Ok, I know that I’ve been SUPER negligent in posting on this blog after my first post, which was almost a year ago. But, I’ll be slowly making up for it. Before I start a series of posts on my background story, I wanted to tell everyone about my Cuba cruise and FinCon 2018 experience, which inspired me to start working on this blog again!
Cruising to Cuba
Meeting the “FI crew”
My family’s journey to Cuba started when I read a post by Physician on Fire. He invited readers to join him on a cruise to Cuba before FinCon 2018 started. I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet PoF and to give my kids a chance to experience their first cruise. I also wanted to take the opportunity to check Cuba off my bucket list, taking advantage of the fact that Americans are currently allowed to travel to Cuba because, who knows, this may not be an option in the future.
I ended up getting way more than I expected. Not only did I had the chance to meet Physician on Fire and his family in person, I had an amazing time and made a bunch of new friends. There’s something about a shared passion and long, intense conversations that forms fast friendships. I met the Waffles on Wednesday, Dr. Cory Fawcett and his wife, the Frugally Reckless couple, Dr. B.C. Krygowski and her husband, Fire Up the Couch and a great Florida pathologist.
As is typical when you meet people from the FI/RE tribe, we discussed finances and investments, but more importantly, we talked about our passions and dreams. Although many of us are complete financial nerds, we all realize that finances are just the tool that frees us to pursue our passions. I have yet to meet anyone from the FI/RE community who is sacrificing and striving to obtain financial freedom in order to watch TV and play video games all day… Even those whose goal is full time travel almost always have passion projects that they want to spend their “retired” life pursuing.
As far as the cruise itself, I’ve found that I prefer Norwegian to Royal Caribbean, or at least this ship. The food was decent, but the ship was relatively small and it was hard to find a quiet place to just talk and relax. The quiet places were usually outside on the decks, where my family and I often found ourselves surrounded by cigarette and cigar smoke. We also struggled with making it to dining room at the assigned dinner times. In our daily life, we tend to eat dinner at around 7 to 8 pm because I often work into the late evening and we want to eat dinner together as a family. On the cruise, our group dinner reservations were at 5:30 pm, so I often ate with the group and then later with my kids at the buffet. My desire to do things my way and not have rules and restrictions may play a role in my drive for financial independence…
Cuba has always been on my bucket list due to the allure of visiting a land that has only been recently accessible to visitors from the US. I love Cuban food here in the US and I was excited to engage with the food and culture on the island. My actual experience was educational, but less than I hoped.
Due to restrictions against visiting Cuba for simple tourism, we had to participate in a sanctioned tour that met the US government criteria to visit the island. It was through this tour and the shipboard informational lectures that I learned that the Cuban food that I enjoy so much is best experienced outside of Cuba. Unfortunately, resources are scarce on the island and supplies of ingredients are limited. The delicious roast pork and smoked ham that I enjoy on my Cuban sandwich are only available to locals on rare occasions and most “Cubanos” in Cuba are closer to the ham and cheese sandwich made with Wonderbread that I would get as a kid. My guide told me that when one of his children was in diapers, the island had a diaper shortage, with none to be found for months. He said that stores will usually have only one or two brands of staples like toilet paper and you have to buy what you can find. He jokingly said that it keeps you from being stressed out from having to make too many decisions. It is amazing what we Americans take for granted in our every day lives.
On the tour, I was surprised to see modern vehicles on the road along with the classic cars that you always see in pictures. The majority of the vehicles were Russian, Asian or European makes, but I did see a late model Chevrolet or two. The iconic classic cars that you find in Cuba are usually a hodgepodge of parts because original parts weren’t available when repairs needed to be made. Some of the cars have even been converted to diesel engines and others use random parts such as motorcycle brakes.
When our attention was directed towards a specific landmark or in a certain direction, I tried to always take at least a quick look in the opposite direction. This is how I found that our attention was almost always directed away from the most rundown parts of the city. Some of the neighborhoods were almost post-apocalyptic in appearance. They were full of decaying buildings with crumbled facades lying in the dirt street. It was a marked contrast to the relatively well-maintained colonial buildings that you find in the tourist areas. Our tour guide told us that many buildings are apartments or single family residences that have been split among three or four families.
When I was in my Master’s of Public Health program, I took an interesting course that included refugee camp management. When planning sanitation in a refugee camp, it is recommended that relief agencies transition people as quickly as possible from defecation fields and latrine trenches to individual outhouses for each family. They found that sanitation markedly improved when each family had their own outhouse because once it was “theirs”, people began to take much better care of the outhouse than when it was community property. I see this idea being played out in Havana; when many families share a residence, they may care for their own personal living space more than they do community property like the building exterior. Of course, this is greatly exacerbated by the extreme poverty on the island.
Despite the hardships that they endure, the Cubans that I met were bright and friendly. Compared to being mobbed by aggressive taxi drivers in places like Managua, Nicaragua, the people were polite and helpful. Even in the public parks, when sketch artists came to sell their art and women dressed in traditional clothes came to offer photo opportunities, they were respectful and not unduly pushy. In the end, I feel that our time in Cuba was too short to do more than scratch the surface. I would love to have had more time to explore the island and get to know its people.
Connecting With the Tribe
FinCon was unlike any other conference I’ve ever attended. Unlike the medical conferences that I usually go to, the magic at FinCon happens outside of the conference rooms. It’s sort of like a cross between a typical conference and a family reunion… With pink flamingos… And beer… And people drinking beer in pink flamingos…
Instead of attending lectures all day as I usually do, I went to a few lectures that I was really interested in and then spent the rest of my time building relationships. Face it, most people who are pursuing financial independence are embracing a counter-cultural lifestyle (at least until messages like Playing with Fire reach everyone). So, it’s fantastic to be surrounded by like-minded people all pursuing freedom. Strangely enough, for a group of people who obsess over the intricacies of budgeting and investing, very few of my conversations were actually about budgeting or investing.
Most people were talking about their dreams and passions, reveling in the sense of community. It was a safe place to talk about taboo subjects like leaving your career to pursue a life with more meaning. One of the keynote speakers, His and Her Money, urged us to seek to have an impact with our message. This resonates with me as I look to start chronicling my family’s journey together. This journey is about continuing to build our relationships as a family, but just as important, to serve others and have a positive impact on this world.
For those I met last week, thank you for the wonderful time and I’ll see you next year!