Crazy Train ~ part 2, Cuba (2011)

So, no, woman, no cry.
No, woman, no cry.
I say, oh, little—oh, little darlin’, don’t shed no tears.
No, woman, no cry. Eh.
~Bob Marely

Continued from Crazy Train (part 1)…

My brother Mark and his wife and my sister Amy and I had tickets for a week in Cuba and I was determined to go.  I was looking forward to getting out of our messed up house with it’s temporary kitchen and dust everywhere.  I was determined to go.  I may have mentioned that already.  I figured it would do my cough good to get into the sun even though I had coughed up a bit of blood earlier that day.

When I met my sister Amy at the Toronto airport she noticed immediately that I was holding my body rigidly.  Her big blue eyes searched my face as she asked me if I was okay. My green eyes began to water as I said: I have a few problems right now.

Cue the ominous music

The first two days in Cuba were fine.  We walked on the beach and swam and laughed and Mark played his guitar and we all sang a whole lot but, my bronchitis was not improving.

It was worsening.

Amy, Mark and Irene went out in the evening to watch the band.  I was going to stay and rest, I said.  Mark was going to play a song and he was looking forward to that.  Our rooms were about a five minute walk to the area on the beach where the music was to be performed.  After they left, I decided to put something comfortable on and walk over and stand in the sand to just listen.  By the time I walked the walkway to the beach, tears were streaming down my face due to the beauty everywhere and how frightened I was of what lay ahead.  I knew it would be psychosis and psychosis can be a very scary and a very lonely place.

Someone in the band saw me crying and he whispered to his band mate.  Suddenly they were playing, ‘No Woman No Cry‘ by Bob Marley.  I just bawled some more at how sweet they were to try and help me with their music.  I realized again just how much I love Cuba.

However, I could not sleep.

I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling and then, by the third night, the visions and the outrageous thoughts started: I was the Virgin Mary. I was the one meant to save the world. There was a numerology aspect.  I was born on 03-03-66. my only son Leo was born on 09-08-99. I was 33 when he was born.  Mom was born in 16-06-30 and she had been 36 when I was born.  My business was Incorporated on 06-06-06. So, lot’s of threes (and sixes and nines, all divisible by three).  There were three in my family.  Three was a special number, as a former Catholic I knew this well.  The number of the Holy Trinity in Christianity.  My mind churned these thoughts — twisting and turning them, over and over.

Then, I was having conversations with God. My birth family would all be saved from the coming world crisis if we gathered on a tropical island together. My pulse raced.  My stomach churned with butterflies.  My bowels turned to liquid.  I was all keyed up and it was impossible to sleep. Mania was taking over my mind and I was familiar with it. All aboard the crazy train folks…

railroad, abandoned

Things rapidly deteriorated from that point.  Luckily our week was almost up.  Mark and his wife began furtive preparations for home while Amy watched over me. I just wanted to walk around the resort and connect with every possible person in my vicinity. Mark and Amy were worried I wouldn’t be permitted on the flight if I was acting too manic, so Amy and I went to the medical clinic where a very kind and gentle doctor, while holding my hand, shot a huge syringe of tranquilizer into each cheek of my ass.   Amy said that it was enough tranquilizer to drop a horse.  But guess what, I was still manic with no tranquility in sight.  I popped off the bed like the Energizer bunny.  By the time we got to the airport though, I was much more calm but still no sleep.  I should have been slumped over, drooling, in deep sleep.

Now, I was taking the hands of total strangers, gazing deeply into their eyes and telling them all about their lives and how to improve it.  Funnily enough, people seemed to really want to hear what I was saying to them.  It was bizarre.  One man told me I was the most honest person he had ever spoken to.  Meanwhile, my brother Mark was running around trying to keep me safe and to act normal so that the airline people would allow me to fly.  I, of course, was oblivious by this point.

Next up….Crazy Train (part 3)

girl on tracks

Cuatro a Cuba 🇨🇺 (2017)

With the goal of getting back into World Travel now that our wee one is taller than us, we start with the sweet country of Cuba…

With our 18-year old son, Leo, having just finished up his first term of University, and his buddy, Reid, we decided to take a 12-day trip to Cuba…a non-resort trip…not exactly as strenuous as a ‘back-packing’ trip, per se, but a non-resort moving around trip none the less.  And, all in all, it was a fine adventure to finish off 2017 in a unique fashion.  Dean and I were also celebrating 25 years married and we wanted to do something special for the occasion.

We arrived in Havana in mid-December and made a bee-line first to the cadeca to change money, then to the tienda for a cold one each.  We had arranged a driver to take us to our place in Vedado, a trendy area of the city but, he was familiar with ‘Cuba Time’ and had no trouble just chilling until the four of us quenched our thirst after a long, rather sparse flight.  Don’t get me going but what the devil has happened to flights theses days?…I had told the boys of the days of unlimited free boozy drinks on flights and a full hot meal preceded by a warm towel for your face, neck and hands, blankets and pillows and head-sets handed to each traveler.  What the heck happened???  Now we couldn’t even check a bag for free.  The four of us went with carry-on only and had had our sun-screen confiscated at security.  Let’s just read that line again…our sun-screen was confiscated at security.  Why?  Well, it seems since 9 – 11, sun-screen in any family-size container, is a security breech.

I digress.

Our driver happily helped us into his vintage car and off we rolled to our apartment.  Along the way, in a combination of broken English, Spanglish, gesture and sound effects, he told us about the area and his family.  It seemed that he was a nearly pro ping-ponger with four babies (who were now adults) and then we rolled passed the Mental Health Hospital and he put two bent fingers to his right temple and made a creaking sound while moving his fingers back and forth and rolling his eyes.  Ooookay.  Meanwhile, in his back seat sits me with Bipolar1.  I didn’t let on.

Our apartment was ideal and in good proximity to a landmark that we all wanted to check out.  The Nacional Hotel.  It seemed fitting to have our first mojito of the trip there. National Hotel

The bartender happened to be our landlord, so he treated us to a Cubata cocktail as well and a couple of fine cigars for the lads.  His protege was quite a nice-looking guy, very photogenic, and he was fine with me snapping his picture.

Cuban

From there, we walked along the sea wall and marveled at the warm air.walking in Havana with J

It was getting dark and would soon be time to find a place to eat.  We asked a young person who seemed to know some English.  He told us to try Bicky’s and he drew us a little map.  We walked the darkened streets with nary a flat sidewalk and several random ankle-busting holes as well as piles of dog doo and other garbage.  We found it, though.  Its neon-lighted sign beckoning like a lighthouse over choppy seas.  It was an Italian place and we were seated on the balcony.  The place was packed and we got the last table.  When my food arrived, it didn’t look like much: penne pasta in a cream sauce.  Oh my.  It was fabulous.  All of us were happy with our food, but mine was outstanding.  I could barely speak due to my tongue being in love with the taste.  A nice omen of our meals to come.

The next morning, the Senorita arrived to cook us breakfast and we had fun trying to understand each other.  She had not a word of English and would just raise the volume of her Spanish to make us understand.  Luckily, my previous study on duolingo and our old phrase book which we had used in Central America  when Leo was four helped. As well, I employed a healthy and hilarious amount of gesture which I was comfortable with since learning conversational American Sign Language when Leo was a baby. I taught her how to do eggs ‘over-easy’ using my hand as the spatula in my gesticulating.  We had wonderful foods for breakfast: fresh tropical fruit, coffee, toast, eggs, freshly made tropical juices.  Wonderful.

Off we went to walk to the book store which was a couple of miles away in a quiet part of the city.  We walked past many pastel-coloured stucco homes, newly painted with groomed yards and straight fences, often directly beside a very old, grey and crumbling crooked house.  It was odd and interesting.  When we got to Cuba Libro the bookstore, LA HABANA-COMIENZA LA XXV FERIA INTERNACIONAL DEL LIBRO, CUBA 20we were amazed at the wonderful books as well as other offerings there: cookies, coffee and a clean bathroom. It is owned by an expat and has a lively community following with various clubs meeting there and tours too. The lovely server told us how to get a car to take us to Old Havana and so next we were climbing into a red 51 Chevy with clear vinyl covered leather seats.  It was mint.cuban taxi

Because we so enjoyed this man, with no English but a lovely manner, we negotiated with him for the 4.5 hour ride to Trinidad de Cuba for the next morning.  Then we walked around seeing the sights of Old Havana and drinking in the ancient feel of the place.

yellow wall laneIt was commonplace to hear and see vendors yelling and selling their wares which ranged from brooms (which I REALLY wanted – joking) to lettuce (which I also REALLY wanted) to baked crackers and pastries, even home-made ice-cream and shaved meat sandwiches were being sold but the sandwich maker was without gloves and my Western sensibilities would not allow us to avail of them.  I was quite intrigued with the cart of lettuce, and other veggies.  It looked so good and yummy.

cart of lettuce

Our ride to Trinidad (well, Boca actually which is just south of Trinidad) was uneventful except for many bumps due to the non-existent shocks on the 51 Chevy. There were very few vehicles on the highway but we would see horse and buggy from time to time, many sugar-cane fields and not a single fast-food place like there are along our highways.  We stopped about half-way for a bano break and the boys had a quick sandwich.  When we arrived, the taxi-driver asked at several doors to find us a place to stay.  We wanted two rooms with their own bathrooms.  We found them and we met an east-coaster named Erika who was quite eager to get to know us and to talk a blue streak.  While the Senora of the Casa made us a roast chicken lunch, we went swimming in the bay across from our rooms.  Erika came along and continued to ask intriguing questions and I found myself filling her in on our previous travels because she was very interested.

After a fine lunch, we grabbed a taxi to the big beach, Playa Ancon, and had a very sweet time throwing frisbee,

IMG_0647 walking down the beach and when Senor came along to ask if we wanted a drink, I sprung for mojitos for all (perhaps a wee bit extravagant but, sometimes that’s just the way it goes).

img_0534.jpgWhen the sun began to go down we grabbed the last taxi for the 10k back to La Boca and sat on the front porch. Next, there was a bit of a sing-song, as it turned out that Erika could sing beautifully with a rich voice and was very talented on guitar.  She had won an East Coast Music Award and such. http://erikakulnys.com/

Later, all the young folk went off to the Salsa House in Trinidad for a wild time.  We heard them getting in a few hours later and it sounded like they were going to have some stories for us in the morning.  Which they did…along the lines of how much rum one can drink before feeling rather sick…and such.  And, they enjoyed dancing their legs off!

We spent the days either on the beach at Playa Ancon,

IMG_0613

or walking around Trinidad IMG_0600

or hiking in the hills and swimming in small pools near the water falls.

IMG_0558

IMG_0582

Leo jumped in from a high ledge and it was really cool.  I should comment that the second hike was very hard.  Walking way down, down, down to get to this pool and waterfall and then up, up, UP to get back to the top where our loyal taxi-driver waited.  My heart nearly burst.  I couldn’t remember a more challenging hike, even when we trekked for 30 days in Nepal…I had been a lot younger then.  That could account for it, I guess.  waterfallOne very good aspect though was that Dean surprised me with a lovely ring for our 25th anniversary, as we sat watching the boys by the waterfall.  Doesn’t get any better than that, in my world.

We also ate a lot of really good food in many different establishments.  Our Trinidad host, Rebeca, was so sweet to us too. She made us an elaborate breakfast each morning which included tropical fruit and juices, fresh-baked pie and pastries, omelettes, coffee with hot milk and chocolate.  She would hug and kiss us regularly, in keeping with her affectionate culture and because we would smile and she could see that we were content.  One morning she had Reid in a tight squeeze to her ample breasts.  He surfaced saying he thought that was called ‘a motorboat’.  We laughed. We breakfasted on her upper terrace and she went up and down the stairs at least a dozen times for us and not allowing us to help. Her granddaughter stole my heart and I gave her little gifts. To return the favour to us, Rebeca gave us a flask of Havana Club and a bottle of red wine.  These would have cost her a heck of a lot and were very generous gifts.

In Trinidad, the boys went to the Iberostar Hotel a few times in order to avail themselves of wifi.  It wasn’t free but nor was it too expensive.  There was also a pool table there which they were able to use a few times.  They would also have a cappuccino or a beer while they got their fill of social media and connecting with loved ones back home.

In the blink of an eye, it was time to head back to Havana to prepare for our journey home to Canada.  Rebeca’s son would take us back to the big city.  Without a word of English, we made our way with him.  He was quite a good driver.  He charged us a very fair rate for the trip.  No English but a lovely persona and a big, quick smile.  If you ever go to Trinidad de Cuba and need a place to stay, have the taxi take you to Casa Rebeca on Cienfuegos.  Highly recommend!

Back in Havana, we found rooms in Centro, just outside of Old Havana.  The landlady was a hurdle and it was apparent that she was a money grabbing opportunist behind her big fake smile.  Can’t have the good ones every time, I guess.  We walked the streets and looked at art, tasted various beers, Dean got a hair cut, and we tried a variety of restaurants and then it was time to grab a taxi to the airport.

Adios Cuba.  Until next time.IMG_0442

Crazy Train, part 1…All ABOARD (2010)

The stress of a kitchen renovation then subsequent bronchitis throws me into a psychotic episode while in Cuba…

I had my Birkenstocks and  SmartWools on and with my big-ass undies peeking out of my johnny coat, I saw my chance to escape. Out the psych ward’s normally locked door I slipped, down the hall and through the big front doors. I was  running home. It was a dark, -20, winter night but if I could just run the 15 k home, all would be well…

You see, I was in the midst of my second ever full blown psychotic episode of Bipolar-1, my first ever had happened in postpartum in 1999.  It was now 2010 and I had enjoyed perfect mental and physical health for eleven years.

Then, we decided (cue ominous music here)…to move house and shortly thereafter to completely gut and renovate the kitchen and that’s when the shit hit the fan…and, it wasn’t pretty.

We had moved into our little bungalow which is in an idyllic location in our beloved town.  It is close to everything and sits between two parks and just up from the dyke lands.  The street is short and quiet with a handful of unique homes on it and quiet owners who mostly stick to themselves.  I adored this new little house, which is all we needed for the three of us and our large dog.

The previous owner (whom I strangle in my imagination every time I catch sight of him) had, however, sadly, let if fall into disrepair and become outdated.  We had our hands full when we moved in.  The old harvest-gold carpet in the living-room stunk like stale Guinness.  We ripped it out the first night.

Open the dryer and door fell off.

Door knobs and cabinet knobs were missing.

Huge pink toilets ran for hours after flushing.

Every window screen was torn.

Faucets dripped.

Paint was chipping on the exterior.

The ancient dishwasher didn’t work.

The fan above the oven exhausted into your face.  Not pleasant.

The windows were full of black gunk around the edges.

There was black mold on the main bath ceiling.

The ensuite shower stall had a serious microbiome going on.

Run the washer and the water drained into the kitchen sink and then onto the kitchen floor.

You get the idea.

Everything was broken!!!

And the owner had been a professional, a PHd!!!!!  (I’m a ProFESSional, as Dad would say so that everyone would know that he knew everything about everything.  One time, in the eighties, on a road trip to Florida, he had corrected a local waitress, serving tables in her own home-town, about a fact about her home-town that there was no way in hell he could have known to be true –there was no internet nor cell phones nor wifi then.  He waved his thumb at he and his new wife saying, Honey Baby, we’re both teachers.  Luke and I were stunned and mortified at his audacity.  We would have liked to slip under the table to hide our embarrassment and very red faces while we cringed.  Years later we just chuckle about it.  It was a trait of our father that was oh so irksome.  The only thing Dad knew everything about was hockey.  Every stat. Every player. Every game.  It was truly fascinating when he got going.)

I digress.

The kitchen in our new bungalow was completely substandard.  Popcorn ceiling (stucco ceiling in a kitchen!  Imagine.)  Tiny, rotting windows.  Single sink in rotting cabinet. Dark wooden cupboards and doors.  Ancient washer and dryer, both missing knobs, right in the kitchen.  The wall behind the lint-bomb of a dryer was crumbling and one of the wires to the 220 v outlet was bare.  Throw a lit match back there and the place would go up.  One teeny light fixture with a tiny fluorescent bulb that would flicker ad naseum while I tried to chop veggies for supper and no other task lighting to speak of.  It was depressingly bad and needed to be fixed.  People had warned us that kitchen renovations can be stressful. Oh Lord. We really should have listened.

After much shopping around for contractors and planning and budgeting, the day came for demolition.  The idiot who decided to take down our old popcorn ceiling, for some inexplicable reason, did not seal off the room to the rest of the house.  I arrived home from work to find a scene out of a post apocalyptic nuclear snow storm: about 3 feet of vermiculite on our kitchen floor and buddy (the idiot) shoveling it into plastic bags to get rid of it.  He had no face mask on and all of the fibers were floating around the whole house.  My first thought to accompany my racing pulse and rapid breathing was: Holy shit.  That could be asbestos.  Next I calmly asked the idiot when he thought he would have it cleaned up.  Next I ran like a devil to find Dean and to get Leo from school.  My friend who is both a Master Electrician and a Master Plumber (and whom I had hired for the job) was my next call.  He calmly told me to get on the internet and find a place that could test a sample of the vermiculite.  He told me there are two types of vermiculite. One with and one without asbestos.

I was in luck.  A scientist working in Halifax lived in the Valley and did vermiculite testing on the side.  He told me to put a baggie of the stuff in his mailbox in Canning and he would have an answer to me the next day.  He said there was a fifty fifty chance it was asbestos.  I asked him what would have to happen if it WAS asbestos.  He said quite simply, ‘you’d be forced to move out until it was all abated.  The place would be off limits.’  Oh jesus…

Stress and more stress.

The next day I received his email.  It was NOT asbestos.  I had not slept the previous night. We paid the idiot and fired him and that did not go well.  Next I heard that he beats up his wife.  This is a small town.  I did not wish to run into him again.  Especially if I was by myself.  I hardly slept and when I did, it was the idiot who was in my nightmares. A cough had developed and was getting worse.

So, the stress and the interrupted sleep began.  With Bipolar disorder, sleep disruptions and sleep deprivation cause or exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder rapidly.  So does stress.  I was not on medication then and in hind-sight, I truly wish I had been.

After the idiot was fired, the work on the reno started to come together nicely.  I would work alongside my skilled and talented friend and we would chuckle the day away.  I would just do things like retrieve parts from his van or the hardware store or screw this in, screw that in, move this, hold this…you get the idea. My cough worsened and would wake me up several times a night.

At some point, I went to the doctor and was told I had developed bronchitis.  I asked about my sleep interruptions and he explained that when I went into a coughing fit, my body produced the hormone adrenaline.  The adrenaline would soar through my body and stop my sleep.  Uh oh.  It was  thought that the soaring hormones in postpartum, as well as the difficulty and length of the birth,  and resultant sleep deprivation,  had caused my first psychotic episode.

Up next…Crazy Train part 2 – Cuba