Monday, December 20, 2010

Emilio Estefan: The Exile Experience

Emilio Estefan speaks about his new book project, The Exile Experience.

May the Castros soon be gone for good, and all the people of Cuba freed from that cruel and immoral political system.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Zeppellins Return: A Ride Aboard the Eureka Airship

A look back at my ride aboard the Eureka Airship, a Zeppelin that transports travelers back in time to an era when these ships ruled the skies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More Archives on the Way - Más Archivos Pronto

The archives are coming.
Articles and videos from Aerochannel.com will also appear here, as content is transferred over.
Stay tuned.

Estoy en proceso de subir mis articulos y videos del otro blog, http://www.aerochannel.com/.
Pronto, todos mis archivos de AeroChannel también estarán ubicados aquí.
Y para los lectores que prefieren español, poco a poco, va a aparacer más contenido en ese idioma.

Monday, October 4, 2010

An Encounter with Penguins

Of all the things I've done while visiting Argentina, I think this stands out as the highlight -- meeting penguins face-to-face (or rather, face-to-beak), in their natural environment.

They're curious and amusing creatures. Some don't pay any attention to you, but others are certainly checking you out, trying to figure out who you are, and what you're doing on their island.

These are some of the highlights of my trip to Martillo Island, in the spectacular setting of Tierra del Fuego.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aeroparque Jorge Newbery - Plane Spotting

Plane spotting at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, one of the two airports serving Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

La Brigada: Great Beef, Great Atmosphere

Aside from the tango, there's another thing Buenos Aires is renowned for -- good beef.

With that in mind, I recently paid a visit on one of the city's finest steakhouses, La Brigada.

It's located in San Telmo, in the central part of the city.

What I discovered when I arrived was an establishment that was completely packed. Not only were all the tables full, there was quite a mob of people waiting to get a table.

Anytime I see that, I know I'm at a good restaurant.

As I quickly learned, La Brigada is not just about the beef -- it's about all things Argentinean.

The restaurant is decorated with photos and other memorabilia that honor this nation's affection for soccer ... or I suppose I should say "futbol".

Beyond that, there's the restaurant's extensive wine list. Although you can choose from a variety of wines from around the world, the highlight is clearly the homegrown vinos from Mendoza -- Argentina's "wine country".

My companion and I chose a bottle of Alta Vista Premium Malbec. Great choice. We had no problem finishing it.

At this point, I should mention La Brigada's menu. Not only does it feature beef, the menu itself is also made of cow ... cowhide, that is (see photo). Very cool.

As is tradition in these parts, we began our meal with empanadas. Restaurants typically offer a few types of empanadas (most notably beef, chicken, jam and cheese). I went for the beef. Naturally.

With the empanadas out of the way -- and our bottle of Malbec slowly disappearing -- our main course arrived.

At this point, I don't even recall the exact steak I ordered, but I do know this -- it was outstanding.

When our steaks arrived, our waiter demonstrated just how tender the meat was. He cut my companion's steak ... with a spoon!

As we dug in, we both agreed -- these were easily some of the best steaks we'd ever had. Ever. In any city.

Furthermore, I have no doubt that if you come to La Brigada as a vegetarian, after just one bite of steak, you would end up renouncing vegetarianism, and loudly proclaim your new-found devotion to beef.

At some point, we finished the bottle of wine. I'm not exactly sure when, because I completely lost track of time during our visit to this fine restaurant.

Although it was sad to finish my steak, fortunately, we wisely left room for dessert.

I'm pretty sure we had crème brulée, but I could be mistaken. After all, we did finish the bottle of wine, so some details do escape my memory. But I definitely do recall the cappuccino.

Once that was out of the way, we left, but not before agreeing that this steakhouse is one of the finest restaurants we have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Monday, September 13, 2010

An Exercise in Futility: A Trip to the Supermarket in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is an interesting city.

It's the second-largest city in South America (after São Paulo), with some 13 to 14 million people.  Whether you like music, theater, tango, or fine dining, the city has endless things to offer visitors and locals alike.  It has an incredible "vibe" that few other cites can match.

But there's one very surprising thing that as a visitor, you probably won't see -- the city has some of the worst supermarkets I've ever seen.

Product selection is very limited, and the quality of fresh produce is not great.  Prices are equal (or higher) than at North American grocery stores.

And furthermore, you'll generally find yourself waiting eons in line, just to pay for your food.

Quite frankly, every time I'm in a grocery store here (regardless of the chain -- Coto, Disco, or Carrefour), I can't help but think this is what it must have been like in the old Soviet Union -- ie. lining up for hours just to buy a few basic staples like bread.

A trip to the store is an excercise in futility.  I often simply leave after walking in, only to discover lines with a dozen or more people (the worst I've counted is 23 people).  Why so long?  Well the fact that only four cashiers (out of a possible 10) are open at any one time, certainly doesn't help.

But there also doesn't seem to be any concern on the part of the cashiers to keep people moving.  Everything moves at glacier-like speed.  I feel the need to bring an over-night bag with me, and prepare to camp out.  Will I make it out of the store before closing time?  Who knows.  Neither the cashiers nor the managers seem to care if they ever get you out of the store.

Adding to the bizarre situation at the check-out are the antique cash registers.  They must be 25 years old.  Technology has passed them by many times over.

Also, are you buying fruits and vegetables?  Well the cashiers can't weigh them.  Sorry.

You'll have to go to a separate line in the produce section where somebody will weigh your fruit, and then slap a bar-code on it.  THEN you can proceed to the cashiers.

At least their old equipment can read bar-codes.  Barely.

On the positive side, the stores do accept credit cards (something many businesses in Argentina don't like to do), and they do have a very respectable wine selection.

But no, a trip to the grocery store in Buenos Aires is not fun.  It's an experience you are forced to endure.  Or do what I often do -- walk out and just go to a restaurant. It's easier, faster, and you get better food.

More on the restaurant experience in a forthcoming post ...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Argentina: The Kirchners & Their Abuse of Powers

(Buenos Aires) -- What would you think if your President went on national television to accuse your country's two leading newspapers of "crimes against humanity"?

My first thought would be "What kind of drugs is the President on?"

Well that very thing has just happened here in Argentina, where the ruling power couple has a embarked upon a very dangerous vendetta against their critics.

President Cristina Kirchner is leading the public charge, with her husband -- and former President, Nestor -- pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Their target is the media, specifically Grupo Clarin, one of the major media outlets in the country, and publisher of one of the country's most influential newspapers, El Clarin.

The Kirchners have decided to seize a private company that is jointly-owned by Grupo Clarin and La Nacion, the other top paper in the country.

They're taking Papel Prensa, the papers' newsprint division, claiming that the two newspapers illegally "stole" the company from its owners in 1977.

Never mind that the Kirchners' so-called "evidence" has been refuted by the family that sold the company back then.

So the government has seized the newsprint operations of the top two newspapers in the country.

If this happened in Cuba or Venezuela, it would not be a surprise. But this is Argentina, a nation that now enjoys freedom of the press, and where it's been 27 years since the end of the last dictatorship.

At the same time as the Kirchners are seizing Papel Prensa, they're also taking another bold and dangerous move -- they're ordering the shut-down of one of Argentina's three internet providers, Fibertel.

Why? Well, because they didn't comply with regulations, say government officials.

Or could it be because Fibertel is owned by Grupo Clarin?

This move, even more than the Papel Prensa stunt, has drawn significant opposition amongst the public.

Basically, the ruling power couple is abusing their powers to silence critics. And it's a message to any other critics: If you value being in business, you better shut up, or we'll get you next.

Yes, Cristina Kirchner has an oversized ego, but perhaps it would suit her better to put less emphasis on trying to look good in public, and actually do things that will encourage a prosperous and thriving economy.

But apparently Cristina has been taking notes from her pal, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

And that's the road to economic disaster.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Andrés Carne de Res: Dining Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

The moment I got out of the taxi and was greeted by a plastic cow, I knew my visit to Andrés Carne de Res would be a memorable one.

I was told by a number of acquaintances that no visit to Bogotá would be complete without a visit to this place.  But the famed establishment is more than just a steakhouse -- it's a dining experience.

First off, Andrés is simply THEEEE place to go in the Colombian capital.  The movers and shakers of the city all frequent this joint.  Politicians, celebrities, business people, and tourists alike flock here.

Andrés first opened in 1982 just north of Bogotá.  More recently, they added a much more convenient location in the city's upscale Zona Rosa district.

The Atmosphere

As I said, the plastic cow at the main entrance is a tip-off that you're in for a treat at this restaurant.  Andres offers live music and a dance floor.  And the band that played was not just a house band -- they were genuinely good.  The foursome played a mix of jazz type music, mixed with covers of some classic rock tunes.  Good stuff.

The decor, mixed with the entertainment may confuse the first-time visitor.  It's an eclectic mix -- and I think it works precisely because it IS unexpected.

The Menu

Before you begin your journey through the drinks and food at Andres, you must first navigate through their unique menu.  What do I mean by unique?  It's in a giant metal box, that's hard to describe.  It contains pages that you scroll through to navigate through the infinite offerings.  Thankfully, our server for the evening, Monica, gave us plenty of time to peruse the choices.

Drinks

If there's ever been a drink invented in the history of mankind, Andres serves it.  Just name it -- you got it.

But if the price of the drinks seems steep, just wait until your beverage arrives.  My mojito cubano arrived in a wooden container that I cannot accurately describe (just check out the accompanying photo).  The size is immense.  And the presentation is something else.

Starters

If Andres offers a billion different drinks, they match that when it comes to the starters you can choose from.

We opted for three choices: Yucca sticks, plantains with cheese, and arepas with guacamole.

It was unanimous at our table that the yucca sticks were the best.  Topped with one of the accompanying salsas, you almost wanted a plate of them just as an entree.  In fact, one of my dining companions did just that.

Main Courses

Now, to the really good stuff.  If you love a good steak, this is the place for you.

I went for a 12 oz. lomo sellado cut, accompanied by mashed potatoes (served inside a hollowed-out tomato) and arepas.

Your meal arrives on a sizzling platter, not unlike the kind you get when getting an order of fajitas at Chili's.  But this seems way cooler.

The beef was excellent, and it was a struggle to finish it all, after all that we had already consumed with the starters.

In Summary

I have to concur ... when you visit Bogota, this is a "can't miss" experience.  Our experience lasted nearly four hours. 

Andrés Carne de Res is not just about the food -- although that's reason enough to go.  It's also about the atmosphere and sharing an experience that is as enjoyed by locals as it is by visitors to the city.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Random Observations About Cartagena

(Rafael Núñez International Airport - Cartagena) -- A few random observations from my four days in this Colombian city:

Oddly, the worst time of day, weather-wise, seems to be 8-10 am.  The sun is intense, and the humidity matches. Bad combination.  The situation improves in the afternoons, when you get some cloud cover and/or rain.  That said, we saw showers in the morning yesterday ...

For a country with some of the unfortunate history it's had in recent decades, I was pleasantly surprised at the friendliness experienced among police, military, immigration and customs officials I've encountered.  Oh, and if you ask nicely, the military guys will even pose for pictures with you ...

Still, in an interesting contrast with Mexico, I see relatively little security as you go about your everyday business.  Every Mexican business has security guards that treat you like you're a criminal, and search any type of bag you're carrying.  Here, it's a much more relaxed atmosphere ...

Cartagena is crawling with tourists.  Unfortunately, that leads to an insane number of street vendors, hawking all kinds of merchandise.  They often start speaking to you in English, assuming you're a tourist.  Don't encourage them!  They're like those awful time-share resort salesmen -- they won't leave you alone.

On a similar note, you won't be able to enjoy the beach here in peace.  The vendors will harass you too much.  A popular thing to do is to take a day trip to Playa Blanca, but beware -- the vendors flock there along with you, and will bother you until you leave.  And when the boats leave in the late afternoon, so do they ...

Finding free Wi-Fi is a bit harder here.  If your hotel doesn't have it, then you've got your work cut our for you.  That said, the Juan Valdez Cafe offers 30 minutes off free Wi-Fi per purchase, and the McDonalds in Boca Grande also offers free service (albeit very slow ....).  The Hard Rock Cafe has it too, but the prices are sky high just to dine or drink there.  A number of other restaurants do offer service.

And yes, there's free Wi-Fi where I am right now -- at the airport.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Colombian Coast - Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena of the Indies) is the most visited place in Colombia, so I am told.  I believe that.

After a few days of wandering around the city, I have been overwhelmed by the billions of vendors hawking all kinds of merchandise to tourists.

I take exception to these hucksters who like to shout at you, "Hey Amigo".  First of all, if you have to call me "amigo", then I'm pretty sure I'm NOT your amigo.

Let me save you some time: When I'm at the beach (or having a drink with somebody in the plaza at an outdoor cafe) I am NOT interested in crappy jewelery, a massage, a trip to the Rosario Islands, portraits, a riding lawnmower, or anything else.

And when I say "NO" ... RESPECT THAT!  Do NOT continue to pursue me.  If you harass me too much, you will regret it.  That's not a threat -- it's a promise.

Oh, and no, I'm not dumb enough to exchange money from you, the shady looking guy in a dirty golf shirt and ugly sunglasses.  Yeah, so you're offering me a better exchange rate than the bank because what ... you're just a good guy?

How hospitable of you.

Of course, I don't want it to sound like I have a negative opinion of Cartagena.  On the contrary.

I find it to be a fascinating city.  If you're at all interested in history, it's a great place.  It's one of the oldest cities in the Americas.  And how many cities were fortified to protect against attacks from pirates, the French, the British, and the Dutch?

Not many.

They have done a good job at preserving the historic old walled city.  I love wandering aimlessly inside the walls, watching people, checking out the various shops, cafes, street entertainers, and whatever else strikes me as interesting.

The city is not just a Latin American city; it's also distinctly Caribbean in nature.  Various cultures blend together here -- Spanish, African, creole, and the indigenous groups of the region.  Together, you get something that is unique and will have an appeal to many a visitor from around the world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Drinking in Panama

Panama, like its Caribbean neighbors, likes its rum.  And lots of it.

It's the first thing you're likely to notice when you're in the liquor aisle at the grocery store in Panama City.  Front and center is Ron Abuelo.  At the Super 99 grocery chain, a 750 mL bottle of the añejo goes for $5.99.

In fact, rum is so popular here, you can get smaller bottles for between $2 and $3.  Cheap.

Beer



But if you're more of a beer person, Panama offers a four of its own brands.

The top two sellers (based on my scientific research of seeing how much shelf space each gets in the Super 99) are Balboa and Atlas.

Balboa is named after the famed Conquistador, and reminds one more of European type beers -- ie., stronger.  Atlas is lighter.

And then there's Panama brand beer. (Hmmm ... how did they come up with that name?) This one also tends to be on the lighter side.

A fourth locally brewed choice is Soberana.  It seems to be the least preferred of the four.

Price

At Super 99, a six-pack of Balboa goes for $2.77, while Atlas is $3.12.  Individual cans of either of the four local brews go for 52 cents each.

Seco

But aside from rum and beer, there's another drink of note in Panama -- seco.

Invented in 1908 by the Varela family, their Herrerano brand is the easiest to find here.  It's regarded as Panama's national alcoholic beverage.

Basically, it's fermented sugar cane.  Strong ... as in 70 proof.  Be careful.

Seco sometimes replaces rum or vodka in mixed drinks, and can be mixed with anything from tropical fruit juices to milk.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Panama's Curious Currency

Officially, Panama's currency is the Balboa, which has been fixed at a rate of 1:1 to the U.S. dollar since Panama became an independent nation in 1904.

It's named in honor of Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who lead the first European expedition across the Isthmus of Panama, in 1513.  In doing so, he and his men became the first Europeans to make it to the Pacific Ocean.

But while the Balboa is the official currency, you'll never see a Balboa bank note.  They don't exist.  In fact, they were only ever printed on one occasion, in 1941.  And those notes were recalled seven days after they hit the streets.

Instead, the country simply uses U.S. dollars.  But when you get change, take a close look at the interesting coins you receive.

You might receive regular U.S. coins.  Or you might get some of these:



The big coin on the left is a Medio Balboa, or half-dollar.  Unlike in the U.S., where half-dollars have disappeared, the half-Balboa coins circulate freely here.

Next is the Cuarto de Balboa (quarter), the Decimo de Balboa, Cinco Centesimos (5 cents), and the Centesimo (penny).

And yes, the Balboa coins are made to the exact same dimensions, weight, and composition as their U.S. counterparts.  In fact, they are minted by none other than the U.S. Mint.

In Panama, use either Balboas or U.S. coins.  Your change will often include a mix of the two.

Hugo Chavez: The Biggest Clown in the Americas

Editorial cartoon in today's edition of La Prensa, Panama's newspaper of record:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What's NOT in Panama, and What IS in Panama


As I scour the city for the familiar and the not-so-familiar stores and restaurants, sadly, I have not uncovered any Starbucks, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, or Carl's Jr. locations.

But I will assume it's only a matter of days, if not hours, until Starbucks shows up.

Most of the familiar food chains are here.  A visit to the MultiPlaza mall alone, and you'll find McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Quizno's, Dairy Queen, Cinnabon, Subway, and Tony Roma's.

In other places, I've also spied Popeye's, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins, and Wendy's.

When it comes to retail, you won't find any of the familiar U.S. department stores, but the malls (aside from MultiPlaza, there's MultiCentro, Albrook, and a newer mall near Tocumen Airport) do have more than their fair share of brand outlets, including The Gap, Hugo Boss, Levi's, Zegna, and others whose names escape me at the moment.

Oh, and you won't find an Apple Store, but instead a "Mac Store" at the Albrook Mall or MultiPlaza.  Not quite sure why they call it the Mac Store here, but whatever the case, it sells the same stuff as a regular Apple Store (just smaller in scale).

But in MultiPlaza, I also made a surprising discovery -- Sanborn's.

Yes, the popular Mexican chain has a restaurant/store right here in Panama City.  According to my sources, it had its grand opening in the fall of 2007.

A walk through the store, and it's the same Sanborn's you'll know from Mexico.

And also of note for those of you familiar with the malls in Mexico, you'll find a Cinepolis movie theater complex at MultiPlaza.

Meanwhile, at nearby MultiCentro, they've got Cinemark, another of the familiar movie houses in Mexico.

Panama: First Impressions

My first impression of Panama upon arrival was from my window seat on Mexicana Airlines.

What I first saw was a landscape of volcanoes and clouds near the Costa Rican border area.

Then I caught a glimpse of both oceans at the same time, as we crossed the Isthmus.

And as we had begun our descent into Tocumen International Airport, I was struck by the sight of some two dozen ships clustered near the Pacific entrance to the Canal, lining up and waiting for their turn to cross the famous Canal.

And once I caught a good look at the city itself?

I was struck by a very modern city, dotted with skyscrapers.

This city is at the junction point of the two Americas.  And it's clearly capitalizing on its location.
The Canal is doing great business -- over 14,000 boats cross each year, paying an average toll of $100,000.  That's $14 billion right there.

Aside from that, Panama City is a buzzing financial center, and is regarded as the banking capital of the Americas.

And as you look at the skyscrapers -- a mix of office buildings and apartments -- you notice that nearly half seem to have cranes at the top.  In other words, they’re still under construction.

I have yet to see any other city in North America with such economic activity happening all at once.

Panama is a city on the move.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Civilization

After days of wandering aimlessly through God-knows-where in the jungles of Latin America, I have managed to locate signs of civilization ...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Catch Me If You Can

Just a few hours from departure, this song is now my official theme song. Good luck catching me ...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flight 19 and the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle

A typical sunny Florida day.

That was the weather report in Fort Lauderdale on December 5, 1945. A good day for flying.

At 2 o’clock that afternoon, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers headed off from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, on a training flight over the waters of the Atlantic.

The flight by five highly experienced pilots was to have taken them due east for 150 miles, and north for 40 miles, before returning to base.

But at 3:45, the Fort Lauderdale tower received an unexpected call.

“Cannot see land … we seem to be off course.”

Tower: “What is your position?”

A few moments of silence pass.

“We cannot be sure where we are,” reports the flight leader. “Repeat: Cannot see land.”

Contact is then lost with the flight for about 10 minutes.

Now, rather than the voice of the flight leader, there are voices of the crews, sounding confused and disoriented.

“We can’t find west. Everything is wrong. We can’t be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean.”

More transmission delays follow.

When communication resumes, the air traffic controller discovers that the leader has turned over his command to another pilot without explanation.

Twenty minutes later, a distressing call that, according to Navy reports — bordered on hysteria.

“We can’t tell where we are … everything is … can’t make out anything. We think we may be about 225 miles northeast of base …”

The pilot continues to ramble incoherently, and then this transmission.

“It looks like we are entering white water … we’re completely lost.”

Those were the final words ever to be heard from Flight 19.

Search Team Dispatched … and the Mystery Deepens

Within minutes, a Mariner flying boat was dispatched to try find Flight 19.

Ten minutes after taking off, they check in with the tower … and then are never heard from again.

Ships Dispatched

Now, Coast Guard and Naval ships as well as aircraft are sent to search the area for the six aircraft that have vanished.

All they find is calm waters and clear skies. They search for five days, covering 250,000 square miles of Atlantic Ocean.

No trace of the missing planes are ever found.

A Navy Board of Inquiry investigates the curious case. Their summation:

“We are not able to even make a good guess as to what happened.”

The Bermuda Triangle

The story of Flight 19 is just one of the mysterious happenings over these waters that lie between South Florida, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda.

Or as this region is better known – the Bermuda Triangle.

The Devil’s Triangle, as it’s also known, has earned quite a reputation over the years.

The reports of planes, ships, and people disappearing are numerous.

Some chalk the stories up to weather, others to magnetic anomalies, and others still believe UFO’s may be involved.

Flying Over the Triangle

Last year, I had the chance to fly over the region during hurricane season, on a trip from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Flying over those waters, I was struck with an eerie feeling. There was a strange sense of tranquility, as I looked out the window at a never-ending expanse of puffy clouds and the Atlantic Ocean, some 40,000 feet below.

Having lost our satellite TV reception not long after moving out over the ocean, as far as I was concerned, we were flying blind.

But eventually, the clouds and water gave way to my first sighting of land in the distance.

We made it.

In hindsight, I wish I would have asked the pilots if everything looked A-OK to them. Maybe their compasses went haywire. Maybe they lost radio contact.

Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. I don’t know.

But at least we arrived. And survived.

In the days ahead, this reporter departs on a return journey to waters of this strange zone, to further explore the mysteries of the Triangle. Perhaps we’ll finally be able to solve the mystery of Flight 19, and shed some light on what has caused people and aircraft to disappear in this part of the Atlantic.

Stay tuned …

Flight 19 and the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle

A typical sunny Florida day.

That was the weather report in Fort Lauderdale on December 5, 1945.  A good day for flying.

At 2 o’clock that afternoon, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers headed off from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, on a training flight over the waters of the Atlantic.

The flight by five highly experienced pilots was to have taken them due east for 150 miles, and north for 40 miles, before returning to base.

But at 3:45, the Fort Lauderdale tower received an unexpected call.

“Cannot see land … we seem to be off course.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kenneth Arnold: The Pilot Who Launched the UFO Phenomenon

There are few vantage points in the world that can top the view from the pilot’s seat in an aircraft.

When you’re airborne, the views are magnificent.  And when you’ve got the skies to yourself, there are few experiences that can compare to the exhilaration of flight.

But sometimes, even decades ago before airplanes filled the skies, pilots have company up there.

Unidentified company.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cuba Travel: A Boom in the Making, or Just Hype?

Talk has been building over the past year about the possibilities of an end to the current U.S. travel embargo to Cuba.

Last year, the Obama Administration eased travel restrictions for Cuban Americans who have family on the island nation.

And since then, bills have been put before Congress that would seek to eliminate the travel ban for the rest of Americans.

Many proponents argue that it’s the right thing to do, for both moral and economic reasons.

Putting aside the political side of the debate, let’s look at the economic impact of such a decision. Some groups say that lifting the embargo would result in a boom in travel to Cuba, and would be a big benefit to the island’s economy.

But would the end of travel restrictions really result in countless planeloads full of Americans heading to the island’s beaches?

A new study by Boyd Group International casts serious doubts on that assumption.

Current Situation

At present, 95 percent of all “Visiting Family and Relatives” air travel from the U.S. departs from Miami. That should come as no surprise, given the fact that in the U.S., the Cuban community is heavily concentrated in South Florida.

(Los Angeles and New York are the only two other U.S. cities with authorized air service to Cuba.)

U.S. visitors to the island numbered 250,000 in 2009, up from 170,000 in 2008. It’s estimated that 300,000 U.S. residents could visit this year.

But that’s still a small portion of the overall visitors to Cuba, which numbered 2.4 million in 2009, according to Cuban tourism officials. Canada was the biggest source of travelers, accounting for approximately 900,000 of those visits.

Challenges

But for all the talk of Cuba becoming the next big Caribbean beach resort destination, that’s still a long way from reality, according to the Boyd Group study.

“When toilet tissue is in short supply, it’s not a vacation option,” writes Mike Boyd, head of the aviation consulting company.

“At the risk of being like the schoolyard bully who tells little kids that there’s no Santa Claus, here’s a wet splash of cold reality: the whole Cuba thing is hype,” he adds.

He highlights the lack of infrastructure on the island, and points out that the Cuban people themselves live at a subsistence level.

“The Castro regime doesn’t want big time foreign investment, and can’t afford it, anyway. Want to take a bike trip across the Island? Bring your own food – the restaurants are pretty skimpy and there’s not a supermarkets to drop into. Want water sports? Not recommended. The Cuban authorities get real antsy when they see people heading out into the surf.”

Beyond Tourism

While tourism is one of the focuses in the discussion about ending the Cuba embargo, another aspect to be considered is that of trade.

American companies and agricultural producers may be looking at the island as a new market, but again, with the population living at a level that does not allow them even to afford consumer goods like cell phones, expecting to find a market of 11 million people ready to buy U.S. goods is not realistic.

And besides, as Boyd stresses, this is a U.S. embargo, not a global embargo. The Cubans can already import wheat from Canada and Australia. And China already manufactures every consumer product imaginable.

“The reason that Cuba is short of just about everything is that they are short of money, not the ability to trade internationally,” says Boyd. “Anything that the U.S. might sell them, they can already get elsewhere in the world. They don’t buy much because for the last fifty years the Castro regime has trashed out the Cuban economy.”

The end of the ban?

So, could the embargo soon be coming to an end? If history is any indication, don’t expect any movement in that direction – at least not yet.

Legislation to end the embargo has been before Congress before, just as it is now. Previous bills have gone nowhere. And this being an election year, any significant moves are unlikely, at least not before November’s Congressional elections.

Looking at things just from the economic/tourism angle, could the Boyd Group be correct in their analysis?

Is the talk of Americans traveling en masse Cuba nothing more than hype?

The Cuban government says construction will begin this year on nine new hotels.

But how much more infrastructure must be built before the island would be able to accommodate a big influx of travelers?

Given the fact that Congress has kept the embargo in place for 48 years, perhaps Cuba will have some time to continue building before the great wave of U.S. visitors arrives.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Back in Time: Congress Threatens to Re-Regulate Airline Industry

Perhaps the 25th anniversary of the blockbuster hit Back to the Future has got some members of Congress feeling nostalgic.


It appears they’re big fans of Back in Time, one of the Huey Lewis & The News hits from the film.

Because that’s where certain politicos are indicating they’d like to take an entire industry – to the past.

Their target? The airline business.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday after a hearing on Capitol Hill, James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, claimed that “Hardly a day passes where I don’t walk out on the (House) floor that someone asks me, ‘when are we going to re-regulate the airlines?’”

Oberstar has been a critic of the airlines for some time, despite the fact that in his early years in Congress, he voted for the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act.

That legislation was a welcome breath of fresh air for the flying public. It resulted in a boom in competition, and lower airfares.

But at the close of Wednesday’s meetings, Oberstar said that if the merger between Continental and United Airlines is approved, he will introduce legislation that would reverse the progressive steps taken in the 1970s to deregulate the industry.

And Oberstar is not alone with his threats. The chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation, Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), has indicated similar sentiments. And Oberstar believes there is support in the House for re-regulation.

What would it mean?

Prior to 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board regulated the U.S. airline industry, granting – or denying – permission to companies wishing to get into the business. Furthermore, it regulated fares and routes.

So were Oberstar et al to get their way, anytime a new start-up like JetBlue or Virgin America came along, they’d face much tougher hurdles just to be granted permission to fly by government bureaucrats.

And once they start flying, they’d be told where they can fly, and how much they could charge.

Is going back to the 1960′s and 70′s considered “progress”?

Most people would not argue with having regulators set safety standards for the industry, or to coordinate an air traffic control system for use by everyone in the nation’s airspace. And many also applaud efforts to increase consumer rights.

But it’s a very different thing to in effect direct the operations of private businesses.
I won’t even get into the government’s terrible track record when it tries to run a business, like the U.S. Postal Service, or Amtrak.
Back in Time? Good song – but a bad idea for the airline industry.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food & Drinks on Planes: The Free Stuff

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, major U.S. carriers spent $3.67 per passenger on food in 2009, compared to $4.77 in 1999.


That may come as a surprise to many flyers, who have seen complimentary meals on planes disappear over the past decade. Airlines still spent $3.67? On what?

Meal service has been downgraded in many cases to nothing more than beverage service for economy-class flyers. It’s only those in the first-class and business-class cabins that still get free food. For everyone else, it’s basically buy-on-board food.

Still, some airlines do serve complimentary snack items. If there’s any trend, it’s that the so-called “low cost” airlines tend to provide more than the older “legacy” carriers.

When it comes to free food and drinks, among U.S. airlines, number one for many flyers would be JetBlue. The carrier offers customers a selection of six different snack items – and you can even have more than one item!

One regional carrier also stands out: Alaska Airlines’ Horizon Air division. Fly with Horizon, and you can sample complimentary wines and microbrews.

It’s worth noting that just one airline still serves complimentary meals on domestic flights: Hawaiian Airlines.

And the biggest cheapskates? That would be United Airlines and US Airways, where you get a beverage – that’s it. No snacks.

And in the case of US Airways, that’s an improvement. You may recall that two years ago, the airline decided to start charging $2 for a soda (which they later backed away from, after a significant public outcry).

Here’s a summary of what’s still free for economy-class customers on U.S. carriers. If we’ve missed something, be sure to leave a comment at the bottom and let us know.

AirTran

Coffee, juices, Coca-Cola products, and snacks, including pretzels.

Alaska

Coca-Cola products, juices, coffee, tea.
On flights to Hawaii, there’s also POG and pineapple juices.

American Airlines

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper products, plus juices, coffee, and tea.
Complimentary meals are still served on flights to Europe, Japan, and Haiti.

Continental

Coca-Cola products, juices, Lipton tea, and coffee.
The airline still offers complimentary meals on Intercontinental flights and domestic flights longer than six hours.

Delta Air Lines

Coca-Cola products, coffee, tea, and juices.
Also offers complimentary peanuts or Biscoff cookies.

Frontier Airlines

Pepsi products, Dr. Pepper, Caribou Coffee, tea, and juices.
Plus, the former signature item of Midwest, chocolate chip cookies.

Hawaiian Airlines

Inter-island flights: Island Maid juice.
Flights to/from the Mainland, Australia, Manila, and Tahiti: Complimentary meals are provided. On late-night flights, a smaller snack will be offered instead.

Horizon Air

Alaska’s regional operator, Horizon Air, is a noteworthy addition to the list.
Complimentary Northwest wines and microbrews are offered on all Horizon flights to passengers over 21. New selections are offered each month.
Non-alcoholic beverages: Coca-Cola products, hot chocolate, spiced cider, Starbucks coffee, and Tazo teas.

JetBlue

Beverages: Dunkin Donuts coffee, tea, Coca Cola products, and juices.
Snacks: Terra Blues chips, Doritos munchies, roasted cashews, animal crackers, plantain chips, and chocolate chip cookies.

Southwest

Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, juices, and Coca-Cola products, and Dr. Pepper.
Free peanuts, pretzels, or Nabisco snack items.

United Airlines

Complimentary soft drinks, juices, tea, and Starbucks coffee.
No free snacks.

US Airways

Coca-Cola Products, juices, Higgins & Burke coffee, and Mother Parkers tea.
No free snacks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oops ... I Forgot to Pack the Gold Bullion!

How many times have YOU gone on vacation, only to realize you've accidentally forgotten to pack your gold bullion?
Well worry no more!

Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace Hotel has thought of everything.

Now in the lobby, next to the Coke vending machine and the rack with the tourist brochures, be sure to stop by their new Gold vending machine.

So stop on by, and tell them Habib sent you for 1% off your next purchase.

The Emirates Palace Hotel ... for all your gold needs.

(Photo: AFP)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jordan Pruitt at The Grove ... and a brief appearance by Miley Cyrus

Yesterday at The Grove, it was a special day for the Make a Wish Foundation.

A special concert was held, with performances by Mark Sallas, Jordan Pruitt, and Miley Cyrus.

The show began with Sallas, followed by Jordan Pruitt -- an outstanding talent:



Sallas and Pruitt each did 5-6 songs of their own.  The head of the Make a Wish foundation then came out to talk about their work, and then, after much anticipation by the overflowing crowd, Miley Cyrus made an appearance.

She sang "The Climb". Then, in a move that took the assembled crowd by surprise ... she said "thank you" and walked off the stage.

After just one song.  Most people looked on in disbelief.  Just one song???

Here's a clip of her ever so brief appearance:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?

Actor -- and now author -- Todd "Willis" Bridges, today at the LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA.


Arnold -- aka Gary Coleman -- was nowhere to be found.

As Todd said when asked about him, "Gary don't like nobody."

But he did have kind words for his TV dad on Diff'rent Strokes, Conrad Bain.

"We talk almost every other day.  He's like a father to me," said Bridges.

As for working on the show, he said for him, and all the rest of the cast (except Coleman), it was a great experience.

And yes, he says it's OK to call him Willis.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Just Plain Brilliant. And Tasty.

When I first heard of Kentucky Fried Chicken's plan to sell this new sandwich they call the "Double Down", all I could think was "They stole my idea!"

Two fried chicken filets, bacon, and cheese.  That's the "Double Down".

And that's good eatin'.  No matter what it technically is or is not.

We don't need no stinking buns!

But it's not really a chicken sandwich.  In reality, it's more like a bacon and cheese sandwich, in which fried chicken takes the place of traditional bread-type buns.

Freakin' brilliant.  That's what it is.

Only thing that could have made this better is gravy.

That said, I foresee a seismic shift in the food industry as a result.

Next thing you know, one by one, we'll start seeing burger chains throwing away the buns, and replacing them with fried chicken filets.

Now, your Guacamole Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Jr. will include all that good stuff in the middle, AND, it will come wrapped in fried chicken.

The day they unveil that thing, man, I'm camping out overnight to get the first one.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Batman and Paul Revere & The Raiders: Classic TV

As far as I'm concerned, TV just doesn't get any better than this.

The brilliantly absurd 1960s Batman series, combined with a band that was brilliantly absurd in their own right -- Paul Revere & The Raiders.

As soon as NBC starts airing programs like this, I'll start watching them again.



(Photo courtesy: Stumptown Blogger)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Camelback Ranch: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Just west of Phoenix, in suburban Glendale, you'll find one of the newest ballparks to dot the Arizona landscape -- Camelback Ranch.  (For more pics, see previous post.)

Spring training home to the Dodgers and White Sox, Camelback Ranch opened for business last spring. The stadium has an official seating capacity of 13,000.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Save the Frontier Spokesanimals!

There’s a fight on in Denver to save some of the airline industry’s most lovable spokesmen – make that, spokescritters.

“Save our animals, save our tails!” chanted a group of Frontier Airlines employees and supporters Thursday, as they marched through downtown Denver.

They were rallying in an effort to save the colorful animals that adorn the tails of Frontier’s planes.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grand Canyon Air Disaster (Part II)

Part II of our story of the mid-air collision between two passenger planes over the Grand Canyon in 1956.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Behind Home Plate

Sunday afternoon ... Rockies @ Royals.
My view from behind home plate.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Words Cannot Describe This Game


Today, I witnessed what is unquestionably one of the most entertaining games of baseball I have ever seen in my life.

It was the Colorado Rockies vs. Kansas City Royals, at Surprise Stadium, in Surprise, Arizona.

And words do not do this game justice.

Live from Surprise

Pre-game coffee break in Surprise, before the Rockies/Royals take to the field.
One of these vehicles is mine ...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday night in Glendale with the Dodgers and Padres



Year two of Camelback Ranch, Spring Training home of the LA Dodgers and Chicago White Sox ...

At Camp with the Mariners

A few scenes from Saturday's matchup between the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks, from the Peoria Sports Complex ... more on the story to follow soon.


More photos after the break ...

Saturday morning in Arizona

On the road to Peoria for today's Diamondbacks-Mariners game at the Peoria Sports Complex ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Grand Canyon Air Disaster (part I)

Part I of our look at a mid-air collision that had a big impact on aviation in America.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Training: Cheap tickets ... except for the Dodgers

For a die-hard baseball fan, there's nothing like catching a game at a small ballpark in Arizona in March.

Spring Training baseball offers the best of the Big Leagues, plus you get perfect weather, small, intimate ballparks, and the chance to see favorite players and young up-and-comers up close.

And, it's affordable.

Unless you want to see the Dodgers, that is.

For most of the teams that hold camp in Arizona, you can snag a ticket behind home plate for as low as $17, although $23 is more typical.  If you don't mind sitting on the lawn in the outfield, you can watch a game live and have a picnic for $5 or $6.

But for the Dodgers, be prepared to pay $42 to $47 -- PLUS Ticketmaster's "convenient" extra fees -- for the top tickets.  And the "cheap" seats on the lawn behind the outfield wall?  $10-12.

Here's a comparison of ticket prices behind home plate for the Cactus League's clubs:
  • Colorado     $17
  • Arizona     $18
  • Milwaukee     $21
  • Oakland     $21
  • Cleveland/Cincinnati     $23
  • Seattle/San Diego     $23
  • Texas/Kansas City     $23
  • San Francisco     $24-30
  • Chicago Cubs     $28-30
  • Angels     $29
  • Dodgers/White Sox     $42-47
So who's out of line?  Yup -- the Dodgers, and the other team they share the Camelback Ranch facility with, the Chicago White Sox.

But just because you play in a new ballpark (Camelback opened for business last spring), does that mean you have the green light to charge double what many other teams charge?

Sure, it can be argued that Dodgers Cactus League tickets are affordable -- but that's only by comparison to the prices they charge at Dodger Stadium.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Remembering Peter Graves: A Classic Moment from Airplane!

He will be remembered by many for his role as Jim Phelps on the TV series Mission: Impossible, but Peter Graves will also be recalled for another equally famous character he played.

Graves went from dramatic actor to straight-faced comedian when he took the role of Captain Clarence Oveur in the comedy classic, Airplane! It was a role that put him at the controls of Trans American flight "two-zero-niner" along with co-pilot Roger Murdock, played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Graves died Sunday at his home in Pacific Palisades, California. He was 83.

Here's a look at the famous take-off scene, with Captain Oveur and Murdock having some degree of difficulty with each other's names.

Great Moments in Dodgers' History: Mister Ed meets Sandy Koufax


The great Sandy Koufax dominated Major League hitters over a six year stretch from 1961-66.

He's got four World Series rings, and even pitched four no-hitters, including the rarest of all feats, a perfect game.

Few "men" could connect against Koufax, but at least one "individual" had him figured out -- a horse.

In the 1963 episode "Leo Durocher meets Mister Ed", Wilbur and Ed pay a visit to Dodger Stadium, and Ed shows off by hitting an inside the park home run off Hall of Famer Koufax.



Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ticketmaster and Tickets.com - Taking Every Penny They Can from Spring Training

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s hard to beat a trip to Arizona in March for Spring Training.

The fans like the Cactus League, the teams like the Cactus League, and Ticketmaster and Tickets.com just LOVE the Cactus League.

During Spring Training, you can still get good tickets for most teams for much less than the cost of regular season games. But just like the regular season, both ticketing agencies will be sure to extract a hefty sum from your wallet.

So although you can buy a ticket with a face value of as low as $6 (lawn seats), be prepared to tack on some sizable fees.

Here’s the REAL cost of your tickets.

Ticketmaster

Using an example of a high-end ticket for the Dodgers -- a $42 seat behind home plate for the Dodgers -- you’ll have to add a $4.50 convenience fee. Then add a $2.50 charge to print your own ticket (unless you want to pay considerably more for UPS delivery). AND don’t forget your $3 order fee. So your $42 ticket really costs $52.

What’s that? You want to pick up your ticket at the Will Call window? Sorry. The Dodgers and White Sox don’t offer that option. You’ll have to pay to have your ticket delivered whether you like it or not.

Total cost of having to do business with Ticketmaster: an extra 23.8% on top of the ticket face value.

Tickets.com

Pricing out a Tickets.com simple $6 lawn seat for the Padres, you’ll have to add a $1.50 convenience fee and a $3 order fee. In other words, Tickets.com just added on an extra 66% to the cost of your ticket.

On a $23 ticket, your convenience fee is $4, plus the $3 order fee. So Tickets.com is “only” taking an extra 30.4% on top of face value.

And remember, this is assuming you pick your ticket at the Will Call window at the stadium. But Tickets.com will try to convince you to use their “print at home” feature for an extra $2.25.

Oh, and did you want insurance? Tickets.com will try to sell you that too. Pay $6, and you MIGHT be able to get your money back -- if the reason for canceling your tickets is covered.

Spring Training in Goodyear

Monday, March 8, 2010

Making an appearance on KPNX Channel 12 Phoenix

The Destroyer: George Foster


This man signing autographs at the Cincinnati Reds' training camp was a member of one of baseball's great dynasties - "The Big Red Machine".

George Foster -- "The Destroyer" as he was known during those days -- is a five-time All-Star, has two World Series rings, and was the Major Leagues' home run leader in 1977 and 1978.

He was a key member of the Big Red Machine, along with Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion, and Ken Griffey Sr. With skipper Sparky Anderson at the helm, they dominated the National League in the 1970s.

Photo of the Day


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Today in the Cactus League

Camelback Ranch -- home of the Dodgers and White Sox:


Peoria Sports Complex -- home of the Mariners and Padres:

Surprise Baseball Campus -- home of the Rangers and Royals:


Today's Cactus League results:

Cubs (ss) @ White Sox ... RAINED OUT
Dodgers @ Cubs (ss) ... RAINED OUT
Rangers @ Indians ... RAINED OUT
A's @ Angels ... RAINED OUT
Padres @ Mariners ... RAINED OUT
Giants @ Royals ... RAINED OUT
Reds @ Brewers ... RAINED OUT

The last time there were rainouts in the Cactus League? 2006.

The two split-squad games scheduled for Tucson were played though.
It's bad news for the clubs, because these games aren't made up. So the home teams lose out on ticket sales, parking, and sales at the concessions and souvenir booths.
But somebody IS making money today ... more on that later.

This baseball is NOT for sale


A lovely day for baseball ...


Phoenix weather radar, as of 11:30 a.m.

Great day for a ballgame.

Fun with Mascots

What do you do to entertain the crowd between innings?

Have the mascots dance, of course.

Rain, Go Away

(Peoria, AZ) 11:05 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

It's an unusual day in the desert.

It's raining.

Here's hoping it lets up by first pitch at 1:05 at the Peoria Sports Complex. Looking forward to this afternoon's game between the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

Stopped by Phoenix Municipal Stadium to check up on the Oakland A's this morning, at their morning practice. Love the location of the stadium, set in Papago Park. Very scenic backdrop.

Photos to come.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bob Feller: A Legend Throws Out the First Pitch

Hall of Famer Bob Feller, age 91, throws out the first pitch at today's Cleveland Indians/Cincinnati Reds game in Goodyear, Arizona.

A good place to let your poodle loose ...




Notes from the Road: Scenery, but No Rest Stops

Arizona is one of the most picturesque places you could ever visit.

And thanks to the recent rains, I'm seeing one of those rare sights -- a green desert.

Of course, the greenery is short-lived. Soon enough, the sun will scortch the Sonoran Desert, and return it to its natural state of brown.

I love spending time in this state, but I do have a few words for the folks at the Arizona Department of Transportation: Open your Rest Stops!!!

Why on earth have you closed the Rest Stops on I-10 coming from Palm Springs to Phoenix? Even broke California -- the most ineptly managed State in the Union -- manages to keep its Rest Stops open on I-10. But as soon as I crossed the state line at Blythe, the first two Rest Stops in Arizona were closed.

Considering that the road between Indio and Goodyear has almost no place to stop (excepting Blythe and Quartzsite), would it be that tough to keep a couple rest stops open?

Just asking.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring Training: Play Ball!

March has arrived, which means one thing: Spring Training!

Fifteen clubs flock to Arizona for this time-honored annual event, and with them, come baseball fans from across the country.

Restaurants, hotels, car rental companies and other merchants cheer the arrival of the teams, their fans, and visiting journalists. If you're in the service industry in Arizona, March is like Christmas.

This year, the Cactus League welcomes a new arrival - the Cincinnati Reds.

Until now, the Reds had been a member of the Grapefruit League, setting up camp in Florida each year.

But now they're sharing the new complex in Goodyear with their cross-state rival, the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians were one of the original clubs to begin play in Arizona. In 1946, they, along with the New York Giants, were the first teams to move west.

Cleveland began play that year in Tucson at Hi Corbett Field. In 1993, they departed for the Grapefruit League, but last year returned to Arizona, to the then brand-new Goodyear Ballpark.

With the arrival of the Reds, the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are now evenly split - 15 teams a piece.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Uhhhh ...

Apparently I keep neglecting to post updated stuff on this blog. Oops.

Well there's always tons of articles and videos at http://aerochannel.blogspot.com and www.aerochannel.com.