Back to Boston

family-vacations-bostons-public-gardensWhen I was five, we moved from Altoona, Pennsylvania to Boston so my dad could attend Gordon College.  We lived in a student apartment in the basement of the college which was located beside the park in front of the Isabella Gardner Museum.   I played in the park, went to Farragut School, and got to go to Saturday morning art programs for kids down the way at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  We’d attend church at Park Street Church and, when I was lucky, after church I’d get to ride the famous Swan Boats across the street in the Public Garden.

Four years later, when we moved to Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, I got teased unmercifully because of my Bostonian accent.  As if people from Philadelphia area talk normal!

My first year of college I went back to Boston.  By that time Gordon College had moved out to Wenham and among other discoveries developed a taste for steamer clams.  That and lobster … and I enjoyed more than my fair share.  So eventually I developed a shellfish allergy … I guess too much of a good thing.

One of the things I love about doing Canada/New England cruises is that it gets me back to Boston and usually a stop in Gloucester which is just down the road from Wenham. And this year once again I get to sail out of Boston on a Grand New England cruise to some of the best ports on the coast of Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  I’ve had fun working on my talks including a fun, new one “Cockroach of the Sea” which isn’t about another new RCCL mega ship but lobster which, way back when, because of its abundance and low-class reputation, was known as cockroach of the sea.  This is a “Lobster” cruise featuring, among other things, a down east lobster bake … and me allergic to lobster.

87-0ce41cbe63d0aThis is on a brand new American Cruise Lines small ship, the AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.  American is a sister company of Pearl Seas Cruises with whom I have been spending time in Cuba, on the Great Lakes and Canada/New England.  The ship hold onlys 175 guests and is an U.S. American flagged ship which means it was built in the U.S. and has a U.S. crew enabling it to sail between U.S. ports.  So we’ll be sailing from Boston, to Camden, Rockford, Bar Harbor, Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, Newport, Gloucester, Boothbay and Portland.  Lot’s and lots of lobster!  American Cruise Lines is pretty much all-inclusive with rates starting at around $6085 per person, so it is very nice!

constellation_skylounge_final_2880x960

I tell my wife that if we had all the money in the world we’d have our own yacht, but then I’d have all kinds of maitenance and personnel hassles.  Now, with ships like PEARL MIST and AMERICAN CONSTITUTION, I get to enjoy “my yacht” with a few friends, someone else worries about all the hassles, and i get paid for it.  While I love all kinds of cruising with lots of great companies, there is definitely something special about small ship cruising.  We have no casino, no rock climbing wall, no water park and we don’t sell water, drinks, the restaurants with the “good” food, Botox treatments, teeth whitening, or art work.  And there are no lines!

 

 

Another Side of Panama

Here’s a side of Panama you may not know about … and one of the most incredible surfing shots ever, taken right here … in Panama!

Panama Surf

That shot was used for the cover of SURFER magazine and here’s the back story about the wave, the guy, and the shot.  There are many aspects of Panama that are totally unexpected by many folks.  So, there’s a reason why at the baggage claim area in Tocumen International you see all these guys retrieving their way oversized surf boards.

This will be an interesting week for Cuba.

April 18, 2018 – Let me just add, you want to read a well-balanced, informative op ed piece in the New York Times by Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans, entitled “We Shouldn’t Ignore Cuba.”

Raul Castro is expected to step down as President of Cuba and for the first time there will no longer be a Castro at the helm.  But not to fear, Raul Castro will remain the head of the Communist Party in Cuba which runs everything anyway.  But there will be a new face at the helm, a man who wasn’t even born when, as the Cubans always say, “the triumph of the Revolution” occured.  It will be interesting.

Castro Diaz CanelRaul when on the international, diplomatic stage, always dressed in a business suit, but when addressing the Cuban people he appeared in his military uniform.  Cuba is, after all, a military dictatorship.  The likely successor is  Miguel Diaz-Canel,  57, trained as an electronics engineer, but like many Cubans did something totally different than that for which he was trained.  He spent 30 years working his way up through the party to be the number-two man, in effect Raul Castro’s vice president and the second in command of the military, although he never appears in a military uniform, unlike his boss.  Sometimes when Raul was challenged by the Revolutionary elite he would say, “I am not my brother.”  In the case of the rapprochement with the U.S., Fidel had made clear that it was not his idea.  So maybe the fact that Diaz-Canel never appears in a uniform is a way of stating hat he is not Raul.

DSC_0227My sense is that while younger Cubans have great respect for “the triumph of the Revolution,” and the Castros, and the good things that have resulted from the Revolution, and face it, there have been some good things, younger Cubans are ready to turn the page and move on.  Make no mistake about it: Cubans are in love with Americans.  Maybe not the U.S. government, and certainly not with Donald Trump, but with ordinary Americans, the neigbhors next door, ordinary Cubans are in love with US.  Sure, they’d all like to hop on a plane and visit the U.S., maybe not to stay, but to take home as much of the culture, and commercial junk as they can.  Of course with China on the verge of stepping into the vacuum, they may get more commercial junk from China than they can possibly imagine!

My take is that there is a great vacuum in Cuba and someone is going to step in and fill that vacuum. The likely suspects are the Russia (yet again), China, or the U.S. neighbors next door.  The choice is ours.

PEARL MIST was the second ship to go to Cuba from the U.S. after Obama opened the door, and I have been on every trip except the first.  I think something like 15 trips, and in that time, about two years, there have been some interesting changes.

First, Cuba has just introduced ATM machines.  They only work for Cuban banks.  Due to the two hundred plus prohibitions of the U.S. Embargo there can be no financial interactions.  So the ATMs are new and Cubans are literally struggling to figure them out.

DSC_0238Second, there is a lot more begging for money, hand lotion, soap (they figured out this stuff is pretty easy for cruise passengers to come by), and a lot of this has been encouraged by well-meaninging U.S. Americans, some of whom genuinely want to share, and others of whom just like to strutt their stuff and get a kind of kick out of throwing what they don’t want to people in real need.  It’s a tough line to walk, and I keep urging the cruise line to come up with a way that folks can help in a way that is genuine and still respectful of the Cuban people and culture.

Third, and I’m sorry, but this is really sad.  One of the great things Obama did was to get Raul to open up Cuba to the Internet.  Now don’t think that everyone has Internet.  Less than 5% of Cuban homes have Internet.  No Mc Donald’s or Starbucks with free wi-fi.  But there ARE hot spots in the plazas, along Havana’s famed Malecon, some of the pedestrian streets in Santiago de Cuba.  These aren’t free.  You buy an Internet card with the tourist money. [There are two currencies in Cuba.  The local currency of the people, the CUP, each worth roughly the equivalent of 4 U.S. cents, and the tourist currency called the CUC which although it actually costs U.S. tourists 87 cents for one CUC, is roughly the equivalent of one U.S. dollar.]  So one hour of Internet access costs 1 CUC or the equivalent value of 1 U.S. dollar.  In a country where the average Cuban only makes the equivalent of U.S. $24 a month, Internet access is no bargain!  Yet Cubans are addicted already!

DSC_0226Wherein the past, in the cool of the evening, folks would gather along Havana’s famed Malecon seawall, known fondly as “the world’s largest sofa,” singing, socializing, drinking, sharing with friends, they now sit with their faces glued to their smart phones!  Same story in the cities great plazas.  Everyone under 50 sitting staring at their phones.  Texting is replacing talking.

So now what?  It will be an interesting week.  There’s a great article in THE TELEGRAPH, “Cuba prepares for life after the Castros.” And if you are thinking of seeing Cuba, now is the time to go!  And by the way, going on a monster ship that spends a few hours in Havana is NOT seeing Cuba.  No way  Jose!