Kuwait can Wait for a Return Visit

I wasn’t excited to begin this journey, more like disappointed that my trip to Iran fell through; since I had the time set aside and the airline refund to spend I opted to go and collect a new country.  I expected it to be similar to Doha, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It was. It is another city built on sand with incredibly tall and interesting buildings displaying extreme wealth and very little history. Muscat was different.

   

It was tough interacting with locals because they all seemed to be in speeding cars or talking on their phones. When I asked about different sites the hotel staff had no idea where they were, as they like all other people holding hospitality jobs, were immigrants from somewhere else.

    

Tourism infrastructure was not in place. My research indicated that US citizens staying less than 90 days would not need a visa. Not true, as I discovered after waiting in line to get a stamp in my passport.  Fortunately I was able to get one upstairs where I waited for another hour. The process was most confusing but others waiting were kind enough to answer my many inquiries. It was definitely one of those Charlie Brown moments: aaarrrggghhhhh

More later about the cats, cats and more cats and boats, yachts and personal watercraft. It’s also the place to go for detoxing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Banning Travel

My heart breaks for all the refugees and other immigrants who are looking for sanctuary or just a chance to create a better life for themselves and their families….I am one of the privileged ones who was born in the right place, at the right time and lucky enough to travel freely, seeing the world first hand.

However, change is coming for the advantaged traveler.  Brexit  may very well increase time spent in customs and immigration control in addition to economic possibilities from increased fares to possible additional roaming charges. And now the EU is considering a need for visas for US citizens traveling to Europe.

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The “travel ban” issued by the USA, currently blocked but still promised, is scary on many levels. Will it  increase terrorism?  Will it break up families? Will it renege on promises to reward those who have helped us in the past? Do we not all have responsibility to help those who are seeking asylum? escape a war?

Becoming non-judgemental is a process,  particularly for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a country that offers us so many freedoms.  Travel has given me an opportunity to learn to accept differences and understand that there are alternatives to doing everything “our way”.  For instance, I have a fellow traveler who didn’t grasp why the mountains above 6000 meters were closed to mountaineering in Bhutan. He suggested that they could make so much more money by opening up those peaks.  My guide smiled and said, no, they were more interested in protecting the mountains for both their culture and for future generations.

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Many of my friends and family could not understand why I wanted to visit Iran this month. Other than it being one of the first civilized cultures with a rich history of art, literature, food, gardens and architecture their hospitality is well renowned.

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However, my trip with stops in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan has been cancelled. Their government declined to issue me a visa in “retaliation” for our government’s actions. My biggest regret is how a mutual understanding between our cultures will affect all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hemingway’s Havana Haunts

A pub crawl with hundreds of strangers is a thing in Old Havana.  There is the bar (Floridita) where Papa drank his favorite daiquiri. Then there is the Bodeguita del Medio where he imbibed on mojitos.  I opted not to get a drink in Dos Hermanos, his third frequented spot because I was running low on pesos;  it was either a couple of drinks or a taxi ride back to the airport.

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Unfortunately I did not change enough money upon entering the country and found it impossible on the weekend to buy more CUC’s.   I found a place for lunch that accepted euros (and I highly recommend this little eatery: 304 O’Reilly’s). Note to self: next visit buy many more pesos! The line at the airport to exchange currency was long and slow indicating that perhaps  this was the only spot around!

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While I did the central city, old city and the waterfront on foot, I took the new hop-on hop off bus to see the greater city neighborhoods.  Saw some of the new hotels that charge Miami beach prices or maybe more!

I stayed in a private home just a few blocks from all the action.  The couple had devoted a bedroom with a private bath  74 steps up from the street connecting to their small but comfortable apartment. The room included an air conditioner and a fridge.  I knew that things like soap and other toiletries are hard to come by for the locals so I brought some extras along to leave behind.

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I realize there are ethical concerns in touting tourism in Cuba. In addition to the U.S.’s continued reluctance to end all embargoes, one is only supposed to go there under the auspicious of twelve approved categories and “tourism” is not listed.  In fact, the general consensus now, is that if you go, you had better not go to the beach!  Another reason is that the influx of travelers have caused food shortages and price surges for the Cubans.

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Unplugged in Cuba

Within seconds of the airplane’s wheels touching ground in Atlanta on my return from Havana, a woman behind me screeched “OMG I have 148 voicemails!” Almost everyone in the vicinity, also on their phones for the first time in days, chuckled, knowing exactly what she meant. I had only gone 3 days without phone service, internet, TV or printed news and my stress level was at zero.  Coupled with the graciousness, friendliness and non-stop music from the locals, life was good for tourists.

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As much as I enjoyed it, one must be aware of the problems facing the population due to many factors such as the embargo, the lost subsidies from the Soviet Union and the old regime’s  rural priorities.  A popular saying about Cuba was that  the 3 best things about this country were education, health care and low crime rate ( now they say” no drugs, no need for guns”) but then the 3 worst were breakfast, lunch and dinner (referring to the lack of food for the locals).  When you earn less than $40 a month and  struggle with ration cards it’s amazing that they survive let alone manage to smile.

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The Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHC) along with UNESCO are changing the landscape of Old Havana. And unlike many urban renewals where the wealthy buy and restore and move the poor out, this neighborhood remains a place where long time residents continue to live and work.

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I hope Cuba continues to emerge as a market for exchange with the U.S. and that the new relationship will benefit everyone.

 

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TIA (This is Argentina)

Sometimes travelers need a subtle reminder that not all cultures are the same….as an American I often forget that “time is of the essence” is really just a legal term in contract law.  It does not necessarily apply to  when I get the bill I asked for,  if I get my coffee before the bus departs, or whether I can place an order before those other people who were just seated. Time is just not that important in Argentina.

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In fact, my daughter did an informal poll of the time displayed on clocks in the country. There truly was not one anywhere that matched the time on her Apple watch.  Some were hours off, some a few minutes early, some late.  Apparently they are rarely reset when the electricity falters because it’ll happen again soon, so why bother.

Our guides, Dani and Etienne, tried preparing our group by explaining TIA so that we would not become “ugly Americans”.  We were still the loudest ones around but we all attempted civil discourse (not really but we did engage in the smallest of small talk before we jumped to the need of the moment).

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I thought  I was well-traveled enough to heed the warning until the airline lost my luggage. I tried being patient for about 15 minutes but the fact that all the other suitcases were picked up and the belt had stopped didn’t help…and then I was forced to wait for the next plane before they would “file the case” (no play on words here) and again, no luggage for me.  Thank goodness my daughter who speaks fluent Spanish and was embarrassed by her mother’s antics, asked me to go get a cup of coffee while she handled the situation.  Not my proudest moment, but I  was already freaking out about what might happen if I had to leave the country before they found it and all those borrowed items I had in that bag! (sisters everywhere will understand).

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And I was tired, and I was hungry and there was no wine on the plane and…..oops I almost forgot,” TIA”, and that doesn’t mean “Take Immediate Action”.

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PS…why in the world would they make bicycle shorts like these that are so difficult for a  toilet stop? Sometimes TIME really does matter!

 

 

 

 

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Aventuras and Alegria en Argentina

What great fun. I don’t remember laughing this much any time any where. We cracked up at breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between. You can almost hear my delight when looking at the pictures.

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We biked, we hiked and we kayaked. And Molly did a 15 mile run.  Time in between was spent eating sumptuous meals washed down with fantastic Malbecs. Then there were the boat rides and the van rides, one of which caused the most uproar when the driver who was also an EMT pulled over to check Aron who was carsick….we had immense trouble holding back the hysterics as he applied both the cuff and stethoscope. His mother, Nancy laughed the hardest, followed by my daughter, Molly, who I think was also remembering her mother’s lack of empathy on occasion.

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The assist after the 15 mile run.  Yoga on the beach.

We stayed in 3 different inns, each one was spectacular in views provided and service rendered. One night we went to a private home for a typical Argentinian asado.  We stopped at a wine store on the way and then shared our bottle with the table.  The salads accompanying the fire roasted meats, along with the homemade empanadas  made this meal everyone’s favorite. The stories shared that night brought us closer together in addition to adding more fuel to the fun.

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The group was fortunate to have offspring along for the rides, out of the 16 in the group 6 were with a parent or parents. The “kids” while all legally adults, were delightful, willing to join in the fun and to gently remind me, in particular, that one is never too old to learn new tricks! Like the mannequin challenge…

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Bonding with Strangers

On an earlier trip I spent a day with a group of Swedes who were touring South America. That was during week one out of nine for these strangers.  As an evolving introvert I found this amazing and rather scary. I rarely travel with groups but had previously good experiences with an active travel company called Backroads.

So with only slight trepidation, I left on Christmas Day for Argentina to start my third trip with this organization along with my daughter, Molly.  We would be biking, hiking and kayaking in the Bariloche district in northern Patagonia.  All would begin at 10 AM where we would meet the leaders, the others in the group and attend orientation. Unfortunately we were held up by traffic and arrived late….an ominous start? I was horrified as I knew I would probably be the oldest in attendance and was worried that others would think I was the “trip spoiler”.

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When we were asked to briefly introduce ourselves I quickly tried to reassure them that I was normally punctual. Others put out more promising proposals like we are all probably kindred spirits and hopefully we will become Facebook friends so we can share pictures etc.

Before long we were ushered out to get acquainted with the bikes. I was dressed in my sister’s best gear, looking like a pro until I put on the gloves backwards!  My questions about the gears, brakes, seat and pedals were probably also clues to my inexperience or the fact that my only training was the exercise bike in the gym. Again, my internal fear of being the odd woman out led me to push to the front as we took off.

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Within the first 10 minutes I knew something was wrong as I was in a very low gear and could not change it.  Since I grew up on a bike that only had one gear I wasn’t overly concerned until the first big hill.  Everyone started passing me, so I got off and started running with the bike until the guide, Etienne, at the back of the pack, offered to help. Apparently there was a cable stretch or something wrong with a derailleur.??? It took Etienne and the support van driver quite awhile to get it fixed.  Meanwhile, I was WAY behind this group I had hoped to impress!

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Thankfully Etienne stayed with me, reinforcing how to change the gears and when to do it as I pedaled as hard and fast as my legs and lungs would allow.  Before long I was passing some of those who had gone by me and even heard my new friends shouting “go Debby, go” as I flew by others taking a break.

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Whew. Not sure that any of them could do nine weeks with me, but at the end of our week together and it came time to say goodbye I knew I would miss every one of them!

Lessons learned: The fact that the Swedes enjoy smorgasbord shows that they enjoy whatever new people bring to the table…embrace the differences and stop worrying about whether your favorite food is featured.  Try something new, you might relish it.

Secondly, I think my group would have liked me even if I came in last, I’m thinking they may have even been cheering more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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