What gifts to bring to Cuba?

Most articles I have seen on the web about this topic make emphasis on the many consumption items Cubans don’t have. Cubans need the most basic things like tooth paste and toilet paper; but make no mistake, tooth paste and toilet paper are not gifts; in the best case, those articles can be considered charity.

This post is not about charity; it is about advising what gifts are generally well received by Cubans. By giving these presents to a Cuban, you will show that you did your homework; you will show that you know about the Cuban culture and that you care and respect the receiver of the gift.

Cuban Dominoes

Cubans are crazy about this game. You see Cubans playing it on the streets, on the parks and at home.  It is by far the most popular table game. It comes in two varieties; the Double 9 Dominoes (composed by 55 dominoes) and the Double 6 Dominoes (containing 28 dominoes). The Double 9 Dominoes is the most widespread kind along the island.

Religious pendants

Many Cubans are religious and even those who are not will most likely welcome pendants and earrings of Our Lady of El Cobre. Our Lady of El Cobre is the patroness of Cuba and it’s often associated with patriotism and nationalism within Cuba.



Cubans breathe baseball. The love and fanaticism for this sport knows no limits. All generations, all genders and all races are fascinated by this sport. It is the National Sport. Baseball gear is hard to come by within the island and even just a single baseball is greatly appreciated.

Cuban Coffee

If you ever visit a Cuban home you will be offered a cup of Cuban coffee. It is a very strong, espresso-like coffee. When a Cuban offers you a cup of coffee, he/she is welcoming to his/her home. Almost everybody drinks coffee in Cuba; even kids get a zip every now and then. Rest assured, bringing some nice coffee with you will open some Cuban doors for you.

I’ll continue adding more gifts to this list, but at the same time I’ll try to keep it short. I only want to present what’s really relevant and that would be appreciated the most by Cubans. Total disclosure: I was born in Cuba.

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How to calculate the Ontario’s Surtax?

In simple words, the Ontario’s Surtax is a second layer of taxes (on top of the Basic Provincial Income Tax) that residents of the province of Ontario, Canada are obligated to pay to the tax man.

The calculation of the Ontario’s Surtax is a two-step process:

First, you calculate the Basic Provincial Tax on your personal income. Second, you take the Basic Provincial Tax calculated in the first step and do some math (we’ll explain that shortly) to calculate the Ontario’s Surtax. What’s important here to understand is that the surtax is calculated not on your income, but on your Basic Provincial Tax.

The provincial tax rates and income thresholds for the Province of Ontario for 2016 are follows:

Annual taxable income ($)             Provincial tax rate (%)
0.00 to 41,536.00 5.05%
41,536.01 to 83,075.00 9.15%
83,075.01 to 150,000.00 11.16%
150,000.01 to 220,000.00 12.16%
220,000.01 and over 13.16%

Also, everybody in Ontario is entitled for a basic personal tax credit return. This number can be found in row number 1 of the TD1ON form for the corresponding tax year. This number is $10,011 for tax year 2016.

Knowing the tax brackets above, your personal income and the basic personal tax credit amount, then you can calculate your Basic Provincial Tax in Ontario. We call it “Basic”, because it does not include the surtax amount yet. Your Total Provincial Tax would be the sum of the Basic Provincial Tax plus the Ontario Surtax. 

For example:

A person making $60,000 owes $3,282.00 in the form of Basic Provincial Tax in Ontario. To calculate this number we apply the tax brackets above as follows:

= 0% * $10,011 + 5.05% *  ($41,536 - $10,011)  + 9.15% * ($60,000- $41,536.01)

= 0% * $10,011 + 5.05% *  $31,525  + 9.15% * $18,463.99

= $0 + $1,592.0125 + $1,689.455085

= $3281.467585

= $3282 (rounding up to the nearest integer)

So, $3282 is the Basic Provincial Tax of a person making $60,000 annually.

Doing some similar math we can calculate the Basic Provincial Tax for other incomes. I am not going to do all the calculations again, but they will be awfully similar to the one we just did. I’ll just spit the numbers now but you can double check them later:

Personal Annual Income ($)      Basic Provincial tax (not including the surtax yet)
$60,000 $3,282
$80,000 $5,112
$95,000 $6,724

Now let’s calculate the Ontario Surtax: 

If your Basic Provincial Tax is less than $4,484, then your surtax is $0. That means that a person with a $60,000 income won’t pay any surtax just because its Basic Provincial tax is $3,282 and that number is less than $4,484.

If your Basic Provincial Tax is greater than $4,484 and less than or equal to $5,739, the surtax is 20% of the basic provincial tax payable over $4,484. Let’s break it down: a person making $80,000 owes $5,112 in basic provincial taxes. The surtax will be calculated as 20% * ($5,112 - $4,484) = $125. The key thing here is that the 20% is only applied to the number between $4,484 and $5,112. The initial $4,484 won’t produce any surtax.

If your basic provincial tax payable is greater than $5,739, the surtax is 20% of the basic provincial tax payable over $4,484, plus 36% of the basic provincial tax payable over $5,739. For a final example, let’s consider the person making $95,000 annually. This person would owe $6,724 as Basic Provincial Tax. The surtax will be calculated as follows: 20%* ($6,724 - $4,484) + 36% * (6,724 - 5,739) =$802.

Now that you know how to calculate the Ontario Surtax, we can go ahead and calculate the Total Provincial Tax. Let’s use the following formula:
Total Provincial Tax  =  Basic Provincial Tax + Ontario Surtax
For instance:
  • A person with a $60,000 annual income will owe a Total Provincial Tax of $3,282 = $3,282 + $0
  • A person with an $80,000 annual income will owe a Total Provincial Tax of $5,237= 5,112 + $125
  • A person with a $95,000 annual income will owe a Total Provincial Tax of $7526= $6,724+ $802.
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Recommended dashcams for Canada

Two questions came to my mind when I first entertained the idea of buying a dashboard camera (a.k.a. black box or dash cam) for my car:
  • Are dashcams legal in Canada?
  • Will dashcams perform properly in the Canadian winter?
Fortunately, anyone in Canada can take pictures or record videos in public places. There is no Canadian law preventing you from doing that. Moreover, dashcam footage has helped the police with ongoing investigations, including collisions and hit-and-runs. Also, voluntarily submitted dashcam footage is helping the police to crack down on bad drivers. So, no doubts here, dash cams are legal in Canada.

As for the Canadian winters, it seems the most vulnerable element of the dash cam is the battery. Batteries don’t get along with extreme temperatures, neither extremely low nor extremely high. A solution to this problem is to use a capacitor (instead of a battery), which is immune to the cold or heat.

Mind you: the battery (or capacitor) is mainly used to save the files (video or pictures in the event of an emergency). The dashcam is normally powered through the cigarette lighter socket of the car. In the event of a collision for instance, the main power coming from the car could get disrupted, and in this case the battery (capacitor) will kick in allowing for some time to save the data.

Capacitors don't decay after time in the same way batteries do. So, a capacitor dash cam will require less maintenance in the long run.

The cameras below come with a capacitor as opposed to a battery. For more dashcams with capacitors click here.

Now that the original questions about the legality and winter endurance are settled, let’s move to other technical must-haves of the dash cams.

Video Quality: 1080p Full HD is ideal. You can also consider 720p HD at the expense of a lower quality. I rather pay for a 1080p Full HD dash cam, as I want to capture as many details as possible with the best quality. 

Lens angle:
At the very least you want a dashcam with an angle of 120 degrees. It would be even better if the angle ranges from 125 to 150 degrees. As a rule of thumb, with a wider angle you can capture more of the landscape, but the acuteness of the recording decreases.

Storage capacity: Obviously we want to get the biggest storage capacity possible.  You can choose from Micro SD cards of 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB with a Class 10 rating. Be aware of the fact that some of these cards are not supported uniformly by all dashcams. So, check the specifications of the dash camera of your choice before buying the corresponding Micro SD card.

With the above features in mind I selected a few dashcams for your consideration. These are not fancy dash cams, but they do a decent job for a relatively low price.

There are other fancy features of dashcams that might interest you, but they will of course add to the price of the device. Examples are:

Parking mode:
allows your dashcam to keep recording even when your car is parked. The beauty of the parking mode is that the dashcam is not recording needlessly. Instead, the dashcam has a motion detector and only starts to record when motion is sensed nearby. This saves precious storage capacity by not recording the same thing over and over again.
GPS: it can be external to the dashcam or built-in (internal). With this feature every frame (or scene) of your video will bet tagged with speed and location. This is a double edged sword in my opinion. It can help you in a dispute but it can also incriminate you. 

WIFI: allows connecting the dashcam to a smartphone, tablet or laptop. This feature helps in downloading the footage recorded to your other devices and allows making adjustments to the recording on the go. Your dashcam will NOT be connected to the Internet. It will just be connected to you other mobile devices.

The dashcams I hand-picked below offer some of the fancy features previously mentioned:

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Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Windsor (Ambassador Bridge) Review

Our party of 7 stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Windsor (Ambassador Bridge) for one night (Saturday, May 7th, 2016). We just needed a place to spend the night after visiting Point Pelee National Park early that day. Check out our adventure in Point Pelee by clicking the link above.

We were 3 couples: 6 adults and one kid; so, we occupied 3 rooms.

We all agreed that the place was fairly decent. It was clean, quiet and the service was great.

We checked-in late in the afternoon and went directly to the swimming pool after dropping our belongings in the rooms.  (Ah, we got a WIFI pass-code when doing the checking: the connection speed was good enough)
Room at Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Windsor (Ambassador Bridge)

Our room at Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites before we mess it up
The pool was clean and nobody else was there. It belonged to us for the next hour and a half. Clean towels are provided in the pool.
Swimming pool at Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Windsor (Ambassador Bridge)
Swimming pool at Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Windsor (Ambassador Bridge)
There is a hot-tub in the pool area; which we enjoyed of course.

From there we went to the rooms to have a shower. The rooms looked kinda old, but they were clean and well organized. 

I have two complains only:
  • The hair dryer in my room was out-of-order. The hair dryers in the rooms of my other trip comrades were ok (I asked them). I could have called reception to get it replaced, but my wife insisted to keep her hair a little moist.
  • The air conditioning was working properly, but at some point during the night it started to make very annoying noises. I think the pipes got frozen somehow and because of that the device started to malfunction. I had to turn it off and use it in fan-mode for the rest of the night.
We had dinner and some drinks at Grill 55. This restaurant/bar is next to the lobby of the hotel. The food here was great. Pretty much everyone in hour group ordered something different and everybody liked it. I must say we were very hungry, but still, the quality of the food and the service was excellent.
Yanniel and Ana - Grill 55 - Windsor
Yanniel and Ana - Grill 55 - Windsor
Parking is conveniently located directly in front of the main entrance of the hotel. You can see a Tim Hortons directly from the parking lot; where we had breakfast in the morning.

As I said, we just stayed one night: we checked in late in the afternoon and left early the next morning. We had no chance to check the other amenities of the motel.

Overall our stay was positive and I would not mind to stay at this place once more.

We picked this hotel because we wanted to do some sightseeing around Windsor and the location was fairly close to the Windsor waterfront. We liked Windsor, and we will share our experiences in another post.

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A weekend away from Toronto - Point Pelee

Point Pelee is the southernmost point of mainland Canada. It is a peninsula filled with trees and lots of wild life.
Yanniel and Ana - Point Pelee
Yanniel and Ana - Point Pelee
It is very famous for the diversity of migratory birds that show up in the park in spring (April 29th, 2016 -> May 18th, 2016). This is known as the Festival of Birds and it was our main motivation in visiting this place.
Birds - Point Pelee
Birds - Point Pelee
Birds also make their stop at Point Pelee in autumn. They take a break there before continuing the migration south in search of a warmer climate. I haven’t visited Point Pelee in autumn, but I am tempted. The Carolinian Forest dressed up in the fall colors must be gorgeous. I will probably visit it this year again and if so, I’ll share my experiences in this blog.

Point Pelee is a 4 hours’ drive from Toronto, but believe me, it is totally worthy. So, my wife and I (plus a bunch of other friends) left Toronto around 7am in the morning on Saturday May 7th, 2016. We took the 401 West stopping just once in one of the various OnRoute along the highway. 

In the highway we drove by the Batman in the Batmobile :-) See the video below. This was an unexpected plus to our road trip :-)

We also encountered one of the biggest wind farms in Canada between Tilbury and Ridgetown. It is called South Kent Wind Farm and belongs to the municipality of Chatham-Kent. The wind turbines seem to have no end as you drive along the 401. Unfortunately, we did not take pics of those :-(

We arrived at the park around 11:15am.

One quick note here: once inside the park we could not find places to have lunch. They have some stores in which you can get snacks, but nothing heavy. You can only get potato chips, ice cream, pops and things like that. Nonetheless, just one block before the entrance of the park, there is a place where you can have burgers, wraps, hot dogs, fish and chips, soft drinks. It is not a fancy place, but it gets the job done.

We paid the fee at the entrance, $19 bucks per family (up to 7 people in the same car). You can also pay individually. The pass to the park is valid for the whole day, so keep the receipt in case you want to have lunch outside of the park. With the receipt at hand, you will be able to get back into the park.

After paying the fee, we just drove into the park…

You are able to hear the singing of the birds all around. Now, if you really want to see them up-close, you should get yourself a pair of binoculars. I was the only one in our group of 7 carrying binoculars. Because of that I was the only one able to see a pair of deer in the distance and I was able to see the birds hidden in the far away foliage. I recommend 8x40 long range pursuit binoculars.
Yanniel with binoculars - Point Pelee
Yanniel with binoculars - Point Pelee
But hey, if you don’t have binoculars, that’s fine. All of us were able to see the birds, turtles (lots of them), and fishes (less than a meter away from where we were standing).
Bird in the Marsh - Point Pelee
Bird in the Marsh - Point Pelee
Frog - Point Pelee
Frog - Point Pelee
Turtles - Point Pelee
Turtles - Point Pelee
We were also able to see wild turkeys (twice), which are not migratory birds. They were really sneaky, camouflaging very well in the bushes. They are kinda big and thanks to that we were able to spot them.

There are several things you can do at Point Pelee: hiking, bicycling, bird watching, canoeing/kayaking, geocaching, swimming (at designated beaches), picnicking (picnic tables and grills onsite). For more details click here.

There are two places that you mustn’t miss: the Marsh Boardwalk and Point Pelee's Tip. 

Marsh Boardwalk

It provides a 1km long boardwalk over the marsh. It also has an observation tower and telescopes. From there you can get a sense of what Point Pelee really is.
Marsh Boardwalk - Observation tower - Point Pelee
Marsh Boardwalk - Observation tower - Point Pelee
Marsh Boardwalk - Point Pelee
Marsh Boardwalk - Point Pelee
Marsh Boardwalk - Geese - Point Pelee
Marsh Boardwalk - Geese - Point Pelee
Marsh Boardwalk - Bench - Point Pelee
Marsh Boardwalk - Bench - Point Pelee
Point Pelee's Tip 

This is the most southern point of mainland Canada and it was the place in which we all got wet with an unexpected shower/rain :-)
Point Pelee's Tip
Point Pelee's Tip
We left Point Pelee around 6pm with a lovely feeling in our hearts. We enjoyed nature at its best and we were satisfied. This is a place really worth seeing.

We did not come back to Toronto that day. Instead we drove to Windsor and stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Windsor (Ambassador Bridge) (the previous link will take you to my review of the hotel).

It took us an hour to get to Windsor. We stayed overnight and the next day we toured a little bit around Windsor. I’ll write soon about our exploration of this town...
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