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Cookies in Cuba

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We were sitting on the stoop, back in 2019, watching the world go by in Moron, Cuba. Across the street from our rented room was a gentleman patiently sanding the bumper of a blue 1959 Chevy. In the shop next to us, a woman had just butchered a pig and hung the head on a post, letting her neighbours know that fresh pork was ready.

“Torticas, torticas”, the man called from his bicycle down the road. While I didn’t fully know what the word meant, I was confident it had something to do with sweets, so we flagged him down. From a well-worn wooden box strapped behind his seat, he began doling out small, sugar dusted cookies. My son Clark and husband Ivan started sampling while I fished in my pocket for some cash. Their eyes lit up. “Mas! Mas!” they said in unison. They wanted more.

“How much,” I asked in my limited Spanish. His response sounded either ridiculously low or astronomically high. You see, in Cuba at the time we visited there was still two currencies in play. One was dedicated to tourists and the other used by locals. Since I didn’t feel like doing a whole lot of math, I handed the baker the equivalent of roughly $3 Canadian dollars. He proceeded to empty his entire inventory into my hands and offer copious blessings and thanks. Neither party was disappointed.

I later learned that this city of 60,000, about an hour’s drive from the popular tourist destination of Cayo Coco, is famous for its Torticas de Moron. I also did some math and figured my Canadian cash could have purchased dozens and dozens and dozens of cookies on the open market. Maybe hundreds.

The community dates back centuries but the town really started to grow about 100 years ago when it become headquarters for a rail line used in the sugar industry. In fact, the Terminal de Ferrocarriles, with its elegant 1923 architecture, remains a busy place.

When you’re ready to travel again and if you’re interested in a break from the all-inclusive vibe of seaside resorts and want to see what life is like inland, a visit to Moron will fit the bill. Stay at one of the privately-run casa particular — just like a bed and breakfast — where you’ll get Cuban hospitality to spare and an abundant breakfast. Tour the town and pick up a handmade basket that everyone uses to carry groceries and everything else. Pop into the Museo Caonabo for a little history lesson and take a selfie with the town statue — a strutting rooster. You’ll change your mind about Cuban food after a meal at Don Papa, where fish, seafood, chicken and meat is cooked over charcoal. The lobster spaghetti with a starter of kidney bean soup will not disappoint.

Although we aren’t headed back to Cuba in the near future, thankfully I have the recipe for those delicious cookies — they really do bring us back there, if only for a moment.

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Travel & Escape

American woman faces $2,800 parking bill after leaving car in Toronto during pandemic

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Parking in the city can be costly, but one American woman is learning just how bad it can be after being unable to retrieve her car for nearly a year.

Detroit resident Kim Richardson left her 2004 Honda Element at the Park2Sky lot by Pearson airport in March 2020 before flying out to Europe for a medical procedure. She originally planned to retrieve it within two weeks but partway through her trip, the Canada-US border got closed due to COVID-19 precautions.

Richardson’s return flight was rerouted to Detroit and she’s been unable to return to Toronto since.

What was originally a $100 bill has now inflated to $2,800 as the lot’s owner says he has a business to operate and is owed payment for 11 months of storage. However, Richardson believes she’s being extorted for an issue beyond her control.

Park2Sky personnel claim that several Americans who found themselves in similar predicaments have had their cars shipped home.

“I don’t understand, I don’t know what’s going on here. Business is down, I’m not making any money at all. People who leave their car are paid. She’s the only one that hasn’t paid,” said the owner to CBC News this week.

The stalemate is expected to last a while longer as travel restrictions remain in place and Ontario Provincial Police have said they won’t get involved in a civil matter.

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All systems are go for St. Lawrence Cruise Lines in 2021

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KINGSTON — Despite Canada’s newly extended cruise ship ban, Canadians still have a small-ship cruising alternative in 2021 with St. Lawrence Cruise Lines.

The small-ship operator, which sails on the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, has confirmed operations for 2021, with overnight cruises on both rivers from May 20 to Oct. 24. A variety of cruises ranging from four to seven nights will depart from Kingston, Ottawa and Quebec City, sailing exclusively in domestic waters with stops at select ports in Ontario and Quebec.

On Feb. 4, Canada’s Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra announced that Canada’s cruise ship ban will be extended until Feb. 28, 2022. This measure, which effectively prohibits cruise vessels carrying more than 100 passengers from operating in Canadian waters, does not impact the small-ship operations of St. Lawrence Cruise Lines and its 32-stateroom CANADIAN EMPRESS.

“We are excited to offer travellers a small ship option for the 2021 season,” said President Jason Clark. “Our overnight cruises stay close to shore in Canadian waters and our COVID-19 Health and Safety program has been recognized for its high standards.”

This past December, the cruise line was awarded the Safe Travels Stamp by the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) for adherence to global standards of health and hygiene. The program includes a wide range of safety measures, including reduced passenger loads, masking, physical distancing and hospital-grade electrostatic disinfecting for both private staterooms and shared spaces. Plus, all staterooms have access to fresh air, climate controls and views of the river.

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Here’s How Canada’s ‘Screening Officers’ Will Check On Travellers During Quarantine

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The federal government is reminding all travellers in Canada that “Screening Officers” may pay them a visit post-arrival.

In a statement about the country’s latest travel restrictions, Transport Canada confirmed that newly-trained officials would be tasked with checking up on travellers during their two-week quarantine period.

The role of the Screening Officers will be to visit travellers’ quarantine locations to “establish contact, confirm identify and confirm that travellers are at the place of quarantine they identified upon entry into Canada.”

This is to make sure individuals are complying with Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement.

The checks will be conducted across 35 Canadian cities, having already started in Montreal and Toronto back in January.

The officials will provide “compliance education” and will be able to issue verbal warnings, but stronger enforcement action will be referred to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and then law enforcement for follow-up checks. 

Failing to comply with the Quarantine Act or with Screening Officers’ instructions could result in fines of up to $750,000 or even jail time.

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