The Real Christmas is What You Grew Up With

I've spent 3 Christmas's in the last 4 years abroad - away from home. And not a single one of them felt like "real Christmas" (especially when its like +25 outside!). All the elements were there - food, presents, Christmas tree, music, good people. But still. So I guess nothing can be an equally good substitute to a Christmas that you grew up with. We have this emotional stamp in the brain, formed in the childhood when Christmas was so very exciting.

So next year Im going to spend Christmas at home again to experience that sweet emotion that I consider Christmas feeling.

I gave it some thought, and decided to change the world

Am I playing too small, I asked myself? After giving it some thought, I decided that I will change the world. After all, its possible. And I have a vision I want to realize. I'll tell you all about it later.

If I haven't changed the world by the time I'm forty, I'll become a painter.

Writing the blog

What has kept me from writing into this blog more often is the fact that I put more focus right now into my business blog on internet marketing. So sometimes even when I have had something to say, I haven't as it seems difficult to find the time.

So Im changing the format - mostly for my own fun. Im gonna try twitter-style postings (a bit longer still) that capture the essence of what I am thinking right now and what I want to say to the world (yes, that includes you).

It's Friday night and I feel I've been working too much recently. So I decided to stop. For the night, at least (and watch "Pay It Forward" which I haven't still for some reason).

Look at this scene:

I love my life

The other day here in Hawaii we were looking for a restaurant to get some food, and we stumbled upon a really great one which happened to be packed. What the hell, we wondered. Then we realized: it was lunch time (on Monday). When you live your life as you please then you start to forget about these things - that people follow a certain routine.

They wake up with an alarm clock to go to work. They have a set lunch hour. And then they get to go home. This reality seems so far from me now. I have forgotten what it was like to have a job like I have forgotten what it was like to wear glasses. I am so much used to my current reality.

I was talking to Sarah yesterday and we acknowledged how lucky we are. Some of our age people are still making the transition into the world of jobs (from the world of studying), we have already transitioned out of it.

I love my life and I love what I do. Like the saying goes: if you love what you do you, you won't work for a single minute in your life. It's all a fun adventure.


Hawaii is a kind of a paradise. It has what you would expect from a postcard beautiful tropical place - white sands, teal color water and lots of palm trees. But it's so much more diverse. We're on a Big Island (Hawaii) right now and its amazing. It has mountains, live volcanos (heading to see flowing lava soon), arid deserts, forests, jungle, green hills. Also it has several seasons at the same time. Its hot and sunny on the beaches on one side of the island, raining on the other side and cool and chilly up in the mountains (even snowy).

The local beer is amazing. The local coffee is great - I'm learning a lot about the world famous Kona coffee (and drinking a lot too). We went to a coffee festival today and I got to observe the judges comparing different coffees in a competition. I was told there are more than 200 different fragrances and tastes to coffee that the pros can tell. Coffee world is a lot like the wine world.

Hawaii is amazing for snorkeling and diving. Ive seen a lot of colorful sea world representatives and amazing sights. Today I saw an eal eating an octopus - not more than 1 meter away from me.

Hawaii is definitely a place where one could live. Even though the cost of living is relatively high (the transporation of good to Hawaii increases the price of everything), I and everybody Ive met is truly happy here. The quality of life is just so much higher when you live in a beautiful place.

Being back in the tropics (after being away for 6 months) made me realize how much Ive fallen in love with it. I feel so light and happy in the midst of the lush greenery and beauty like nowhere else. I am more determined than ever to buy my tropical paradise of my own - just need to visit now all the possible locations to decide on one:)

Some random videos:


I spent the of the election day among Americans. The whole day felt like Christmas. It was a cool experience for me to witness the atmosphere of the night and the sincere joy when Obama won. He has instilled hope like no other. People feel this is the beginning of a new era.

What's going on?

I've been in Austin now for over a month. Life has slowly taken a "normal" route. Highlights of the past 30 days:

  • I have a home now - when visiting me here in Austin you can stay at my place.

    Property rental system is totally different from any country I've been to or heard of. Here if you want to rent a place you have to fill in an application and pay a fee(!). The fee can be $100+ per person (yes, if you gonna share the place with smbdy both of you have to pay), averaging about $30. And that doesn't even guarantee that you get the place. Totally ridiculous, I know. This system frustrated me so many times. But I guess if you know no other system, you just take it and think "that's the way things are and I have to accept it".
  • I am continuing to enjoy the life of an internet entrepreneur. I had a successful launch of my e-course in Estonia and have great plans for this for the near future. Next week I should launch my online PR business too.

    I am also starting a new business here with my pal Ross (Sarah's sister's husband) - hope to launch the product before Christmas. If all things go well I will also launch a product for Spanish-speaking market before the year is over. So many plans, too little time. But it's fun. I really enjoy entrepreneurial ventures, and can't even think what it's like to have a job.
  • I started a 100% healthy lifestyle. I work out at least 3 times a week and maintain a very healthy diet. The more I get into it, the more I enjoy it. I am also using myself as a "before and after" case study in the upcoming workout product.
  • I am integrating into the local culture. I watched all the presidential debates (in Austin strong majority supports Obama). I attended a local internet marketers networking event. So far I haven't been too busy making relationships and developing friendships - this has its good sides (more time to work on my exciting projects) and downsides (less casual fun).
  • Sarah started a jewelry business which is taking off pretty fast. She had a booth at two handicraft fairs and sold a ton. I was helping her do the events and got some cool trade show marketing experience. Bill Murray came to our stand and I even managed to exchange 5 words with him.
  • Planning to go to Hawaii next month for 10 days or so to visit Sarah's sister Lily.
Summary: life's good.

And finally - looking for a travel mate! I am planning to do a trip through the whole Central America: Mexico-Belize-Guatemala- El Salvador-Honduras-Nicaragua-Costa Rica-Panama. Fun and adventure hand in hand + I intend to dedicate some days to working when internet is available. I am thinking to go some time early 2009 and take maybe up to 2 months (I don't wanna run through it, I want to enjoy the time).

Who's interested?

Bye Estonia, hello Austin

Three and a half months I spent in Estonia went by quickly. There is always something magical about being home - and it is easy to get used to it. Even though I have been away for most of the time for the past 3 years, its always great to come back and find that all the people close to you are still close. And some even closer now.

Another thing I found is that even though I was in Estonia for 3.5 months, I only met some friends of mine 1-2 times during the whole period. Sometimes being apart 10 000 kilometers or 10 kilometres doesn't seem to make a big difference. And it's not just me - many of my friends shared that they don't see each other that often either. That makes me feel better - that I am not missing out on that much :) 

While my experience back home was great - I was ready to leave in the end. I accomplished by business goals and spent quality time with my people. 3,5 months gave me enough dosage of home so I can go without for quite some time. I also made sure I experienced the best that home can offer while I was there. This year due global climate change the summer weather was the worst (coldest) in the last 100 years which also made leaving easier in the end. 

Now I am going to set myself up in Austin, TX. All visitors welcome!

Spam warning

A virus or trojan hijacked my mailbox and spam was sent out to everybody in my address book... delete this as I'm not the sender. I will try to do damage control now...

I'm an AIESECer

AIESEC has a new recruitment campaign called "I am an AIESECer". I am featured on one of the campaign posters (used in Estonia) that is focused on entrepreneurship.

My yearbook photos

I stumbled upon this cool website - You can make these cool photos of yourself:

Sad for Georgia and disappointed in the world

I haven't written about Georgia yet, but seeing this made me really disappointed in the world:

This is a poll result from Unless this is the result of spam voters from Russia (which is not impossible), it is very troubling that the world sees what is going on in Georgia as "just one those fights in a country nobody has ever heard of nor cares about". Russia's propaganda machine has been quite successful (luckily not as successful as they hoped).

Just when a year ago I felt pretty safe about my own country's independence, I am not anymore. Russia's attack on Georgia is a straightforward proof that even though it's the 21st century, Russia can do what the hell it wants and nobody is going to do anything about it. Yes, there are people protesting in so many countries against the Russian attack. I am proud that Estonians have supported Georgia so much with it's demonstrations. While this is necessary - we have to speak up against what is wrong - sadly this is not going to change much.

Europe is afraid. Or maybe more hungry for Russia's gas than afraid. If (or when?) the gas pipeline from Russia to Europe (Germany) will be built, it will be such an easy excuse for Russia to launch an attack against the Baltics with the excuse to protect the gas pipeline (and of course the Russian minority) and the gas hungry Europe will just agree to this as gas is more important than values.

The EU still hasn't formed an official opinion. With the exception of the Baltic States, Poland and Sweden, other countries have been to scared to call this what it is - a war against an independent country. I am so disappointed.

The population of the US is ignorant, and for the government let's be real - Georgia is too small and strategically too insignificant to matter that much. While condemning Russia's actions has happened (Bush even mentioned invasion of a sovereign country - whoever wrote his speech is bolder than European leaders) and I am glad for that, no real sanctions has happened. I am also happy the new president candidates both spoke out against Russia's action. The US has a real political chance here to improve it's image in the eyes of the world. If punishing the "terrorists" is on the agenda and protecting democracy and freedom are supposedly its value, now when civilians are being killed and an independent country attacked - something that is actually real and serious - action should be taken. Now if the US would stand up against this tyranny, it would earn my respect and the respect of many others.

Russia knew real well that nobody won't do anything. It knows it can do what it wants. The fact that the attack was planned precisely on the day of the launch of the Olympics was no coincidence.

What is important to understand here is that how this situation resolves determines the future. If Russia gets away with bombing another country, and it's justifications are accepted, this is the new beginning of the evil empire. The same excuse - protecting it's citizens - was used by Hitler when it invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Russia has a point in their constitution that says that Russia can protect its citizens wherever they are in the world. Add to this the fact that Putin said "the collapse of Soviet Union was the #1 geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" and it will be clear that the independence of many countries - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine - is not as secure as we thought. Russia is keen to establish itself again as a superpower, and re-conquer its neighbors. How easy it would be to launch an attack using the excuse to "protect the Russian minority".

For me how the world reacts to attack on Georgia indicated what the world would do if my home will be invaded.

I am so sad for Georgia. I was on the verge on achieving an economic breakthrough, but now it has been set back for years to come. It just hope they will at least retain their freedom.

Panama real estate

I recently finished a project for a client. In case you're looking to buy Panama real estate look no further.

I can see!

Technology is cool. Thanks to lasers and stuff, my vision is perfect now. Not only I got my eyes fixed, but I got to experience the best customer service in Estonia.

Estonians: for best silma laseroperatsioon turn to KSA:)


I'm noticing there's a stark difference in my productivity based on where I'm at. During the last year in Panama and in the US I was hyper productive and accomplished so much. Based on my track record I made plans for work I intended to get done in Estonia... but then life happened.

I am surprised how much time relationships take... and how much time it takes "just to feel home".
I guess my productivity level is increasing as time passes and as I am getting more and more used to the place again.

Two lessons here:
1) when going back home after having been away for a long time, don't plan to get much work done the first month
2) when you need to be really productive, go somewhere where you hardly know anyone

Politically incorrect, but funny

To win a trip to China you have to answer a few simple questions:

1. Which one of the students is sleepy?
2. Which two of the students are twins?
3. How many students are female?
4. Who is the teacher in the picture

Just funny

For those who don't get the point: the picture on the left is a famous picture from the Soviet era (and says "no" in Russian). On the right is the new president of Russia, Medvedjev.

Cultural differences or just bad taste?

The most popular beer in the US is light beer. Bud light, Miller light, Keystone light, whatever. I am surprised by this to say the least. US has their own quality beer too, I've had plenty. But for some reason it's not popular.

My guess always was that it's because it's just people feel it's responsible to drink "light" for the same reasons they drink Coke Light or Diet Pepsi. But now I'm having doubts:

I saw this beer being advertising on a billboard next to some highway. They advertised this by "only 99 calories!". This is appalling. It's like people don't get what beer is. It's the same as advertising a book by saying "only 99 pages!" or "this book has plastic pages!" - totally missing the point what the books are about.

My understanding is that people here start drinking light beer when they're in college - because it's cheaper than any other kind of beer. And then they get used to it. And then they think that's what beer is and continue buying it. We need a cultural revolution. Some company that makes quality beer should develop a cheap, yet quality beer targeting students and teach them what a beer really is.

Budweiser light even says that they are the world's no.1 ranked beer in the world beer championships. I couldn't believe it at first, but then I saw that in the small print it said "in the American light beer category". Of course. No good beer competes in that category, so winner or not, that doesn't mean anything. Light beer is just wrong.


Alustasin internetiturunduse, elustiili valiku ja elufilosoofia küsimuste üle mõtiskleva ja nõu andva blogi.

Kae siit:

Summer in Estonia

I'll arrive to Estonia on the 4th of June and I will stay until the middle of September. See you soon.

End of an era

One week from now the Panama-chapter of my life is getting over. It's been a different kind of experience, one that I am very grateful for. I will miss Panama. It is the most beautiful place I've ever lived in, and ever visited. The natural beauty is just amazing here. Parts of Panama are as close to paradise as I can imagine. The photo I've included in this post is what Panama symbolizes for me the most.

I was doing some reflection on what I gained from this experience, and here are the top things:

Cultural lessons / widening my horizons
I had never been to Latin America before, so this was definitely jumping into the unknown. And when you go out of your comfort zone, that's where the learning begins. I have learned new things about the human kind and the way life can be. Here it is a lot about enjoying life, the community and party. The life here is more about enjoying the moment than worrying about the future. In the western world you hardly know your neighbors, here that would be really weird. They haven't lost this community-feeling here, and I hope they never do.

Coming from Estonia where people are not very expressive around strangers and in public places, it's the total opposite here - and that has been very refreshing. I never did get fully used to the noisiness of the people, the ultra loud music and non-stop honking on the streets. Here sometimes talking and yelling are almost synonyms. I still prefer the more quiet atmosphere, I guess it's hard to shake off your cultural background in that sense.

Spanish language
Speaking a foreign language is one of the most important skills a person can have. It is not only about being able to communicate with other people, it is also about discovering the miracle of language as a whole. Some languages have a better, more precise way of communicating a particular phenomenon of life. I think the more languages you speak, the better you can relate to life in a way and expand the way you think.

When I came here I hardly spoke any Spanish apart from 'hello' and 'how are you'. I am not fluent today either, but I can get by pretty well. The reason why I am not 100% fluent is simple - I didn't exactly integrate into the Panamanian life. Most of the days I still spoke way more English than Spanish. As I was self-employed, I didn't work in a Spanish-speaking environment either. Nevertheless, I managed to pick up a pretty decent level of Spanish and I am sure my Spanish-skills will enrich my life for years to come.

Becoming an entrepreneur
While my experience in Panama was less about cultural involvement and integration than I initially planned, it was a lot more about personal development and investing in myself.

I came to Panama working for somebody else. Luckily they ran into financial difficulties and couldn't pay my salary which forced me to look for alternatives. I arranged many job interviews, but due to not speaking Spanish at the time, asking for too much money (in Panamanian standards), and labor laws (a company can't have more than 10% foreigners in the staff) no one hired me. What I did find out was that the skill set that I offered was very much needed. I saw the opportunity on the market and I seized it.

I started my internet marketing company and was profitable almost from day 1. I landed several of the biggest companies in Panama as my clients + a few small ones and I was all set. Only after operating a few months I already started to reject companies wanting to be by clients as I couldn't take on any more jobs. I also don't believe in over-working and slaving in the name of making more money, so I never worked more than 30 hours per week. What's the point of making money if you can't enjoy it?

Studies conducted on happiness level of people state that self-employed people are generally happier than people working for somebody else. This couldn't be more true in my case. I've never been happier with my working conditions, I have a reasonable boss (me!) and I have the full control over when I work and what I work on. I don't plan to work for somebody else ever again. In fact, now that I have got the ball rolling, I have a myriad of ideas for new business ventures, and some of them will be launched very soon.

I think the impact on one's quality of life through relying 100% on yourself for your income is very powerful. Almost anyone could have the kind of life they want and have success being self-employed given the right tools. It is one of my short-term goals to provide people with such tools.

Why am I leaving?

While it has been good, I need something else. I've been living "temporarily" in different places for 3 years now. I feel that I need to set up a base camp or two, where I can always return to and that is mine. I love traveling and getting to know different cultures, and I will do it again and again (my list of places to visit and to live in is pretty big) - I just need to stay in one place for a couple of years and get some stability.

We didn't choose Panama to be this place because it lacks on few fronts that are important for us. We didn't fall in love with the Panamanian people (with some strong exceptions naturally) nor food either. Certain everyday things I have gotten used to and want in my life are at poor level in Panama, and it's the little things that make your world sometimes.

So what next? I'll spend the month of May in Austin, TX and June-August in Estonia.

Bag Quest

A while ago I had a post about Sarah's experience in a remote jungle village in Ngobe-Bugle (northern region of Panama). That was the beginning of something big. Now Sarah is working with the indigenous women of that community to empower them, help them make a living and support their kids and revive the art of making kras.

The women in the Ngobe community are making the most amazing handicraft - handbags made out of plant fiber (they call them 'kra'). It takes 2-3 months to make one bag. The art has been around for thousands of years, and now Sarah is helping the women to take this jungle treasure to the world.

She started a blog where she is writing about each step of setting up this venture. It's really cool, and it's a great way to peek into the journey of a social entrepreneur in the making.

Link: Bag Quest

Something you should watch

Yesterday I watched a documentary called Zeitgeist, recommended by a friend quite a while ago. I wish I had seen it sooner. It is a truly thought provoking movie you just have to watch.

It is about religion, the US, European Union, the grey cardinals behind the scenes and the world order in the wider sense. After seeing it so many things I witness in this world make more sense, and so many more questions arise. I would love to discuss this with you.

You can watch it at this address (it's free):

P.S. Skip the first 13 minutes of the movie which is boring and quite bad bla-bla intro that doesn't fit the rest of the movie.

Cuba. Almost surreal

Just got back from Cuba, where we spent 5 days. It was amazing. You can fit a lot of experiences in that short period of time when you're in Cuba.

Cuba certainly has a reputation, and we were not sure what to expect. We got on the plane and started the trip like any other. Our first experience that showed us this country is something different was already in the airport. Sarah went in first (just in case as she's US citizen and as everybody knows these 2 countries are not the best of friends, so we wanted to make sure I'm there in case she gets in some kind of trouble) and she was asked if she's alone. She pointed at me and said we're traveling together. Everything went all right, and it was my turn. The immigration check lady examined my passport very carefully and didn't believe really it was me on my passport photograph. After spending what seemed like too long time with her, she let me pass. In through the first door and two guys wanted to check my passport again. And as we were walking towards the exit, both of us were approached by a man in uniform and we were interviewed, separately. Have you been to Cuba before? What are you gonna do here? After the interview they took our passports and discussed it 5 meters away from us in a group. What was causing them concern, we don't know. We waited for like 10 minutes, got our passports back and were sent out with words 'Bienvenido a Cuba'.

First thing - exchanging money. We knew before that when exchanging US dollars Cuba charges you additional 11% commission, so we had prepared and bought euros. We got a bunch of Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and were set to go. A thing to note here is that Cuba uses 2 currencies at the same time: national pesos (for the Cubans) and convertible pesos (for the tourists). 1 CUC ~ 1.1 USD. In the touristic part of Havana the prices are in CUC, other places in national currency. Cubans have basically no way to get convertible pesos and hence they are denied from accessing a wide range of restaurants, bars, services and goods. Some locations have 2 price lists, and tourists are being charged in CUC and made to pay a much higher price. Conversion rate between the national currency (CUP) and CUC is about 24 to 1.

The airport is some 20 km away from the most important parts of the city, so we got the first glimpse of the country through our taxi window. First obvious things you see are the old Russian cars on the streets (mostly Lada 04...07 and Moskvich) and even older US cars (from the 1950s and before): they formed more than half of the cars on the street.

Second thing: huge billboards next to the road filled with propaganda. "Viva socialism!", "Che - example for us all", "The plan of Bush: destroy our livelihoods, take our homes and crush our dreams. Luckily we live in free Cuba", "Bush is a terrorist", "Building up our villages" and so on. The billboards carry mainly 3 types of messages: 1) Long live heroes like Che Guevara and others 2) Long live socialism and communism 3) Bush and the US are really evil. The latter theme was also evident in the city on smaller posters.

So it seems Cuba has a 'war on terror' campaign going on too, only the enemy is different.

For me it was in many ways like a flashback to the past - Soviet Union and its propaganda machine. Brainwashing was an important tool of the communist regime there, and still is in Cuba.

Most of our time was spent in Havana - it's huge (population over 2 million) and has lots to offer. The best attraction by far - the Havana Viejo, the old town. This part of the city has amazing colonial architecture, so when walking around you're in constant awe. It is by far one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Spain had invested so much in it, probably they never thought they have to give it away. Just take a look at some of the pictures:

True, a lot of the buildings have not seen a repair job for 5 decades and are collapsing. It is sometimes sad to see people living in those magnificent buildings and treating it like an old shack. I wonder if the people living there appreciate the buildings and Havana Viejo, or they curse that they have to live in that old piece of s... and dream of a new condominium. Or maybe I'm wrong and they just cannot do anything due to their economic situation. Once the current regime is gone, the capitalism will do it part I'm sure and Havana will be one of the most expensive places for real estate - and unfortunately the native Cubans will most likely have to move to suburbs or something.

Cuba is a mix between Soviet Union, European high culture, Latino lifestyle and 1950-s United States. It is totally unique. In many ways, Cuba has remained stuck in time. Due to the trade embargos they still drive the cars that were on the streets before the revolution, or the ones donated by the Soviet Union. They are still in the communist restrictive regime, even though there is no communist Soviet Union anymore.

The city is very safe with almost no violet crime. We heard twice from Cubans that one third of the city population are either policemen or on police salary, which makes the city very safe and no one dares to do anything. Pickpocketing and scamming are there, but can be avoided.


My first surprise regarding the prices in Cuba started when I was looking for a hotel to stay in via internet. A large majority of the hotels are over $100 a night - and I thought it's gonna be a cheap trip. And quality and price don't go hand in hand necessarily. So many hotels I was about to book had horrible reviews about bad customer service, stinking rooms and moldy bed sheets.
We still managed to find a decent one, although basic.

As the country has 2 currencies, they can drive up the prices for tourists without affecting the life of the citizens. It's a central planning economy and there is no such thing as a private enterprise, so pretty much the price level has been set by the government. I'm not sure how much a particular institution has a say about the prices they charge - all the money ends up in the same wallet anyway (the government's).

A great deal of restaurants charge you way more than the food is worth. Havana cannot really brag with culinary expertise as the food is usually pretty average. The drinks can be acquired quite cheap, we had our cheapest Cuba Libre for $1.65 and paid as much as $6 for a daiquiri in the Ernest Hemingway's favorite bar (although there were more than 1 bar that claimed to be one, but that's very possible considering that he was an alcoholic).

A beer ranged between $1 and $2. As Havana is the birth place for Cuba Libre, Daiquiri, Mojito and a wide range of other coctails, we made sure we try them all from different places to know the real ones.

They do nickel and dime you a lot in Cuba, and it can get as expensive as any European capital.


Cuban cigars - or Habanos as they are called - are naturally world famous. What I didn't know before is that they are a luxury product also in Cuba. The price is out of reach for most Cubans. The best brand in the world is Cohiba and their best cigar Esplendido - which Fidel himself smokes - costs about $20 each. A box of 25 is available at national tobacco shops for just under $500. It costs way more outside of Cuba.

We visited a tobacco factory and saw how they're made by hand. It turns out that all of the Cuban cigars are made from the same tobacco - only the leaves are sorted according to the quality. The best quality leaves made the best brand naturally. Cuba boasts that they have the best microclimate in the world to grow the best tobacco to produce the best cigars. We bought a bunch too and smoked at least 1 a day. I'd smoked cigars before and I must say that the top quality cigars really are much more enjoyable and smoother in taste.

There is another industry that is as big as the cigar industry (or perhaps bigger) and that's fake cigar industry. On every corner there is a guy that says 'pst! want to buy cigars?' and then they share a story how their brother/uncle/father works at the factory and they offer out-the-back-door cigars for a much lower price. In most of the cases, it's fake stuff. They sell cigars made out of banana leaves and what not. I read stories of how some people's cigars even exploded. Ignorant tourists how know nothing of cigars and are tempted by the cheap prices get cheated all the time.

The conmen are very good too. Here's what happened to us. We were walking and I accidentally bumped into somebody going the same way. He apologized and made small talk - while looking and acting totally normal. He asked the usual questions like how do we like Cuba and where are we from (many people spark up spontaneous conversations without selling anything). Once he heard I was from Estonia his face lit up and he said 'Wow! I'm going to Estonia end of March!'. He explained how he was a conga drum player and today is a special day for him as it's his 11 year wedding anniversary. He told us he is giving a concert the same night at Buena Vista Social Club and if he want, he can get us in for free. We said 'great!' and he invited us for a drink in a nearby bar. Now it might all sound fishy already - but you have to understand that this guy was very likable, easy-going, and very natural. He told us how he likes music and loves his job. He danced salsa with Sarah and ordered a round of mojitos. He wrote us an invitation to the Buena Vista Social Club, took our names and said he will make reservations for us, so we can go for free. Then somehow the discussion went to life in Cuba and cigars, and he told us how people sell banana leaves and how people get cheated and so on. But how at the same time Cubans can get cigars cheaper and he can arrange this for me. He emphasized how he is doing it as a favor, to help out a friend as friendship and honesty are so important for him. He said musicians don't make any money in Cuba and he will get a commission when we buy cigars through him, so he can make extra living. He said the price is $200 for a box of Esplendidas, but since he likes us he can get it down to $160. The more he talked about it and the more he pushed, the more suspicious it seemed, but we couldn't be sure - maybe he was telling the truth. Then we saw how another tourist couple came in with a Cuban who was writing them something that looked like an invitation to the club. A few more hints like that, we were out of there. In the end we'll never know, maybe it was an honest guy, but sure seemed like a well-polished scam machine. He was very good.

An example how people fall for this kind of scams: we met a guy in our hotel who asked us for a loan as he had been scammed out of his money. Apparently he stumbled upon somebody who claimed he can exchange his dollars for a better rate (without the government 11% commission). Naturally, the crook took off with the money never to be seen again.

Scamming tourists out of money is by far the most profitable way to make a living in Cuba. Doctors and lawyers make $25 per month. It's easy to see the benefits of making money off of tourists.

Regarding out-the-back-door cigars: they do exist, but you have to be careful to find them. Later we found out from our Cuban friends (students at the University of Havana) that people caught stealing from tourists or scamming tourists go to jail for 15 years. So the trick is that if somebody invites you to their home and you buy cigars from there, they know and you know they have no escape from you. If they sell fakes, you can get them and the fear of police is great. We got a good deal too from a hotel security guard. He gave us the best guarantee: we know where we works, he gave his work schedule, name and everything. He let us try to goods, touch them (we learned how to distinguish real cigars from fakes too) and we liked the guarantee. Just in case we bought also the same type of cigars from the national shops to compare the difference. The risk I took was worth it, I got the real stuff for a really good price. If anyone is going to Cuba, let me know and I will tell you how to get in touch with that guard.

Where everybody knows your name

On our second day, we're walking around the neighborhood near our hotel. Several people approached us and just made conversation: where are you from? are you looking for something particular? The conversations were casual, nobody was selling us anything. What nice friendly people these Cubans are!, we thought (still do).

The weird thing was that the first three people that made conversation with us all started with the same line: I saw you arriving yesterday, you stay in hotel Deuville, right? When the first guy said that, I though he paid attention what was going on. When 2 more guys did the same, it already seemed a little creepy.

We kept walking and went into a pharmacy to see if they had some nose medicine (Sarah was having trouble with her nose). As most of the shelves were empty, they also didn't have anything for the nose. When leaving the pharmacy, another dude showed up and asked what we need. We explained the stuff and he gave directions to another pharmacy. We walked toward that direction and one more guy shows up and said he works for the security in our hotel and he saw us yesterday, he can take us to the pharmacy. Now while he might have been telling the truth, we also considered the possibility that he will lead us to a hidden corner where a gang is waiting to rob us, so we declined. We keep walking and another guy approaches and says 'hey I saw you yesterday, you have a problem with your nose, you should go see a doctor who will prescribe the correct medicine for you'.
And he wanted to take us there. He kept explaining why this is a good idea and how the doctor lives nearby. We refused, kept going and one more guy came up to us and said 'Hey you're from Slovenia right? You have a problem with your nose'. I just couldn't believe how fast the news had spread. It seemed that everybody knew we came yesterday and we have a problem with the nose. I asked how come everybody knows who we are? He replied it's because we're both blonds, and so we stand out. Maybe, but out hotel was full of Europeans, some of them blonds. While walking back to our hotel, an older woman approached us and said she lives right here and has some cream we can spread on the nose - so if we want she can go get it. As we didn't feel threatened by the old woman, we kind of believed more that these people really were perhaps trying to help. But in the end we'll never know.

The dark side

When seeing the happy friendly Cubans, the amazing architecture and enjoying the gorgeous weather, it's easy to start believing Cuba is the most awesome place. We talked about wishing to meet some real Cubans to ask questions from, somebody we could trust - and the opportunity came.

We were walking towards the Plaza de la Revolucion and made a stop in the university (another amazing location). We rested our feet while sitting on the university stairs, and two guys came out from a building and sat on the stairs as well. For a while they spoke to one another, until they showed some curiosity towards us. We started to talk, and they told us about the real Cuba.

When talking to Cubans I was never sure whether they're "one of them", heavily brainwashed or they know the regime sucks. These guys, history students, were very aware. They dreamed of traveling, but as Cubans they are not allowed to leave the country. "Cuba is an open prison", one of them said. You cannot even leave the city you are resident of. If you want to go visit your relatives in another location, you have to apply for a special permit and have to specify exactly where you will stay and for how many nights. When they heard us explaining about where we have been in the last years and what are our plans, one of them asked: "so if you want you can go to Italy, France or wherever?" When learning the answer is "yes", he looked at his friend and said "that is freedom".

Cubans are kept in information isolation. They have no access to internet nor satellite TV. They can only read government newspapers and watch 4 local TV channels (Fidel 1, 2, 3 and 4). It is illegal for tourists to bring in non-fiction books, magazines or newspapers. The university curriculum and what is being taught is manipulated and reflects what Fidel wants people to think. Still they knew it was all a lie. There is internet available in the hotels, but Cubans are not allowed to enter hotels. Our hotel room had CNN and other channels, but no Cuban ever sees those.

I asked them if they think the government will ever change, they said yes, maybe in 20 years. People are not happy with the way things are, but resistance to the regime will get you in jail for 20 years and nobody wants to be the first.

People escape when they can, as just recently happened in the US when 5 Cuban soccer players took off during the Olympic Games soccer qualifying tournament.

"In Cuba it's not capitalism, it's not communism - it's Fidelism", one of them said. They thought highly of Che Guevara who they said cared for the people and with his departure everything went down the hill.

Cubans are paid ridiculously low salaries, nobody can ever save money. They are deprived of so many goods - even beef. Beef is for tourists. They cannot take part of the best Cuba has to offer as they don't have the convertible pesos. We bought them a drink in a nearby bar and we were charged tourist price -$4 per drink. They rolled their eyes when they heard the price and one of them said 'had I known it costs so much I would have taken the money, as I could have bought food for many days'.

Their stories were sad and I could feel their pain. I wanted to do something for them, help them somehow, but it's the regime that is the problem.

Here's me with our new friends:

The beauty

Cuba is a gorgeous tropical place. The weather was amazing at all times. We also took the time to go to the beach. Beautiful beach was available just outside the city. We enjoyed drinks from coconut, swimming in the teal color water. A policeman was walking up to each person and asking their nationality. Not sure what was the reason, but just in case these moments we claimed both to be from Estonia. Who knows, maybe they were looking for terrorists from the US.

In any case, I would recommend for anyone to go to Cuba. If not for anything else, it's worth the experience of having a Cuba Libre while smoking a habana in Havana old town.

About my life or how I woke up and started to smell the roses

How are you doing, Peep? I'm doing great, thanks for asking!

Every single day I only do what I want to do. I sleep until 9 usually and wake up because the sun fills my bedroom. I'll proceed to brew some tasty coffee grown right here in the highlands of Panama and I eat yogurt that comes from delicious Panamanian cows. I enjoy the view of the Pacific Ocean from my rooftop pavilion and look at the pretty blue sky.

Every day I ask myself: what would I like to do the most today? This is a privilege most people don't have, and I am quite aware of it. My life is like that by design: I painted a picture of a life where only I make the decisions about my life and where I only do what I want. And then started to live this dream.
About a year ago I made myself a promise to never do anything again that I don't like. I broke this promise once (I'm just a mortal too), but it was a good lesson and taught me that I need to keep this promise to really enjoy life.

And you know what - when you stop doing things you don't like and only do things you enjoy - life is really good. In fact, it is fantastic. You can challenge me and tell me 'so that must be really boring because life is about challenges'. My answer is that no, in fact it is interesting as hell as I only do interesting things, and my life still is a challenge because I still have goals I want to achieve and I never stop growing.

So how is it that I get to live this kind of a life? A key reason is that I stopped working for other people.

The way I see it there are quite a few problems with working for other people (having a job). Sure, I used to work for other people too. While at times it was fun, I learned new things and met new people, I always had a boss. I had to comply with the rules of the company. I had to get up way too early in the morning and go to work and do what was expected of me – by other people. A company by definition is designed to maximize the profit - and who gets right profit? It's not you, the employee. You are just a cash cow that is milked to make money. Ok, that might have been too harsh, but think about it. Even when your boss calls you 'an asset to the company' and that might be true, then what does that mean, being an asset to the company that is? You've guessed it. You make more money to the company owners than other employees. If they'd lose you, they will make less money... so you're an asset. Congratulations!

And what's in it for you, dear employee?

Even when you do get paid a decent amount, you only make money when you work. You only get paid for the hours you go do something at work. This very well means that you will almost never get to live the life on your terms. Say you have enough cash to take a trip to your dream destination. Can you go whenever you like and stay for however long you like? No. You have to ask permission from your employer. You have limited amount of vacation days. You have so many other things you want to do with your days off as well, so basically chances of you taking your dream trip for 1 month just when you feel like it seems almost impossible.
So you’re putting all your energy into something where you have to do things for other people, take orders, play by their rules and they get all the money. That doesn’t seem fair to me.

Luckily, there is a better way - go solo.

I am launching some cool projects soon that will make people happy. I will teach them exactly how to achieve the kind of lifestyle they only dream of right now. Spanish-speakers and Estonians will the first ones to benefit, as Secretos de Mercadeo en Internet and Internetiturundus ehk kuidas teenida raha projects will be released in the coming months.

March is an exciting month for me. Next week we're going to Cuba (to visit it while Fidel is still alive) and end of the month we'll have visitors coming here to Panama.

Can't wait.

Carnival in Panama

The first 5 days of February was Carnival - the most important holiday in Panama. Everybody knows the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but there are big festivities as well in other countries, including Panama. Every country has their own story and has had their own evolution, and carnival in Panama is like no other.

As I mentioned, it is the most important and most anticipated festivity in the country. Some people save money for a year just for the carnival. It last for 5 days (all work-free), all days following the same routine.

The roots of the carnival here lie in the history. The way the cities were built here (by the Spaniards) followed the same model: there was a center square with a cathedral, and a matrix of streets surrounding it. The rich people lived in the upper part of the city, the poorer people in the lower part. Nowadays the division is not as clear naturally, but the concept remains. The carnival is essentially a (friendly) competition between the two: upper street (calle arriba) and the lower street (calle abajo).

The centerpiece of the carnival are the Queens (las reynas). Both, calle arriba and calle abajo have their own queen. So the competition is who has the prettier queen, which street has fancier fireworks, which queen is accompanied by a better band of musicians, who has the better party.

Every city in Panama has their own carnival with their own queens. The queens are chosen by a special committee many years in advance and they undergo a rigorous training to be ready to be the queen of the carnival one day. The queens are usually between the ages of 18-22. It is a great honour for the family if the their daughter is the queen, and therefore no money is spared. Some families save years for the day and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for the carnival: for the training, for the outrageously expensive outfits, the wagons/cars (don't know how to call them) used during the carnival that carry the queen and so on. The money that could be used to educate all of their children and grandchildren is spent on the carnival.

So what happens during the carnival is pretty much this:

People gather in the central square and surrounding streets with huge quantities of beer and types of liquor already in the morning. Around the noon time the queens with their parties of princesses (other pretty chicks who walk before the queen), supporters (family, friends, fans) and a band of musicians (15-20 guys with brass instruments) start making the rounds around the square and surrounding streets. Each party has their own songs made especially for this year, and it's mostly gossip about the other queen. People cheer and watch the queens and their party. A special tradition is something called culeco - getting everybody wet. In the old days the water was carried from the river, now they use huge container trucks with water hoses for that. People really like to get soaking wet. I must admit it is useful - it's quite hot in the middle of the day in this time of year.

The queens make 4 rounds and leave. People continue drinking, chatting and mingling. Food vendors are everywhere. Every now and then there are firecrackers here and there. At the night time (10pm or so) the queens return, with much fancies outfits, cars and everything. There are huge fireworks. The queens make 4 rounds with their parties, people are ecstatic. Everybody is drinking and eating. At the night time people continue to party either at the same place, or go to clubs.

And the same stuff 5 days in a row.

Carnival is different in size and customs in every city in Panama. In the Panama City its more like the carnival in Miami (more like a concert). I personally went to a small town of Pedasi. The party was not huge there as the city is small, and the queens and their outfits and stuff were not that fancy. The bigger the city, the more money is spent. The most famous carnival takes place in the city of Las Tablas, where we also went to for 1 night. Everything was much bigger and fancier over there. The downside for me was that the crowd was so huge that you barely had room to breathe. It was much more laid back in Pedasi.

Something worth mentioning is that we made a stop at the parents house of a Panamanian friend of ours, where we had dinner. They offered me some chicken. The meat was tough and it looked kind of different, so I thought is a bit old and dried chicken meat. Later they asked if I want to see the eggs of the chicken I just ate. The eggs looked like this:

Turns out I ate the meat of ... iguana. Yes, a lot like chicken. The eggs were edible too, very salty tho. They boil the eggs, and then let them dry in the sun. And this is what they look like after being dried.

I don't have the photos and videos from the carnival in Las Tablas, but I do have it for Pedasi (you saw some above). Enjoy!

P.S. Tomorrow is my 2 year anniversary with Sarah. We're off to a paradise island. Catch you later.