Farm Life in Cuba

I have been waiting for a rainy day to work on more posts. Needless to say, it’s been dry here in Georgia! Not a good thing for the farming life or for more posts from our March trip.

Sustainable Farming

Last summer, someone asked us whether our farm was ‘sustainable.’ I wasn’t quite sure how to answer–sustainable monetarily? sustainable as far as producing what we need for day-to-day living? sustainable as far as environmental practices? sustainable concerning animal welfare? …so many ways to interpret that question!

The answer to any of those questions in Cuba is “yes!” The farms that we observed were small. Outside of the city, almost all homes had small gardens. All seemed to have a menagerie of animals about the property; oxen were common, but cows were not.

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Cuban Transportation

Without any doubt, the most frequent question that we’ve gotten since returning from our trip to Cuba is, “Did you see many old cars?” We saw old cars–lots of them!

In the U.S., we think of transportation as a general right, with the expectation that transportation is easily available. That did not appear to be the case in Cuba. Transportation there included walking, horseback, horse and buggy, oxen and buggy, people movers (transport trucks, sort of), motor cycles, and anything else that could get a person from one place to another. In this post, I am going to include LOTS of pictures of the old cars, but will also include pictures of the other forms of transportation that we saw.


There were lots of 1940’s and 1950’s era American cars, but we also saw some old Soviet-built cars. There were also some modern cars, mostly Toyotas. We were told that most of the old American cars have Russian engines and tires made in China. There was no such thing as emissions standards or fuel efficiency! Most of the old cars have been brightly repainted numerous times; car owners take pride in their cars. License plate numbers begin with letters that indicate the vehicle’s use: B = bus or business, P = private, T = taxi or tourism, D = diplomat, etc. Here are just a few of the many old cars that we saw…


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Another ‘Better Late than Never’ Post…

Late January 2016, we heard a cycling friend was putting together a trip to Cuba. His description was that ‘Cuba is different.’ Though we had never really considered visiting Cuba, we thought it would be an interesting adventure. The timing was right (early March), the weather would be warmer than Georgia, and it would be a chance to see Cuba before American tourism changed the scenery. We were also to be allowed to use “alternative transportation” (aka bicycles) on a few of the days; so that sounded like a good way to see the countryside and learn about the Cuban culture. We decided to sign-up and ended up being so glad that we did.

The trip was a people-to-people trip, planned to give us meaningful interaction with Cuban people. Our trip included a full schedule with visits to a tobacco farm, a cigar factory, Hemingway’s farm, a rum distillery, the beach, the Mural de la Prehistoria, the Vinales Valley, a cave that was one of Fidel’s hideouts during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Revolution Plaza, Old Havana, Morro Castle, an orchid garden, …..and I am sure that I am leaving something out! There was very little down-time–just a couple of afternoons. From what I have read, this is a typical schedule on people-to-people tours. Our guide, David (pronounced ‘Da-veed’), also took us to his grandmother’s home, where she was so welcoming. We only stayed long enough to meet her and some family members, but it was great! Later in the week, we stopped by the home of some of David’s relatives who lived in the country. David described their home as “humble,” but we thought it was wonderful; the setting was gorgeous and peaceful.

Rather than posting about our day-to-day adventures, I am going to focus these posts on topics related to the questions we have gotten since returning–old cars, food, farming, housing, historical/tourist sites, etc. My goal is to share some of the beauty that we encountered, so each post will include lots of pictures. Sorry that there has been such a delay in getting these posted!

Getting There

At the time of our trip, only charter flights were going into Cuba from the U.S. We flew to Cancun, Mexico, met our travel group of twelve, then flew to Havana the next morning. Not only did we have the usual port-of-entry experience, we were also videotaped as we entered the airport. The airport is small, but modern. The first thing that seemed “out of the ordinary” was the parking lot. It was close to deserted!

Parking lot of Aeropuerto Internacional Jose Marti-Habana
Parking lot of Aeropuerto Internacional Jose Marti-Habana

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For years, Steve (aka Oscar) had cows with his dad. When Steve’s dad sold all of his cows, Steve kept his small herd on the family land. After retiring, Steve began working to rebuild the herd, fix fences, get the pastures back in optimum condition, and cut hay for the winter.

We began to realize that our small herd was not really earning its keep. In order to keep the farm from becoming a money pit, we needed for the herd to grow more quickly than nature was going to allow. In July 2015, we bought ten bred heifers from a farm in south Georgia. The cows were due to calve in October and November. When it was time to pick up the heifers, the weather was hot and dry. In order to transport the cows from south Georgia to home, Steve was going to have to make two trips. A very kind neighbor offered his longer cattle trailer and truck so only one trip was needed. The day that he transported the cows, it ended up being cool and rainy! What a blessing–the help from our neighbor and the rain! During calving season, we had nine new calves–six bulls and three heifers. 

New cows join the herd.
New cows join the herd.
A new calf
A new calf

Of our original herd, we kept nine cows who had five calves. We sold four of the five and kept one bull calf. Our hope is that the bull calf will eventually become the bull for our herd; his father was from the last bull bought by Steve’s father. We rented a bull to service our nine cows, who are due to begin calving in late March!

Moving from one field to another
Moving from one field to another

To keep up with all of the logistics of the farm, we have found that using spreadsheets on Google Drive has helped a lot. We are keeping information on when vaccinations were given, when fertilizer was applied to the fields, when fields were planted, which cows have calves and when, etc. We hope that by doing a better job of record keeping, we will eventually see black in the accounting column!

Enjoying the grazing!
Enjoying the grazing!

More cow updates will be coming soon; I’ve just got to get through the pictures!

It’s Been A While!

We’ve been so busy with projects that I have not made myself sit down, go through pictures, and post to our blog in months. I am going to try to do better, but no promises!

I have always loved watercolor; I love the clean colors and the transparency. I have just completed my third watercolor class! There is so much to learn, so many different techniques and ways to approach painting. My first class was with Erin McIntosh at the Lyndon House Art Center in Athens, GA. Erin was a wonderful teacher for a first-time watercolor student. She demonstrated many techniques and was very encouraging when we made attempts. When I asked about what to do when my attempts don’t seem good enough, she didn’t seem to understand the question. She said that she sometimes has pieces that she doesn’t immediately like, but sometimes goes back to them and finds that she does like them. If she doesn’t, she cuts up the work and uses it in collages! She was the perfect teacher for a beginning student.

My second class was with Thomas Needham at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Augusta, GA. (It’s nice living halfway between Athens and Augusta–the best of both worlds!) Thomas’ workshop took place over a weekend. He is a very meticulous and talented artist and a great teacher. He helped us understand how to draw and paint a landscape, demonstrating, then letting us paint our version. I learned so much and had fun on that cold, rainy November weekend.

Painting completed in class with Thomas Needham, November 2015.
Painting completed in class with Thomas Needham, November 2015.

YouTube has also provided lots of instruction! I have found instructors who demonstrate techniques that I am trying to learn, then I paint along with them, starting and stopping, stopping and starting! I am thankful to each artist brave enough to allow me into their studio through video. It has helped me make progress! I am also taking some online courses that I’ve purchased. I am particularly enjoying Sketchbook Skool! The online community is very supportive and very creative.

Painting completed after watching a tutorial by Barry Toshio Shiraishi on YouTube!
Painting completed after watching a tutorial by Barry Toshio Shiraishi on YouTube!
I did this painting of our home after watching a tutorial by Belinda Del Pesco on YouTube.
I did this painting of our home after watching a tutorial by Belinda Del Pesco on YouTube.

I have just finished taking another watercolor class at the Lyndon House Center in Athens. The focus of this class has been still life painting. I have found that I need more time and have often been frustrated by having to hurry. I like painting in layers (washes or glazing), so to do that, I need time. Even though I have been frustrated at times, I have loved meeting the other artists-in-training and seeing their work.

I am trying to become less of a perfectionist and more accepting of my attempts to paint and sketch. Even when I am not in love with what I’ve painted or drawn, I am trying to focus on the one or two things that I like or improvements from earlier attempts. When I do that, I have found that I am less timid about my work. So, I am sharing some of my work here. Hopefully, in the future, you’ll notice improvement!


CGY 2015: Heading Home

Sunday, August 23, 2015 / on the road toward GA

We quickly traveled back to GA, but did a little cross-country, non-interstate travel, which is always a better way to go. We drove past Chimney Rock, Nebraska an early landmark that helped travelers navigate during settlement of the West. Chimney Rock is visible from miles and miles away.

Chimney Rock, Nebraska
Chimney Rock, Nebraska
Platte River
Following the Platte River

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CGY 2015: Day 7

Saturday, August 22, 2015Powell, WY to Clark, WY to Belfry, MT to Red Lodge, MT / 0 miles!

Imagine if you put a cat in a paper bag, placed it close to your head, then tried to go to sleep. Rustling, flapping, beating…. That is what our night was like! The winds whipped the tent ALL….NIGHT…..LONG! And, we woke up to more cold temperatures. The CGY folks told us that the wind was predicted to remain fierce all day, with gusts to 50 mph. As I have said before, riding in the wind is no good. Cycle Greater Yellowstone knew that many riders were exhausted and would not want to attempt the last day in the high winds, so they arranged for transportation to Red Lodge for those wishing to forgo the day. We signed up!

We arrived in Red Lodge before our luggage, which allowed us time to walk around town and sight-see. After our luggage arrived, we loaded up our things and headed back toward Georgia. We took a cross-country route via US-14 Alternate through the Big Horn National Forest. It was a beautiful road and we recommend it if you happen to travel in that area.

Heading home!
Heading home!

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CGY 2015: Day 6

Friday, August 21, 2015Cody, WY to Willwood, WY to Penrose, WY to Lovell, WY to Deaver, WY to Powell, WY / 80 miles

The ride from Cody to Powell meandered through dry desert. The route was flat and smoky. Notice the haze in all of the pictures.

Steve circling back to ride with me in the desert.
Cool rock formations

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Buffalo Bill Dam reservoir

CGY 2015: Day 5

Thursday, August 20, 2015 / Layover day in Cody, WY, rode to Buffalo Bill Dam / 14 miles

Today was an optional ride day. Riders could ride to the East Entrance of Yellowstone (100+ miles, out and back, uphill to Yellowstone, downhill back), could ride to the Buffalo Bill Dam via the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway (14 miles round trip), or could hang out in Cody and sight-see.

On the closed section of road
On the closed section of road

After quite a bit of deliberation, we decided to ride out to the Buffalo Bill Dam. The route allowed us to ride on the old section of road below the dam that is no longer open to the public. Even though we really, really wanted to rest, we also hated to miss the opportunity to see the historic road. Long ago, this was the only route to the Yellowstone East Entrance.

Tunnel before the big hill
Tunnel over the old road









The road below the dam is very steep (14% grade), but cool! The canyon walls are close together and the road hangs on the side of the canyon. The Buffalo Bill Dam, completed in 1910, provides electricity, along with water for irrigation, to the surrounding area. It was a remarkable engineering feat, particularly considering the methods used in 1910!

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CGY 2015: Day 4

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 / Cooke City, MT  to Cody, WY via Chief Joseph Scenic Byway / 77 miles 

We woke to clear skies! No bears, but we spent a COLD night in the tent. We have good sleeping bags, but they were not enough. I ended up wrapping my feet in my down jacket, sleeping in all of my warm clothes including my beautiful orange neck gaiter/ear cover! The tent was coated in ice; the door-flap operated like a solid door. It would have been funny if we hadn’t been so darn cold.

Frozen tent!
Frozen tent! Ours is the beige and yellow one.

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