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Cuban Vacation…Part X

Saturday morning after an early rise, and I mean early. The pick up was at 7:30 at a neighbouring hotel. I departed for Vinales via a Cubatur bus at a cost of 55 C.U.C.. There was a lady waiting outside the hotel when we arrived and then a gentlemen join a few moments before the guide arrived. My friend and I were leisurely talking about the tour when the man interjected, asking if I was from Canada. Easily this time I could tell he was from New Zealand. We just exchanged names when the tour guide arrived and we were off.

Our first stop was a coffee-house, juice bar and souvenir shop. This is a nice model for tours, as people generally like to get off a bus to stretch their legs for a few minutes. As there were many people, I grabbed a table. As I looked onward, there was our New Zealander that we met at the hotel. I extended a smile and waved him over. He came to join in and we started talking. The discussion first started with music, but changed to community gardens and development. I boldly made the statement, you must be a community activist! He smiled at me and said he was a Member of Parliament. He enlightened me on the proportional voting-system they have adopted versus the Canadian first past the post system. We got to engage in some interesting conversation. Before too long we realized we were well overdue and hoped our bus did not leave without us.

The second stop was a Rum Factory. Since it was Saturday, there were no actual production workers on site. Instead the guide explained the machinery and production. She gave us some sort of berry to taste which formulated into the equation  of the tasty liquor we later sampled. I purchased a bottle and some coffee as my brother-in-law instructed me to bring him back a bag.

The next stop, a tobacco farm where cigars were being manufactured. We saw workers preparing the bundles of dried leaves. The smell of molasses and tobacco filled the shelter. After a brief presentation we moved outside and later the group was given a demonstration on rolling a cigar from raw materials.

The views were breath-taking. Once more we stopped and had the option of purchasing the sugar cane juice with or without rum, pending an individual’s taste.

As we climbed the stairs to the limestone caves, there was some reprieve from the outside humidity. The interior was cool, with drops of water falling on occasion. We walked through little crevaces to emerge to a larger opening and a small stream of water.

A small motor boat would take use through the little canal. We were told there were animals and other images to be seen. I guess it is like looking at the clouds or stars, sometimes there is something that just pops out at you.

There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Outside, the sunshine poured down once more. There were tables of wooden souvenirs, Cuban artwork, beads and mementos. I try to refrained from purchasing souvenirs, as I am a frequent flyer and these things can certainly add up if you have to bring gifts back to your entire clan of family and friends.

We were told we would see a wall mural from the 1800’s. I imaged something not quite so extravagant. This piece of art dominated the hillside. Alas, my camera battery was near the end of its life and the photos from this point on were limited. We had a delicious meal and further discussion with our MP acquaintance. We found out we were staying at the same hotel, thus continued our chat until the lobby and said farewell.

I liked the creativity the housekeeper had when she put together this swan and basket with a special note. It sometimes are these little things that makes a stay quite memorable. Have you had an experience at a Hotel, B&B, Inn, Hostel or Cottage where the owner/operators or employees did something to wow you?

Stay tuned for one final part of my Cuban vacation and the journey back to Rural NL…

Christopher C. Mitchelmore



Cuban Vacation…Part V

The amount of green vegetation was quite the shocker for me. There were many impressive fields, trees and forests thriving in Cuba. Some of this may be due to the exceptional amount of humidity in the air.

One of the stops via train led us to a restaurant and bar. We ventured inside to get refreshments to quench our thirst. The temperature almost unbearable, with my clothing getting wetter by the moment as I perspired. A bottle of icy cool water never tasted so wonderful as it did at that moment.

Suddenly, a guy from the train told us that just down the stairs there was a contraption to press sugar cane to have a juice. He noted it was better with added rum for just 2 C.U.C. We ventured down. Little did we know we would be put to work pushing this device.

A two person job and a couple of turns we had enough juice collected for a couple of drinks.

The delicious end product – with rum for extra flavor.

After catching the train, we returned to Trinidad. Tobias and I met up with Umberto at the park. He toured with us, showing hidden gems of Trinidad. He also kept trying to sell us on visiting a family restaurant, despite us telling him that we had made previous commitments with our Casa for a traditional meal at 8 PM.

We were going for ice-cream, but instead walked to the Casa de La Musica. We opted to spend some of the afternoon at a nearby bar. We had rounds of Mojito‘s and Buchanero beer for all. It was an afternoon of sharing a few drinks and trying to talk to Umberto without him knowing English and myself not knowing Spanish. A little bit of friend and a good translator in Tobias we were able to have some conversation.

Suddenly there was a scream from a nearby table. A snake had dropped from the vine ceiling. The music was great, when suddenly my attention was no longer with Tobias and Umberto but two beautiful women across the room. The brunette and I had shared a few smiles with our eyes and the blond reminded me of a certain Doctor Heritage. Since Tobias was engrossed with trying to explain in broken Spanish my position of working for a non-profit in Rural Newfoundland & Labrador conducting Community Economic Development and business development services. I had to get up, in one part because I knew they had a good story to tell and secondly I had to passed them to get to the restroom.

The ladies greeted my presence with a smile. From hello I tried to get their accent and had asked the blond if she was from New Zealand (we later did make a connection from New Zealand); however, this women was currently enrolled in her third year of medicine in the United Kingdom. We had some beginners chat about the UK, Cuba and not wanting to overdo my visit let them know we would be going to Casa de La Musica at 9-9:30 PM. They noted they would hope to meet us there.

Stay tuned for more adventures of Cuba in Part VI.
Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore


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Why is Rural Newfoundland & Labrador Not a Haven for a Thriving Sheep Industry?

Fields of Sheep, Northern Ireland

After exploring parts of Ireland during a vacation in November 2010, I was astounded by the resemblance to rural Newfoundland & Labrador. However, one key difference was all the lambs and sheep local in fields all throughout the island. This is a missed opportunity for our island that thrives in Ireland and New Zealand.

Fast facts

  1. 1. Meat is New Zealand’s second-largest food export and is worth $5.14 billion.
  2. 2.  Approximately 90 percent of sheep and lamb and 80 percent of beef meat producedeach year is exported. New Zealand’s key export markets for meat products are the United States and the European Union.
  3. 3. The main farmed species are sheep (34.2 million), cattle (9.6 million), deer (1.7 million) and goats (0.09 million).
  4. 4. New Zealand has the largest deer farming industry in the world – there are an estimated 4,000 farms with deer in New Zealand. It has around half the global farmed deer population (

Sheep have been brought to our island since the 16th and 17th centuries. We have a climate that should enable sheep farms to thrive. However, local demand historically has been low and rural farms are in decline.  There were 341 sheep producers in Newfoundland and Labrador at the end of 1995, this represents a decline of 20% from 1977, according to the records of the Department of Forest Resources and Agrifoods and the Sheep Producers Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Between 1977 and 1995 the sheep population fluctuated between 5,700 and 9,700. Therefore, it can be concluded that the average flock size per farm has been increasing, but the total number of sheep farms has been on a decline [Handbook of Selected Agricultural Statistics, Page 11].

Sheep in Rural Northern Ireland

 I was unable to find sheep numbers more recent than 1995, but I would hope they have increased from 10,000. In comparison to New Zealand’s current 35 million sheep, we do not factor in the global marketplace. A visit to the Sheep Producer’s Association of Newfoundland and Labrador ( the following message:

Welcome to the home of SPANL’s new Web Site. The SPANL website will begin further development in the upcoming months. The membership apologizes for the delays in finishing the site. We are a non-profit organization attempting to utilize the resources of our membership. Today computers are as common in the household and business as the VCR, practically everyone has access to the Internet. Through the development of this Website it is felt that a larger audience can be reached to showcase the SPANL and its tireless efforts to rebuild an industry that is part of Newfoundland’s history and culture.

Sheep have been a focus of Newfoundland popular culture. One only has to listen to the late Dick Nolan’s song, “Aunt Martha’s Sheep” which describes a sheep being stolen in Carmanville, NL. He was a talented folk musician, born in Corner Brook, NL.

There is a great opportunity for Newfoundland & Labrador to further develop and grow this industry, especially in rural areas.  Escalating meat prices, growing local demand and limited farmers committed to the future of the industry has established an environment for growth in this market. Historically we have been great mariners of the sea – there is room to transfer these skills to ranching and better land-base utilization.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore 

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