Adios Cuba

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The day came and we had to say Adios. I had mixed feelings about leaving. I think my Social Worker skills had kicked in and I felt like I need to stay to help them.  On one of our tours, we passed an old vacant house but was beautiful on the inside. I mentioned to our guide, that we could buy that and turned it into a B&B. She laughs and said, “you will have to hire me.” I said, “of course.  I will cook, you take the guests on tours, our driver will be our driver and my husband can clean up.”

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With all joking aside, I could see so many potentials for Cuba and I wondered why nothing is being done. Yes, they are building new and fancy hotels but so many other possibilities are waiting to be discovered. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Cuba to become like America.  Maybe with time, things will change and the government is kinder to their citizens

I wondered about this elderly man sitting and rolling cigars all day at one of the forts for tourist.  Did he make $25.00 a month and by posing for pictures for the tourist for tips helped add to his income?  I am hoping he is able to keep the tips.

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We passed the Russian Embassy. Noticed how the building resembles a sword. Are the Russians still involved with Cuba?  Did they leave? Unfortunately, my history is lacking for the answers.

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This picture was taken around 5:00p.m.  Everyone was getting off work, going home or just hanging out. Just like we do.  I wanted to share this picture to show that no matter where you are in the world, everyone is more the same than different. They have families, friends, places to go. Hopefully, as you experience traveling, being open to the different lifestyle is the key. Seeing what is different is what I enjoy about traveling.

The ship left around midnight.  As I watched the ship sailed out from the port, I noticed a van racing down near the lighthouse and blinking the van’s lights.  I wonder what was wrong.  The next morning, our lecture on board thanked everyone who was outside on the top deck. The Cuban people had gathered along the Malecon and were holding up their cell phones with the flashlight turned on waving and the people on the ship were doing waving back to them with their phones.  That is the one thing I regret that I didn’t take part. Now I know why that the person in the van was blinking its lights  — Adios Amigos

Carnival in Havana

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While we were there, the Cubans were getting ready for Carnival. Along the Malecon, floats were being set up in rows. On the other side, benches were put out along the parade route. One could feel the excitement in the air as the time to relax and have fun was about to begin. Unfortunately, our ship would be leaving before Carnival started. Here are a few pictures of the floats.

As our bus toured the city of Havana, we passed some other places that offered some fun. One place was a small aquarium. I was surprised to see this.  It was established in 1960 to focus on research and environmental education. I don’t know how much it cost to get in but as we drove by, there look like a lot of people were inside and enjoying the performance.

The next place that surprised me as a large amusement park. We were told this was considered Cuba’s Coney Island Park.  We did not stop to visit but driving by you could see old rides that looked like they needed to be updated. As I mentioned before unless it was a government building, nothing is repaired or updated. The park looked like it was still being used.

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We also visited what is called The Forest.  It was a large beautiful park next to the river. This was free to visit. Ever so often we would drive by and see signs as a reminder.

One has to remember, the majority of the people living there, can not leave. It cost a lot to get a visa. Now that there isn’t an American Ambassador to Cuba, they will have to travel to other countries to get a visa which involves more money. Then there is no guarantee that they will be approved. Unless you are in a high paying job, you are pretty much not going anywhere. So, I was glad to see they have several ways to have some fun.

One last photo I want to share. Our tour guide informed us that Havana has a China Town. We drove under the sign. She said there are no Chinese living in Cuba but there is a Chinese restaurant which serves Italian food.  🙂

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Cuban Lifestyle, Part 2

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I guess one could say Cuba is a good example of the “Have” and “Have Not”. The above photo is their Capital. As you see it is being remodeled and is taken care of. In some ways, it is a replica of our Capital.  I saw other government buildings in good shape.

The apartment buildings are not kept up. One reason that was explained, whoever owns the building, will not keep it up. The people who live in these apartments do not have the money or means to take care of their own apartment, therefore, they look pretty bad.

I’m not sure about when other countries visit Cuba, but when Americans visit, we have to pay for a visa.  I was thinking this morning how many people are on a cruise ship and each one has to pay for a visa. Several cruise ships come into Cuba port every day. Now, that’s a lot of money. I’m sorry I didn’t ask about where does this money from the visa goes. My guess would be to the government. If anyone knows, please let me know.

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Cuba has free education for their children. Once they are in High School, those who want to go to college have to take a test to qualify. One of our tour guides is in college getting her degree in architectural design. She seemed very excited about pursuing this degree. Unfortunately, she will only earn $25.00 a month and hopes to continue part-time being a tour guide in order to make extra money through tips. How much longer will their future generations will pursue higher education when you won’t be able to increase your income? If your a doctor, a lot of them are able to leave the country and make a better salary and send extra money back home.

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Cuba has free health care. The below photo is one of their hospitals.  I talked with a fellow cruise traveler who took the tour to the countryside. She is a nurse with the US school systems. While on her tour, she was able to talk with a doctor who explained how their health care system works.  The small communities have a doctor and nurse. If you are sick, you see a person who makes an assessment on what is going on. Then you will be able to see the nurse and doctor. The medical field tried to keep on top of illnesses. Vaccinations are mandatory. If you don’t have your and your family doesn’t get your vaccinations, someone will come to your house and take you to the clinic to receive it.

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When you died, your funeral and cemetery plot is free. I didn’t ask, but I imagine if you want a tomb like the one above, you would probably have to pay for it.

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Cubans are able to practice many different types of religion. We drove by many Cathedrals, a Jewish temple, and a Mosque. The statue of Christ is made out of marble from Italy. A woman sculpturist designed the statue. It shows Christ with one hand over his heart and the other showing Cuba being blessed.

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Now, I’m not knowledgeable about socialism. Just what I hear about it in our country, which is usually negative.  As I look how our students have ungodly debts from student loans and how many American families go bankrupt due to the cost of treatments for health and medications, I wonder why we can’t do like Cuba or other countries that take care of their citizens but still keep capitalism as well.

My next blog will focus on what Cubans do for fun.

Cuba Lifestyle

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On our ship, we had a lecturer to talk about Cuba lifestyle, safety, and what they think of Americans.  She stated, “the Cubans like Americans. They don’t hold the embargo issues against the American people. They understand it’s a government thing.” She described the Cubans as warm and friendly people. Next, she talked about how safe Cuba is. First of all, they are not allowed to have weapons. If someone does, the punishment means immediately being sent to prison. Of course one should be aware of your surroundings. Like other countries, pickpocketers roam the streets.

From our walks through the old town we did feel safe. In the evenings, lots of people are outside and I do have to say I felt a little awkward as we walked by but was not threatened or approached in any way. As usual on our travels, we got lost. 🙂 So, I went up to someone and asked if they spoke English, which he did, and with a smile directed us back to the main road.

 

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The above photo is a gas station. Gas cost $6.00 a liter and Diesel is $4.00 a liter. A lot of the old classic cars gas tanks have been changed to diesel.  The car we rode in had not been changed.  As we rode around as one might expect, the government buildings looked great. Apartments and individual homes, not so good. Before anyone makes an assumption that the Cuban people are lazy people, I want to share with you what is going on.

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The average wage for a Cuban can range from $18.00 – $25.00 dollars a month.  A month! They do get a ration book for food that may last 2 weeks.  That’s it. Do the math. There isn’t any extra to buy paint, cement or whatever they might need to repair their homes. Also on that note, there is no Home Depot or Lowes.  The Internet is sparse, so no shipments from Amazon is coming down. Yes, there is a black market but are mainly for items they need.

One of our tour guide has an Education Degree and was an English teacher for several years. His salary was $25.00 dollars a month. It didn’t matter if he stayed after school and worked longer, did bus duty, or cafeteria duty that’s all he was paid. He quit his teaching job to become a tour guide because he would still get $25.00 a month but as a guide, he would get tips. The tips would help him to get the food, clothes, or whatever he needed for his family. Our other guide was in college studying to become an Architectural Draftsman. She was happy to learn that is what Rusty use to do and they could talk “shop”. She will make $25.00 a month and is hoping to keep being a tour guide to make extra money through tips.

As mention to us several times, life is hard in Cuba. Yes, life can be hard where ever we live. In America, we have more choices about how to deal with our hardships. I’ll go into more details about the choices the Cuban people have in my next blog.

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Hola Cuba!

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Rusty and I book a cruise going to Cuba. The ship stayed two nights in Cuba. As Americans, the only way for us to go to Cuba is by Cruise Ship or through a Travel Agent. I’m not sure if with the Travel Agent if you can go solo or have to be with a group.  It was a bit confusing because, with the cruise ship, the crew talks about the People to People program that you have to take part in. This program involves eight hours and we thought it was for one 8 hour day which we learned differently when we boarded the ship. So, we thought we would have one day free to go on our own. Our understanding would be like an educational program which we were fine with as we know nothing about Cuba.  As for now, only Americans have to do this. People from other countries, who have been able to go to Cuba over the years, do not.

For those who are planning to visit Cuba, I want to spend time on this first blog explaining what to expect. I’m coming from a cruise ship experience. As I mention earlier, I’m not sure what if any difference it would be if you use a travel agent.

When you go, you will have to pay for a Visa. Our cruise ship took care of that for us, although we had to pay for it. You will get a Visa paper and instructions on how to fill it out. If you make a mistake, you will have to pay for another one.

The ship’s excursions are geared toward the People to People program but not all of them. One excursion we booked didn’t qualify and we didn’t know until we got on board. Fortunately, the ship would change it for us. We had booked another tour through another agent. This is where the confusion came in. Some people said we don’t have to follow the rule of being out for 8 hours, others said we did. The ship’s crew held a meeting with all of us to explain it. Since we were there for 2 days, that meant we would have to spend two 8 hours days with these People to People program. So, what’s the big deal? When you attend these excursions, you are given paper documenting that you were there. You are supposed to keep them for 5 years in case someone audits you.  It’s sorta like your tax returns. You keep them in case Uncle Sam comes to check them out. With all that said, the crew stated you don’t have to attend these programs but you were warn about what could happen.

Once you are allow getting off the ship, you go through customs, there is a money exchange inside the port. Cuba has two currencies, CUC, and CUP. The CUC is for the tourist. It was easy to exchange our money. We asked several people why they have these two currencies and never did understand the reasons. I would recommend getting some coins or as our Lecture on board said, “pee-pee” coins, as most restrooms you have to pay the attendant.

Once you completed your first-day excursion, you are free to return back to the ship or stay out and explore on your own. When you go out for the next day, you don’t have to go through the custom routine.

My next blog will be about how safe is Cuba.

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Red Tide in the Gulf

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Florida is having a crisis. For weeks Red Tide has been in the gulf, from Ft. Myers to Clearwater. Since we are new to Florida seeing the results of Red Tide effects on the marine life has been horrible. I know a little about Red Tide, that it comes and goes. However, this time it is just sitting in the gulf and moving very slow if at all.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “red tide is a naturally-occurring microscopic alga that has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840s.”

Thousands of dead fish have washed up on the beach is heartbreaking. Now dolphins, turtles, manatees, and even a whale shark have been killed by this toxic algae bloom. While there is never a good timing for this to come near shore, this is the height of baby turtles hatching and making a run towards the water.  For humans, if you go to the beach, the toxins get up in the air, which you will breathe in, can cause respiratory problems.

So, if you were planning to visit Florida, you might want to go to the Atlantic Side.

 

 

 

Florida’s Thunderstorms

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Summer is Florida rainy seasons. We have had to learn to plan our activities around the time when the storms come. I thought AR had bad thunderstorms. I was use to the tornados that would often developed.  When we first had our storm, I noticed there isn’t any tornado sirens. I asked a weather person and was told that there are none. Florida does have tornadoes.

While the storms are pretty powerful, it’s the lightning that is downright scary.  Cloud to ground lighting.  Not just once but several right after each one.  Of course the TV warns everyone to be inside but even then it makes you wonder if you are really safe.  Another thing we have noticed with Florida being flat, you can see lightning far off in the distance.   Last night the stars were out but somewhere you could still see lightning.

I think we are getting it down and taking the storms in stride. Just a couple more months before weather starts to become cooler. While it’s still hurricane season, so far so good. The Atlantic Ocean is still cool which helps deferr the hurricanes. The season is still young and as reported that can change at any time.


 

Learning about Florida

DSC00776 Assume every ponds, lake and even beaches (at times) has gators. While I already knew that, having them in your backyard was something to get used to.  I have watched them leave the water and go across the golf path, in an area most people wouldn’t think to look. I always look several times before going out in the backyard.  Several facts I’ve learned, gators don’t eat all the time but who knows when was the last time? Gators don’t like the hot summers and will stay in the water, most of the time. Gators aren’t fond of rain and wind and will stay in the water. Fortunately, summertime is the rainy seasons.  Gators mate and build nests in May and June and are aggressive during this time. While the one in our pond isn’t as big as this fellow above is, I have no problems keeping my distance.   This big guy was at a state park and one of my grandsons got to see him/her, who knows? 🙂

DSC08220 This giant gopher tortoise also shares our backyard pond with the Gators.  I’ve never seen one this large roaming around freely. Another reason to keep a lookout before you leave the safety of your lanai.   While the pond isn’t huge there are several of these around. I have watched several come out and lay their eggs this early summer. Unfortunately, several crows were watching too and when the tortoise left, the crows flew down and dug up the eggs for a meal. Part of the life cycle I remind myself.

 

A Year Later

Golly, I hope I remember how to use this forum. 🙂

We have moved and loving our new place. It’s so wonderful to be near the ocean. No more 10-12 hours drive.  We are learning our way around and seeing so many interesting things.

I’ve joined several different art groups and keeping busy with things I enjoy.

We have a nice wooded view with a pond and have seen a lot of wildlife.

Well this will be short as I need to see if I can remember how to do this. C8EC2512-3469-4331-8AA6-E752FD3BCF43

A New Path

Curves on Curves

We continue to wait for our house to sell. While it’s only been a month on the market, it seems like forever. Maybe this is an American trait, we want it yesterday to sell. Our realtor suggested start packing like you will be moving soon.  Which I have, only leaving out what we need to get by on.

We are excited about the new path our lives is about to take. Once our house sells we will drive to our new state, find a place to stay while we look for our new home. We have three areas we are interested in and since we were there last fall, we drove all over and have a good idea of the area.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a lot from The Minimalist. One of the things they had suggested was to box everything you have. One box to keep, one box to donate, and the third box if you’re not sure if you want or not. That was helpful and I was able to donate a lot of items.

As we wait to move, I have noticed that the items I have boxed to take with us, I’m not sure if I need those items.  Fortunately, I have label my boxes because now, I don’t even know what are in the boxes. So, I’m wondering if I even need these items. While waiting, I am considering going back through some of the boxes to see if I really need the items in there. My new motto, less is best.