R.Porter Cuba Trips

Richard Porter August 2014 Cuba Trip

(Report will be posted after Richard provides it)

Richard Porter, Cuba Trip Aug 2014

Liz and her 95 Year Old Cuban Friend


FBC, Cuba 2014

Richard and Liz Porter's 

Cuba Trip

January 2013

Richard at the Writing Desk of "Papa" Hemingway in Havana

Valle de Vinales (Vinales Valley) In the tobacco country of western Cuba.

Jan 2013: This trip (Leslie and Charlie in tow)  to Cuba was really pretty easy this time around.    We had a too close connection in Cancun that we did manage to make.  They were loading the plane to Havana and we were on the very last row.  At least we were close to the heads.  Cubana Airlines for some inexplicable reason did not charge us any overweight fees and the Havana customs did not charge us (again inexplicably) any tariff for the items we brought in.  We caught the airport transfer to the hotel and took a taxi to El Aljiba  restaurant where we feasted on roasted chicken, black beans, rice, salad and guava ice cream.

Next morning it was a dog fight to get the minivan.  I went to the rental agency next door to the hotel and they knew nothing.  They shuffled me off to 2-3 other offices until around noon they finally found it for me.  Cost us a half day but we still got in a visit to old downtown Havana and Hemingway's Finca Vigia on the southern outskirts of town.  Leslie was on her first trip down so we had to show her the touristy things.\

Next morning we headed west to the beautiful Vale de Vinales (Valley of Vinales) where the best tobaccos in the world are grown.  We picked up a young man in the village and of course he worked at a tobacco plantation.  He took us on the grand tour from growing and selecting the leaves to rolling the cigars themselves.  He rolled one for me and Charlie.  I declined but Charlie enjoyed one.  They said taking out the veins in the leaves removes most of the nicotine.  We bought a dozen so Charlie could deliver them to "papa".  It was a hit.
We went back to Havana the next night for one night and on to the seminary the next day.  100 lb bags of rice and sugar awaited us to be smaller bagged to distribute among the friends in Santa Clara and to families in the church with whom we visit each time we go down.  We also take much needed and appreciated items such as shoes, clothes, tooth brushes, toothpaste, soaps and cooking oil.  We took, this time, some bicycle tires and tubes.  What a great need this was.  Can't buy bike tires in Cuba even if you have the money.  Also we took the best and highest quality of Hallowe'en candies left over from the church carnival.  The kids there simply never see candy, much less mini Hershey bars, Reese's and the good stuff we enjoy here.
After much effort we were able to obtain a minivan.  Took a half day and that was WITH a reservation.  We made the grave error however of refilling the tank with "regular" gas (meaning half gas and half water).  The car ran another 50 miles or so and simply died.  I read the rental agreement and it said "always use super special gas".  I had bought insurance and they overlooked my serious transgression.  We couldn't not have toted our eight 50lb bags, one "carry-on" each and one "personal" bag, along with 200 lbs of rice and sugar along with four persons without the van.  We were able to unload all of it and then had to accept the services of a compact. 
In Santa Clara, Charlie (who starts med school in August) was supposed to get a tour of the local hospital.  A pediatrician friend of ours came to the house and got him for the tour.  Of course when they got to the hospital the "authorities" had changed their mind and would not let them enter.  Charlie got in a good visit with him however and also visited with a first year med student.  Amazingly the students there enter right out of high school for a six year program.  They don't require an undergraduate degree.  They are very selective however and turn out competent well educated doctors.  However, whenever a prescription is handed out, one can't expect to find it at the local pharmacy.  I got a pretty good "cold" or bronchitis the second day and found out pretty fast about the bare pharmaceutical shelves.  It took me two days to find a farmacia that had anything.  I was not well for about five days but didn't see any percentage to spending time in bed.
We had a great time visiting the church and our old friends of 15 years.  I did have to deliver the sad news that I was not able to make any headway with our state dept in obtaining a visa for the former pastor and his family who are trying to emigrate to the US.  They've been victims of harassment in Cuba and have been made to suffer for their beliefs and practices.
Our connections home and the flight were all pretty good.  I did spend most of my birthday at the Cancun airport dining at Pizza Hut.  That was a real treat.
Liz has promised to take me out sometime this weekend.  Hitting the big 7-3 was about the same as hitting the big 7-2.  I still have the same aches and pains but as long as the Lord gives me strength and resources, I suppose we'll continue our ministry there.
Hope you enjoyed the epistle.
Richard and Liz

"Best Trip in Years"

Richard & Liz Porter's Annual Trip to Cuba

17 Feb 2012

For the first time ever, we flew from Miami to Cienfuegos, a coastal resort on the south central part of Cuba. It's only about 50 miles from our "our city" of Santa Clara. What a joy it was to drive only that distance and not the 4-5 hours from Havana to Santa Clara. We stayed a night in Miami and visited Little Havana and had lunch with a former FBC Santa Clara church secretary who emigrated to the US ten years ago. 

Our flight to CF was at night and we somehow miraculously got seated in first class going down and coming back.  We decided to stay there at a "casa particular" (B&B) which was very nice and a great breakfast with locally grown fruits, fresh squeezed juices, omelets and lots of coffee and toast. $35 for the both of us.  We rented a car that morning at a cost of almost $100 per day. It was a "Geeley", Chinese made. I'd never seen one but they suddenly are showing up in the rental car fleet. No modern American cars are in Cuba and the ones from the 50's are looking pretty sad. They look good only on TV. 

We visited our friends there, one a 92 year old woman, Nanita, who we adore. She is the one who always has a crocheted doily for Liz. We took her a mosquito net and some other items and had a great visit. We drove on up to SC in the afternoon and stopped by the family. It takes 20 minutes to get past the hugging and kissing. It had been a year since our last visit.
After a visit we checked into our usual Los Caneyes, a hotel set in cabanas on the style of the native Indian villages of Columbus' time. They gave us a 40% room discount, which the cashier told me that no one else got. I've been staying there for 15 years and have attained VIP status. Net cost per day with breakfast $46. We stayed at this hotel for six nights.

On Friday night the church had a marriage retreat seminar in which Liz and I were supposedly "featured". We are in our 50th yr of wedded bliss now so they thought we were qualified. We also took part in the Sunday am service (a two hour marathon). We played the guitar and sang some hymns (no 7-11 choruses for us) and invited the congregation to sing along with us in their language. There were testimonies from a couple of ex-cons who'd served many years and have come to know the Lord and are active in their churches.

After an hour of music and testimonies the visiting preacher had a full hour sermon.  It's gets a bit tiring, not being familiar with the language. 

It was unseasonably warm while we were there, but not summertime hot. There were a couple of cool days. We took the family to our hotel pool and you would not believe the junk they could consume. It was almost like coming from an orphan's home to a big city carnival. They have one party a year and they feel a compelling need to take advantage of it. We figure, "what the heck", let them have a good time". 

The second night we roasted the pig. Liz was invited to participate in the "prep" but she wisely declined. There is just nothing like fresh pork where you can put in your hand and pull out a lip smacking rib or peel the crackling right off the pig's back and crunch on it. Mama does the best frijoles negras in the world and deep fried malanga (like a hush puppy).  It's a good thing we loved the food as we had the same thing every day. There are a couple of waiters at the hotel who have become good friends to us and are also member of FBC. They bring us anything we want (that is available in the kitchen).

We made chili one night but the store didn't have any tomato sauce or paste so we made our own. Luckily tomatoes are in season. They shred cabbage and top it with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes for their salads. I've never seen "lettuce" there.  They get NO fruits and vegetables that are "out of season". We were fortunate to find some ground beef. At least I hope it was beef.

We also took some boxes of "brownie" mix. They go absolutely nuts over that. It's a once a year thing as well since nothing like that exists in the stores. 

One friend had a bed that was so old he didn't even know its origins. I sat on it and it was like a dog's pallet on the floor. We went to the store looking for a mattress. There was ONE in the city and it was a twin. There are no burger joints. I don't know if that's a blessing or not. Maybe. There are no tire stores, no paint stores, no auto dealerships but all the stores have an abundance of rum and cigars. 

Our trips through customs (there and here) were uneventful. We always get socked for baggage weight with the airlines but that is now expected.  I don't know how Liz got some much stuff packed. She puts the clothes and shoes into huge zip lock bags, pressed out the air and labels them. Upon landing we were in a rainstorm and the canvas bags got wet but all the clothes were fine since they were all plastic bagged.

We accomplished all we set out to do and will most likely go again next year around this time. It's just too much to go in the summertime. Cuba is abandoned by tourist in July and August. 
(from Richard Porter 2-17-2012)


 Richard and Liz Porter's April 2011 trip to Cuba.

 "Trip to and from Hell"

(From Richard Porter, 4-15-2011)

I knew the day was not going to be a good one when I spilled a full glass of orange juice in my lap even before we reached full cruising altitude.  Liz and I pack all of our clothing in a "carry on" so we'll leave more room for clothes and shoes to take to Cuba so I had a pair of cut-offs and a tee to change into.  It was all I had until I got to the family's casa to ask mama to wash them for me.  We had six 50 pounders, two carry-ons and two "personal items".  I was not taking a laptop this time so I was able to sneak in a new Sony DVD player for a very happy "Popi". American Airlines was not happy we were carrying so much so they proceeded to sock us for $260 for extra baggage and extra weight.  We expected it.  The flight on down to Cancun was uneventful and I was able to catch a wee siesta.

Under the blazing Mexican sun, we schlepped the bags from one terminal to another in Cancun  in their shuttle bus. We got to the Cubana desk with the bags and they kindly socked us another $387 for excess baggage weight fees.  We expected that as well.  We also expected an hour delay in departure.  They didn't disappoint us.  What we didn't expect though was a huge storm in Havana.  Usually in the air for about an hour, we kept flying and flying, finally finding out that we were being diverted to a small archipeligo just east of the Isle of Youth about 100 miles south of the Bay of Pigs off the south coast of Cuba.  We landed there about 5pm expecting a delay of an hour or so.  This island was Cayo Largo, supposedly a popular resort area for rich Cuban government officials.  They herded us into the small unairconditioned terminal and the locked the door.  We couldn't and didn't clear customs there so we were forbidden to leave the building.  In a couple of hours we were told to board the plane again, an aging Russian YAK-42.  We sat on the tarmac for a half hour and then were told to once again deplane with all of our carry ons and go back into the terminal.  Locked in again.

They told us we were supposed to leave there at 11pm.  No way.  Then it was 2am.  Rumor had it we were going to leave at 4am.  This is like a Bogart 30's black and white movie with every shape and nationality of people.  One group of Cubans had been passing around the rum bottle in the section across the aisle from us.  They got another bottle or two of cheap Havana Club and proceeded to get obnoxiously and loudly drunk annoying the rest of the sleepy old folks and little babies.  At 4:45am, after trying to get a wink or two on the concrete floor, they herded us again to the craft and they roared up the jets.  The flight was about  half hour and we landed at Jose Marti Airport in Havana.  Once again it was the ten items of luggage going through Customs and unsympathetic agents.

One was particularly harsh and crude, putting her hands on her hips exclaiming "Ten bags, two people eight days".  She repeated it for emphasis saying Cuban law says we must pay customs fees equivalent to the value of the goods.  I tried to explain to her that the items were given to us to take as gifts to the Cuban people.  My words fell on deaf ears and we began the round of hassles as to the value. This is about 5am now.   Arbitrarily she informed me that the value was $400.  So now the value of our bags was American Airlines $260, Cubana airlines $387 and Cuban Customs $400.

We were able to get a taxi van to the hotel in the Miramar suburb of Havana and finally got to bed just in time for our morning contact to call us for our rendevouz to pick up food to transport to Santa Clara.  We took white rice, pinto beans, peanut butter, Snicker bars, Mac 'n' Cheese Kraft and cooking oil.  The much welcomed food items were provided via a container sent a couple of weeks earlier by my mission partner, LM Dyson of Waco.  The beans and rice were in 50 lb bags and we were advised to bring with us many gallon size Ziplocs.  On the way from Havana to Santa Clara, Liz sat in the back of the rented minivan apportioning the rice and beans into the smaller bags to cover a larger number of families.  Pintos are very expensive there and seldom used by the populace.  Their rice, when available comes from Viet-Nam and has to be picked through and washed before cookings.  Cooking oil is a very prized gift.  Once during the "special period" following the collapse of the USSR and the almost starvation of Cuba, our "family" for three years lived virtually on boiled platanos (plantains), the vegatable "cousin" of the banana. 

Our visit in our "hometown" of Santa Clara with friends and family of 14 years was very nice and lots of fun.  We roasted a pig on Friday night so we'd have lot of pork for the following few days we were there.  One night Liz and I prepared roast chicken we were able to find at the super market. The is NO chicken breast available as it goes to the fine hotels in Havana for the tourists.  The populace eats chicken legs if it can afford it and can find it at all.  I'm not much on the legs so I had luscious tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded cabbage.  They were both in "season", a term used in the USA back in the 30's and 40's when international shipping was not good.  If it's not in season, they don't get it in Cuba.

On Saturday we went down the south coastal city of Cienfuegos which was once a beautiful seaside resort for all Cubans to enjoy.  Now it's only a crumbling and faded facade of its former glory.  We've made some friends there, especially a 90 yr old woman (Nenita) who is a genuine delight.  She has a Down's grandchild whom we try to help with special items. The child is six and has never spoken a word.  Liz was able to get in some special books in Spanish on how best to assist this special needs child.

Church Sunday in Santa Clara was packed as usual and the music was good and very loud.  It's a big downtown church and they want the town to know they are alive and well.

The "family" continues to have new babies and the grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles are dying off.  We are seeing the life cycles completed for these wonderful friends.

Now for the good part.  We left Monday for the drive back to Havana.  The rent car people have a way of gouging that is not new to us.  They "sell" us a tankful of fuel for about a $100 and are told to bring it back empty.  Of course we are going to be running about that island and the city of Havana on an empty tank.  Usually I leave them about a quarter of a tank, which is a way for them to sell it to the next jerk.  Get it free from me and sell it to someone else.  I was running out of gas just outside of Havana so I pulled into a tiny station to get a bit of diesel.  The attendant motioned us to the far side where there were guard rails about 18" high similar to a car wash. It seems pretty narrow to me and I was not able to negotiate the van into the narrow slot and I heard the dreaded scrape.  I tried to gently back out and I heard again the dreaded scrape.  It was a gash about six inches long.  Here goes another day of fighting with the rental people and the police.  Of course the insurance that they gouged me $25 a day for was no good.  It was for "catastrophic" collisions and not a smaller one.  I was directed to go the police station to get a "quick" accident report.  They said I'd have to wait.  Now we are at 10am and had a 1pm flight.  I knew waiting at the police station was futile and we'd miss our flight off this temporary island from hell so we left and went back to the rental place.  I was certainly prepared to offer him the deposit of $250 to get away and get to the airport.  He said he'd have to charge me $100 for the damages.  I tried to contain my glee and I peeled off yet another misspent "C" note.

We got to the airport and got through immigration without incident and even in Cancun without incident.  They wanted to go through our remaining baggage which now consisted of our dirty laundry and several collapsed canvas tote bags.  This was  a quick exit.  There was a waiting  American Airlines flight that we could have boarded but in their wisdom they'd rather take off with empty seats.  They wanted to hit us up for $160 each to catch it.  We declined.

When we escaped Mexican airspace I felt pretty smug that our problems were behind us.  We landed at DFW, retrieved our now meager luggage and proceeded through immigration and customs.  On the customs form, there is blank for "Countries visited during this trip".  Of course we put Mexico and Cuba.  We've always traveled on a goverment license and have never played footsie with Uncle Sam on any of our trips.  Obama loosened the restrictions for licensing and now required only a letter from the church with the list of mission participants and passport info.  The agents at DFW knew nothing of these changes and were operating under the old ones.  It had been only four months and everyone I know was aware of the changes but not these bright dudes.  They made remarks like "Well, Obama didn't tell us" or the letter from your church isn't worth the paper it's written on", etc etc.  We were detained and grilled for an hour after everyone had left the customs hall.  I was surprised we weren't arrested.  We finally wore them down and they allowed us to leave.

This morning I called the US Treasury Dept to confirm our understanding of the new regs.  They said all we needed was a letter from our church.  I called the boss of customs at DFW and let him have it.  I told him of the behavior of his agents and that my wife and I were humiliated and made to feel stupid when they were the stupid and uninformed.  I gave him the names of the Treasury Dept officials and their phone numbers and suggested he call to get the clarification of the regs to educate his agents.  He apologized and promised me that at their weekly staff meeting tomorrow, he would educate them and that this wouldn't happen again.  We'll see.  It's an expected battle in Cuba but we didn't expect a battle here.

It takes a full six months for us to recoup our sanity and shake off the frustrations of these trips.  Somehow we are able to forget them and once again start hitting the garage sales and thrift shops for the needs of the people down there. The needs don't stop. 

(From: RLP4129@aol.com)

Richard Porter's Cuba Trip Photos

August 2009

Habitacion en Santa Clara, Cuba, Aug 2009

Never Give Your Barnyard Animals A Name. Me and Pacholo That Night? Cuba, Aug 2009

Me, Pacholo & Pedro in Cuba Last Week (he was a good pig). Aug 2009