Leadership on The World Stage

Buffoonery on the world stage is an unfortunate blip in world history, which hopefully the world will survive as it has in the past. Geographically, at the center of the world is the tiny country of Panama. The great liberator of most of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, once said that if the world were to have a capital it would be Panama.

This morning CNN led with a story, breaking news, that China wants to become the world power. And this is news? Come on folks! It’s obvious that the U.S., Russia, and China are all vying to to be the world power. If we learn anything from history it is that things always change and nothing lasts forever. World powers come and go. Some focus on the past and others leverage the past to focus on the future.

cropped-new-header-darwin

China is quietly investing in projects that will position it to be the world power of the future. Whether or not the Nicaragua Canal ever materializes as a functioning entity or not, it is one block in China’s plan. Panama has now given up its recognition of Taiwan, which although remaining closely aligned with Taiwan, officially recognizes The Peoples Republic of China, which happens the be the second largest customer of the Panama Canal [The US is the biggest customer]. Less than ten months into this new relationship with China, Panama is signing a flurry of agreements for cooperation, including feasibility studies for a China-financed high speed train between Panama City and Chiriqui, and the construction of a new Chinese super port that will facilitate increased trade taking advantage of the now-expanded Panama Canal. For the record, Panama doesn’t just talk about infrastructure, but produces … the expanded Panama Canal; the now 4-lane Pan American Highway through Panama; the Panama City Metro with one line operating [35 cents a ride!!], line two nearing completion, and line three in the planning stage; soon to be three new stunning bridges across the Panama Canal linking the continents; Tocumen International expansion moving toward completion that will more than double the capacity of “The Hub of The Americas, and the list goes on!

In this fascinating interview with the President of tiny Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, he talks about Panama’s new relationship with China, and offers a careful, thought-out, intelligent view of Panama’s role at the center of the interconnected global trade.

Varela references the Summit of The Americas in Panama which provided the opportunity to begin the dialogue between President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro, opening the door for U.S. citizens to visit our next-door neighbor. Since I will be returning for a third season cruising around Cuba in a few months, I’m very interested in what happens in Cuba and the U.S. relationship with Cuba, which has deteriorated post-Obama. Cuba needs everything. And there is this enormous vacuum in Cuba. There are three logical players to fill that vacuum: the U.S., China, and Russia. All the beautiful new tourist buses in Cuba – with rest rooms that actually work! – are Chinese. China is building a much-needed new cruise terminal in Havana [and by the way China, Panama City could use a cruise terminal as well]. Right now Russia is meeting with Cuba developing strategies for cooperation. The U.S. struggles to turn back the clock, obliterate any progress that was made by Obama, and continue a failed policy which hasn’t worked and won’t work. We sit back and let China and Russia have their way with our next-door neighbors.

AirBnB: First & LAST Experience

We have lived in Panama 14 years and the last time my daughter and her family were able to visit my oldest grandson was only 4 years old.  So, we had the whole family down and with two boys, ages 5 and 10, we wanted this to be a special and perfect visit.  Knowing that I would be on a ship, flying home the same day they arrived and literally meeting up with them in baggage claim at Tocumen Airport, I wanted everything arranged and nothing left to chance.  We had a busy three days planned for Panama City before flying up to Boquete.

I had never used AirBnB, but I’ve heard a lot about it, and was amazed while I was working on a ship going to Cuba how popular the concept was … in Cuba!

Logging on to the AirBnB Web site, I was surprised at how cumbersome and clunky it was, and how difficult it was to actually navigate and find things.  But I did find what looked to be a perfect solution for us …

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24377495

It was right in the heart of the old, colonial city, Casco Viejo, had beautiful pictures, was one of the old colonial buildings that looked to have been delightfully restored, and had beds sufficient for the six of us, and with a complete kitchen would make it very easy to keep the kids happy and fed, and all of the amazing Casco Viejo was in walking distance.  So we booked it to the tune of $532.98.

“Superhost” Maurcio was praised in the write ups, so all looked good.  Knowing how chaotic Casco Viejo can be, and that, like most of Panama, there are no street signs or addresses, and since no postal deliver service, I emailed “Superhost” Mauricio for detailed directions.    Since I was onboard ship with very limited email/Internet connectivity I requested several times directions and addresses from Mauricio.  His only response was “Calle 6 Oeste, Casco Viejo.”  Knowing that I needed much more than this I made several requests without response.

So as I travelled between the ship, airport, and flew to Panama I could only hope that our driver could find what was advertised on AirBnB as the “Mi Casa Inn.”

We arrived in Panama, got our luggage, piled into our driver’s van and headed off to find “Mi Casa Inn” on “Calle 6 Oeste, Casco Viejo.”  Knowing we needed more precise information we called the phone number provided by “Superhost” Mauricio, but there was no answer.  We left a message and asked him to call back ASAP.  Driving around Casco Viejo at 9:30 PM, up and down Calle 6 Oeste, neither the driver, nor anyone we asked, which by the way included four policemen on the beat, three restaurants/stores, and one woman working the street, and nobody had heard of anything like “Mi Casa Inn” or knew anything.  Predictable?  Yes, which is why I had been so insistent asking our “Superhost” Mauricio for specific directions, even a GPS location, but he provided nothing.

By this time, it was 10:30 am, driving around Casco Viejo in the darkness, with two kids, ages 5 and 10, who had been up since 4 am Pacific Time, we had no choice but to abandon our plan and seek a place to stay.  Fortunately, Wyndham Albrook was able to accommodate us with two rooms at a cost of $300 for the night.

Since “Superhost Mauricio” had cancelled our stay by his nonperformance, after a brief flurry of email attempts to AirBnB, we decided to remain at Wyndham, at $300 a night, and not mess around any further with Mauricio or AirBnb.  I requested a full refund for nonperformance.

The morning after driving around Casco Viejo in circles, getting into the Wyndham, I was able to get online and find that “Superhost” Mauricio had indeed sent me directions, the detailed directions I had requested when I booked and several times in the interim, he had send the directions at 8:45 PM the night before we were scheduled to check in … when of course I was traveling between the ship and Panama without Internet access, which of course is the reason why I had explicitly asked him for the information earlier, explaining that I was on traveling without reliable access.

Between my wife and the driver we attempted to call Mauricio’s number, as listed on the reservation, SEVEN times, leaving an urgent message each time, but we never received any response.

First, Mauricio offered a $50 refund.

Then AirBnB offered to cover half of the cost of our first night hotel, if we went back to trying to find Mauricio’s “Amazing new and big apartment with terrace/garden.”  Had they offered to cover the whole cost, $300 for two rooms, rather than only half, I might have viewed it as at least a noble gesture of good will.

AirBnB has upped their offer to $200.

I paid $532.00 for nothing!  Of course I want a complete refund.  AirBnB is located in Dublin so they can duck all responsibility and  I will probably need more than the luck of the Irish to get any refund.  We shall see.

Doing a little online research, I discover that even although prostitution is legal in Panama City, it turns out that “Super Host” Mauricio’s business is not.  According to the Administrator of the Tourism Authority of Panama, Gustavo Him, the rental of apartments or residences through the Airbnb platform for less than 45 days is prohibited in the district of Panama.  Without any government oversight, you stay in an AirBnB at your own risk since there is nobody checking on the health and safety of these very independent and sometimes illegal accommodations even although in many jurisdictions, apparently nobody really cares. And AirBnB is located in Dublin, so good luck with that.

It sounded good … maybe too good to be true.  I know the AirBnB concept is popular with almost everyone but hoteliers, but based on my experience with a “Superhost” no less, I’m not sure I want to be taken in by the beautiful pictures and hype of AirBnB again.

Interestingly, I note that AirBnB no longer identifies Marucio as a “Superhost.”  AiBnB sent an email requested information/evaluation which when I attempted to respond had apparently been disabled.  Their Web site makes it almost impossible to communicate with them, which I guess is their intent.

A Matter of Opinion

Not to knock housewives from Utah, except for Ms. Foster  who judges books by their title, or cover, or heaven knows, and pretty much killed sales of my CUBA book.  Maybe she thought it was a romance novel, or a cruise travel books with hints how to pour vodka into plastic water bottles and try to smuggle it on board, or how to travel around Cuba on $5 a day using US money, I don’t know.  I did do a little research on Amazon about her, her background, and what other books she had reviewed.  I promise, I did not judge her by her picture, nor that she reviewed the movie BAYWATCH and called it “A great movie!”  I’m sure if we’d met under different circumstances I would like her, which is the same way I felt about the woman who back ended my car, if you could forget about the damage.

I wrote this book primarily for the guests who travel with me on 10-day cruises around Cuba, so folks who’ve come to know Cuba.  I’ve never purchased my book on Amazon, but I have purchased a few hundred on Amazon’s Create Space company which I sell on board.  Uniformly the guests LOVE the book, judging it not just by the title or cover, but on the basis of their experiences in Cuba.

Ralph de la PortillaSo rather than just fret about Ms. Foster’s, in my humble opinion, warped review, I asked someone who really does know Cuba and know Cuba travel.  Ralph de la Portilla  describes himself as an “A B C” or an American-born Cuban.”  He is a professional travel guide, conducts gastronomic tours and other tours working with Little Havana Tours in Miami,  organizes group tours to Cuba, and has led tours for Collette, Classic Journeys and Road Scholar.  He holds a Master of Science degree from Florida International University School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

So here’s what Ralph had to say about the CUBA book …

Detrich’s publication on Cuba, “Cuba: A Guide For Cruising Around Cuba,” is required reading for the modern American traveler planning on visiting the island nation via cruise ship. It really is concise and delivers a realistic perspective of what one can expect of the ports of call that are frequented by cruise lines that circumnavigate the country. The book also offers a unique take on other destinations within Cuba that are certainly off the beaten path. The historical background and the various onshore activities are expertly delineated in this easy-to-read piece, and considering the fact that Cuba is one of the most complicated touristic destinations on Earth, it’s that simplicity which readers will truly appreciate.  Not just “worth-the-read,” but compulsory if considering a cruise to Cuba…