Colorful, Welcoming, Safe Cuba

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Just back from over two months in Cuba …

Unfortunately, the US detente with Cuba got swallowed up in the US political craziness last November when President Trump put a crimp in the Obama Presidential Order permitting US citizens to travel to Cuba, the name of which, going down the list, was changed to the “Trump Presidential Order” but pretty much left unchanged … until last November when Trump tightened the screws.  Conveniently, about the same time, mysterious ailments began to be noticed in US Embassy employees in the recently reopened Embassy complex in Havana.  Whether this was due to the stress and uncertainty that plagued the State Department at the time, and probably still does even after the old Secretary of State was fired, or by some hitherto unknown sonic weapon from outer space, of which no evidence could be found by either the Cuba intelligence department or the CIA, or just by newly stationed Embassy employees enjoying too much Cuban “Vitamin R” … that delicious, authentic, Cuban rum! … no one will ever know.  Maybe it was just another Washington ruse.

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At any rate, Cuba right now is an amazing and wonderful destination, particularly on a small ship like PEARL MIST, that goes all the way around the island, and just doesn’t pop into Havana for 5 hours.  Cuba is extremely safe!  Walk around anywhere at night … people are delighted to welcome their US neighbors!  Yes, they understand that governments continue to play tit-for-tat pissing games with one another, but the people can see beyond the bullshit, and people-to-people they are warm and welcoming.  And if there is anything positive to say for living in a police state, it is that there are no guns, no mass shootings, and virtually no street crime.  It is safe … very safe.  Just don’t drink too many mojitos!

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My Cuba book was a hit onboard!  I sold out of every copy I had, but you can still get it on Amazon.

Just like in the 60s in the US, young people wore Che T-shirts as a way of giving the finger to the political establishment, the hot fashion item in Cuba for young people isn’t Tommy Hilfiger, or Calvin Klein but US flag apparel.

The time to visit Cuba is now, before it is overrun by giant cruise ships dumping thousands of $495-special-passengers in downtown Havana.  Hell, Royal Caribbean’s new ship, what’s it called, MONSTER OF THE SEAS or something-or-another of the seas, holds 9,000 people!  Imagine!  9,000 people, about 2,000 crew and 7,000 passengers.  Much as I love cruising and have enjoyed the industry, unfortunately, what the cruise industry loves it ultimately destroys.

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Come join me this fall on the 200 passenger PEARL MIST that can dock right in town, including in tiny places like Casilda, just a 10-minute drive from the charming UNESCO World Heritage Site town of Trinidad.  And in the meantime, get my CUBA book!

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Apple Cider Time

It’s hard to believe that it’s September … almost … and Fall is here.  Of course in tropical Panama it is Paradise  year-round, so no colored leaves and no fresh apple cider.  No place is perfect.  But, in Panama there’s also no cold weather, no slush, no snow, and in Boquete at least a perfect temperature with no heat or air conditioning, so no exorbitant electric and gas bills.

For me this 4th Quarter is shaping up to be a busy time, with lots of fall color and apple cider, and adventures to beautiful and some exotic places in the Americas.

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It’s back on the 200-passenger, little ship that I think of a “my yacht with a few friends” sailing along the St Lawrence Seaway in Canada, then “Down East” to New England enjoying the spectacular fall foliage.  I did these cruises on PEARL MIST with Pearl Seas Cruises last year and loved it!

queen-of-the-west-columbiaThen, still in that colorful fall foliage mode, something new for me, the Columbia & Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon on American Cruise Line’s paddle wheel boat QUEEN OF THE WEST.    Pearl Cruises is a sister company of American Cruise Lines.  Since my daughters went to Willamette and the University of Puget Sound we spent some time around Portland, and went out to see Multnomah Falls, and I’ve always wanted to cruise the Columbia River up through the Columbia River Gorge area. So that should definitely be exciting!

300px-lewis_and_clark-expeditionSince we’ll be following many of the footsteps of Lewis & Clark I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do, research the Corps of Discovery and the journey of Lewis & Clark and put it together in a lecture.  Can’t wait to give it!

Then I’ve got a week vacation … understand the rest of this is all work … in Seattle with my daughter & her family.  The highlight of that is that I get to take my grand kids trick or treating!

Then it’s fly back to dear old Ft. Lauderdale, to get back on “my yacht” … and it really does feel that way, not just for me but for every guest on board.  It’s all-inclusive, the service is personal and superb, there is never a line and it’s comfortable and gracious. Staterooms all have private balconies, food is great,  guests are well-educated and well-traveled and interesting folks.  And with only 200 people on board I get to know the guests, so it’s fun.  So back to Ft. Lauderdale and back to Cuba on PEARL MIST.

dsc_0334I admit it was a little dicey there with Trump promising to scratch Obama’s executive order that made these Cuba cruises possible.  Thankfully, although Trump cancelled Obama’s policy and instituted Trump’s police, it turned out that Trump’s is the same as Obama’s, just basically a different name.  Whatever.  Cuba was great this past Spring and I’m eager to be back again.  If you haven’t been to Cuba you must go!  And go now before the giant ships turn it into another Nassau, St Martin, or St Thomas.

dsc_0299So it’s been hectic putting all of this together but it is, as they say, “in the can” and ready to go.  Then it’s home for Christmas & New Years, and likely back to sea again for the first months of 2018.

As you, hopefully, know our beautiful home and little coffee farm is for sale.  Since I’ve written the book ESCAPE TO PARADISE about moving to Panama, people always want to know why?  Isn’t Panama paradise?  Don’t you already have the ideal retirement?  And, “yes” to both questions.  However, as I plunge into the “Fourth Quarter” and I have all these opportunities, I want to see as much of the world as possible.  I thought, I think correctly, that it was a good idea to stick close to home this summer, hence Canada, New England, the Pacific Northwest and Cuba.  But things will change: they always do.  The ships will be back in the Holy Land, Egypt, the Black Sea, the Med, Asia, and I want to go.  With the amount of time I can travel, I want to be able to lock and leave, and I want my wife, Nikki, to be able to come along.  All of that means that after 13 years its time to downsize and move on to our next adventure.  Whether that will be in Panama, the States, or somewhere else remains to be seen.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, help me find the right folks to take over our beautiful Paradise in Panama.

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Cruising to Cuba

dsc_0334Thanks to President Obama US citizens can visit Cuba on cruises offering a people-to-people educational itinerary.  Hopefully as President Trump works down the list, attempting apparently to undo everything Obama accomplished, he will see the wisdom and economic potential, for the Trump brand and everyone else, of expanding our relations with our nearest neighbors and lift the Embargo completely.

Pearl Cruises little 210 passenger ship PEARL MIST was the second US cruise ship to go to Cuba and I was privileged to be the Destination Lecturer on the third and fourth voyages.

Little PEARL MIST is the ideal ship with which to visit Cuba.  All the big boys, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, are busy making plans to overwhelm the limited port facilities of Havana, but are too large to visit some of the really fantastic ports that we visited.  We enjoyed Havana, but also beautiful Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

dsc_0349MSC, a European line with mostly non-North American passengers, was already overwhelming Havana dumping hordes of passengers into the tiny terminal, a grim foretaste of cruise lines turning Havana into just another Nassau, St Thomas, or St Martin.  Fortunately Pearl’s small ship was able to get into Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba and experience more of Cuba than just the big, yet fascinating, capital city of Havana.

My advice is GO NOW!  See Cuba before it is overrun with mega ships disgorging thousands of passengersdsc_0291.  Yes, there are some hassles.  Is Cuba ready for prime time?  No.  But if you want to experience Cuba, now is the time to go.  There is one tour operator in Cuba: run by the government.  The guides work for the government, so some are great and some of them must have a relative with “connections.”  The tour buses are all made in China, brand new, spotless, with working rest rooms, probably the best tour buses anywhere in the Caribbean and Central America.

But working with the government is a challenge.  You quickly realize that your are not in Kansas anymore.  There are last minute changes and adjustments. Long lines in Havana, mostly   because of the huge MSC ship dumping its guests, to get to rather grim and sometimes surly immigration folks.  Sometimes in the other ports there weren’t even immigration and custom officials on duty, and those who were seemed to enjoy their jobs.  Maybe it’s just a big-city boredom thing.  But poor Pearl Seas Cruises had to seemingly constantly adjust because you go where, and when, the government permits.

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The crew on Pearl Mist is incredible. And this crew, unlike on the big ships, is a team that has worked together for years, seems to really love their jobs and enjoy the guests and taking care of them.  On big ships crew members are constantly coming and going, so it’s harder to create and maintain a team.  The food is very good, open seating, dine with whomever you wish.  The staterooms are good-sized and all with private balconies.  The stateroom rest rooms are the best I’ve encountered.  No nickle and diming here.  Drinks are all included.  Wine, beer, premium spirits, shore excursions.  No paying $3.50 plus gratuity every time you want a bottle of water. No casino, art auctions, Botox, shops, junk sales, teeth-whitening, bumper cars, water slides, climbing walls, ice skating rinks, Broadway wantabe shows, kids or lines!

At cse fares starting at $700 per person per day guests are more affluent, mostly well-educated, well-traveled, mature people who have had fascinating lives and are interesting to get to know.

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The Cuban people seem very positive about the new relationships with the US.  A hot clothing item seemed to be stars and stripes outfits.  Cubans have endured great hardships many of which have been as a direct result of the US Embargo, but there is no anti-US attitude.  Yes, some folks saw an old revolutionary sign, flaking paint on a wall with a fist marked “revolution” smashing into the US … frankly the same type of thing you might find on the wall of any run-down, impoverished US inner city where people feel forgotten by their government.  Sure, if you look hard enough and are predisposed to find something, you’ll find it.  There was discussion of a girl with a US flag as a shawl.  Some saw it as a way of “cuddling” and embracing a new US/Cuba relationship, while a few saw it offensive because it violated the official US flag display protocol which I’m sure this gal neglected to read or access on the mostly non-existent Internet since she didn’t have an iPad.

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There were those who were offended by trash and decaying buildings. “Can’t they afford paint?” ignoring the fact that folks are struggling to live on meager salaries.  The average Cuban doctor or teacher makes the equivalent of thirty US dollars a month.  Unfortunately those folks ignored all of the renovation projects underway in a country with great fiscal challenges that struggles to get rebar and cement.  I continue to struggle to accept the North American/European fixation with trash.  Take a group to the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids and what do they come back to the ship and talk about?  Trash.

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But go to Cuba now.  It’s a work in progress, but now is the time to experience it before it is forever changed, maybe for the better and maybe not.