a very successful lawyer in Vancouver, but she
works as a Crown attorney defending the government from all manner of allegations and accusations.
She boasts an impressive record of 350-2 and her ERA is 1.02.
Here are Glenn, Robin, and I in Matanzas, looking down into the valley. For the most part, the weather
was fantastic the entire time we were in Cuba.
This is what is left of the Iglesias Montmartre.
Robin is acting as foreground for a nice view into the city of Matanzas. Matanzas is the capital city of
Matanzas province, and is the largest city between Varadero and Havana.
This is the view inside the church.
From the top of the hill, we walked down into the city. I was taking a picture down a side street,
and these two gentlemen whistled at me that they wanted me to take their picture as well. I happily
Here are the intrepid explorers meandering in the city. The last two members of our group are
Jason Richie and his fiancee Julie. Jason is the obvious tourist on the right in this picture.
A nice view into the heart of Matanzas. For the most part, almost all buildings in Cuba are extremely
run down. It basically looks as though no one has done anything to keep up the country in 45 years.
Part of this is the extremely terrible state of Cuba's economy. Part of it is Cuba choosing the wrong
side of the cold war. Part of it is the US embargo on the country that has been in effect since
shortly after Castro's revolution in 1961. But regardless of the reason, it's evident that Cuba is
not a first world country, by any standards.
Cuba has two official economies. Until three weeks before we arrived, Cuba's official tourist economy
was based around the US dollar. But with the current Bush administration trying to make sure that they
won Florida, harsher measures came in which don't allow Cubans to trade internationally in US dollars. So
Cuba now has the peso, which the local goods are traded in, and then the new currency is the convertible
Cuban peso, which has a value of 1.00 US Dollars, and is the currency of the imported goods market. Anyone
exchanging USD for convertible pesos takes the exchange at par, but the US dollar gets a 10% tariff. Now,
this has nothing to do with the door in this picture. I just thought the door was really nice.
Glenn and Mary Ann walking through Matanzas. Now, the actual reason I took this shot is because I thought
Glenn looked extra special with his Lululemon hand bag.
In my grand tradition of being culturally sensitive, here I am addressing a statue in the major central park
of Matanzas. Of course, that's a sculpture of Jose Marti, the famous revolutionary hero, in the background.
Because there is no real textile industry in Cuba, and because the US embargo doesn't allow US companies to
trade with Cuba, a lot of Cuban clothing comes from Canada. This is how I wind up taking a picture of me
with a lady who doesn't have a clue who Jarome Iginla is, but wears her Flames sweater with pride.
Jason and Julie are making their way through the Matanzas street market here. Since this will be, for the most
part, locals purchasing goods and services, the majority of the prices are in the Cuban peso, which is roughly
worth 26 to the convertible peso. So, a pizza worth 7 Cuban pesos is worth roughly 30 cents.
Robin saw this big gear in downtown Matanzas, and so I posed with it. I have no idea what it's for,
but I'm sure it was something important.
Since communism is being practiced in Cuba, and there are less labour intensive industries which would be
competitive for Cuba to engage in, most of the population doesn't do very much. I took this picture to show
a lot of people standing around on a workday, but it turns out that I caught some hot bumblebee spandex
shorts on the right side of the picture, as well as a motorcycle with a sidecar.
We found the Palace of Justice (courthouse) in Matanzas. We made our way into the building and found the
empty court room itself. This is a picture of the courtroom itself with Glenn and Mary Ann (both practising
lawyers). We got out of here swiftly, since we didn't really want to see the inside of a Cuban jail cell.
I've never seen a street address of "33 1/2" anything, so this is noteworthy for the address of the building.
As Natalie will tell me, architecture is the dominant way a nation uses propaganda. In Cuba, this is heavily
accompanied by posters and signs and painted slogans on buildings.
Another slogan for the republic.
A lot of people told me prior to my trip to Cuba that Cuba is a utopia with all Cubans being given a
free education. What they don't mention is the lack of books, pens, and other amenities such as
schools with windows in them. This is an elementary school in Matanzas and all of those windows are broken.
We walked out (Jason will say we walked forever!) to an industrial area north of town, where an old Spanish
fort remains. It was used as a prison until as late as 1978.
We toured around the fort with a tour guide, but they spoke only Spanish, so mostly we just walked and looked
around. I really liked the shapes of these not-quite-turrets.
One last billboard as we're walking back into town.
I don't really know why, but these two guys were stealing this sign. They worked on it for awhile, and when
we came back through Matanzas later in the week, it was gone. They didn't take a lesson from the engineers
I went to school with (Kelly and others). We'd have a sign gone in ~ 1-2 minutes flat!
Back at the resort
Part of the all-inclusive nature of most resorts is that you have many options of where to dine. We reserved
for a dinner at the steakhouse when we returned from Matanzas. Other options were a Chinese place, a Cuban
restaurant, and an Italian place we never did find. We ate mostly at the buffet place in the hotel, where
we did not have to reserve.
Mary Ann had a flambeed kebab at the steakhouse, and here it is on fire at the table.
Also at our hotel was a dance club called "Fun Bar". We went down for a few drinks here and there (free),
and on this night in particular, Austin was "on". Here he is, pulling off the old "Shim-Shammee" move on
the dance floor.
The real reason Austin and I were out of the dance floor was to capture this mullet on film.
He was Russian and a big bear, so I called him the Silverback Mullet. Out on the dance floor,
this mullet was in his element. He was grinding his old lady, and his hair was sweaty and greasy,
just how he likes it.
Robin and Tara's wedding pictures
Deep Sea fishing pictures
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