Tres semanas con mi hermano en España

Two brothers who haven’t traveled together in years. Well, other than a Springsteen concert here or there or with Dave’s family. Our lifestyles are different yet not so different. Dave has a family that includes a wife, two boys, a dog and a gecko like creature. I’m solo.

Both of us “unemployed”. On the same budget. About the same interests and pace. Although Dave has a greater interest in history and more of a “carpe diem” mentality since he’s traveling for three weeks. Enjoying a different kind of freedom.

Interesting how we can drop right into our daily banter of work, politics and family. Because we didn’t have other family or friends around (and of course are aged) the usual ball busting was absent except for playful ribbing about Dave’s humorous take on his Spanglish or questions on who is older.

The folks were astonished that the younger brother was a teacher and actually retired. Where the older single brother just wasn’t working.

Dave knowing and using less Spanish, but still having some basics, allowed me to sit back and let it be more of his trip.

Watching him step in and attack a conversation with locals in a mix of Spanish or English was normally pretty hilarious. His personality showing through more than his efficient use of the language to get his point across. “Mi esposa no permite!” garnering laughs from both men and women. He fearlessly never shied away at an attempt and fortunately, with two rental cars, 1 flight, 1 bus, 1 train, 5 Air BnBs and 5 hostels, we never got into a crisis situation.

He could order and ask for what he wanted and our biggest f up was directions. And let’s be honest. That’s Siri’s fault. Always.

We drank EVERY night. Never to excess as Dave has a “blind date” reaction to shots we learned the first night. He refused beer bongs in Lagos (I complied) and he enjoyed getting up, planning our day and our meals, as we wished. Not having to take into account the changing wishes of his two young boys.

The route of Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon had me needing the outdoors.

Renting a car down the coast of Portugal gave us a diverse look at rural Portugal and some hiking. Heading back to Spain was great as I could communicate again and at least say “have a good day” as I was useless in Portuguese.

After a few days in Seville, enough to see the Alcazar and a Spain/UK “futbol” game, we rented a car and perused the stunning “White towns” that showed quite a different lifestyle.

Stuffing ourselves every night with beer, wine, meat, cheese, and olives made it (slightly) easier for Dave to avoid any gluten infused cuisine.

We saw Fado, Flamenco and a stunning sunset off the Alhambra the day before we witnessed its intricate work inside.

We had beers on the beach, slept in from time to time and shocked some poor German college students, with whom we shared a hostel room, as to the state of affairs in America. They are likely scarred for life.

Dave’s life of working with kids made it easy for him to connect with the college crowd although he likely wasn’t used to drinking with them.

Pub crawls in Lisbon, tapas trail in Granada and eating more olives in 20 days than we likely have eaten our whole lives kept us moving.

Whenever I needed a break from Dave’s curiosity for the history, I would take a nap, hit the gym or rent a kayak.

Dave got into a rhythm of washing the clothes he wasn’t wearing everyday and hanging them to dry, masterfully traveling with one small backpack to my three. He devoured the minimalist lifestyle and relished the fact that his toughest choices were bottom or top bunk and beer or wine? And since he always slept up top when we shared a bed, his only real choice was beer or wine.

His grasp of history kept the younger travelers interested and when he met older teachers “just retired”, you could feel their admiration for him having pulled off quite the feat; retiring from teaching at 50 after starting at 28?

As Hannibal on the A-Team used to say, cigar in hand, “I love it when a plan comes together”. We are lucky.

Off he went to Barcelona this morning while I make my way to Cádiz and getting ready to explore the north.

Suerte mi hermano!

The old guy still has some game

Well it depends on what that means. I have to copy and paste this to Facebook. Sorry.

I arrived in Barcelona after a long and crushing overnight flight via Iceland. Took me a night or so to recover. Before I left I got to spend five days with Joe and Jenny and my two beautiful and fun god daughters Elena and Thea in Milwaukee.

I’m staying at a hostel for the first time since…geez. I don’t know. There are some in Guatemala. But this is the first time I’ve shared a room if you don’t count the porters when trekking in Nepal. In like, um 20 years?

I’m staying here for a week until my brother Dave comes. I am in the section of town called Gracia.

Because I’m staying more than a day or two, the other three beds in my room cycle thru daily. Because they are mostly way younger than me and here to party it’s like two (actually 4) ships passing in the night. I get up early and the others are just getting home. Israeli. British. American. You name it.

I can get just about any type of food a block or two away from me. It’s a 20 min walk to classes, we have a rooftop, and a 10 min walk to the gym. So I got my bases covered. The folks are pretty friendly and it safe. A bit pricey though.

The hostel employees are incentivized to get us to do stuff. They make dinner every night for about 3.5 euros. It’s served at 9:30. Then they organize a pub crawl AND go with us. I begged off the first night, got pulled in for awhile Thursday then last night went for the whole Kahuna.

There are three hostels owned by the same group so all three congregate in a pub around 11:30 PM then go to a club around 1:30.

So if you can picture me walking down the streets of Barcelona with a pack of 40 20 somethings you’ll get the picture.

At the pub I played pool with an engineering student from Holland that was struggling with trying to make positive change in the world without doing a deal with the devil. It was a fascinating conversation that centered around accumulation, free markets, IRR, economies of scale and greed. Why folks that have a lot need more. He would NOT let me talk about Trump. He says “we all agree he’s a dick. Let’s not waste our time.” Fair enough.

I walked to the club with Diego, a Mexican guy from Toluca. We chatted about Mexico City, Chiapas, Baja and how I feel safer in Mexico than the US.

At the club I mostly hung out with a German Med student that was astonished I was doing my trip at 54. My age came up as we had a long conversation with a jack off US college student who lived in Madrid and was here for the weekend. Without prompting, he went into a rant how great it was to spend mommy and daddy’s money and be able to have sex with anyone without consequences. As he sucked down his Budweiser (no shit the clubs here only sell Bud and Corona! WTF?) he bragged of dropping 300 euros in the bar that weekend and how his dad (who’s my age) flies to Seattle EVERY week from Philly for his job at Amazon. Um. Contrast?

I told him I was using the college money from the children I don’t have to travel. He was obnoxious, self absorbed and had no interest in Spanish. Nice.

Max (the German dude and I) waxed philosophically about Healthcare and travel. He couldn’t find an ATM so when I couldn’t drink any more Coronas (okay it was also 3 AM), I offered to lend him 20 euros so he could hang, drink, and get home. He was like, “I’m leaving tomorrow. You TRUST me?” Sure dude. I just hung out with you for three hours. Leave it at the desk as the old guy will be sleeping.

I went for one last piss before I jumped in a taxi to avoid a 45 min walk/metro home. As I navigated the dudes washing their shirts out in the sink after puking on themselves I thought about the night.

Some people may think I’m crazy. But I am traveling, having incredibly intellectual (at times) conversations with people from all walks and countries, working on my Spanish, my guitar. And my book. My brother meets me in a few days. Carpe diem.

Max came into my room this morning to wake me up and personally hand me the 20 Euros. He was effusive in his appreciation. Said he had one of the most interesting conversations of his life, is staying another day and appreciated my trust.

All that and I never had to dance…..

I’m getting into a rhythm. It’s beautiful here.

I’m a travel snob

I’m leaving for an extended trip to various parts of the world on my list. This will be the second longest trip of my life after a 13 month sojourn starting nearly 24 years ago. Just saying it makes me feel…well, older.

What differences are they are other than being older? That’s a long conversation. But maybe a greater confidence in appreciating what i see. A greater discernment in the traits I see in people. A greater value for kindness I experience. A greater understanding in the importance of how and where you are born and raised and the luxury of that lotto ticket in life.

I certainly have a more distinct understanding of politics, religion, economics and environmentalism. I also play guitar and harmonica.

More or most importantly, is that I’m a travel snob. A minimalist. But I like to push my limits a bit. I’ll spend money to go farther and to be more remote. But mainly to experience a culture more nakedly. Meaning being able to drop into a world that is not contrived or presented to me. It’s hard to find many times. It requires time and a willingness to (sometimes) be uncomfortable. Both physically and socially.

I don’t travel to see the good restaurants or hot spots in the world. Although I do partake at times. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging anyone or putting myself above. I’m just noticing. But it is all relative to each person what that means. It’s just how I roll.

Hard travel when you CAN have a clean bed and a nice meal every once in awhile has that benefit of seeing a spectrum. Holding your feet to the fire knowing you can pull them back. Hopefully before you get burned. (Or get sick). THAT’S my drug. And I’m addicted.

I was sick for nearly two years. Now I’m not. I appreciate it. So I’m going.

After seeing my best friends (and now TWO god daughters) in Milwaukee, I’m meeting my brother Dave in Spain and Portugal for my very first independent travel in a non-English speaking country that is considered Western.

The plan is then Morocco, S Africa and the dream of a lifetime. Kicking around the mountains of Patagonia speaking Spanish and playing guitar.

Every single day will be a gift. How long? See ya when I see ya. But it will be awhile.

I have text and social media to keep in touch.

Para vivir yo necesito experiencias en otras culturas. Tengo suerte!

One last trip? Carpe diem?

Is it my last trip? Or is it the fact that I treat every trip as though it will be my last. Faced with declining health a few years ago, I was fearful I was done with venturing out to explore and learn more about the world with my backpack and (sometimes) guitar.

25 years ago I left Cleveland for a ten day trip with friends in Europe. I was hooked. A year later, I left Chicago. Unencumbered, with a few bucks in my pocket, I backpacked around the world for 13 months. Visiting five main countries.

My most recent relationship ended earlier this summer. During the deliberation process I had to decide between a relationship not serving my best interests and the life that I love.

Easy not easy. But it seems easy from this side of that decision now.

I now get to hoist my backpack again, in good health and completely unencumbered, for the first time in 24 years.

I have no job. No relationship. No dog. No grad school. Just some savings, a desire to continue writing my book, getting better at guitar and Spanish and connect with my brother Dave in Spain, my friends Andy and Jo in South Africa, my friend Chris in Argentina, and my friend Michael in Chilean Patagonia. All of that sandwiched between Joe and Jenny and my beautiful goddaughters Elena and Thea in Milwaukee to start the trip, and the incredible Solar Eclipse in Patagonia next July.

My place is sublet. My shit is (getting) packed. And I’m out. Click below for more specifics.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh-QWKGbm2Q

September 20th is liftoff from Bham. Hope to connect before I go. WordPress. Facebook and Instagram if you’re bored. Would love to hear from everybody. T-minus 24 days.

A throwback from Kathmandu nearly 12 years ago

As I prepare for a massive trip soon (More on that in the next week), I found an old email I sent while in Nepal that sums up my love for travel to some of these places. It’s below. I wish I could post my friend Carol Conzelman’s beautiful commentary. I will let her do it.

I. Can’t. Wait. To. Go.

Dec 2006 Kathmandu

Hello my friends,

Nothing like a quick dose of Asia to cure one of his self-absorbtion (if

that’s possible), loss of direction, and terminal American-ness. An

all-night flight to Delhi, little sleep there and a surreal flight for a

weekend in Kathmandu. Why a weekend you ask? Not about me, I answer.

I spent the afternoon at Hotel The Earth. It is now closed but the owners

still live there so I knocked, they answered, and they remembered me. Every

night I have ever spent in Kathmandu was spent there. Three trips (now 4)

over 11 years and maybe 20-some nights. I sent friends, girlfriends,

ex-girlfriends, anyone I knew to stay there. Maybe it WAS about me. Allowing

me to re-live experiences when my friends go there. My first time there I

had hair down to my shoulders. Now, almost none. The Nepalese seem vastly

different after 6 1/2 years (can you believe it?), 5 jobs, three

relationships and several cities.

The owners offered to let me stay, which I did for 5 minutes tongiht before

realizing Thamel (the tourist spot here) doesn’t close at 10 PM anymore. It

is packed with 16-25 year old Nepalese in Jeans and western clothes. Very

loud.

My perspective came when walking down the street (or at least it began) to go

see Sagar and his family. Tears started (and continue now) as I approached

the home of the family I have spent maybe 10 days total with and not seen

since Sagar was 13. Maybe it is the god-like status (I say that in a

self-degrading manner) that Bob Uncle (as they call me) has achieved because

of my many visits, friends that have come, and dollars turned to rupees I

have sent for school. I don’t know. I sat in thier home feeling like I saw

them yesterday; wondering how I could have any self-pity over my rough year

when the Mom is now an indentured servant in Kuwait, Sagar is second in his

class but must quit school to work, one daughter has dropped out to help,

and Sunil (the father) was in tears while telling me his hardship in broken

english. All the while feeling good about myself because they treat me so

well; savoring this “event” like I seek and savor so many others. The

addiction of traveling and moving. People rise up to make an effort when you

do. Well, some do.

Nepal has just come out of nearly ten years of civil war and near financial

collapse for many businesses. The group called the Maoists have supposedly

lay down their arms to join the political process after years of carnage.

Things seem lively aside from the swelling population of young people with

no jobs or prospects of any. Sagar is a black-belt in karate, very smart and

has just a beautiful heart. Why was he born in Nepal you might ask? Why was

I born a white-man in America?

The idealism of a place like this (and any for that matter) is shattered once

you get close to people that struggle. I mean real close. Enough to feel

their pain and feel it daily. Only when you leave to go back to your life

does it drift away and only pictures of mountains and foreign friends

remain. Sending a few rupees eases the pain, and the guilt, right? It

becomes an addiction. Makes you feel powerful. Allows you to go out and

drink, see music and have nice dinners because you might be paying $100 a

month to help with some kids school. Or less. It forces your consciousness

on you when you come here. Forces you to pay attention to the wastefulness

of our American lives, even though the mere consciousness of it does nothing

to alleviate the suffering of others. Or does it? Ask the Dalai Lama about

that one.

The overwhelming gift that I get from these people in Asia is the ability to

connect to another human being regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, language,

or socio-economic class. Their human-ness is right in your face. They

develop personality and love and kindness DESPITE abuse, pain, suffering,

and violence. Not that we don’t have those traits, we just just don’t relish

in our freedom to exhibit them. We tend to hide them whereas in some cases,

this is their only freedom. Their only form of expression. No government or

empty belly can tell them they can’t say “Namaste” and truly, as the phrase

means, “salute the god in you” without fear of reprisal and

misunderstanding.

Don’t take any of this the wrong way. I have enjoyed the ability to weave in

and out of these people’s lives at my choosing for ten plus years. To give

when I can, but in my mind, not nearly enough. That is a tough way to look

at it. However, I think the true gift I have received is the ability to feel

a connection and understand how hard it is to be a human being sometimes.

Only three days into my trip and already Asia is that vivid, wild and

beautiful example of the human condition that seems to drag me back forever.

Namaste and give thanks today. Off to Dharamsala in a few days and maybe

some pictures next time.

Love,

Bob

All things immigration

So I am  not traveling. Or working. But looking. And trying not to watch the news. But I must chime in if only to pacify my visceral need to explode on this issue.

First and foremost. The people that are coming across the border are people. And lots of kids. Kids that have no choice.

 

Second, we have an immigration problem and have for a long time.

My first job with Cintas Corp when I left college was in East LA in Pico Rivera in 1987. Wow. I was a management trainee for a uniform company. I worked the night shift. I did not know one soul when I drove my Ford Tempo to LA start my job. Found an apt. Drove in LA traffic to work. At the time, the “roach coach” or taco truck was high-end food for me. As was McDonald’s. I made ham sandwiches and microwaved Campbell’s soup. I was broke but my dad and mom gave me the gift of little college debt.

During my only three months at this job I worked hand in hand with, and sometimes supervised, many Hispanic workers. The first day, my supervisor said “go wash clothes with Eddie.” I used my college Spanish and loaded clothes and learned the plant life. I came in the next day and asked what I should do. My boss said “go work with David to tag rugs.” I was like “David?” He says yeah, “the guy you washed clothes with yesterday.” “But that’s Eddie”. “He was Eddie yesterday. Today he is David.”

Eddie/David was close to my age and befriended me. Obviously undocumented hence the name changing. Was kind. Showed the lily white college boy how to do the stuff that I would one day manage. We talked baseball. He asked me if I wanted to play. He invited me to meet him at the ball field in Compton.Yes, THAT Compton. To play. Nine innings and the only white dude. They accepted me. And my Ford Tempo!

In the late afternoon/evenings, I was forced to ride herd on the mid forties Hispanic women (again undocumented) folding the now clean shop towels (small hand towels used for industrial cleanups) to get done and get out of there before midnight. I would help sometimes and would chat about their lives.

One weekend my college friends were coming in. I had to get home soon on Friday night. But those damn shop towels! Couldn’t leave til they were done. I remember the woman’s face like it was yesterday. “Bob, we will get you out of here to see your friends” says the woman making about a third of what I make, a single mom, and undocumented. The 4 women busted their asses double time to get me out to before 10 PM to see my friends. They knew I wasn’t their boss. Just a guy.

So to start with. Our president says Mexico and other countries “aren’t sending their best”. I disagree. I also know we haven’t elected our best.

Do you think people travel 2000 miles anyway they can to steal and rape and sell drugs? No. “The Best” people in the world are those that are dealt a shitty hand, yet somehow persevere without changing who they are. They are still kind. They still treat people as people. That is their freedom. How they treat fellow humans.

Fast forward to 2015. I am living and volunteering  in Guatemala. In the small town of Nebaj, a crying mom I had met and worked with asks me to help her find the whereabouts of her son who was last seen in the northern deserts of Mexico trying to get to the US for work. I called the border prisons, tried everything. No word.

A gal I know here has a family that left everything in Honduras as they were threatened by gangs. She was able to marry her boyfriend and come. Now her family can come and will survive.

I hate making generalizations. But these folks aren’t coming here for our culture. They aren’t coming here for our food. They aren’t coming here for our politics or our reality shows or to test their mettle by crossing a desert with their children in the summer.

They are coming here because the life they have is untenable, unsafe, and unacceptable. They are taking a risk. They aren’t animals. Most aren’t criminals. They are people.

They are no different than seniors from the US who move to Ecuador to retire for cheap healthcare. The difference? Less cash, education and a grasp of the process.

THEY ARE PEOPLE. THEY ARE KIDS WITH NO CHOICE! DON’T PENALIZE THESE KIDS!

So yes, we have an immigration problem. It is solely economic and safety based. For years employers hired people that were undocumented. For years it wasn’t enforced. Now we have some guy in the White House that wants to demonize these people and separate families to make a point.

How about taking the $25 Billion for a wall and A. work with some of the other govts to create rural sustainable economic development or B. create a joint force to attack corruption and gang related activities? Not easy, but the long view.

How about cracking down on exploitative American companies that don’t pay living wages and employ children in these countries? How about setting up policies that don’t push down the poor even farther?

It’s complicated. It’s difficult. Elect people that have some compassion. We are talking about people here.

These people want to stay in their countries. How about we try to give them a reason instead of saying we will take your kids and throw you in jail?

Cuba. The long story (and this one is really long). Sorry.

It always ends up (or starts) with this. “Amigo. Come here I have something to show you.” From all my travels (and of course grad school in Humboldt County), I am always expecting some sort of drug (usually marijuana) to be offered to me clandestinely.

Even though it’s happened many times here (meaning no drugs), I’m still surprised when it’s a cigar. “Best quality” “hand rolled by campesinos” “cheap”. It always comes to that. Irony. I don’t smoke cigars.

As I’m winding down my last days, I am chilling in a small town about 45 min outside of Viñales. Puerta Esparanza. Port Hope.

Staying at a Casa Particulares, the grandson and I have had a long conversation.

He’s manic depressive, has a young boy with his girlfriend and dammit wants to sell me cigars! Haha. I sat patiently and told him in a lengthy story I don’t smoke and don’t want to risk getting searched as I don’t know the policy of bringing Cuban cigars back in rolled up paper towels.

Since I left Trinidad, I did the long colectivo ride/switch to Viñales. A gorgeous gringo town that I stupidly almost avoided. I shared the colectivo with two young Dutch gals “on holiday” that spoke little Spanish and an English/Canadian from Vancouver about my age with a sad story who was going thru his mid life crisis. His Spanish was bad too. But he had been here before.

Ignoring my bad history with motorcycle rentals in foreign countries, I opted to be social and rent scooters with them after we arrived. Bad idea. So lucky it wasn’t worse!

We had one fun night on the town before they moved on and I snuck off to eco-groovy Las Terrazas for an amazing zip line canopy trip.

The bar/disco was closed that night as the country is in mourning over the plane crash. I stood outside and watched a large group of university students camping there amuse themselves with a game of “Ha-Hey-Ho”. I played once. Didn’t win.

I did start talking to this student that had spent two months in India. So you can imagine my giddiness at discussing Buddhism and quantum physics with him in English. Fascinating as he knew about quantum physics but little about Buddhism. We connected.

Back to Viñales. Dining solo. Watching the Cavs online. Feeling not really in Cuba. Maybe Thailand or Mexico.

As you’ve probably heard, the old cars here are amazing. Fun to ride in. Sometimes hard to open the door (and window) from the inside. Usually new non-American motors. It seems no one turns their cars off while waiting. For anything. For any amount of time. I know some have a hard time starting but geez.

Love the dogs.

They sell Wi-Fi cards for a $1 an hour so that creates a digital divide. Yet it creates another reason to congregate in the central parks. Normally the only place with a signal.

So I wouldn’t travel solo here again unless I was better at Spanish and maybe in January or February. It’s exhausting. And hot and buggy. Although me and the manic depressive dude had quite the long chat. I also talked at length with his aunt right when I arrived. She was suffering from unexplained body pain since her son was killed. I explained in Spanish how to meditate (after we discussed her diet) and she agreed to try 3 minutes of breathing in the morning. 🙏🏼

The reason to come here is to connect with the people. They are really cool and engaging. They speak Spanish like they do in Nicaragua. La gente come sus letras. They eat their letters. “Buen día” “un, do tre”. Basically dropping the s or really just the last letter of the word. Like us saying goin’ or comin’ or how ya doin’. Makes it harder for sure. I really only spoke English three times. A Dutch couple early on, the aforementioned colectivo crew, the one-off Cuban that could speak it and a 71 year old Canadian in Holguin that was traveling with his 22 yr hooker (who had his name tattooed, in cursive, on her Cuban back), a bag of viagra, and a plan to adopt a pregnant woman’s baby (well actually claim it as his) so he can live there full-time. True story. That will keep me from just asking “hey do you speak English?” when I’m sitting alone at a restaurant!

Food is way better than people say. Slightly bland. But I’m easy. I like the beer and rum.

I will say one thing, if they ever open up trade completely to the US, invest in nails. And I don’t mean the kind that builds houses.

For a country that is super poor, it’s seems as though the number one consumer good is fake fingernails on women. In fact, if you see one without them you are shocked. All kinds. All colors. Metal inserts of some kind. Long. Like really long. Every finger a different color. Toenails too. It’s really quite astonishing. It’s a big Latin American thing. But seriously. ALMOST EVERY WOMAN. Young. Old. I’m not sure what age they start. Or stop. But it’s ubiquitous. Haven’t heard that in awhile eh?

The dudes are pretty macho. Honking horns at every gal. Saying “you’re beautiful” or “want a ride?” Waving. It’s like “Happy Days” in Spanish! The cars add to the old timey aura. Not one hint of aggression though. And maybe the odd head shaking at bad driving.

It seems many don’t take marriage seriously as most talk of sex with other women. Like immediately without prompting. But the families together seem close and fun. And it could be just the dudes that interact with tourism.

As I said before, they all come in different shapes, sizes and colors. It seems the black folks are integrated with the whiter folks. Poverty has strange bedfellows eh?

As everywhere the kids are adorable and easy to connect with. They just want you to listen.

The homes are pretty dilapidated on the outside but the Casa Particulares are decent and sometimes nice inside. If only they had more paint delivery…

T hey don’t talk politics here and although they loved Obama, I actually found one guy that liked Trump. He was drunk.

Viñales is like a traveler’s ghetto. A smaller and nicer Khao San Road in Thailand or Thamel in Kathmandu. 15 bucks a night. Good food. Always a place for a beer. Stunning limestone mountains. Farms. Horses. Motos. Music. Doesn’t feel like Cuba as I said. But visit here and try and sneak into the margins. Or away from the chaos. You’ll love it. No one offers you drugs. It’s safe. My taxi driver told me today that if you mess with a tourist, they kill you. Whoa.

And of course it rains here.

Nice break from ‘merica.

This trip was shorter and of course way less emotional and less physically demanding than Asia. But certainly less predictable and I used my share of Gold Bond. I feel safe here. Of course I had my six hours of cultural interaction daily. Museums, churches, folk demonstrations. Coffee and tobacco farm tours.

No drugs anywhere. But man, don’t get caught (especially early in the day) in a conversation with a drunk here. Painful.

The life is slow here. Tranquilo. Folks would just invite me on their porch for coffee as I walk thru town. Chat in Spanish. Sometimes it takes til the end of your trip to get what you want. When you slow down.

I’m really not sure how the people interact socially. It seems it’s their choice to meet, have a family, and of course figure out a way to thrive and show SOME individualism. Whether it’s your car, your music, your hair (for the younger folks) or, of course, your nails.

And people rarely move away to the city like other developing countries.

But it’s only a small sample size for me.

Open trade and investment here will both help the place and wreck it. Can’t ship much here except thru the US. Its a big place. It’s cool. Take your time. Find the hidden gems.

But be careful on the motos!

On my way back to Havana today then the long slog home. Of course I saved the best for last. I’m just cruising thru the streets yesterday, avoiding the drunks that engage me. I came across a guy on his porch and rocking chair. “Que país?” He asks me.

I sit. He offers me coffee. Our talk turns into him asking me if I want to catch crab with his family when his boys get home from school. Sure!

The crabs have one big claw and live in holes (Cuevas). He said go get long pants and shirt. Why? Mosquitos. But it’s daytime!

Holy shit. Watching the boys catch crabs. Collecting mangoes. Carrying the youngest boy on my shoulders. 4 hours later and me lugging first 30 lbs of crab then 50-60 lbs of mangoes on my shoulders. Hard work. Carried them for over 90 min. Mosquito food I was. Good fun. Deep into the local life. It was his day off. The dogs came with us and would catch crab!

A quick shower then back to his house. Yummy crab extravanganza. Rum.

Guitar with his cousin

Rocking chair on the porch.

Epic sunset.

He gave me his favorite Che Guavera momento he’s had for ten years!!!

I gave him my second earring as he had a hole but nothing to put in it that was like mine.

We chatted til 9:30 on the porch with his wife and boys. Dogs sitting there.

Right out of a Steinbeck novel. There are trade offs for sure. Notice the youngest in the window pretending to play guitar.

MACA.

Make America Cuban Again

Yeah! Loved my last night en el campo. How the hell does that happen? You ever ask some random dude walking the streets to spend the whole day and dinner with your family? And he can’t really speak your language?

Exactly. My heart is warm. I gotta go home. It’s taken me some time to understand the culture here. But I do love it. It grows on you.

They’re poor. But they got it right!

And my ride from Viñales to Havana today. The driver was a cross between Michael Franti (sans dreads) and Ricky Ricardo. Hilarious.

Talking to the Spanish couple and this angry exchange on the phone with another taxi driver doesn’t do his personality justice. But you get the idea!

More stories in person!

Back in the same room from my first night in Havana. What the hell just happened!

Adios Cuba!

Thanks for the reality check!

So Cuba is fascinating. I will likely write one really long blog in the next few days describing many things.

The people here make between $20 US a month (for teachers) and $40 US ( for doctors). I’ve seen poverty in my travels of course. It’s always hard. I mean, I get to travel and eat and sleep in a room normally on my own. I’ve had people (especially in Baracoa) chat with me about giving them my extra shorts or shirt. You become hardened to it a bit. When do you give? Is their story real?

I also don’t know how you judge poverty. They don’t have AC? They don’t have a car? They don’t have a phone? For the most part, those aren’t needs. You can do without in Cuba and survive. But who is the judge?

Back to Mazlow’s hierarchy. Food, clothing and shelter. I’ve seen hunger in people’s eyes. I’ve seen it in the US. I’ve seen it many places. THAT hurts.

So I’ve made my way east. Spent two nights in gringo central. Trinidad. Cool town. Food. Music. Other travelers. The locals are pretty happy it seems. Tourist dollars eh?

So tonight I ventured to a coastal town 15 min outside Trinidad. La Boca.

I checked it out yesterday by bicycle ( had a flat. Walked my bike 10 km. Got a taxi. Met a cool dude that arranged colectivo for tomorrow.)

I met Manuel and his wife. Casa Particulares. On the water. 20 bucks. Yep. One month salary for a teacher.

Played guitar on the porch. They all ask me to play Guantanamera! Wtf? It’s Cuban!

So I went to the only locally owned restaurant tonight (the other choices are hotels owned by the govt). I sat down. I’m the only dude there. Okay. I’m gonna try the lobster. It’s illegal to sell here. Black market for locals. But it is on the menu. Salad and rice. 12 bucks. Two weeks for a teacher?

After I order I see this guy come by and he looks at me. He’s got a paper plate.

I’m like “man, I just ordered lobster and I’m gonna have this shoved in my face!” Okay. He’s struggling. What’s gonna happen here. Will he ask me for money? Will I give him the cucumbers I hate to eat? Ughh.

So he looks at me once. Pretty much leaves me alone. Sits on the steps across the street.

After a few minutes, he approaches the porch next to me (same owner) and chats. Gives them his plate. She comes back with a full plate of food. He leaves with it.

As I pay and leave, I leave a few bucks for tip. I normally don’t tip much when the owner serves me. But he had help there. He said in Spanish “hey you left money there”. I said it’s for everyone there. Then i told him I saw him give food to that dude. He said like it was no big deal “Yeah he was struggling. Sometimes people here get hungry and need something.”

I struggle with this continuously. But it’s one reason I travel and I travel to developing countries. It gives me a reality check to remind me how lucky I am to not have to struggle for food, clothing and shelter. And when i do give myself a little treat like lobster, I damn well better appreciate it!

Gracias!!!

Yeah. I’m an experienced traveler…

I left Havana to fly east. I needed to try to get super far away and work my way back to Havana. I knew I would likely find a place and stay for a bit. Really wanted to see Baracoa. Farthest east you can go. Only like 50 miles from Haiti. Humboldt National Park. Near the sea. Less people. Cultural uniqueness. Internet sketchy. You have to stand in line at the internet store to buy a card for a dollar. Then sit outside to use it. $1 an hour. Typically there is WiFi near any town plaza.

All flights were full everywhere so I jumped on the only flight I could find to Santiago de Cuba. 90 min.

The ticket guy says after the flight it’s only two hours by car to Baracoa. From Santiago.

I’m like, um, the book says 4.5.

I figure hey, I know what I’m doing. Let’s go! One way ticket. Taxi from airport to city center. Overcharged of course. Oh, there are no colectivos I’m told to Baracoa. Only to Guantanamo (Yes. THAT Guantanamo) then you can change. Okay. I mean, I speak Spanish right? But you gotta pay $20. That’s like a million dollars here. Fine. It’s 90 degrees and 200% humidity. Off I go. Two hours to Guantanamo. Change cars. What? Another 20 bucks! F me! Fine. Oh and the driver seems to be an amateur comedian. He of course said no one is going. So I had to pay for the whole car. Then it magically fills after I pay. 4 breakdowns (remember these cars are older than I am) and five hours later we roll into beautiful tranquilo Baracoa. Sleeping. Climbing El Yunque. Hiking Humboldt National Park (THAT dude was amazing. Thanks Joe Lamanna for book about him) Saw worlds smallest frog. Eating. Traditional Folk music. Churches. Museums. Guitar playing. Spanish practicing. I stayed a bit longer.

Trying to leave today my Casa Particulares family couldn’t score me a colectivo. Okay. I can handle it. I meet a guy in the plaza. He says 35 bucks to Holguin. 4 hours. Backroads. Well. That’s seems the rate unless I hitchhike. They show up and off we go. The full car stops at the remote mining town of Moa. Miles away from anywhere. The driver says okay you go with that guy to Holguin. Changing cars. Okay. I ask. You pay him? Yes. He said.

The new dude says wait until car is full. I’m like okay. The other guy left. What could I do? After an hour in the hot sun out comes the guitar. I shit you not this is what transpired next.

The dude says, “no one else is going (there were three people in the vehicle other than me. It holds eight or nine).We are gonna have to wait the rest of the day…..unless you pay me another 15 bucks.” I’m like go f yourself dude. I already paid. He’s says you got a room tonight in Holguin? Stupidly I say. “Well yeah. I do. ” He says “All these people are waiting gringo. Pay up or wait forever”. I think for a second. How about five bucks? Nope. 15.

I decided to make light of it and connect with the guy as he had me. Okay. Fine. 15 bucks more but you gotta buy me a beer when we are close. Haha. Okay he says. For everyone! He says put your guitar up top with your backpack (we are in an old Jeep Willy). I pay him. The girl in back asks if she can sit up front too. I get my music on. Sit back.

The driver door opens and a DIFFERENT dude jumps into drive and away we go.

I look at everyone in the car and they all gave me that look of “dude, you just got absolutely WORKED by that guy.” I just had to laugh. They rarely see gringos. But man, I was easy prey. Again.

Made it to my Air BNB and the English speaking 71 yr old host said “the house rules are that if you bring a woman back she has to sign in with us and be over 18. Or I’ll lose my house. ” Um, okay? I told him he could sleep soundly. Won’t happen. He said “whatever. Those are the rules.” Haha.

Cuba. The people are very beautiful. All shapes and sizes and colors and ethnicities. Their freedom is their overt sexuality and flirtation. With each other. And their music. And their laughter. They are stinking poor here. Remember I’ve only seen a few cities. But I’m not sure they are all unhappy. I think a few are as they now see the outside world. And WANT shit! Tough minded people. But I feel so safe so far. And man I’ve had a ton of laughs and special moments already.

Especially with the kids.

The first book I’m buying when I return is one on Cuban history. Fascinating.

Vive la revolución!