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Trip

A recent mission trip to Cuba left a mark on a local student. Photo from Thomas Hull

By Thomas Hull

Cuba is one of the most intriguing islands in the Western Hemisphere. The people have almost nothing in the way of material goods, having been thoroughly oppressed by their communist regime, but they are so happy and content with their lives. I got the opportunity to witness all this during a mission trip from the U.S. to Cuba earlier this year.

There is a strong sense of community in the lives of Cubans. To provide one example, the drivers of mass transport vehicles also carry supplies, at no extra charge, that can help fellow Cubans at whatever destination they are headed. The people of Cuba work hard for what they have, and there is a unity among them because of this — even people of different professions help each other. Students who attend college are allowed access to the Internet and have email addresses, but very few others do. The students share their email addresses, sometimes as many as twenty people using one address, so that their fellow citizens can stay in touch with loved ones. I witnessed a very busy Cuban missionary from the opposite side of the island assisting a worker in mowing the lawn just because the worker seemed to be having difficulty. That is such a rare thing to see in most places, but it isn’t strange at all in Cuba.

The average person in Cuba earns the equivalent of $20 per month, which isn’t nearly enough to feed a family, even though many items are cheaper there. At the end of our mission trip, we left all our clothes and supplies to give to the Cuban people. The local church distributed the clothes to families that most needed them.

Usually only people with money or connections own cars down there. The very lucky Cuban families who own cars care for them meticulously and pass them down through generations. Most of the cars we saw in Cuba were manufactured in the United States in the 1950s and were imported before former leader Fidel Castro came into power during the revolution. It was amazing to see cars from my grandparents’ generation in such abundance.

The original intent of my mission trip had been to build a classroom for the Las Palmas Bible Institute, a church camp in Cuba. Since Cuba is a communist country, it has no official religion, but Christianity is very strong throughout the island. The wonderful parishioners shared what little food and supplies they had with our group when we arrived. But the Cuban government decided at the last minute to revoke our building license, an unfortunate but common occurrence, so we spent the two weeks doing small jobs to make the lives of the people at Las Palmas a little easier — we rewired the buildings, repaired roads, fixed the sewage system and painted.

My whole experience in Cuba was enlightening. It was an honor to be able to witness firsthand such brotherhood among people. In nearly all aspects of their lives, the people band together to survive the hardships of life under a tough regime. It will be interesting to see how this unity among the Cuban people is affected by the changes that are soon to come, with the island being opened to the western world.

Thomas Hull is a Port Jefferson resident and rising senior at The Stony Brook School.

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A typical Highlander: The breed is well adapted to the extreme Scottish weather. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Scotland is a wonderful, wild and surprising place to visit.

My wife, Barbara, and I spent three days exploring The Trossachs National Park. We stayed in the village of Balloch at a bed-and-breakfast on a farm. George was a dairy farmer who had to sell his herd due to rising costs and lower milk prices. Sheila, his wife ran the B&B, Dumbain Farm, in a beautiful converted building that was the dairy barn.

The first day we drove to Luss, a 19th-century village that used to house slate quarry workers. Recognized as one of Scotland’s loveliest villages it is filled with many original stone cottages strewn with flowers and vines of every color and texture. We took walks around the village and through the farmland and former quarries around it. The paths are beautifully laid out and a delight to walk. We discovered a number of spoil heaps from the slate quarries; these remnants of the slate mining were clearly visible. In the afternoon we took a cruise on Loch Lomond. It was cold and cloudy but the scenery was spectacular.

The only downside was the almost complete lack of commentary. All the information you need to explore the villages, walks, hikes and lochs is on the website www.visitscotland.com.

The next day, Father’s Day (June 21), we drove through the incredibly beautiful Queen Elizabeth Forest Park to Loch Katrine. What superb vistas. We had a wonderful conversation on the loch cruise with a Scottish couple who were biking back from the other end of the lake. We saw a very pretty cottage built for Queen Victoria along the loch bank; she was visiting for the opening of the water supply from Katrine to Glasgow.

Unfortunately her 21-gun salute by the firing of cannons blew out all the cottage windows so she could not stay there.

We had lunch at the restaurant at the pier and dads were free for Father’s Day. We drove to Callander as the sun came out and walked a mile-and-a-half round-trip to Bracklinn Falls.

The water flows over and around gigantic slate stones that form walls around the falls. Along the walk we saw many sheep as well as long-haired Highland cattle, which are well adapted to the harsh climate. We had dinner in the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland, The Clachan Inn (1734), in the village of Drymen.

The next day we left Dumbain Farm and drove to Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. We enjoyed the Riverside Museum and the 245-foot barque Glenlee (1896), permanently moored alongside the museum.

The barque has a well done and interesting tour, with information on the 15-man crew and how they fared as seamen over the years on various ships. The Glenlee and thousands of other ships were built here along the River Clyde including the Queen Elizabeth 2, also known as the QE2. The decline of shipbuilding has left Glasgow with only tourism as a riverside industry, but it is now a vibrant city.

We had just time enough in the day to stop at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and viewed exhibits on Glasgow’s history, among others. The museum is housed in a most elegant Spanish Baroque building.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.