On this Post, you will find the beginning of one of our most exciting trips! For the remainder of that trip, you can find the posts in the menus! As we are about to embark on our next adventure a week from now, I thought I’d take a moment and reminisce on a few things!
Why do I travel? That is the question. Why don’t I just sit at home and browse the internet? Why get in that plane after spending outrageous amounts of money that could easily buy more real estate or even help make my kids richer upon my demise? Why pull on a wetsuit and fall backwards out of that Panga (Zodiac) Boat, holding my snorkel mask to my face and holding my breath while feeling that exhilarating thrill that goes through you as you are underwater and telling yourself to get back to the surface and get your snorkel cleared?
Why force myself to wake up at ungodly hours and drag myself into the shower, exhausted from yesterdays activities? Why did I arrange for the Safari vehicle to pick me up at 4:30 AM when there is perfectly good sleeping hours ahead? And after riding in an uncomfortable vehicle for over an hour, what the hell is this??? An elephant, rearing up and looking like she is going to charge us??? Get me out of here!!! Oh, wait, look, we’re moving away (wipes brow, now completely awake). Her babies were on the other side of our Jeep. We watch, enraptured, as Mom elephant and babies are reunited again. Beautiful. No, not beautiful, Exquisite. No, not Exquisite. Words can’t describe it. Only being there to witness it in person can. Those who will not, or cannot, will never know the beauty of this day!
(Scratches head and tries to figure out what brought on this memory of Africa) Back to getting my snorkel cleared. Not only did I willingly go under water where all kinds of creatures, both friendly looking and otherwise were all around me, the beauty takes over the mind and senses. Wait, is that, wow, it is…. Should I be here? I should swim away now. But… It’s beautiful… Look at the white tips on its fins… Damn, Don, point the frickin’ camera, will you? What are you waiting for? You brought this complete underwater camera housing for a reason! Now use it like you mean it! Whoa, I can’t fill the frame. I need to get closer. This is soooo cool! Yes, swim a bit closer. Hold the camera still. Damn it surf, slow down. Hard to hold the camera still…Try harder. Yes, that’s it, breathe slower, that’s better. Got too excited is all. Darn it, his head’s in the shadows. Take photos anyway. This is the coolest thing! It’s a White Tipped Shark, sleeping on the bottom. Yes, I said a SHARK, sleeping on the bottom. BOOM! I’m awake for sure now!
Okay, back to ‘Why do I travel?’ I guess I’m sort of an adrenaline junkie. Not! Ask my friends, I’m really a wimp at heart. But that, that last thing, the thing with the shark. Now that was cool. That’s why I travel. You can’t see that at home! Of course you can’t! Maybe you can see it from your living room. On TV maybe. But not up close and personal like this!
And the Sea Turtles. How do you describe a Sea Turtle? Oh, I know, just Google it. There. You can see a photo of a Sea Turtle from the comfort of your living room. In your pajamas. Or maybe, okay, I won’t go there…. They are Pretty. Exciting. Amusing. Graceful. Oh wait, you only saw Pretty. Because you cant SEE Exciting. Or Amusing. Or Graceful. Not on the internet anyway. To SEE those things, you have to be there. Right there. In the water with them. There is nothing that can take that from you. And nothing that you can understand without being there.
How about Sea Lions? You can see them on the internet. They are fun to watch! But that is it, fun to watch. Why do I say it like that? Because I mean what I say. You can watch all the videos you like of Sea Lions and they’re fun to watch. But now put yourself in the water (with a good camera rig, I hope) and watch one swim up in the wild and play with you! Yes, I mean “play with you”! Swimming fast around you, nosing up to your camera (and I swear they can smile, or is that just my imagination?). Then they are gone. For a couple of seconds. Then they are back in your face and smiling at you again. And then you hear the revving of the Panga engines, signaling the end of the snorkel adventure and your mind fights it. NOOOO, I’m having too much fun!!!!! Okay, there will be more fun tomorrow (sad face hopefully doesn’t show). So you climb back into the Panga and share your adventure with your travel friends as well as you can!
An old friend who I stay in contact with today, it seems this person is quite skittish of a lot of adventurous things. I had a crush on this person once (but then, I had crushes on a lot of people, LOL, including others that I am friends with today) a long time ago and as much as I still love this person as a friend today, I’m glad I found my adventurous love of my life when I did. The world is my oyster! Did I say oyster? I hate, no I abhor oysters! I even swallowed one once and I thought I was going to die!
But I digress. This is about why I travel. With 35 Countries under my belt, 7 Continents, 45 States in the USA, there is so much more beauty in the world to see! Even though I am new to Blogging, I hope to catch up all my fans on all my adventures. Please stay tuned for articles with photos attached. I am a photographer by trade, so my blog text may appear dry at times. My photos, if you are ever interested, are available as wall art or any other purpose you may like. Please get permission before reproducing any of them.
November 3, 2018
For my new Followers that have recently joined me, this is where we pick up our story…
Here I am again! Do I have all my ducks in a row? Flights reserved? Check. Lodging secured? Check. Taxis arranged for? Check. Tours booked? Check. Am I bringing enough money? I hope so. Wait, you say, not to worry, a credit card will take care of things. But it won’t, not where I’m going. Credit cards won’t work there. It’s cash, all cash. And if I run out of cash, well, that’s not an option. What if I get robbed? That would be bad, very bad. But crime is very low where I’m going. So I’m told. Let’s hope that’s the case.
Ok, it’s time to get going. Where is my ride to the airport? What? it’s still 30 minutes from me? But I have an international flight! I have to be there 3 hours early. This is not starting well, not at all. I paid for a top name airport shuttle service. What is this Uber looking car pulling up to pick me up? Well, I guess I have no choice. Let’s hope this works out. This is just initial stress based on the place I have chosen to go, yes, that’s what this is.
Finding myself on an airplane in search of a new adventure! Seating on planes is getting increasingly smaller every year, I swear. Oh why couldn’t I be independently wealthy? I could fly first class. But I digress again, a common malady of mine. Anyway, excitement builds along with trepidation as the plane takes off. The flight is uneventful and lands on time. Now to change planes for the trip out of my home country. All goes smoothly and I find myself on the next plane. Why isn’t the door closing? The cockpit door is still open too. I hear the captain announcing a delay. Maintenance workers are working on the plane. Probably something simple. Some passengers are asking to get off the plane. An announcement tells us that we can get off, but will not be allowed back on tonight. So we sit on the plane. 2 1/2 hours later, we get underway. I call my host in the foreign country and tell him we’re delayed. I only get to him by text. I hope he gets the message.
So why do I travel? Seems simple to all, just stay home. But I can’t, I’ve been infected with the travel bug. It’s worth it. It has always been worth it. It will always be worth it. I just know this trip will prove that. So on this plane I sit, waiting, outwardly patient as the plane is repaired and the door finally closes and we start to roll out onto the tarmac. The plane accelerates normally and moments later we are airborne and the butterflies in my stomach fly away.
Nov 3, 2018 9:30 PM
The city of Miami dwindles under us as we rise into the sky. 2 1/2 hours after we were supposed to leave. A taxi has been waiting for us at our destination for an hour and a half already. I hope they follow our flight delay and don’t just sit there waiting for us. Lights down below us must be Key West as we fly south. The flight lasts just over an hour and the pilot announces our descent into Havana, Cuba. Cuba will be our home for the next 11 days and our excitement builds. We are finally here, in a country we have long wanted to visit. But US Citizens have only been allowed to travel here for a couple years now. We are traveling under the “Support For The Cuban People” Guidelines made up by the US Government. We are allowed to support the Cuban people, but by no means are we allowed to spend money to the Cuban Government. So that means no Hotels, not many Restaurants either. So how does one travel to a place for 11 days without staying in Hotels or eating in Restaurants? The answer lies in my last 4 months of research and a local Cuban lady that I have been in touch with via daily emails.
But I digress again. We step off the plane in the Havana (locally spelled “Habana”) airport and we wend our way through Cuban Customs. We get our Visas stamped (that cost us $85 each in addition to our plane tickets) and roll our luggage out into crowds of locals and spot a welcome sight, a man holding a sign with our name on it. I also spot a series of CADECA Machines and head for them as my wife goes to greet out taxi driver. The CADECA Machine changes the Euros that I brought into Cuban Pesos and we’re good to go for several days.
Our taxi driver loads our bags and we make the 30 minute trip from the airport to downtown Habana. Our first lodging, called a “Casa Particular” (or Airbnb to those back home) turns out to be in the middle of an alley in the Old Historic District of Habana. The street is not much to look at and something that most people would shy away from willingly walking into, let alone at 11 PM! Looking up above the door, we see clotheslines full of laundry hanging out to dry. Our Host opens a ramshackle metal security door and we go inside. Bus Station style seats adorn a broken down hallway. Our Host and Taxi Driver each carry one of our bags up 3 flights of tile stairs to the 4th floor. What have we got ourselves into? But it’s 11:30 PM and we have a taxi picking us up at 8:00 AM to take us to our next destination and we are craving a good nights sleep.
Surprisingly, we step into the apartment and it is very nicely renovated in Art Deco Style blues and whites and very clean. Much to our relief, especially after seeing the entrance and stairs up to it. Our Host gives us a set of keys and instructions on how to leave the place and keys when we leave in the morning. Wait! We were told there would be breakfast at our Casa’s each morning. But no, not here. Go down 2 blocks, turn left for 2 blocks and there are plenty of restaurants. Ok, got it.
Well, here we are, in Cuba! Going to make the best of every situation, that’s how we roll. First, let’s get some sleep. The apartment has a bedroom, bathroom, full kitchen and living room. Spacious, if you call small rooms spacious. But it will turn out to be our largest but not best accommodations on our trip. We get through our nightly hygiene routines and I purify a liter of tap water with an ultraviolet purification unit that I always take when we travel out of the country. Any of you hikers out there will know what the units look like.
Ok, getting into bed. Seems soft enough. But what is this, the mattress slips into somewhat of a “U” shape. Hey I lost weight last year, I’m not that heavy any more! Oh well, close my eyes and go to sleep, it’s not that bad. But my thoughts will still be rambling the way they always do, when you’ve traveled 12 hours and there’s nothing much to do. Sorry if I sound like song lyrics, LOL. Somewhere around 6 AM, I finally fall asleep.
Sunday, Nov 4, 2018
Promptly at 6:30 AM, the alarm sounds the beginning of our first full day in Cuba and we don’t want to miss our taxi at 8 AM. Hmmm, check my clock to make sure because this just happens to be the day we turn our clocks back in the US at the end of Daylight Savings Time. We meet someone in the streets as we attempt to find breakfast and they have the same time as we do. It appears that Cuba recognizes US time zones and matches the East Coast time. That’s good to know. Ok, we find some poor breakfast sandwiches and chow down on them. Better than nothing and we have a taxi coming for us.
We go back up to the apartment and get our bags and haul them down the 3 flights of stairs to the ground floor. I leave the keys in the apartment, locking us out of it and we wait in the alley for our taxi. Check clock, 7:55 AM. Hope our taxi is on time. Check clock again, 8:10AM. Ok, this is a very nondescript alley, the taxi needs time to find us. Check clock again, 8:25 AM. Bet you can guess where this is going. 8:45 AM and still no taxi. Haven’t been in the country for 10 hours and already things are looking disastrous for our trip. We have a tour that we need to meet up with at 11:00 AM and it’s a 2 1/2 hour ride to our next and first real destination in Cuba, the small town of Vinales on the western edge of the country.
Ok, can’t wait any longer. But at least we noticed on our morning excursion to find food that we are only a block and a half from Capitolito Square where taxis abound. So we haul our luggage up the street where this local attempts to offer his help to find us a taxi. We have been warned of this very thing and told they are looking for a kickback of some sort. But we follow him anyway and he brings us to his “Uncle’s” taxi where we are offered a ride to Vinales for $140 (Cuban Pesos are 1:1 with US Dollars, a very convenient comparison for our trip). But wait, our original ride was supposed to be in an old Classis Car and was to cost us $80. We can do better than $140. We walk quickly away from “Uncle” and go to a Hotel nearby (not because we want their services, we cannot use their services as per information I already pointed out regarding spending money to the government) because we think, and correctly so, we can find an English speaking person to help us.
We find from talking to a few people that $140 is considered an ok price to go to Vinales. Hmmm, this trip better not cost 75% more at every turn or we’re going to run out of money. We head back towards “Uncle” and he has mellowed, wanting our business and he has lowered his price to $100. Perfect, we can do this! He loads our bags in the trunk and off we go. Having studied maps of Cuba over the last several months and being a bit nervous that we could possible be taken for gullible tourists, I watch street and intersection signs and even the rising sun and soon determine that we are, in fact, heading in the right direction. I start to relax but I check my clock. Timing is going to be tight to make our tour at 11:00 AM. We converse with our driver, compliments of Google Translate, and impart our urgency to get to Vinales before 11 AM. He has no problem stepping on the gas and we roll into Vinales at 10:50 AM.
We unload our bags at our new Casa Particular where our new Hosts greet us at the door and happily show us to our new room in the back of their house. I show our Host the phone number of our tour guide and she calls him and he comes and picks us up! We even have a few minutes to take our first photos in Cuba, of our new Casa Particular and its rooftop patio! Ok, this day has been repaired!
So now, if you haven’t already seen our Cuba trip, look it up in the menus on the right!
So go to the menus on the right and read all about our travels! How we went to Antarctica sans luggage. Yes, you read that right! It was one of our best trips! And you’ll be seeing us soon again as we begin our next adventure next week!
See you real soon!