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.

 

 

My Two Worlds

Sorry if I’ve been absent for a while.  One of my goals for 2017 was to slow down a bit and a least a little bit “retire from retirement.”  Well, that isn’t going to happen!  January has been busy promoting my properties for sale and those of others on my site PanamaforSalebyOwner.INFO, and we’ve been doing a whole lot of work painting our house inside and out, getting rid of stuff, and preparing for the eventual sale of our property … it is available! … and eventually downsizing a bit … part of the “slow down” and “retire from retirement” thing.

Boqueete estaste

But we are still enjoying Boquete after 12 years … one of my worlds.

Drying Beans for Own UseCoffee harvest was all screwed up for Central America this year.  The yield was far below average … watch the price of Central American coffee soar on the commodities market.  This was largely due to the crazy weather changes.  We’ve discovered over the years that sometimes the worst years produced the most flavorful beans, so we’ve held out a big part of our crop for our own enjoyment.  We produce really good coffee, and were we younger and had the energy and time, we would have a great opportunity to sell our entire group to an upscale US restaurant that wanted a single source, high quality coffee that would only be available in their restaurant.  But we leave that opportunity to the next owners of our farm.

Coffee In BloomHowever, one of the “miracles” of living on a coffee farm … last week I woke up at 4 am, let the dog out, and walked outside to look at the stars.  Stars where we live on a clear, moonless night are one of the most incredible sights!  It’s something you have to experience to appreciate.  But during the night the coffee had bloomed.  And the air was perfumed with this jasmine, orange blossom like fragrance … it was like walking into a perfume factory on the French Riviera.  Absolutely incredible.  And after sitting down to my computer in our library, which has windows facing east, and watching a gorgeous sunrise, I walked out and it looked like it had snowed overnight.  With the coffee trees covered in beautiful, white blossoms … which, unfortunately, last only a day.  Coffee is self-polinating and really is a remarkable plant, and not just to sip in the morning.  Because we have not lived in the “gringo ghetto” or “American compoud” but in the real Panama, one of our great joys living in Panama is to have been a part of the coffee culture that has dominated life for 100 years in our tiny town.

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So that’s one of my worlds … and the other is at sea.  I kind of thought that most of the 1st Quarter I would be at home in Boquete, which was fine by me, and I had nothing on the cruise schedule.  Then Pearl Seas Cruises asked me to join them for one of the first cruises to Cuba on PEARL MIST, the ship I did the Great Lakes and Canada/New England  fall foliage cruses on last year.  Of course I delightedly accepted since we’ve both wanted to visit Cuba for years..  So most of February both Nikki and I will be cruising from Fort Lauderdale to Cuba visiting Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, El Cobre, Santiago and a number of beach/national park areas.  Fantastic!  But it does mean preparing a whole new set of lectures … hence starting work at 4 am.

DSC_0255On the heels of that, Princess asked me to to join CORAL PRINCESS  for six cruises to the Southern Caribbean, Panama Canal and Central America.  Fortunately these are all lectures I have done before.  I get off PEARL MIST and the same day board CORAL PRINCESS!  Fortunately both ships will be in Fort Lauderdale so I just have to get from one terminal to another.

So 1st Quarter 2017 has suddenly gotten very busy and it looks like slowing down and retiring from retirement will have to wait.

 

 

 

 

Bloom where you are planted, or . . . move!

Vine aThere is a beautiful vine growing on our farm.  It grows and blooms like crazy and it is beautiful, but it hasn’t always been beautiful.

We got a start of this plant years ago when there used to be a little Greek restaurant in Volcan.  The owner gave us a start and we had it this struggling little plant in six different places for about four years.  It never died, but it never grew.  Now my horticultural philosophy with plants is to try a plant in a few different places and if it decides to grow, fine, if not . . . it’s history.  Not only did it not grow, it barely hung on to life.  Many times I almost tossed it.  When we first bought our coffee farm, before we started building or redeveloping the coffee farm, tired of seeing this sick thing around, I just stuck it in the ground on the farm.  I told it . . . I do talk to plants . . . and to myself . . . and to God . . . “Plant, it’s now or never!  Grow or die!”

And it has grown!!!  Wow, has it grown.  I admit that it’s grown so well that it requires a lot of trimming and we stick the trimmings in the compost pile and they start growing!  All producing spectacular purple flowers.

Now if I were still preaching, I would have a sermon “illustration” here.  For those of you unaccustomed to pews, a sermon illustration is a little story stuck into a sermon to wake people up and hopefully make a point.

Yes, generally I think the “Bloom where you are planted!” is a good strategy.  But there are times in life when you find yourself “planted” in the wrong place, in a place where you can’t grow, where whatever it is that you need to grow and flourish just isn’t.  And it’s at those moments I think when you need to have the strength and courage to pick up and move and try growing in a more conducive environment.

Growing is what life is all about!  I think it was Bob Dylan who said, “When you stop growing you start to die.”  If he didn’t say it, whoever said it, it was a good thought.  If you aren’t growing through life, then something is wrong.  You can just sit there and take it, or you can do something about it.

Thus endeth the lesson of the vine.