Thursday, 16 November 2017

Bye bye Bangkok

It is 10.30 Thursday morning in Bangkok and I am packing ready to leave for Manila. The flight is with Thai at 3pm but I am leaving a huge amount of time to get to the airport, I will take the Skytrain in about half an hour, go 4 stops and then take the Airport Express. I used to think it was really cool to arrive at the airport at the last minute but I have changed totally and I even annoy one friend of mine by being so cautious. He will learn! One day the taxi will break down and he will find that missing a flight can be very expensive indeed. And why hang around in my hotel room when I might just as well hang around at the airport where, these days, there are lots of attractive shops to browse? Although I have done plenty of that in the past few days. On the second floor of Siam Shopping Mall, I was torn between the Rolls-Royce or the McClaren but in the end, I went for economy and, walking past the two Aston Martin Avants, I went for the Maserati. You think I am joking??

Yesterday, I did very little. I swam a few lengths of the pool on the roof. Had a small glass of wine which is included in the day ticket and then wandered around the malls. My friend Nini in Colombia is interested in selling cakes so I took some photos of a bakery shop. Her husband has just come out of hospital after an operation to his shoulder so I don't think he is in the mood for baking just yet. I thought maybe the photos would cheer him up.

Then I went to a meetup but it wasn't a great success for me. We met at a coffee shop a long way from my hotel and one guy argued with me about independence for Catalunya. He upset me a little because some of the arguments he was putting forward were ridiculous, like it was ok to break the law or choose which laws to obey and which to reject. "What would have happened if they had said we must respect the law during the French Revolution?" He said. And he wouldn't give up, certainly he wasn't listening to me. And I live there! He had met a girl from Catalunya a week or two ago.
Then I started worrying about Nini's niece who is very ill (and I was worrying about me!) I recently sent some money to pay for some expensive medication, it was not much for me, about 60 euros, but I was getting scared it would escalate and she would start to depend on me and that I could end up in a very pressured situation. Emotional blackmail is a very strong term but you can see what I am getting at!
I had a strawberry smoothie which was just flavoured ice so I left most of it, and then we wandered around a market. My mood was dropping rapidly and we then walked about 10 minutes to a very ethnic Thai area for some food. I just wanted a nice comfortable hotel lounge and a beer. And so I bade my farewell, talking about leaving the following day.. etc. Even from the original location, I was a long way from home, three different trains, about 1 hour. I am sure you know the feeling, I just wanted to be back in familiar surroundings.
So, that brings me to this morning. In Manila, I am staying one night in the same hotel as last time. Because I know where it is, I can direct the taxi driver. Last time we took ages to find it. Then my friend Nomel is coming at mid-day tomorrow and we will go together to the apartment (condo) which I have rented for the next 3 weeks. It is out to the north of the city and I didn't fancy trying to find it at 9pm in the evening, even if the office was open. Much better to relax and take it easy. The flight is 3 hours, so I arrive at 7pm local time, the Philippines being one hour ahead of Thailand. 
I've had a great time in Bangkok, a mixture of normal life and also being a tourist. The length of the stay was perfect. And now I am very excited about living in the Philippines for 3 weeks. Not as a tourist!


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The (very) Grand Palace

Bangkok at 6.30am from my hotel room
I think I said that I was going to visit a floating market today but it only floats at weekends so I went to the Grand Palace that I missed out on last night. It was ridiculous to imagine it was open till 8pm, the whole tour is outdoors. But, when I am away, I make mistakes not because I am being more thick than usual but because I am relaxed and tend to adjust to the mood of where I am (or maybe you would call it lazy!) It often involves not thinking very much at all - just go with the flow. I did that once and it was almost a major disaster. I still think about nearly being stranded in the middle of nowhere with two small children after visiting Parque del Café in Colombia. And all because I was being laid-back and in Colombian mode rather than with my British way of thinking. In the latter case, saying that maybe it would be terribly sensible if we left before the park closed, when everyone else was doing the same thing. That would have been about at the point where they decided to go back to the log flume again. My name would have been "Mud". You can read about it in this blog, just do a search for Parque del, or just click here. But make sure you come back here!

The Skytrain is all above ground....
a long way above ground!

Anyway.... I finally made it to the palace and that was to take the BTR Skytrain down to the river and buy a step-on, step-off boat ticket. I expect my ears to pop due to the height of the tracks above the road, I'm not quite sure why they've done that. At interchanges it does the same as the MTR in Hong-Kong, it brings the two different lines together on either side of the platform so, often, when changing lines, providing you are going in roughly the same direction, there is no need to go up or down one floor. At major stations, there are closing doors on the platform too. 

Later, I had a quick lunch in one of the shopping malls by Siam and then walked back to the hotel. The yoga was cancelled because the teacher phoned in to say she was unwell but I suspect she found out there were only two of us who had signed up (I am joking, I hope I am not that cynical. Er.... sometimes, yes!) The hotel didn't tell me so I spent about 10 minutes wandering around the hotel looking for it.
I've put some photos below which are self-explanatory I think. The palace is not very ancient, it dates back to the late 18th Century.

I wish I could get that number of people to my art exhibitions! I would say that westerners are outnumbered about 1 to 40 here. I think I could hear a lot of Chinese spoken. Below are two photos of Wat Arun which I stopped over at on the return boat trip. There was bizarre little photo-shoot with two Thai girls wearing beautiful long dresses, gold head gear, with long fingernails but, hey, they look suspiciously western to me! Later on my way back, a European guy was all dressed up with a suitably arty pose. Boy, did he look a prat!! As I'm sure you guessed, there was a little stall renting out the gear to westerners who wanted to make fools of themselves. I suppose it's safer that taking selfies on crumbling cliff-tops.
I wrote about hearing Chinese and, although I have no hope of learning Thai, I bought two books which explained it. Some accents flow like a song (I think Colombian Spanish rises and falls in pitch far more than peninsular Spanish) but it's not necessary in order for the person to be understood. In the case of Thai, the tones are an integral part of the language and it's fascinating to hear it spoken. More text after the photos.....

After writing up to this point, it was time for a beer so I went back to Patpong and went to see my friend Mon. We both got very sad that we lived so far apart. She is 42 with two daughters and I found her very attractive, much more so than the girls dancing, and she seemed genuinely attracted to me. She thought I was in my early 50s which is pushing credibility, but it was dark. She invited me to stay with her next time I was in Bangkok ("No boom-boom," she said which we both found very funny. More so because I wasn't totally sure about what work she did in addition to selling food and drinks. This time she was showing an awful lot of leg.). For sure, it was her job to get business for the bar where she worked, but even allowing for that, we were like two friends because I'd made it clear that I wasn't looking for sex. Being there and chatting to her was all I wanted and it was lots of fun. But we live a very great distance apart. She gave me her phone number and I gave her my website. She even bought me a beer which is very unusual, normally it the is the guy who buys the girl a drink (and it costs more). And of course I did that. And across the road, all part of the same company, girls were dancing on a stage wearing very little. 
Maybe you are shocked that I was there at all but Patpong is also a vibrant night market and there was a happy atmosphere, not dark and threatening - under the surface, who knows? But it is all regulated under the law. Bad things happen when they are outside the law, this is often the point made about legalising drugs. But that is a subject I know nothing about.
These things (in Patpong and Nana, districts of Bangkok) go on and my staying away won't change it one iota. And I had a great evening. And I didn't hurt anyone. I just hope I don't hurt my friends who knew me in my earlier life where I took more attention to convention. Now I feel liberated. I hope that's allowed!

By the way, the other thing that made the evening enjoyable was going out simply wearing skinny jeans, my new Lacoste white shoes and a long tee shirt as if I was just walking into another room in a house. It is so warm in the evenings that nothing more is necessary, I carried no bag, my money and plastic card for the Skytrain was in a bum bag around my waist. It was a lovely free feeling!

Monday, 13 November 2017

A photo of my agenda

I am updating this at mid-day on Monday (6am in Europe).

6.30pm... I added text after the photo of my agenda. No more updates today, I'm going for a beer!

I thought I would post a photo below of my agenda for the week (I hope you can read it OK, the image is rather small on my laptop). I think the week will pass very rapidly! This morning I went to visit the house of Jim Thompson which is very near to my hotel. He was an American man, famous in Thailand, who came to live here after the Second World War. His cousins then set up a foundation but I will write more about him here later. After the tour, I had a coffee by the koi carp. Unlike Donald Trump, I didn't get to feed them!

At lunch time, I am joining another Meetup group. On Thursday, you can see my flight to Manila with Thai.
The hotel has a video running on the TV showing Talin Floating Market and it's not far, so I will go there tomorrow. I checked transport and the BTS Skytrain which starts at International Stadium by my hotel goes to Wonwan Yai which is the other end of the line. From there I can take a taxi to the market. I especially want to try out some of the food. Then on Tuesday evening there is a yoga class in the hotel which will please one friend of mine who is always telling me to do yoga! I would have preferred Zumba the following evening but it clashes with a meetup with the same group with which I had so much fun on my first night. I am very depressed about the state of affairs in Catalunya and I want to spend as little time there as possible before I go to Colombia on the 28th. Yes, I know, it is a bit crazy! Thailand, Philippines and then Colombia in the other direction in quick succession. So that leaves the 7 days over Christmas completely empty, just getting over jet-lag. So I have no idea what to do with that! I even thought about spending it in the UK but they get totally silly about Christmas, totally over the top. One great option would be Ukraine, then I really would escape Christmas because theirs is after the New Year. But I've only just come back from there.

I went to the meetup and there were about 10 of us, most were American. The venue was a huge food hall with a sales desk at the entrance where one bought a card to spend at all the outlets. The young girl asked me how much to load into the card but I only realised when we left that the card is returned for a refund of the balance in the card. I chose 300 baht and spent a little over 200.The photo shows the chef cooking my meal, just a simple prawns and rice with a few other things stirred in!
The group was meeting in an "outdoor" terrace but enclosed, if that makes sense. One guy made a living as a baker and he brought some of his cakes along as a gift. It gave me some ideas for my friend Nini in Colombia because she wants to do the same with her husband who is already a baker but he can't find any work.

Another guy was full of ideas of where to go in the evenings but since I covered that subject in the previous post, I won't explain what he was suggesting. You can just imagine it. And he had one or two ideas about things to do in the day. He had a strange looking bag with him which looked suspiciously like a rifle inside but in fact it was a golf club - he was going to the range to practice, so we joined him. How is this possible in the middle of Bangkok in this heat? It was of course a virtual golf range on the top floor of a building near by, and air-conditioned. This technology has been around for a while, one hits a ball into a projected image of the fairway - it is a net which absorbs the energy of the ball and a small tracking device calculates the trajectory of the ball. In some cases the balls are specially modified, even with a chip inside. I'm not sure if that was the case here. I knocked one or two balls with a 7 iron, two were not too bad bearing in mind I haven't played for a long time. The third, I hit off the toe of the club so that wasn't so brilliant.

I wanted to visit the Royal Palace but by now it was getting quite late, around 4pm. We asked the girl at the desk when the Palace closed and she answered 8pm. Wrong. It was 4pm and I don't know why I was so trusting because I made a futile tuk-tuk journey but it was fun, absorbing the sounds of the city.

A little about Jim Thompson...

He was born in 1906 in Greenville, USA. Towards the end of World War 2, he was working for what is now the CIA. He was posted to Thailand, the war was coming to an end, so he decided to make his home here. He asked his wife to join him but she decided not to. He was a skilled designer and architect and rapidly became well known for making a big contribution to the development of the country. He helped create what is now a thriving silk business for the country. With the money he earned, he built a house surrounded by one or two other buildings which is now a museum and foundation administered by his family through his brother. He had no children of his own. The guide said that he fell in love with Thailand but I don't think he re-married. The house is very beautiful, almost all of it built in wood.

Then, in March 1967, he disappeared without trace during a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia and it remains to this day a mystery as to what happened. He just walked into the woods.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Shopping Malls!

It's terrible! I come to the city of beautiful temples and I spend almost the whole day in a totally different kind of temple! Anyway, I was determined to take things easy today, Saturday. I was so happy that I made it to the meetup last night, it was just super! I think it is so funny.... and kind of thrilling that I can do it. I was travelling from 8am Thursday to 3pm Friday (admittedly those are local times), with two 6-hour flights, I slept for 2 hours, and went to a meetup till 11pm at which point I took it easy and took the red taxi which I mentioned. At some points, it is true that I felt a little tired but not so much that it spoiled my pleasure. I am so lucky to be able to do it.
So, Saturday, as I said, I went to Siam which is one station away from the hotel, in fact it is so close that you can go in at one end of the shopping mall by the hotel and come out at the other end by Siam. There are signs of great wealth here. (I am writing this on Sunday). It reminds me of Dubai. I don't understand the economy of creating these huge temples - the cost of building them, the value of the stock, but very few people actually buying anything. They are spectacular but I end up buying stuff from Amazon and it arrives at my door next day. 

This was my lunch. I know it is considered naff to take photos of food but this is a journal so I am sure it is OK. It was crispy pork and the drink was some kind of juice but it was mostly ice. The dish was cold. There was a weird underlying organic flavour in the sauce. Then I noticed something with claws. It was a small crab.. or maybe a large spider that had fallen in and drowned. The place was a total rip-off. Not only was VAT added afterwards, so was a service charge. 
Later on Saturday I went down to the river on the Metro. I call it the Metro but there are three train systems here as I described yesterday. And they each have very similar names. BTS is the Skytrain, the metro. But then it connects with the BRT which I guess is more like a regular train but the appearance is virtually the same. The third is MRT (Mass rapid transport). Unfortunately it is written on maps with the letter M which of course makes it look like a Metro. I think they all ought to get together and make friends. 
I had a meal in the restaurant in the evening, a buffet, which was great. I got upset with an English guy who was chatting openly to his wife on his mobile in Skype. I knew that because he was holding it up in front of him. I signalled that he should be using an earpiece and moved to the far end of the restaurant. I had virtually finished my meal anyway.
Later, as I left, I went back to chat with him - he hadn't realised I was British too, why should he? Not Asian, that's for sure! I was annoyed at the time because I think using the speaker of a mobile phone in public is very rude whether it is just music or, worse, a conversation. But this annoyance is quickly forgotten and we had a very pleasant chat. I knew it was his wife who he was talking to because he told me. He was from Sheffield. He just didn't realise that it affects people like me from a different generation. There was an American guy in the lounge in Barcelona Airport - seemingly oblivious to the other people around him who had also paid thousands of euros to be there - asking whether her tooth was still hurting!
Today, Sunday, I had signed up for another Meetup group, a writers' group. It was due to start at 11, I woke up really early, had breakfast, then slept till 10 so I had to leave in a hurry which was stupid. I don't have an internet connection when I am out and about and I forgot to draw a detailed map of the location of the meetup. Big mistake. In the end, I went into a steak bar and the owner was also the owner of the bar where I was going, so he led me to the meetup. Otherwise I would never have found it.
Most writers' groups tend to do the same, that is they read each other's work and then pass comments so unfortunately that is what they were doing. All were reading and I wanted to talk about writing. One funny thing. The organiser is Delia and she picked up a copy of Cat Life which I had brought with me and opened it at the chapter about Romania, also written by a Delia from my Meetup group. So I asked if she was Romanian. She was, from Transylvania which is where the chapter ends up. There is also a sentence where "Delia" in the story says, "I am dead". Delia (the organiser) thought that the whole chapter was a very spooky coincidence. Later I wrote a message to her explaining that I really wanted to chat a little more at the meetup and I offered to send her a copy of the chapter she was reading..... In Romanian and in my attempted translation using Google Translate!
Later, I went back to the hotel for a short while, had some lunch and then wandered around the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre which is almost next door to the hotel. Then I bought an ice-cream and the woman commented on my blue fingernails which is not surprising. Not many guys have pale blue fingernails. I explained that I was a ladyboy which made her laugh. If you don't like the subject of being transgender, then skip the next part! 

I bought a pair of glasses with plane glass lenses but the woman selling them kept on saying, "No". She spoke no English. I guess she meant that they did not have any correction, but I could see that. It was exactly what I wanted, to wear them as a "fashion item" because some glasses make me appear more feminine. Maybe some people find this strange but, actually, I was only partly joking when I said I was a ladyboy. All it means really is that I feel a little "transgender" which is not a big deal unless it involves modifying surgery which I do not envisage. I am just having fun being a little more feminine, more girly, these day. I have never been macho-man anyway.

Here is my friend Nomel in Manila who I am seeing on Friday - he is a ladyboy, it just means that, inside he feels more like a girl than a guy. And he looks it! But in the UK, things have got ridiculous so please make no connection with what I am doing with some of the crazy ideas in the UK and the USA - kids taking hormones before puberty for example. The idea being put before Parliament that a guy can wake up one morning and say, without any certificate or doctor's report, "Hey, I am a trans woman, so I can use womens' toilets".
Nomel is interested to know about ladyboys in Bangkok and I would enjoy chatting with one or two but many of them here are prostitutes. It is all a bit seedy. But behind it all is that, in this modern era, one has a greater opportunity to break free from convention and be oneself in terms of sexuality. That can't be wrong can it? And it is accepted more here than in the Philippines. But not to be broadcast, not, for example. "... the first openly gay member of parliament...". Big yawn, who cares?

Written later......
After writing this post, I changed into my skinny jeans and packed 1000 baht in my top pocket, grabbed my little Nikon J1 and took the Metro to the (notorious) Patpong. I just got back and had a super evening. I feel very sad for the girls and ladyboys dancing in front of leering westerners, it is like the market in the street outside. They were very beautiful but I think I was more sad than they were - they seemed fine. I bought a beer and I think it was soon clear that is all I was buying, well I said so to a big brassy trans girl with a booming voice!

I left the change for the beer as a tip and went across the road where I found this young woman, Mon, taking orders for food. I ordered sea-bass which was fantastic, and some red wine. She sat with me at the table and we chatted about various things, including trans things, which was really nice! A guy with this iguana (?) came to see her, I guess he was offering it for photo opportunities. At about 9pm I ran out of money because I only brought 1000 baht which is about 27 euros. So I walked back up the street to the Metro station and I was back in my room within 20 minutes! I will go back for sure.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

My first evening in Bangkok

I ended my last post in Dubai just about to board my flight to Bangkok... with the hope of getting some sleep on the flat bed which I had paid so much for. Do you know what? I did not sleep a wink, nothing! Still I had a slight headache which was preventing me from sleeping. The flight was absolutely full. After take-off I went to the small bar at the back of the business class section, on this plane there was a cool little table, rather like a 4-way table in a train except bigger. I attempted to relax with a glass of wine and a sandwich to no avail. So I arrived in Bangkok feeling a bit rough but no matter. I quickly got through immigration and found the Emirates limousine service - the airport is absolutely enormous and thronged with people of all nationalities, mainly Asian of course, with us Europeans standing out like sore thumbs! By this time it was about 2pm.
The car took me to my hotel, the Ibis Siam (I like Ibis) which was about 35 minutes and I checked-in and found the room. My priority number one was sleep. I tipped the contents of my suitcase on the floor and climbed into bed. This is the main reason I like Ibis, the beds are consistently very comfortable. After 30 minutes, I was woken by room service with a small jar of sweets - I should have posted "Do not disturb" on the door. I wrote to the host of the meetup I had planned to go to and said that, if I did go, I would probably take a taxi. I went back to bed, slept about 2 hours and woke refreshed and ready for anything. I looked up the Metro map on my computer to see where I had to go, Metro stop Bang Son. I could see it. I went down to reception expecting them to have a map but it did not show the station. I bought a rechargeable card for the Metro and headed off. First, I went one stop to Siam and changed Metro lines and went to Mo Chit which is the end of the line. But instead of a simple interchange, I had to walk a few metres to a different train, a different payment system. I paid for a plastic token to Bang Son but I couldn't see it on the map in the train. The train went to its final stop and then I had to change to another train. It was brand new and I then saw Bang Son. So that explains why it was so hard to find. I took Exit 5 as instructed in the Meetup group and rapidly found the location, a restaurant called KC Selfie. The owner welcomed me and pointed out the group who had just ordered some food. It's Saturday morning and I'm going to have some breakfast now. Here are some photos of our walk-around! We had a super evening. To me, that is what Bangkok is about, a warm humid evening, a large happy crowd drinking beer, live music. You just can't beat that! At 11pm, I couldn't face that train journey in reverse so Susan, the host, helped me find a taxi. It was a super shiny red taxi so I said farewell to my new friends and stepped inside with aplomb!

(I just realised, I included two photos not from Bangkok. One is of an evening meal my Meetup group had the night before I left Girona. The other is a little secret of mine to make travelling a little more tranquil. It is a zone just to the right of the entrance to the security area at Barcelona Airport. so if you have a few moments to spare - maybe security isn't too busy - then I recommend taking time out here. I had a ticket for the executive lounge but I still preferred to spend time here.)

This is funny! Big Milk to Thais means big breasts!!

This is Monalisa and she bought an interesting pair of shoes! I was going to stitch the two photos together in Photoshop but it's almost impossible on a small laptop.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Dubai Airport

I am just writing up my blog in Dubai Airport!I am very lucky I wasn't travelling yesterday because there was a strike in Catalunya but it wouldn't really be accurate to call it a strike, it was a form of anarchy. Young students blocking roads and the high speed railway, preventing people getting to work. If this is the new Catalunya, I want nothing to do with it and I am well out of it.
The atmosphere at Girona Station was still very tense this morning but my train (the AVE) was running. I caught an earlier bus in case I had to switch to the regular train. When I take a flight from Barcelona Airport, I usually start out by catching the same bus at 8am from Celrà because all flights leave between about 2pm and 4pm. To Kyiv, Bogotá or Dubai. For Dubai at 14.50, I had loads of time.
I treated myself to a business class ticket on Emirates. The aircraft is an Airbus A380 - big! I had a headache, caused by stress I think, for most of the flight (6 hours) which was a shame but, now that I'm in the Exec Lounge in Dubai Airport, it has gone. I need to get some sleep between here and Bangkok, the seat goes flat like a bed, I'm sure you've seen photos in adverts.
I have an Emirates loyalty card which entitles me to free wifi on the plane. It is not a big deal, anyone can do it, the card level is the lowest but I still qualify. Otherwise only 2 hours are free.
It's now 1.30am local time which is 3 hours ahead of Spain so it's still only around my regular bed-time and the flight to Bangkok starts boarding in about one hour. I certainly wouldn't like to transfer between flights here if I was short of time - the airport is enormous. Part of the journey between the arrival gate and the departure gate which is where I am now was by train. And there was a great deal of up and down in escalators and lifts. It took at least 40 minutes. And the boards showing the departure gate kept on refreshing which made them almost impossible to read. The flight time to Bangkok is about the same as from Barcelona, about 6 hours. It is an A380 again. The flight coming here was far from full and one could detect that the captain didn't use full thrust to take off because it was relatively light. If a plane is full, one can imagine the pilot pulling the throttles hard back!
I arrive around mid-day in Bangkok, the morning will arrive very quickly because I am travelling west to east, so it may wake me up. I can survive on very little sleep and I am affected far less by jet-lag than earlier in my life. I have no idea why that is!
It would not be accurate to call this a lounge, it is so big, it took me 10 minutes to find a bar. It is on a higher floor level and basically stretches along the whole width of all the gates in zone A.
I'm going to stop writing now because I'm really tired. The headache stopped me from sleeping on the flight here, I needed 30 minutes. But I am sure I will sleep on the way to Bangkok, I will even change into my pyjamas so it feels like a real bed.
M. if you are reading this, it was a little too late to send an email so I'll write tomorrow from Bangkok! 
By the way, I'm writing this on my little "trasformer" laptop. It is an Asus with 10 inch touch-screen which detaches but I use the keyboard a lot so the two parts normally remain attached. But it's really cool if I'm showing photos to someone because I just pull the screen off and hand it to the person. I have a larger laptop for my hotel room but that's in my suitcase checked in for the whole journey, so I won't see that till I arrive in Bangkok.


Monday, 6 November 2017

Booking an apartment

I am going to Thailand and the Philippines on Thursday and I'm not going to write any more about the political situation here, it is getting very complicated. Only to say that what I do find ironic is the independistas complaining about "abuse of the law" after having run a steamroller through the laws of Spain. I guess it is a case of choosing the laws you agree with and rejecting the ones you don't like. Er, nooo. That is not how it is supposed to work!
I had quite a drama arranging somewhere to stay in Pereira, Colombia from 28th December till 1st March. I had already decided that I wanted to live near to my adopted "family" in Cuba (the district of Pereira, not the country!) It is out to the west of the city, near the airport. Previously I stayed to the east, next to the bus station.
I was recently in touch on WhatsApp with Milena who used to service the room where I stayed previously and somehow she persuaded me to rent an apartment from a separate person, Oscar, in the same building. But she was worried what her previous employers would think - me too! She left a few months ago to have a baby. I felt that, since I would be passing their office every day, we had to be open about it and I said that I would speak to them on the phone. 
Their response was to offer me a much better deal, so I decided to take that and compensate Milena for the commission she was losing with Oscar. Hey, I was getting swept along with this, totally forgetting my original plan! Cuba is a 30 minute bus ride away from the bus station. I even sent my credit card details only to be told that the owning company had not approved the price and that it was now much higher. It was 11pm here and I got rather annoyed and stressed about it. But they did me a favour.
I went back to Milena but by now I was tired of the whole thing so I said that I would start again, this time where I originally planned to stay.
I looked on Airbnb and there were two apartments exactly where I wanted to be. I sent a request to the owner of the cheaper of the two but he came back saying that he had let it out on another site. So I clicked on the more expensive apartment and got an immediate confirmation from the owner. It is about €520 for a month. I booked it for January but the owner is giving me "first refusal" for the second month.

I wrote to my friend Nini and she was overjoyed that I would be their neighbour for 2 months. I know part of that joy is that I will be going with them to the supermarket! I had a look at Google Maps and it appears that there is a 10 minute walk through a park between the two locations.

I even requested an oven in the new apartment because it only has a microwave in addition to the gas hob and the owner was very helpful. Maybe I will pay for all or part of it, I don't know. 
And I will be looking for a property to buy.
But before Colombia, I am off in the other direction!