Senior’s Best Friends: 5 Most Caring and Loyal Dog Breed Companions

By GoReach

A senior’s life tends to get lonely. When our kids move out, and your loved ones and friends pass away, there’s no one to keep us company. In fact, for most of us, caregivers are the only company we have and the only people we can talk to throughout the day.

A lot of companies like A Better Way in Home Care can help us find a good caregiver who can help us around the house and be a great friend to talk to. But, in the evening when they are gone, all that’s left is the eerie silence.

Social isolation can be a dreadful thing and can lead to conditions such as depression. And while everyone has a different story, isolation seems to be a recurring theme for most seniors.

And while we cannot expect our children to give us their full, unconditional support now that they have their own children to care for, not all hope is lost.

Why Seniors Love Dogs

Dogs are known as the “man’s best friend,” and for a reason!

Their loyalty, undivided attention and constant support are just what most of us need. On those lonely days, their eyes full of admiration are all we need to make it through the rough patch.

Studies also show that pets can have more than just psychological benefits. In fact, dogs can have a calming effect on their owner and even improve their physiological condition. An American Heart Association study concluded that seniors who had a surgery recovered better if they interacted with dogs.

A study at Australia’s Baker Medical Research Institute shows that pet owners exhibit lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Another study conducted at the Queen’s University in Belfast with 138 pet owners suffering from diabetes concluded that dogs reacted to their owners’ drop in blood sugar level.

Dogs can also react to other medical conditions and serve as a reminder that we should look for medical assistance.

Best Dog Breeds for Seniors

While all dogs provide unconditional love, some are more compatible with seniors than others. Small breeds have certain traits that make them a perfect fit for any lonely senior soul. In this article, we’ll list five breeds that make the perfect senior companions.


These little furry delights are perfect as they adore people and spend most of their time in your lap. They prefer the indoors, making them the perfect match for anyone who does the same.

They usually weight between 5 and 8 lbs. when fully grown. They don’t exhibit any troublesome behavior, which is why they are often used as therapy dogs.

The best part is that they are hypoallergenic and rarely suffer from any health issues. The only downside is that they require frequent grooming so their fur can stay soft.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

These puppies also enjoy spending their time curled up in your lap but enjoy the outdoors as well. However, they don’t take spending time alone too well and can become anxious. This makes them ideal for seniors with the same problem. They are easy to train and enjoy traveling.

Shih Tzu

Loyal and affectionate, Shih Tzus were bred to be the perfect lap dog and a loyal, cuddly buddy. They are perfect companions for seniors as they are devoted and alert. They also require frequent grooming, although some owners prefer to keep their fur trimmed short.


Whenever you picture a senior and a dog, that dog is almost always a poodle. There’s a reason they are so popular among seniors. They are fun, intelligent and loyal. On top of that, they shed very little and enjoy showering their owners with love.


The Havanese are a very playful and social breed that require very low maintenance. They are very well mannered towards guests as well, but they tend to devote all their loving to their owners. They are very intelligent and even able to master the litter box. This is ideal for seniors who cannot get out too often.

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House sitting – a great way to see the world!

Full Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link, so if you click on the link and sign up, we will be compensated.

As a reader to Retire Early Lifestyle, you’ll be well aware that when you’re travelling on a budget, accommodation can be a huge overhead.  Our friends at provide a way to find accommodation all over the world by matching people who want to travel with home owners who want their pets looked after at home.

House sits range from small apartments to large villas with pools. Each sit is unique and 90% of the time there will be a pet involved.  One of the easiest sits you can find is to care for a cat.

When people talk about cats they often say “they’re independent”, “they just want food” or “cats are selfish”. However, cats are one of the most popular pets, for example, in the UK, 26% of households own a cat, that’s 1 in 4 families.

Cats are getting more and more popular as pets because they are easy to look after. They are independent, they choose when to go out, eat, or seek out human company.

In the first quarter of this year, TrustedHousesitters have looked after 4,500 cats and that translates into thousands of potential house sitting opportunities all over the world.

So if you want some time at the beach and are happy to look after someone’s home and cat this could be a great way to travel on a budget. Take a look at this housesit in Altona in Australia with a house right on the beach or browse the TrustedHousesitters website to take a peek at some of the great sits listed.

A house sitters story … #CatsLOVEcompany

All cat owners know that their cats are individuals. Some are bold and wild and will hunt, others love to find a warm cosy place to snooze the night away.  They all love to play, especially with their owners, but some of the stories we hear from our trusted pet sitters still manage to surprise us!

Sarah Dunn, tells the story of one of her house sits: “#newfriends We found it hard to believe when the house owners told us their beautiful Maine Coons loved the trampoline, but sure enough, every time my daughter went out to play, they would follow and stay with her! She also had the magic touch with one of the cats who we were told hated grooming. He would inevitably walk off every time I tried to groom him, but when my daughter combed him, he would sit still and gaze into her eyes!”

Why not give house sitting a try

You can travel the world looking after beautiful homes and animals and all you need to do is join the TrustedHousesitters community. For an annual fee, you can go to as many house sits as you like.

We have a special deal for subscribers to Retire Early Lifestyle. Use our link to qualify for a free one month trial. Housesitting is an exciting new way to travel the world.

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Save Money with Great Groupon Deals

Sponsored post

Every year I go to visit my sisters in California.

I look forward to this visit each year for all the obvious reasons – spending time with my loved ones, cooking wonderful meals to share, watching the latest movies on their home entertainment system, and taking walks by the ocean.

One of my favorite things is going shopping to upgrade my wardrobe.

Since Billy and I live a lifestyle of travel and we carry our small collection of clothes around with us for a year at a time, I tend to wear out what I wear from year to year.


This provides me with the perfect opportunity to go to Kohl’s for instance, and take advantage of all their incredible deals. I can get pretty much dozens of capris, blouses, classy Tee shirts, a new bathing suit and even new shoes and it’s a small dent on my wallet. I couldn’t do this without the deals that Kohl’s offers on some of my favorite brands of clothing.

Since it’s a good deal of time before I return to the States each year, I am also in need of refreshing my supply of vitamins, or miscellaneous digital supplies like a new hard drive, thumb drive or cell phone. I usually do all my research for what I need and then order from Amazon or WalMart before my visit to California. By the time I unpack my suitcase, everything I have ordered has already arrived to my sister’s house.

It’s kind of like Christmas!

Honestly, because of the deals I get through Groupon for these stores, it makes it lots easier to purchase what I need at better prices that fit my lifestyle.

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Caring for Your Vision: Turmeric for Overall Health On-the-Go

Ashley Spiker

Turmeric is known as a yellow spice added to food to give that distinct exotic flavor and is most commonly found in curry recipes. But as with many, many spices, turmeric also has health benefits and today we’ll focus on its benefits for your vision.

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What is turmeric?

Turmeric is a household spice sourced from the plant Curcuma longa. Turmeric belongs to the same family as ginger and cardamom, Zingiberaceae. This brightly colored spice has been an integral part of the Indian cuisine as well as traditional medicine.

In traditional medicine, turmeric is commonly used for the treatment of pain and wounds which is largely due to its anti-inflammatory properties. The active compounds of turmeric responsible for these actions are many but among them is curcumin. Curcumin is one of the active ingredients of turmeric that is actively researched upon.

In fact, studies show curcumin is scientifically found to be an effective antioxidant that has shown promise in treating and preventing some forms of inflammation, oxidative stress, and even certain cancers.

Benefits of Curcumin for the eyes

Scientists consider curcumin to be a potential helpful compound in opthalmology. It has been demonstrated that curcumin has beneficial effects on several ocular diseases, such as chronic anterior uveitis, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and dry eye syndrome.

One study notes the efficacy of curcumin on chronic anterior uveitis, the most common form of uveitis that occurs in front of the eye. As it turned out, oral administration of curcumin has the same results as corticosteroid therapy which is presently the only available standard treatment for this disease. The same study also notes the lack of side effects with curcumin to be its greatest advantage over corticosteroids.

Unfortunately, because of its low solubility and oral bioavailability, the biomedical potential of curcumin is not easy to exploit. This is why products like NORFLO® were made to maximize curcumin bioavailability. Norflo contains a curcumin-phospholipids complex, which was specifically formulated to increase curcumin bioavailability to be 30-folds higher than standard curcumin. This bioavailability improvement has proven therapeutic efficacy and tolerability in 20 clinical studies publishes in peer-reviewed journal in ophthalmology and in other inflammatory diseases.


Turmeric has a great potential in combating common eye diseases. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action courtesy of curcumin helps reduce or even prevent the damage to various eye tissues. The potential of curcumin has been explored in medicine extensively

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Taking Advantage of Great Groupon Deals

Sponsored Post

Every year I go to visit my sisters in California.

I look forward to this visit each year for all the obvious reasons – spending time with my loved ones, cooking wonderful meals to share, watching the latest movies on their home entertainment system, and taking walks by the ocean.

One of my favorite things is going shopping to upgrade my wardrobe.

Since Billy and I live a lifestyle of travel and we carry our small collection of clothes around with us for a year at a time, I tend to wear out what I wear from year to year.


This provides me with the perfect opportunity to go to Kohl’s for instance, and take advantage of all their incredible deals. I can get pretty much dozens of capris, blouses, classy Tee shirts, a new bathing suit and even new shoes and it’s a small dent on my wallet. I couldn’t do this without the deals that Kohl’s offers on some of my favorite brands of clothing.

Since it’s a good deal of time before I return to the States each year, I am also in need of refreshing my supply of vitamins, or miscellaneous digital supplies like a new hard drive, thumb drive or cell phone. I usually do all my research for what I need and then order from Amazon before my visit to California. By the time I unpack my suitcase, everything I have ordered has already arrived to my sister’s house.

It’s kind of like Christmas!

Honestly, because of the deals I get through Groupon for these stores, it makes it lots easier to purchase what I need at better prices that fit my lifestyle.

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Enjoying Luxury Travel- Benefits for Everyone

Dana Jones is a freelance writer and research consultant. She is a regular contributor to various top lifestyle sites. When asked to describe herself in word, she simply states that she is unpredictable. For more information about hotels and destinations, visit Luxury Link here.

People are advised to travel as often as they can, go on pre-planned trips and take vacations. Luxury travel is beneficial in several ways. It makes you long for other destinations that you can visit, experience different cultures, food and people. Traveling has become easier and more people are exploring new places that give them much more than what they expected.

Investing in Luxury

Luxury travel is an opportunity to invest in you and your wellbeing. While traveling, you gain more exposure to new people, lifestyles and cultures. With these new experiences, you also gain a different perspective and way of viewing the world, which can renew your purpose in life. For many people who have been unsure about their career paths or the goals that they want to pursue, a luxury travel experience has helped them discover their purpose and sense of direction.

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Social Interactions

Traveling frequently improves your sociability whether you travel alone or with other people. Being at a new destination surrounded by people that you are not familiar with is a unique chance to engage in enriching conversations and interact with a wide variety of people. Traveling also gives you numerous stories and memories that you can share when you return home.

Broader Perspective

Experiencing various cultures when you visit different places exposes you to ways of life that you are not used to. When you have such experiences away from home, your mind opens up and your worldview expands. Being exposed to different cultures and lifestyles constantly shows how a fulfilling life can be enjoyed in various ways. Find Luxury Link here.

Packing Skills

Another benefit of being a frequent traveler is developing the ability to become a skillful packer. You learn how to prioritize and determine the things that you need as well as what you can travel without. From packing too much in enormous suitcases that are inconvenient to move around with to becoming an expert at fitting everything into a neat bag, you no longer have to deal with the challenges of losing excessive items and carrying a huge bag around.

Flexible Approach to Life

Travelers are aware of how important it is to be flexible. You may get lost while driving around a new city or miss your return flight. While these experiences may initially appear to be unappealing, they teach that you will not always be able to control the things around you. This can help to ease your approach towards life and learn from the obstacles that you encounter in life.

Learning Different Languages

Traveling to another country even for a minimal amount of time is a good way to learn different languages. Learning some new words makes you feel comfortable while you are at a foreign location and makes it easier to interact with the local people. Traveling often makes you realize the value of speaking the languages of the destinations that you visit.

You may even be inspired to learn another language and become fluent in your conversations as you travel around the world. Luxury travel and experiencing the things that the world has to offer enables you to appreciate good service, unique experiences and the people you share your memories with.

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Comparing Panajachel, Guatemala to Oaxaca, Mexico as a Retirement Destination

Q&A with a Reader

Camera-shy Maya Indigenous at a market in Panajachel


If you had to choose, would you favor Panajachel over Oaxaca as a place to live? If possible could you give the main reasons for your choice, please?

Thank you! I find your blog very interesting.

John D.

All of our books lead to adventure. Don’t miss out on yours!

Hi John!

Thanks for taking the time to write.

In regards to your question – which might be the better choice for a retirement destination, Oaxaca, Mexico or Panajachel, Guatemala let me first say that these are two very different locations in all kinds of ways.

Colonial architecture of the big city, Oaxaca

Oaxaca is in Mexico, of course, and there are different rules for retirement visas and how to go about getting them. If, while you are deciding on this city you want to take your time, you will receive 180 days visitor’s visa upon arrival, versus the 90 day visitor visa you would receive in Guatemala.

Oaxaca is a very large Colonial city known for its cuisine, theater, art, and gardens, with expert medical care readily available in the city.

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Panajachel is a funky, artsy, musical village, with a large Mayan presence and the spectacular natural beauty of the Lake and volcanoes. There is little to do in the way of museums or theater, but there is one botanical garden just right out of town which people do like to wander through.

Wooden dock at Lake Atitlan

Cuisine is “international” in that there is one Mexican restaurant which is pretty good, 2 Japanese options, a couple of Italian places, BBQ, all sorts of bakeries and restaurants that serve traditional food. Medical care here is adequate for day-to-day stuff — colds, flu, dentists and stuff like that, and there are several pharmacies. Anything of major significance (dialysis, heart surgery, eye surgery, cancer treatment) all need to be done in either of 3 other cities, Guatemala City (the capital with the best selection) Xela (which is closer and has a good selection of hospitals and doctors) or Antigua (which has some special medical procedures available like tooth implants and plastic surgery).

So those are big differences between these two places.

Restaurant Quinta Real in Oaxaca

The indigenous are incredible. Friendly, innocent, colorful and ready to engage in conversation, their culture is a boon to the whole Lake Atitlan area. You will definitely know you are in a foreign country when you are in Pana. Panajachel is also a small village with a very small expat population who live around the lake, and generally speaking, someone sneezes here, and the word gets around the lake very quickly. If you have a disagreement with someone or want to date someone… soon “everyone” will know. It’s a bit like the sitcom “Cheers” – everyone knows your name (and your business.)

In Oaxaca, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of places to hide or discover or plant yourself. No one will know your name unless you assertively build friendships. It’s a big city (but people are friendly also).

Santiago Cathedral, Oaxaca, Mexico

Pana is walker-friendly and everything is within walking distance. If you are in a hurry you can grab a tuk-tuk to take you somewhere, and if you want to visit another village, you simply get on board a lancha, which will take you across the lake in less than an hour. Oaxaca has traffic, taxis, and buses. There are large malls and plazas in which to do your shopping as well as little tiendas. Pana’s shopping is more than adequate for just about anything you might want, but not on this large of a scale.

I think in general, Pana’s weather is a bit better, more reliable and the air is clean (except for volcano dust!)

Sunset at Lake Atitlan

In terms of where we would choose to retire, Oaxaca or Pana… the jury is still out on that one. We tend to prefer large towns over big cities, but we do enjoy visiting Oaxaca for all that it offers. Pana can be a bit small in terms of medical options, but we are not bored there. We enjoy the Mayan locals and the Expats. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes to sit in and enjoy the food and company. And the lake is stunning.

You might need to review your preferences in lifestyle to see which place might work for you. Both places are excellent in their own ways.

I hope you find this information to be useful towards making  your decision. You might need to visit both to find out for yourself which places fits better.

Best of luck!

And thanks again for writing.


Monte Alban Mayan Ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico

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Do you need Medicare if you don’t live in the US? Medicare Part B isn’t free

By the Medicare Gal – reprinted with permission

Sometimes my client is doing extensive traveling.  Other times someone is physically moving to another country. And…sometimes I get asked this question from a person who is already living in another country.

Do you need Medicare if you don’t live in the US?

The long answer is that you need to consider the potential costs. You typically cannot use Medicare outside of the USA. So if you don’t have a USA address it makes it a little more difficult to decide, but not impossible.

I recommend that my own clients who travel should maintain a local state/US address. There are many services out there that will accept mail then scan it and email it to you. By keeping a service like this while you travel, you are less likely to lose your benefits. We talked about traveling in an RV in a previous article.

There is no age qualification for financial independence.

Now… back to foreign travel or living abroad. Here’s the issue:

You typically cannot use your Medicare benefits overseas, and many times you can get great care in other countries for a fraction of what it would cost in the USA. Most people do not pay for Part A (because they pre-paid for it while they were working) but must pay for Part B.

The standard Part B premium in 2017 is $134 or more if you are a high income earner. That can take a big bite out of your budget.

Not only that, but when you start Part B, your ability to get a Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan without having to answer medical questions is limited to six months. After that, you might not be able to get it because of a pre-existing condition.

So to answer the question, “Do I need Medicare if I don’t live in the US”, we must look at the circumstances.

  1. Do you intend to return to the USA to live?

Do you need Medicare if you never return to the US?  If you never return to the USA then you probably won’t need the coverage.

  1. If you do return to the USA, will you be able to get a short term policy that will cover you through the gap?

You will only be able to sign up for Part B during General Open Enrollment, which is January 1- March 31 of every year and is different from the MAPD open enrollment. Additionally, your coverage will not start until July 1st. So there could be a huge period of time where you have NO medical insurance. Of course you will still have hospitalization and Skilled Nursing insurance through Part A, but beware of the deductibles, copays and limitations.

  1. Have you calculated what your Part B penalty might be?

When you do finally sign up for Part B, there will likely be a penalty of 10% for every year that you were eligible and didn’t enroll.  This penalty is lifetime, it doesn’t go away.

  1. Don’t forget the Part D (drug plan) penalty of 1% for every MONTH you were eligible and didn’t enroll.

This is also a lifetime penalty.

  1. Do you intend to return to the USA for extended visits?

Do you need Medicare if you don’t live in the US but visit for several months at a time?  You might need insurance coverage while you are in the US. Does your foreign insurance cover travel inside the US? If not, then you’ll want to consider Medicare insurance.

  1. Are you eligible for Social Security?

If NOT, then you might not need to enroll in Medicare until you return to the USA. You won’t have to pay a higher premium as long as you enroll in Part B within 3 months of returning and establishing a residence.

So in closing, only YOU can answer the question, Do you need Medicare if you don’t live in the US.  As long as you understand the penalties and potential pitfalls, you should be able to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing Medicare insurance and then make a decision. Personally, if I were eligible for Social Security and planning to ever return to the US I would go ahead and buy it along with a drug plan because the penalties are so high. If I wasn’t eligible for social security then I would hold off on purchasing it. But that’s just me. Talk with your financial adviser about your specific situation.

This article is not intended to be legal or financial advice.  Please discuss your personal situation with an attorney or financial adviser.

Other Related stories and links

Our Medical Insurance, Private, International and Medicare Page

Our Medical Self-Education Page

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How Do I Find an Active Adult Retirement Community?

Q&A with a Reader

I am interested in retirement simple living in a small manufactured home or park model in an active retirement community.

How can I find the right community?

It should be affordable.

The climate should not be extremely cold or extremely hot all year.

It should be in the U.S., particularly in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona or New Mexico.

Thank you,


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Hi Donna,

Thank you for taking the time to write.

I have some links here that you can research to get lots of information on active adult communities. There are many of them around, especially in the sunbelt of the US.

If you Google Active Adult Communities you will get pages of listings. For narrowing down your results, just put in a state and many will show up for that location. Then you can communicate with those communities directly, getting more pertinent information for your needs.

On our Housing Page there are several listings for active adult communities, including Top Retirements which offers a directory of active adult communities for the nation and for the states you listed in your email.

The more you know about what you want, what is important to you (climate, international airport, restaurants, activities), how much you want to pay for the manufactured home, if you want to own the land underneath the home or lease the land, and whether or not you want a small, medium or large community, the easier it is to find your “perfect place.”

We recommend that before you purchase a home in one of these locations, that you go to visit in person and stay a season or two. There is no rush. You need to know if you like your neighbors, the community itself, and if it is close by the things that are important to you such as grocery stores, movie houses, an airport or anything else that might be on your list. If you can, purchase from a previous owner and you will save some money. The best time to look for houses for sale is just before the annual lifestyle fees or rent is due. For many personal reasons (illness, a death in the family, becoming elderly, not being able to afford two homes anymore, etc.) people might choose to not renew their lease and their home goes up for sale.

Another important decision to make is whether or not you want to own the property on which the home sits or if you will be comfortable owning the home and leasing the property. The difference in these two options are thousands and thousands of dollars – not just at the time of purchase, but also in the cost of annual home insurance. Find out what your maintenance responsibilities are. If you own the land, chances are that the maintenance requirements are higher. If you lease the land, often the community has a budget which pays for tree trimming, watering and so on.

Take your time. It’s exciting to be looking for a community where you might fit in and have a good time for years to come.

Good luck. I hope you find this information to be useful to you.

All the best,


Related stories and links

Worry Free Housing

Our Relocation Page

Our Housing Alternatives Page

Our Retirement Lifestyle Choices Page

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My Volunteer Experience in Cuba

Lynn Lotkowictz for Global Volunteers

In mid-January, I flew from Tampa to Havana on a trip that would introduce me to a country that has been off limits for me (and most Americans) for most of my life. I participated in a one-week service program in Cuba with Global Volunteers, a non-profit, NGO based in Minneapolis.

Classic old cars are seen everywhere

Along with 19 other volunteers ages 30-78, I spent a week on various work projects that included painting a fence at our base (The Cuban Council of Churches), spending time with seniors at a senior care center and working with students on English in an evening program. Another team did crocheting with a women’s group for part of the day.

Every afternoon we had a few hours of free time before working with students practicing English for about two hours. Later we all met for dinner, with our excellent team leader, Stephanie, at various locations.  The trip was a combination of helping our host community and a wonderful cultural learning experience for a group of Americans, most of whom, had never been to Cuba.

For more information on Volunteer opportunities click here!

Living with the Locals

We stayed in Miramar, a nice residential suburb of Havana near many of the city’s foreign embassies. All 20 volunteers stayed in guest houses within three or four blocks of each other. We were two blocks from the water and near our base at the Council where we met each morning around 9:00.

Cuban Vendor

The joy of staying in a suburb is that you have the opportunity to observe people going to work and school and regularly interact with the locals. Put simply, it is a more authentic experience than staying in a hotel. You feel like a part of the community, particularly since you are there to help in some small way.

We walked throughout the area every day and night.  I never felt nervous nor did we see anything that looked questionable. The only danger I encountered was the uneven sidewalks which, like many of the buildings, are in disrepair. Also in the evenings many streets did not have lights so we walked with caution and used flashlights when necessary.

Getting Connected

There is very little internet on the island. Missing connectivity, we asked our hosts about options. They told us there was an “Internet Park” about a twenty minute walk from my casa. There, they said, we could purchase a card from a mini mart or store, but we were told there are long lines and forms to fill out along with passport information. The alternative was to walk to a certain small park and connect with a young gentlemen and his pals who our hosts said would sell us a card for 5 Kooks (approx $5.00 ) for one hour of internet. The card provides a password and username.

Local Taxi

My three new Global Volunteer friends and I decided to visit the park. It was trashed with empty beer cans and bottles and many young people on their phones sitting on the ground. There was a group of men standing around who possibly looked like our connection.

We approached the young men,  and they immediately offered each of us an internet card. With our $5. purchase complete we took a photo together with the “sellers”  and then enjoyed the internet for about 30 minutes. (We kept the card for another day’s use.) Mission accomplished. As we walked back to our work site I wondered, would I even consider walking up to a stranger in, let’s say, Central Park or Chicago and purchasing an “off the grid” card with the hope it worked? And then take a photo with them? Probably not.

Music, Art and Entertainment

If you choose to stay the weekend, you have the option of adding on the weekend package of people-to-people activities. Or you can make your own plans for the weekend. The Global Volunteers program includes a tour of the Ernest Hemingway House, art galleries, Old Havana and a morning lecture from two local professionals who discuss history, education and some politics. All and all it’s a great value that includes meals and accommodations.

Visiting a Senior Home

My favorite weekend activity was the excellent quality live music everywhere day or night. Street entertainers, restaurants and bars and coffee shops all have talented solo or group performers. Artwork is plentiful and there is a wide variety of architecture including colonial, Spanish, Art Deco and contemporary.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

My students on two evenings were a young couple in their early 20s. Allen is an independent contractor at a tour company and is eager to learn English so he can better communicate with visitors. His wife Daniella takes care of the home. She knew some English and is eager to help him. We review his tour prices, look at what’s included and add some language to make the tours more appealing. We go over phrases such as, “Welcome to Havana, my name is Allen and I would love to show you my country. What is your name?

After some competitive analysis, we determine that he is competing with the fancy old American cars that all the tourists seem to love. Their hourly rate is $50 per hour.   We work on an appropriate response. “Yes, those old American cars are beautiful, however, instead of $50 per hour you might want to consider my van at only $15 per hour.” Allen masters three or four sentences that we work on intensely for two nights.  They are sure to enhance his business opportunities.

Touring in style

It’s a pleasure to see a 23-year-old happily married, entrepreneur with such enthusiasm and eagerness to succeed. When we finished the second night, he looked at me and said “God Bless you and thank you.” I was beginning to see how individuals can make a small but significant impact in a short time and, more importantly, understand these very warm and welcoming people.

In addition  there are people who are operating and creating small businesses out of their homes or garages that are serving meals, coffee/beer and other small businesses like repair shops and such. Homes are renting out rooms to visitors for additional income. This is all new and Cubans seem very happy with new opportunities.

Yes, the streets, sidewalks and many buildings are in disrepair, run down and there is much need for improved infrastructure, painting, plumbing, and electrical. Litter is an issue in some neighborhoods. For many, work is hard to find and salaries are low.  Supplies of every kind are limited. Many of the local grocery store shelves are sparsely stocked.

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Looking Ahead

The refreshing thing is you sense the change that is coming. In a lively conversation with one of our casa owners, she described it like this. “It started like the snowball on top of the mountain, it’s rolling down and getting bigger and bigger and you cannot stop it.”

Tourists from all over world have been visiting Havana for years and now there are many American visitors. In Havana we saw a cruise ship, red double-decker tour buses and souvenir shops. Colorful flora and fauna are everywhere and a walk along the Malecon — a walkway along the sea wall — is the perfect place to people watch.

Havana, a city of three million, is bursting with activity and a colorful history that people want to experience.  It’s old, it’s new, it’s Spanish, European, modern, young and fun!

I only saw a small part of Cuba on this trip. But I’m sure I’ll return again to visit Varadero, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and other places on this fascinating island.

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