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Category Archives: Backpacking

Chacos – The World’s Greatest Shoe

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There is no debating it, the people at Chacos have put together the worlds greatest shoe.

Some of the best uses for Chacos are:

Hiking:  They really grip those rocks and don’t move around on your feet.

Backpacking:  Super durable and maintenance-free.  Your feet stay omfy and dry fast after you get them wet.  It’s also great to not need as many pairs of socks, which always smell and are hard to wash in the sink.

At the salsa bar:  Great for showing off those gringo dance moves.  The chicas will be muy impressed by your super style.  They come in several styles and hundreds of colors.

On the bus:  Throw on some socks under your Chacos for those air conditioned rides and rock that classic dad look.

Church:  That’s right, Jesus would have worn them on the pulpit.  Birkenstocks? Yeah right!

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Jesus rocking an early Chacos prototype.  Disclaimer: Walking on water not recommended

In the rain:  Chacos are super-waterproof and grippy even in wet conditions.  However, if you’re planning to go hiking in the rain with deadly snakes and flesh eating fungi, think twice!  Just don’t do it with any shoe.

 

Chocos in the jungleThis hike full of poisonous plants and animals is not recommended for Chaco-wearers.   This picture is from the day I got a weird rash all over my hands and feet.  Most of my fingernails and toenails died, peeled off, and looked really stupid for the next few months.

They retail for just under $99 or 3000 Thai Baht or 0.02 Bitcoin and you can get them from REI or anywhere that sells outdoor gear.  If your local store doesn’t have them than you really just need a better local store or figure out how to use the internet for things other than selfies.  So why don’t you stop wasting time here and get out and buy some killer sandals??

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Singapore – The Prize Jewel of Order in Asia

It had been a long time coming but we were finally out of the country.  We sold all of our stuff in sunny San Diego, California and packed what was left in our tiny Prius and left it with my family in Arizona.  From there we downsized to backpacks and left with one-way tickets to Asia and no plans of when to return.  The feeling of liberation was unbelievable.  I had forgotten how much joy I could get from so little; a bag of clothes, a few books, some cameras…  Forget the constant struggle to work with no end in sight and the urge to consume, consume that pulls us all deeper into the system (“American dream”).  We were over it.

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So we had a quick night’s layover in Taipei, Taiwan, where we got to eat once and stay in a hostel and that’s about it.  Taipei Youth Hostel and Capsule Hotel was space age with sliding Star Trek doors and computerized toilets.  There was hope that a typhoon would hit us and force us to stay a few more days, but the weather went north and left us with just a rainy night.

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Rambling in search of street food

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Pork rice and fried tofu

Sleep was hard, our internal clocks always urging to us to wake up.  Before we knew it it was morning and we were back in the airport.

Five more hours on the plane and we touched down in Singapore, Asia’s model city of cleanliness and order.  We purchased three-day unlimited metro passes that were good on a variety of public transport options.  It was so easy to navigate and the metro and buses were some of the easiest and cleanest we have ever seen.  We soon met some friendly cartoon characters posted on all of the train cars reminding you how to not be a jerk as part of the Singapore Thoughtfulness Campaign–Stand Up Stacy, Bags Down Benny, Move Back Martin, and others showing off their perfect traveling etiquette.  We soon arrived at our CouchSurfing host’s apartment.  She wasn’t there but we met her children and her helper lady who showed us to our room with a view of the city.  With Singapore being so expensive having a Couchsurfing host was a life saver.  Our stomachs were grumbling so we headed out on the bus then the metro to the downtown area looking for a food hawker center, which is like a food court which serves all the delicious things at affordable prices.  Unluckily for us the entire downtown was sectioned off for the Formula 1 race, one of the biggest events of the year.  Huge track walls blocked all the major streets and it was a pain to find a way to cross it.  Eventually we found an awesome food center under a shopping mall where we had our first of many, many delicious meals of the trip.  My chef brain was going crazy with the new smells and layers of flavors.  I couldn’t wait for more.

After eating we went to look at the skyline.  The Marina Bay Sands hotel with its three towers and rooftop garden connecting the buildings was definitely dominating the view.  There was also the brightly and colorfully lit Merlion that looked over the bay, watching over the city.

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For our first night we were tired though so returned home pretty early.  Sleep was again rough; jetlag is real folks.

Day two was a busy one.  We had purchased unlimited metro passes for three days at a cost of $30 Singapore.  When you leave you can sell back the card to get $10 back.  Our first stop of the day was for traditional Singaporean breakfast, kaya toast.  This is sweet coffee along with soft-boiled eggs and toast.  The toast has butter and coconut (kaya) jam on it and you dip it in the eggs after you put soy sauce and white pepper on them.  It was delicious of course.

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Our next stops were our first of many temples on our journey.  We went in Hindu and Buddhist temples that were near each other and the toast shop.  You take off your shoes at the front and make sure you dress appropriately, females especially.  The Hindu temple was my favorite with its intricate designs and wall paintings of the various deities.

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We walked and walked and metro-ed too.  Our next stop was Little India where we found The Teka Center, a food hawker center near the metro station.  Hawker centers, like food courts, are THE place to get food in S.E. Asia.  There are usually at least 20 stands selling various things and your senses go crazy.  We got some biryani that was spicy spicy and roti canai (stuffed pancake) with bananas and we were in heaven.  It started raining hard as we ate so we slowed our chewing to make it last through the storm.

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Little India’s main street

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A stand selling temple offerings

Our next destination was the Islamic area, Kampong Glam.  The shops were selling amazing textiles and we listened to the call to prayer from a massive mosque.

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It was refreshing to see all of the religions existing peacefully alongside each other.

On the way back to take a nap we saw signs for a jungle trail in MacRitchie Reservoir Park and couldn’t resist.  It was weird being in the city one second and feeling so far away the next.  Signs warned of wild boars so we were slightly on edge.

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A lot of rules for the trail, like everything in Singpore

Our Couchsurfing host was home when we got back so we got to chat about her experience as a French expat in Singapore.  She was a personal trainer which was very popular in Singapore because apparently everyone wanted to be good at sports but no one was.  She had been there for seven years and her two children had no real memories of France.  It was their home now and they didn’t plan on leaving.

After napping we headed back into the city.  We had to see the Supertree Garden and the nightly light show.  We passed through the base of the Sands and what was probably the most extravagant shopping mall we had ever scene, exceeding even things in New York and Las Vegas.  The joke was that shopping was the national sport of Singapore.  It was more fact than fiction.  We found the exit to the mall and walked through some cool lighted bridges in the impressive Botanical Gardens before posting up under one of the larger Supertrees.  The Supertree Rhapsody was a 15 min long light and music show that played at 7:45pm and 8:45pm nightly.  They played show tunes and the lights were very impressive, definitely the coolest thing that we saw in Singapore.

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With the expense of daily life in Singapore, we had only planned two nights there.  We spent most of the time jetlagged but still found time to enjoy ourselves.  There are many, many more things to see, and we hope to someday go back there, maybe next time with a little more funds in our pockets.

Stay tuned for our ventures into Malaysia!!!

Cuba Highlights

Here is a long-overdue short video from our travels through Cuba in January 2017. Cuba was one of the countries most devastated by recent hurricanes. They have been largely skipped in the international aid effort and the United States makes it nearly impossible to help them in any way. We are researching ways to help and will report back if we find something legitimate. Please comment if you have any ideas!!!

Please subscribe to our YouTube channel and stay tuned for more videos!!!

Mt. Whitney, TO THE TOP!!!

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The view UP from Whitney Portal

We had been trying to get a permit to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney for years.  This year we finally won the lottery and got the chance to hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states.  We picked up the permit the day before at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center then drove up to Whitney Portal where we would camp for the night.  It was an amazing campground with huge boulders and even bigger rock walls.  The area was always full, but a nearby stream of icy mountain water blocked out the sounds of other people.  We packed our big backpacks, ready to wake up early and adventure upwards.

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The morning came fast; the adrenaline had already kicked in making for anxious sleep.  We packed everything we wouldn’t be carrying into the car then, after putting our extra food into a bear box, we started up Whitney Trail.  There were lots of hikers, mainly very friendly people.  The trail wove its way up a steep canyon and eventually leveled out to high lakes with constantly flowing water.  There were many creek crossings where we had to rock-hop through deep, streaming water.  We were especially glad for our trekking poles at those times!  Soon we were among the snow piles, still melting from the hard winter.  We saw chipmunks and very fat marmots, waiting to score a snack off an abandoned backpack.  It was only six miles to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet so we made it around 1pm, the summit above us and cold lake beside us.  We set up our tent and got water to filter.  With our boots off we spent the afternoon lounging, hydrating, and reading.  We felt strong and had great feelings about making it to the top.

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Energy Gu Cheers!

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At Trail Camp

The alarm went off at 5 and we were out at 5:30.  Dawn was already creeping over the horizon, so we left our headlamps at Trail Camp and started up the infamous 99 Switchbacks. There was running water over some of the paths and when you took your feet from the water to the rocks your feet would become instant ice-skates. Good thing it wasn’t any colder.  We wore hats and gloves; it was cold but the air was still and since we were well trained we powered up the switchbacks as I sang “99 Beers On The Wall…” in my head, to surprising accuracy. We thought the name “99 Switchbacks” was a joke.  Nope, there are really 99 of them.  Hikers going up were in all shapes, mostly doing pretty well, but a few seemed to be struggling with altitude sickness. We finished the ‘backs and entered another area called the Pinnacles, I think. This was the stage where you merge with the John Muir Trail hikers to summit for the finish of their weeks-long adventure. The trail zig-zagged behind the peaks with some amazing views of the inner Sierras and nice drop-offs to the opposite side toward camp. Carrie thought that it looked like an ancient castle, long worn down by weather. The final section was up the back of the peak, sometimes jumping rocks and following a new path near the end as the old was still snowpacked. Up, up, up until finally around 9:30am, the peak of the Stone House, more than 100 years old, inched over the horizon and then the world was below us and a cliff of nightmares and we had made it!!!!!!! 14, 496 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48 states!  Everyone was overjoyed, we kissed and sat near the edge and soaked in the moment. We signed our names in the register with everyone else and didn’t linger, it was a long way down.

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Sunrise view from the 99 Switchbacks

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Going through The Pinnacles

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Looking west over the John Muir Trail into Sequoia National Park

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We made it!

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Back at Trail Camp we packed our tent and were out of there by 1pm.  The way down was easy but we took it slow, avoiding injury.  We felt accomplished, the world was ours!

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Enjoying some flowers on our way down

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Trinidad: Buildings and Beaches

Trinidad, Cuba is a small colonial city on the south coast of the island, about a four hour drive from Havana.  Nestled on a hillside overlooking the Caribbean, Trinidad offers pristine examples of colonial architecture.  The buildings were painted in all different bright colors and the streets where cobblestone.  This was our favorite city for live music as you could literally hear three or four bands from any spot you stood at in the touristic area.

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Plaza Mayor

Our second day in Trinidad we rented bikes from our casa particular (15 CUC for two mountain bikes for the day) and set off on another adventure.  We were headed to Playa Ancón located about 15km from the city.  It was an easy, flat ride so in no time we rolled through the small fishing village of La Boca and along the coast towards the beaches.  We passed trees of tamarind and swarms of dragonflies and the weather was perfect.  The asphalt road was potholed and sandy the whole way, so bikes were perfect for the journey.  Playa Ancón is the most idyllic beach on Cuba’s southern shore, though it’s popularity pales in comparison to the northern Veradero-area beaches. The beach had beautiful white sand and the water was the exact postcard-perfect blue that we all idealize.  This was our only beach day of the trip because well, we live at the beach in San Diego, California.

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Fishing beach at the Rio Guarabo river mouth in La Boca

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Playa Ancón

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Viñales – Enchanted Land of Tobacco

Havana was great and all, but after spending four nights in the the busy big city we were ready for some country time.  Our señora in our casa particular arranged for a taxi to grab us in the morning for the ride east.  The shared cabs only cost about 10% more than the Viazul buses and get you there way faster with their door-to-door services.  We were picked up by an old blue 1950s Buick – a wobbly, feel-the-springs-in-the-seat, smell-the-exhaust-in-the-cabin, but still-watch-music-videos-on-the-dashboard kind of taxi.  No seat belts in Cuba, but the AC worked somehow.  We rode with a pair of students from New York, who were on a whirlwind tour of the country.  Outside the city we felt like we had gone back in time.  Horse-drawn carriages and tropical farms of bananas and sugar cane.  Everything was green and lush and it was hard to believe that there wasn’t an abundance of all foods on the island.  We were headed for Viñales, the land of the worlds finest tobacco.

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Rain storms over Viñales, Cuba

After about a three hour drive we arrived at our new casa, a cute pink house run by Cary and Anay, a mother and daughter.  Like all the houses in Viñales, it had rocking chairs on the front porch, from which you could lounge and people-watch the day away.

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Viñales, Cuba

Day two we rented bicycles and headed out into the countryside of Parque Nacional Viñales.  The grand moros (rocky hills) were all around us.  Instead of the mountains raising from the earth, underground rivers had caused the valley floor to fall creating the dramatic landscape.

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The Cuban countryside

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Riding bikes past La Cueva El Palenque

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Transportation

A few miles outside of town we came to La Cueva del Indio, one of a series of many caves in the area.  The cave tour is accessible through a restaurant and costs 5 CUC.  The caves had a nice walking path through them that led to a boat ride down an underground river.  It was nice except for a super-obnoxious family in front of us.  Seriously, who yells in caves and moves precariously-balanced rocks around trying to find a lens cap?

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The underground river at la Cueva del Indio in Viñales, Cuba.

Once back in town we headed down a side street to the edge of the village where we were found an organic tobacco farm.  We took a tour (in Spanish) where they explained the growing, drying, fermenting, and rolling processes of Cuba’s famous cigars.  They also explained the difference between organic and chemical tobacco production.  At the end we tried some of the organic Monte Cristos dipped in local honey.

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Organic tobacco drying house

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Traditional tobacco drying house

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Fields of tobacco

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Telling us about Monte Cristos, Che’s favorite cigars!

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Rolling a cigar.  They use four leaves and honey to hold it all together.

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Packs of cigars in banana leaf packs

We only had the bikes for one day so headed out again in the other direction to the strange and epic Mural de la Prehistoria, a strange giant painting on the cliffside.  Apparently it took several painters many years to complete.

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Mural de la Prehistoria

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On day three we decided to go for a hike.  We walked past the turn off for the Mural then after about one more kilometer took a right turn and headed towards Los Aquaticos, a village on the hillside.  The Lonely Planet had some general directions but we asked some farmers along the way, brushing off several dudes who wanted to guide us up there.  The views were fantastic along the way and we felt at peace amongst the country animals and fields.

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Carrie’s new bestie!

At the top there was a small blue ranch house with a view of the valley.  They sold delicious  coffee grown on site that you could sip while enjoying the scenery.  A cute pig snuggled up to Carrie.

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Royal Palms

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The view from Los Aquaticos

You could hike up farther but it was growing late in the afternoon and we were satisfied with our adventure.   After eating dinner we took a nap then went out late to the government-run dance hall.  Every town had at least one of these places with a salsa band and bar and lots of people.  We really need to learn some moves!  Until we do, it’s still fun to watch everyone boogie down.  Viñales was an all-around great time, with lots of nature and fun nightlife!

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Let’s salsa!

Enjoying Havana

We had been trying to go to Cuba for awhile.  We had the whole plan set to go before we were officially allowed to, but easing of the restrictions made it easier for us.  Our flight from Mexico City set down after dark and we had our visas and passports and we couldn’t wait to get out there exploring.  They took our picture at customs then we waiting in the muggy airport for a long while waiting for our luggage.  Everything was painted USSR red and the women customs agents wore tight khaki army skirts along with fishnet tights and heels.  The agents led basset hounds around the airport, making people drop their bags while the dogs circled them.  The form we signed made it very clear we were not to bring drugs, guns, or pornography into the country.  Our taxi driver was waiting for us with our name on a sign.  She would take us to our casa particular in Centro Habana.  First we had to change money.  Cuban locals use the peso, while foreigners have to change their cash into Cuban Convertible Pesos which equal $1 or 24 local pesos.  They charge 10% to exchange dollars so it was cheaper for us to bring Euros and trade them for CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos).  All the local shops use pesos while tourist areas only take CUC so after you get the CUC you can trade a little bit to pesos to spend on snacks and ice cream and such.  It was confusing and redundant, like many things we would find in Cuba.

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Our taxi was a red ’50s Chevy with the inside refurbished and a big TV screen that played loud reggaeton music videos.  It was awesome.  In Cuba travelers have two options for accommodation: government-run hotels or private “casas particulares” which are rooms in private family homes.  Kind of like AirBNB, the casas are much more affordable and friendly than the overpriced, stark government hotels!  In Havana we stayed in a fifth floor apartment in the center, with a nice lady whose Spanish was understandable.

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Breakfast at our casa particular

The first thing I noticed in Cuba was the lack of billboards.  The only thing resembling advertising was political propaganda.  There’s about a 50/50 ratio of old/new cars in the city.  The stores had dim lighting and the shelves were sparsely stocked with dusty goods.  No Coca Cola!  Only a national soda brand.

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View from our bedroom window in central Havana

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In Havana it seems like everyone is always out and about, living their lives outside.  Every building is a different color and in a different state of disrepair or renovation.  The cars were the same, with the freshly-painted old classics always full of tourists driving loops around the city.  As we walked through Habana Vieja (Old Havana), enchanting live music flowed from almost every cafe, even at lunchtime.

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Surprisingly, we were never really hassled; we just had a lot of friendly people want to know where we were from.  We walked and walked, seeing the old castles and fortifications that kept the pirates out.

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Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro

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Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana

It was super hot on our first day in the city (high 80s) but the sea breeze coming off the Malecón (sea wall) helped a bit.  The Malecón is where everyone gathers at night to hang out, drink beer and rum, and see and be seen.  On our second night the wind picked up and sent waves over the wall in dramatic fashion, closing the road and sending careless tourists running for dry ground.

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West of the Malecón lies the Vedado neighborhood.  Newer than Havana Vieja, Vedado is home to the large hotels, sprawling residential areas, and the city’s best nightlife.

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We found a Beatles themed rock club called Amarillo Submarino where they had a great rock ‘n’ roll cover band.  It used to be illegal to play all English music, but times have changed in Cuba.

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Our favorite spot in Vedado was the Coppelia ice cream shop.  The place is shaped like a giant space ship and was opened in the ’60s right after the revolution.  Always busy, you have to wait in a long line where they have a one in-one out policy.  They try to usher foreigners into a separate area, but do not be led off course because the locals’ area is the real deal!  Once inside you will be ushered into one of four rooms, seated at shared tables and served whatever ice cream flavors they feel like at the time.  Each room has different flavors, so cross your fingers when getting seated.  Oh, and the scoops are one peso each, or about 4 cents.  Since the ice cream is so cheap, everyone orders at least 1o scoops apiece!  On the best night we got a choice of mint or chocolate mint flavors, on the worst the choice was between guava, banana or plantain.  It’s also a great place to people watch and witness the redundancies of the communist workforce.  There are bored bouncers in several different locations, servers, scoopers, bussers, water pourers.  It takes a simple ice cream shop to a crazy level of complexity.  Never did it stop being strange.

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Coppelia

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We did NOT order enough ice cream on this night

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That’s more like it

Havana is a city of layers, never lacking in character or interesting encounters.  The people are full of life and resiliency, pushing forward despite everyday struggles that are sometimes unbelievable.  I don’t think you could see the same Havana twice with so much change happening at every moment.  It did make us appreciate just how easy we have it, the simplicity of just going out and buying whatever, whenever.  But then again, is that how things are supposed to be?  Is that ability to freely spend really necessary, or is it just a lie created to fill fat pockets?  I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.