Sunday in Havana, Cuba

I’m catching up with posting things I wrote on our recent trip to Havana, Cuba. Internet there is minimal so it was easier to just wait until we got home.

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Today, our third full day, we decided to take the hop on, hop off bus around town. The pictures should be self explanatory. It was a nice day with rain predicted in the afternoon but thankfully we only got some sprinkles, and we got to see a lot of the city while giving our feet a bit of a break. 

Little did we know this night would be rather eventful. We walked home, stopping to wait in the bread line on the way, and spent the evening relaxing and snacking. The guys had gone to the bedrooms, and Haydeé and I were watching TV. It had started to storm outside and we could hear it getting more intense, and then the TV signal went out. I was just wondering about the power when the lights went out. With nothing else to do, we all went to bed. 

I spent a restless night listening to the din of tin roofs rattling like pieces of fabric as the storm raged outside. I knew it was better later in the night when the storm settled down and you could hear voices in the street again. We didn’t realize what happened though until the next morning when Diana came down and reported a tornado, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since 1940. 3 people were killed and hundreds injured. 

Rare tornado strikes in Havana, killing at least 3 and injuring more than 100

The power came back on in the mid morning along with the TV signal so then we were able to see the news reports of buildings destroyed, cars and even large trucks tossed around like toys, and injured people being interviewed in hospitals. The destruction was quite impressive! The news reported that every effort was being made to support the people affected and clean up the affected areas. 

I was hoping the news didn’t get outside the country and worry family, especially since the internet was knocked out and we couldn’t connect. Thankfully on Tuesday we were able to get connected and reassure everyone who had indeed heard the news and were very concerned. We were fine but really felt for the people who had suffered the worst of the storm.

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Saturday in Cuba, Being a Tourist

This is the third post about our recent trip to Havana, Cuba. Now that we are home with regular internet, I’m catching up with photos and stories.

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We woke up this morning to another line of people waiting for chicken, plastic bags in hand. Since the sidewalk on the shop side of the street (below us) is so narrow most of them wait on the other side. 

Today we decided to set out for the historic and more scenic parts of town. The pictures and their captions should be explanatory. Havana is beautiful, even in our more modest neighborhood, but there haven’t been resources to keep anything in good repair. The more upscale parts of the city have some buildings beautifully restored and others in progress, but there are still many others looking unkempt, and some literally falling down. 

One of my favorite experiences was a guy in the park with an ancient camera (103 years old, from Russia). I enjoyed talking with him about his camera, photography, the people he meets, and Cuba’s relation with other countries. We paid $2 for a photo that didn’t come out as well as he wanted because of the cloudy conditions, but it’s still very cool. 

We went walking down Obispo street in the tourist area and it was so crowded that it was almost hard to get through. Word is there are many tourists from Europe, South America, and Mexico, and more have been coming from the US. Tourist oriented business are visible everywhere here – shops, restaurants, hotels, tour buses, and of course the classic cars. It’s common to see caravans of convertibles honking their horns as they drive groups of tourists around town. 

 

On the way home we stopped by the 24 hour bread store, and the ham and sausage shop next door.

When we got back home there was still a line waiting for chicken. I watched one old woman wait 2 hours. When she finally made it into the shop it took her 10 minutes to come out again. The shop is directly below us so I might not be able to see exactly what is going on but I know for sure there was a lot of waiting time for a pound of chicken. It made me think about the two entire chickens in our freezer, and if we want more we just go to our choice of many supermarkets, without giving it a second thought. 

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Friday, food shopping in Cuba

This is the second of a series of posts I wrote on our recent trip to Havana, Cuba. Now that I’m home with continuous, efficient internet I’ll post them as I get time.

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Friday, our first full day in Havana, a day of learning a lot (and having a lot to write about). First we learned that the noisy rooster lives in the 3rd floor apartment across the street. Diana told us someone from the countryside brought it to her to help her with some stomach problems (huh?) but the rest of the neighborhood thinks it’s crazy and doesn’t like the noise, which struck me as odd. This neighborhood is so noisy what’s one rooster? She treats the bird as a pet, and one day we saw her having a serious conversation with him.

Anyway, Diana brought us a breakfast of eggs, rolls, pineapple, hot dogs, French fries (sweet potato), guaba juice, coffee, and milk. Then, Lucho, Joel and I set off in search of some basic supplies for meals in the coming days. We were told of a few supermarkets we could walk to. We passed a nearby neighborhood market with some produce and pork for sale and figured we could stop by on the way home if need be.

We found one of the supermarkets but there was very little for sale. We did take note that they had water though. Another supermarket looked well stocked until you look closely. There was lots of soda, beer, canned tomatoes, oil, cleaning supplies but no rice, matches, salt, or other items on our list. The meat department had boxes of frozen chicken that people were carrying off, and yogurt behind the counter but we couldn’t make sense of what was going on there so we left. We bought canned tomatoes, salchichas (canned hot dog type product), lentils, oil, pasta… I think that was about it)

We went back to the first supermarket but they no longer had water. You could buy rice though, and flour, beans, sugar, and oatmeal. The guy behind us wanted oatmeal, 10 pounds but you are only allowed 5 so we agreed to buy another 5 for him. They ran out before we got to the head of the line though so he left. We bought a tote bag and a plastic bag from one of the women at the front of the store, and when it was our turn we presented the plastic bag so the worker could fill it with our 5 pounds of rice for 20 Cuban pesos, about $.80. The fairly large store also had cleaning supplies, hamburgers (odd looking very orange patties), and rum for sale and a lot of empty space.

By now we had run around and asked around quite a bit (mostly in the rain) so we headed home. On the way we bought bread from a bread shop, and some pork, onions, peppers, and tomatoes (even though the produce didn’t look good, it was the best we had seen) from the little market we passed on our way out. Lucho went out later a returned with 2 gallons of water, I’m not sure from where.

As we were relaxing/recovering at home we heard the noise of a truck and pounding. It turned out they were unloading large boxes of frozen chicken, one guy tossing them to the back of the truck (the pounding) where the other could grab them and carry them into the store. There was a group of people gathering, and we were told if we want to buy chicken we need to talk with Diana. (More on this later).

After resting a bit we decided to go find the Malecon, the street along the waterfront. It was still cold and windy, but thankfully not raining any more. It was very cold and windy by the Malecon with waves pounding up over the sea wall so we didn’t stay long but it was an interesting walk along the way.

On the way back we passed an elementary school. Haydeé, being a teacher, was interested in visiting and spent quite a bit of time talking with the assistant administrator.

We returned home about 5:30 and there were still people waiting for chicken (the truck had unloaded about 12:30-1:00pm). Earlier we had seen quantities of boxes of chicken loaded on carts and in a van to be taken away. We were told the chicken was being distributed to other stores, but they never did give any to individuals that day. Everyone has a ration book of food they get from the government, and this includes a pound of chicken per person per month. This chicken was government chicken for the people with books, which was why we weren’t able to buy any. Our assistant could get some but we didn’t want to take her chicken allotment especially since we had pork, considered too expensive by most of the local people.

But, other than this chicken, there was no chicken for sale. There was also no coffee, eggs, matches (to light the stove) or salt anywhere. We bought some salt and matches from Diana, and will try a couple places she suggested for coffee tomorrow. Meanwhile she will bring us another pot in the morning.

6:30, after dark, the same people were still waiting for chicken, and not happy that the store still wasn’t giving it out. As far as we could see, no individual got any chicken that day, only the shops who loaded up earlier.

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Arrival in Cuba

This is the first of a number of posts I wrote while we were in Havana, Cuba. The internet there is very limited so I didn’t even try to post anything on the blog from there. Now that I’m home I will be catching up little by little as I have time. These are mostly “we went here and did that” kind of posts with pictures. It was quite an experience though so when I get my thoughts more together and have some time, I have quite a bit more to say. We had a very “live like a Cuban” week which was eye opening to say the least, and a huge, extremely huge lesson in appreciation for so much that we take for granted every day. 

But, with no more ado, let’s start from the beginning. 

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Thursday Lucho, Haydee, Joel and I headed to the airport for our week in Cuba. We have been good friends for as long as we have been in Panama, and thought we would be good traveling companions so we planned this adventure.

The pope was in Panama City for the World Youth Day event. We heard the city was crazy but everything was normal in the airport. We saw quite a few pilgrims and welcome signs for the event but there were no large crowds or anything else out of the ordinary. We were thankful though that we flew to Panama City rather than land by bus one one side of the city and then have make our way to the airport on the other side.

Flights went as planned until Havana where we had to circle for an hour waiting for a big storm to pass. But, we landed without problems, cleared customs, collected baggage, etc and proceeded outside. Since we were so late apparently our ride had given up on us but no matter, there were plenty of other taxis. 

One big improvement from a couple years ago were the ATM machines where you could change money. We changed dollars for euros at the Panama City airport since the fees for dollars are, I think, 10% to change them in Cuba. Changing euros for CUC’s (more on Cuban money later) was a snap, no lines, feed the machine, wait a minute, collect CUC’s and be on your way. Since we now had local currency we could use it to pay the taxi which isn’t a huge difference, but a bit to our advantage since 1 euro = 1.08 CUC’s. 

After asking a few people for directions our taxi driver let us off at what he thought was our destination. Thank goodness our host’s assistant (Diana) was looking out for us since we were on the wrong end of the block, an hour late, and it was raining. She quickly got us settled in our apartment. (We rented a 2 bedroom apartment for the four of us through Airbnb) Thank goodness we were with a couple Panamanians since her accent is difficult for me, she talks a lot, and very fast! 

After we got settled we set off on foot to find some place for dinner. We finally settled on one, climbed up steep stairs to the second floor and to a cozy, home like room where they served us a nice dinner while the musicians entertained us. It was crazy expensive though – $74 for 4 dinners, 2 bottles of water. 

Night was a bit nuts. We were in Old Havana neighborhood, and it doesn’t sleep. People are in the street talking, hollering, driving cars, motorcycles, hauling carts, playing music and who knows what all. We were on the second floor but it sounded like we were in the middle of the street! Things finally quieted down around 3, only to start up again around 4:30. 

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Out of Touch

We are in Cuba with limited internet. Apologies to you all who have contacted me and not heard back. We will be home and catching up this weekend, and blog posts about our adventure will follow soon.

As for the tornado that came through Havana Sunday night, we are fine. We are north of the affected area in Old Havana, not far from a Chinatown. It was a very destructive tornado though and really bad for the people affected.

More soon…

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No Guest Posts

I receive numerous requests for guest posts for this blog. Sometimes they even arrive daily. I made the decision to only publish my own writing quite a long time ago. I feel bad ignoring requests but I also don’t want to take the time to explain individually, so I’m writing this post instead.

I am not interested in guest posts, and all requests will be ignored. Please don’t waste your valuable time and energy contracting me.

The purpose of a guest post is usually to grow the readership for both blogs. I wish you all success in your blogs, but I am busy enough with this one and don’t feel the need to grow it more. A large majority of requests are also not a good fit for this blog. So… dang cranky gringa…. but that’s how it is.

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Love or Fear

My friend Elsa is launching this project. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/love-or-fear-a-memoir/#/

I have met many, many people in my life. I have friends, coworkers, acquaintances, clients and patients throughout the years. Many I have forgotten, but some have stayed with me.

Elsa is one who has really stayed with me. We only spent about a week together in 2015, a few days at my house and then a few days biking together through Costa Rica. https://blog.thepanamaadventure.com/2015/06/24/on-the-road-day-1/

Elsa is a unique and remarkable person. She approaches life with such openness and loving generosity, and the universe gives back to her in kind. All this time later, something will pop up every few days that makes me think of her. We didn’t talk much about fear or love but she lived it, and from being with her for even a short time, I found that I too was approaching life with less fear and more love.

(From her indegogo page)

I don’t know what her book will be. I only know a bit of who she is, and that is enough to make me believe it needs to be written. Maybe it will be something ordinary. Maybe it will be something amazing. Usually though, amazing people create amazing work. I want to find out.

https://loveorfear.co/

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Cost of Living, Retirement, Etc.

I’ve come across a few articles lately…

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurabegleybloom/2019/01/02/quit-your-job-and-live-abroad-in-2019-10-places-so-cheap-you-might-not-need-to-work/

Places where it’s so cheap to live you up might not need to work! Well…. maybe you won’t need to work as much (unless you have another source of income).

It’s interesting that Panama is #1 on their list. Their main source seems to be International Living which we all know, as a for profit business, doesn’t tend to take off the rose colored glasses. Their definition of wonderful might not be yours. But our lives here cost about 1/3 of what they did in Florida and we are probably 3x happier.

This one is very sad!  https://www.biznews.com/thought-leaders/2013/09/10/retire-at-55-and-live-to-80-work-till-youre-65-and-die-at-67-startling-new-data-shows-how-work-pounds-older-bodies

Their statistics say if you retire at 55, you are likely to live to be 80, but if you retire at 65 you are likely to die at age 67. Yikes! I have had some anecdotal evidence of this – too many patients and stories of others who fell apart before they could realize their retirement dreams. A good friend had a heart attack the evening of his last day at work, and is only alive today because he got to the hospital in time to be rescued from a total cardiac arrest.

Myself, I was so fried at 60 when I retired! I don’t think there would have been much left of me if I had worked another 10 years, which would have been necessary to financially survive retirement in the US. We wake up every morning and give thanks for this affordable Panamanian life!

Then, there is this cost comparison between the USA and Panama. https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_countries_result.jsp?country1=Panama&country2=United+States

Of course the USA is a huge country, and there are differences in costs depending on where you are. It’s the same in little Panama. You can expect a lot of things to be much more expensive in Panama City than they would be in the interior in a small town or rural area. But, here are some numbers which you all may find useful.

Don’t believe none of what you hear and half of what you see (from the song “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by CCR, and many others). These articles are interesting, but no substitute for doing your own homework. This expat life doesn’t work for everybody for a variety of reasons, but it also can be better than you ever imagined.

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Critters in the Trees

I don’t post as many bugs and critters as I used to, but occasionally one still catches my eye. We have a plumeria tree that has gotten quite large and drops fragrant flowers for us. Yesterday I noticed a number of colorful caterpillars eating it.

Can you spot them? They are yellow and black striped with red heads and tails. Look in the shadows on the undersides of the branches.

That was yesterday, a fairly cloudy day. Today is  bright sunshine and it’s much easier to see them. The red flowers are the neighbor’s beautiful bougainvillea that hangs over our fence.

I know they are working hard to eat all the leaves off our plumeria, but it’s a large tree and I think it will survive. These are caterpillars of the tetrio sphinx moth, which I think is a really cool moth. One landed on me when we were playing our last gig in Boquete and stayed nearby for the rest of the set. Maybe it was telling me to be kind to its little brothers and sisters. We rescued branches of this plumeria when it was cut down nearby, and now we have three others flowering and thriving, just in case.

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Cost of Living Report, December 2018

We haven’t done this in ages, so I thought it might be interesting to track expenses for a month. Maybe this will be useful if you are considering living in Panama, but keep in mind costs can vary widely depending on where and how you live.

We live in David, in a Panamanian upper middle class neighborhood. We don’t eat out, preferring home cooked food from scratch. We don’t shop much or drink much. We live a pretty simple life by some standards but don’t feel like we lack for anything or deny ourselves anything, and we buy whatever we want at the supermarket including some imported treats.

There are other reports and more information on the Cost of Living Page  I’m happy to say that even though prices seem to be rising everywhere, including in Panama, our costs don’t seem to be terribly different.

—fixed expenses
rent 385
cable/internet 43.69
phone 25 (2 $11/mo data plans and some pay as you go talk time)
gas 5.12 (replacement can for the kitchen)
car insurance 34 (liability only, includes the car that is for sale)
car gas 104.20

total 597.20

—food
the produce guy 128
supermarket 322.23
pricesmart 244.77

total 695

grand total 1292.20

We also spent 103.29 at DoIt (like Home Depot) for paint and some odds and ends to repair band equipment.
We spent 200 on biannual car maintenance

Electricity usually runs about $35 but we are having problems with the meter at the moment. We don’t have health insurance, preferring to pay as we go with an emergency fund in reserve if needed.

The total might be a bit high since we bought enough at Pricesmart to see us through January (we have a deep freezer which is a great help). We also went to the supermarket (91.32) and filled up the car (50.39) on the last day of the month. Usually once a month for the car is enough but we have been to Boquete a lot for band gigs and rehearsals.

So, there ya go! Some say that Panama costs as much as the US but of course that depends on what you compare to what. Panama City vs a rural area in the Midwest? New York City vs rural Panama? For us, it has been a huge benefit to live so well for so little.

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