World Citizen: Cuba

Dear reader,

we just got back from Cuba. After submitting my PhD theory I needed a break, a proper one, somewhere far away where I’d pick myself up and recharge. My husband and I collectively voted for Cuba, as we wanted to see it in its original form before the consumerism and capitalism ruin it.

Cuba is an island which can be described in two words: ever changing. What we read on blogs and websites only a few months old, was no longer true when we arrived there. Our trip was not organised. We had only first two nights booked and the rest was spontaneous. As I was so busy, I did not bother looking at any travel guide or read anything about Cuba. I thought I’d do it on the plane, but there I was learning Spanish (successfully!), so speaking for myself, I had only a rough idea that I am going to visit a Caribbean island where it’ll be summer and dry season and which regime is socialism (but coming from a post-socialistic country I kinda knew what this meant).

Our arrival and travel went smoothly. We reached Havana by evening and had someone picking us up and taking us to our casa. The next day we were served breakfast. I was absolutely astonished by tropical fruit, but seeing the bread on our table I thought: “Na-a, I’m not going to eat that”. See the picture.


Day one of our breakfast. I only had papayas and bananas. By the end of our travel I ate everything.

I’m not going to eat artificial burger-like bread made of white flour and loads of sugar. Nor am I going to eat butter substitute. Cheese and eggs tasted like soap, my husband said, while me being a vegan, refused to even try it. And here comes the hard truth of socialism: one cannot buy anything. The shops literally had nothing but some huge tins of beans (sugar added of course), loads of tomato sauce, some rice and at least five kinds of rum. I couldn’t find any fruit, nor bread. I thought fine, I’ll live on our fruit bars brought from Europe. Havana was dirty and smelly. The houses were adorable perhaps 50 years ago, but today it was all falling apart. We had not yet discovered Havana Vieja, which is better and truly beautiful, but the rest looks like as if it is going to collapse within the next five years because nobody cares to rebuild or repair what is broken.

We headed off to Viñales, a national park on the west with tobacco and coffee plantation. Our first taxi collectivo ride. Stopped on the way and I thought “nice, stretch my legs a bit” and as I took some pictures, the driver started shouting at me and prohibited to take some more. We were at a place where black petrol was being sold. The average petrol price compares to prices in Europe, which is about 1eur/l but on a black market one can get one liter for 10 cents.


Cuban black petrol market. You’d recognise one immediately, wouldn’t you?

Vinales was beautiful. The mogotes all around the valley looked friendly and inviting. Cuba is very green, clean and the nature is untouched (which is what I like!). But the city and our tourist experience was insulting for a Slovenian. Slovenians are so spoiled, because we live in a country with such beautiful nature, environment and such high living standard that it is literally impossible to impress us (for me only New Zealand exceeded my expectations, and I’ve seen quite some bits of this planet already). We took a horse ride to the natural park. Stopped by a farmer where I smoked my first cigar. Then off to a coffee plantation where one old man was explaining us the process of making coffee in three minutes and used the rest of his 20-minute tour selling us coffee, honey and rum. We were then taken to a “lago natural” which was an artificial water tank with muddy water. And the Mural de la Prehistoria was someone painting the rocks with modern colours. I understand that tourism is the main cuban industry but I do not understand the tourists who were actually impressed (or perhaps acting so). Anyhow, we thought the show was ridiculous and decided to leave Viñales asap so booked our Viazul bus to Trinidad where I was hoping to see my longing for beach. Unfortunately we both got very sick and spent the night interchangeably vomiting or sitting on the toilet. I got high fever and was freezing and trembling on my side of bed. After such an ordeal, we had to do the “check in” for the bus at 6.10 am. The bus was supposed to leave at 6.45 but left at 7.30. First we had to walk up a small hill for our check in for about 20 mins and then again down where our bus was waiting. It would make it too complicated to pick us up I suppose and the station was only used to drop people off. I swallowed a painkiller and slept throughout the whole ride which took a bit more than 9 hours.


I can’t tell you what a dear friend that street dog was!

Arriving at Trinidad sometime pm, we went looking for a casa recommended by some people we met in Viñales. Unfortunately it was full, but the lady was kind and recommended us another one. Which was for the same amount of money (25 cuc/room) a box with no water in the shower, synthetic linens and squeaking bed, straight next to a huge refrigerator so we were exposed to a constant light and noise. We didn’t mind and went straight to bed at 6pm and slept until the next morning. I thought to myself

“Shit, what a spoiled cookie you are, girl. You better adjust your standards or you are likely to have the worst holiday of your life!”

Woken up the next day feeling much better. Trinidad was adorable. Went off looking for another casa, as this one was clearly too expensive for the un-comfort it offered, we explored the streets of Trinidad. Then found our place which has been our home for the next 9 days. Our casa of Jachima and Ariel close to Park Cespedes was gorgeous. Having had so much misfortune so far, we decided to give up traveling around and just settle in for a while. And this is when real holidays started.

Not without challenges though. As soon as we got better, we gained our appetite back. Especially mine is quite huge, I eat huge amounts of food but am very picky in what I eat. Since Trinidad shops were even more modest than the Havana ones, I had to adjust. By the end of our stay I’ve probably eaten about 100 buns of that “awful bread that I am not going to eat” and about 50 eggs. Both without any taste, but I stopped complaining, because there was nothing else to eat except some baby food with condensed milk (forget about fresh milk in Cuba, though last day of our trip I saw a soy milk carton which was a huge surprise, but massively expensive).

It is amazing how flexible we are, humans. Being in a country which has very different culture and habits to your own forces you to adjust and think faster. I was very pleased with myself to discover that I’ve been super spoiled. You would not believe the joy I felt when finding a man on the street selling tomatoes. Even managed to get some Swiss chard and it made me the happiest person.


Behind me is a Skoda. Probably made in 1950’s!

Now about the sea and the beaches. It was so worth it. Playa Ancon was my heaven on Earth. Crystal clear turquoise warm sea with the temperature around 26-27 or even more, not a single rubbish on the floor, a beach where you could easily find a spot to be completely alone or among others, but not plenty. We went there almost every day. I got a nice suntan and a close encounter with a ray fish which was very nice as none of us was scared, so we spent quite some time together in slightly deeper water, curious about each other.


No filter. The water really was that colour.

Every time you travel, travel changes you. I think there is a proverb saying that every travelling is travelling to yourself. And I agree. I discovered Europe through Cuba, a different perspective. It made me so sad thinking about our excessive consumerism and loads of plastic we produce every hour. Amounts of food, clothes and other things we are throwing away. When we left, our car (my lovely Peugeot 206) broke down and we were thinking of getting a new one. Such a car in Cuba would cost around 8,000 cuc and was considered highly valuable and fashionable! I left with my famous suitcase full of clothes I was gonna throw away in Europe, but in Cuba they all of a sudden seemed fine to me and I almost changed my mind by thinking of bringing it back home again (which I then did not – I came back with only what I had on, no extra luggage :).

Then about people. Cubans are very special. The conditions they live in are rough. The money they earn is scarce, the government salaries are ridiculous so no wonder nobody wants to work. But they are smiling all the time. They stick together. Families are one of the most important networks. They help each other. They are not craving for material things – when we wanted to sell our iPad (because we thought they might be interested and for us was getting rather old) they carelessly raised their eyebrows saying we do like it, but we do not need it. It made me thing how many things I own or am craving for, but actually do not need.

In Cuba I survived with minimum, even less than in India. And I did not feel much deprivation (only food-wise, but again, I am very picky when it comes to that, but thought that okay, this is not forever, so I’ll survive). So being back home now into 30cm of snow and 0 degrees makes me want to take some lessons from Cuba into my western lifestyle. Some you can view below in a short video.

And some other “resolutions” or discoveries are connected to realisation that most people on this planet survive with less than 5 Euro/day. Because they have to. Why don’t I try to survive with the same, but not because I have to, but because I can? So here it goes:

  • I do not have to consume all kinds of superfoods coming from far away. We have superfood in Slovenia, but it is not marketed as much and totally inexpensive.
  • I do not have to eat avocado etc. here, where it does not grow. I simply do not want to contribute to the pollution its production and transportation takes.
  • I do not have to own 369276 different outfits for every other occasion. A few classic pieces would do.
  • I do not have to throw something away just because it is broken or torn. Perhaps I could remember how to sew again. And so what if that coffee cup is broken. If it still holds water, it can still be my favourite.
  • Zero waste. Dear reader, we are going to suffocate if we don’t act now. I’ll do my best to try and go zero waste. Went shopping today. It is very challenging, but I’ll keep going!
  • No plastic. Very challenging again! But I’ve given up on shampoo and shower gels, I will eventually give up on toothpaste and other beauty products and will learn how to make my own.
  • Ancient wisdom. In Slovenia, we have so many herbs and spices, not to mention flowers. My grandmother knew what to pick when. I have no clue. Perhaps time to start asking her for some advice and learn the art of tea and other homemade remedies.

I guess that should do. For all of you who are considering visiting Cuba, do it fast, because it is changing. The prices were similar to European, but for much lower quality or service. Capitalism is definitely going to kick in, especially if the embargo from the USA finishes sometime in the future. So if you are after a romantic Cuba, now is the time to discover it. I enjoyed my experience a lot – pleasant and unpleasant bits. The only question for me now is how am I gonna survive my next trip, which is going to Canada work-wise in a week – from +30 degrees into -10? But hey – what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?

Much love to you,



Check the time. We waited for two hours to have our luggage checked in and then our plane was delayed by over an hour. Oh well, the European one as well 😀


Downsize This: Offline is the New Luxury (Notes about a Simple Life)

Dear reader,

can you imagine life without your cell phone? Do you wish your day had at least 30 hours so you could manage your TO-DO lists? Are you craving for more and have many future plans of what needs to happen before you can finally be free/happy/fulfilled? Are you feeling guilty because you don’t visit fitness too often or because you don’t always eat like you are supposed to? Is your closet full of clothes yet you’ve got nothing to wear?

You are not alone in this. Most of us are facing these challenges. Especially the younger generation is overwhelmed with plans, speed and cravings. Thought you might like to join my little experiment, if you’ve reached the point where you want to make some change. During the next couple of months there will be a series of blogs titled

Downsize this: … … (Notes about a Simple Life)

You will be invited to go on a journey of downsizing and eliminating things and habits that make our lives complicated. In each blog I’ll share with you a story on a certain topic and you are welcome to add your own stories to it. Life doesn’t have to be hard, that’s the lesson I’ve already learned. But in practice, as said 3516865161 times already, there’s a huge difference between simple and easy. Downsizing and simplifying is far from easy. And yet I believe it can be done.

Throughout the following months I’ll share with you some ideas about what I might do to make my life simpler, what the effects were after trying it out and whether it has been worth it. Today I’ll start with eliminating online presence.

Internet is a great tool. So is a computer and a smart phone. About half of my clients have found me over internet and I work with people from many different continents. My online presence is therefore crucial. Further, internet enables me to be in contacts with my distant friends. That’s a great thing and I appreciate having this option. However I noticed I spend way too much time online, sometimes just clicking between Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Gmail, Outlook, Instagram, Ebay, Guardian, Academia, and many time consuming popular science articles I don’t even remember the title the next second closing the tab. I’m even beginning to notice that my attention can’t stick to more than two paragraphs. I’m not even sure I can manage to read a paper book for more than 20 minutes and not get distracted, especially when I hear a notification on my phone. Sometimes the first thing I do in the morning is checking my phone and the last thing before I go to bed. I have 5 mail accounts, two websites, two Skype accounts, a Whatsapp, Snapchat, Messenger, iMessage GTalk and even Doximity though I never use it. Not to mention that I would probably feel more naked if I left my phone at home than to forget to put my shoes on.

So I have to admit that it’s not me anymore who is in control and uses technology as a tool, but it’s become vice versa. And I don’t like it, so something has to change. It’s clutter and it’s consuming too much of my time and energy. Can somebody who works online manage to stay offline? I believe it is possible, but I’m not sure I can do it. But I’ll try.

Downsize this to:

  • two email accounts: one business and one private. Shut down gmail and other accounts and activate forward options
  • checking emails when I want to, not when they want to be read (resisting the urge, I’ll turn off the push option on my phone, but do that gradually)
  • using common software to share updates from one spot to all the social media
  • taking time for Facebook once a day and this will NOT be while I’m having a snack or a cup of tea. Turn off Facebook notifications on my phone and post updates only to Ribalon Facebook page, meaning slowly reducing the amount of info I put on my personal profile. Only accept friend request from people I call friends in real life
  • eliminating all the apps and accounts I’m not using weekly
  • working online on Skype days fully, but other days stay mostly offline. Working means working, not browsing.

Downsizing will be replaced by:

  • reading books and printed articles (or maybe on iPad if printing means waste of forrests – but iPad has to be without wifi)
  • fostering personal contacts (calling or meeting people or schedule a Skype)
  • handwriting innovative ideas, project outlines, passing thoughts that might need further investigation. I should buy a special book for this very purpose
  • learning a new language
  • playing piano more often
  • spending more time outside (even without phone)

This might sound unrealistic, however fortune favours the bold, doesn’t it?

So let’s see what I’m already doing that makes me confident I can do more?

  • I already don’t watch any TV
  • I’m using newsfeed eradicator on Facebook on my working computer, so I don’t see any newsfeeds (recommend it!)
  • I don’t pick up the phone calls if I’m in the middle of work
  • I try not to do other things while on computer, like eating or listening to radio.

I read somewhere that offline is the new luxury. Let’s see whether that’s true.

Are you on board with me? Thanks in advance for your thoughts 🙂



Found this photo on the internet. Can’t even remember where. This definitely calls for a change (sorry I don’t know the source!)

How to quit smoking and other easy stuff

Dear reader,

Most of us have at least one habit we’re not proud of. We would like to quit it, but can’t. In my language there’s an idiom similar to “old habits die hard” and trying to translate it literally, it goes something like “a habit is an iron shirt”.

Today’s Solution Focused story is about quitting smoking. My friend says it’s easy – she’s done it about a hundred times already. Although this sounds like an amazing achievement, all of you who’ve been smokers know it’s not really a compliment. Quitting once would do 🙂

In one of the past posts I told you I used to be a professional ballet dancer. Which correlates to smoking and coffee as two main nutrition courses. No kidding. So I’d say I used to be a smoker. Maybe not a regular one, but I’d smoke 10 cigarettes/day or more if there was a coffee meeting or a party (and I used to be quite outgoing when I was younger). For ummm maybe 10 years. Started in high school because one particular character in one particular novel that I really liked, smoked. So did I, in order to be a little bit like her (I hope I’ll remember this when my yet to be born kids are teenagers and will come up with nonsense like that!).

I never tried to quit because I liked smoking. Liked the company, the tiny pretty smoking tools, etc. Now I don’t really remember what it was, but it must have been something to keep me in the dusty arms. Cigarettes were a means to clear my head. That was the excuse at least, but in fact it was more of a “let’s just forget about the crap” and my head and thoughts were even more vague after one stick. After a while, the general public attitudes towards smokers have changed. We were not welcomed or allowed to smoke inside coffee shops. Or public places. Even the smokers eventually sensed the bad smell that comes from smoking in a non-smoking place. That’s when I first thought that what I do is somewhat humiliating. But it was not enough to be willing to quit.

Then my husband got ill. He had tumour cancer and things were very serious. Looking back now, he took the news way better than I did. I was a nervous wreck and as he was admitted to the hospital and I was not allowed to be with him, I remember sitting on our balcony for hours, thinking all sorts of thoughts, drinking water and smoking. A lot. I was so worried about him that couldn’t do anything but sitting in the balcony or watching some stupid TV series. Then one day, as I was still alone at home, I felt sick. It was a bit too much. Went to bed, felt asleep and as I woke up, I went out for a cigarette again. Then asked myself: “Why are you doing this to you, why do you torture yourself so much? You need to be fit and strong, so you could be useful and helpful to your husband when he returns. You need your body to rely on it when times will be rough. And there will be such times, you know that!”

I slowly took another inhale. Then turned off the cigarette. Then went in. Turned on the computer. Looked in google about the benefits of quitting smoking. There were many! It caught my interest, so I’d keep browsing. I found out my smell would improve. So would my skin. And teeth. And physical condition. So I really felt for the benefits and also explored the expected time it would take for them to occur. Then I read about how to quit smoking. It was all big words about a strong will, about how it is an addiction and how much struggle it causes, people get fat and stressed … it was not very appealing so I knew this wasn’t something that would work for me.

So then I said to myself: “Let’s not smoke today anymore, shall we? And let’s see what happens.” And I had a picture of my body and what will happen in it with nicotine withdrawal. First three hours, a day, a week and so on. What will the benefits be? The first day turned into a second one. So I repeated: “How about not smoking the second day and see what happens.” Again, looking for benefits and literally starting to feel them. And the second day was then a week. A second week. A third one. A month. Then I read somewhere that the first month was the hardest and from then it goes way easier. I was so happy I didn’t see this one before, because it would change my focus on the difficulties. But instead, I was only focusing on one day. Not in terms “DON’T SMOKE DON’T SMOKE” but more in terms of “let’s see what happens”. Gently. Calmly. And though it may seem my entire focus was on smoking, it was actually not. The main focus was on what I could do with saved time (and money) that my new experiment will bring along. And how to use that to prepare myself for the return of my husband.

As he returned, I gained two things: him back and myself back. As the days passed, I was more and more happy that I started this little experiment. And proud too. But still, it was just an experiment, it was no big plan, big deal and also I didn’t talk to anybody about that in terms of big announcement how I decided to stop smoking. As my friends began to notice, I said I’m not doing it anymore. For now. So they didn’t ask. I thought I’ll tell when I’m sure I can do it. It’s now more than 2 years since that last cigarette and I haven’t been tempted to smoke again. And still I didn’t tell anybody about that, but now I don’t feel the need to do so.

So eventually I stopped counting the days. I knew I didn’t have to. I stopped looking for benefits, because I had them and was happy. Some might be wondering what would happen if a crisis came. It is often the case that you return to your old habits if something terrible happens to you. I’m not excluding the option. It’s just that I don’t see smoking as an only option now. And the other options sound much better 🙂

To sum up: a plausible and manageable timeframe, focusing on benefits, doing what works and do more of it (like when I felt pekish, I’d drink lots and lots of water), imagining what would my life look like when smoking is not on stage anymore … worked for me.  I’m looking forward to hear about your experience!

ginko tree