First, an anecdote.
When I moved from the United States to Spain and created Jazztel in 1998, I opted to offer health insurance to my employees—a very North American concept. I asked them if they would prefer that Jazztel pay for a private health insurance plan, or instead, that I give them that money directly. It wasn’t substantial, something like 60 euros (75 dollars) a month. It surprised me to learn that hardly anyone chose the private health insurance plan, that few were interested in private health care, that they were remarkably content with the public health system and that they preferred to earn 60 euros more a month.
Later, I was given the chance to check out the Spanish public health care system for myself, partly due to my mountain biking injuries and also because of my children’s various accidents. I saw firsthand that it was really very good and very free. Especially coming from the US where health care costs some 600 euros (750 dollars) per month and, you have to pay for additional things that are included as insured here in Spain.
Now, let’s “fast forward” to 2012.
We have a bankrupt Spain being bailed out by the EU day-to-day. A bankrupt health care system and with massive defaults, but still with good quality medicine and full of new hospitals freshly equipped with the latest “bubble” models from when we still had credit. All this accompanied by a great debate over the topic of copays and the plan to charge 710 euros (890 dollars) a year to illegal immigrants. Seeing the situation and being an entrepreneur, it occurred to me to make a business out of this tragedy.
Or let’s just say: make the tragedy less tragic by constructing a business to help it.
Spain is the fourth largest tourist destination in the world. We receive almost 60 million tourists per year and almost all of them come from countries where medicine is more expensive. Why don’t we sell our medical services—that are so good and so cheap—to our tourists? Why don’t we launch medical tourism to a larger scale? Why don’t we transform public health care into an export-oriented industry?
How do you do this? The government could launch a big publicity campaign in which they offer medical insurance to foreigners and allow them access to public health care for 100 euros per month. And for those foreigners who travel here without an insurance plan, they would be charged 40 euros (50 dollars) each time they wanted medical attention and not be seen for free as they are now. North American friends that had health problems in Menorca, for example, couldn’t believe it when after receiving medical treatment, were released without being charged. They were willing to pay 100 euros for a consultation; 40 euros would seem like a bargain. Foreigners don’t expect it, but they receive free medical treatment in Spain.
From here we can start to promote medical tourism. Come get yourself treated with the Spanish national health system! We are the longest-living of all big countries in the world!
If the government ensured that one million of the 60 million tourists pay this medical tourism insurance, it could obtain 1.2 billion euros (1.5 billion dollars) a year. To North Americans, being able to come to Spain and while here, go to the doctor for free, all for an insurance premium of 1,200 euros annually, would be very beneficial. The Germans pay 300 euros a month for insurance. And we won’t even speak of the uninsured people in many countries who have money but not enough to afford insurance in their country. In Argentina, for example, insurance that provides the same quality of service as Spanish health care costs about 300 euros per month. I know that getting a million customers isn’t easy, but the market has 60 million. Later we will have to determine the costs of treating these patients, but I find it possible to make a profit. Especially when there is so much infrastructure already in place.
I think the Spanish government has a possibility to finance a part of the health of its people with medical tourism, and that this opportunity should at least be studied. I know many Spanish people think that health care should be free for everyone, but it isn’t—we pay for it ourselves and we can find more customers overseas. It’s time to be creative and sell medical insurance to foreigners with the Spanish national health system.
We used to come to Uruguay to get away from everybody we knew. Now everybody we know comes to Uruguay, and I don’t just mean everyone we know from Argentina, that was always the case. I mean a lot of people we know from Europe and USA as well. And they keep coming in growing numbers. And they, like us, still wonder why they like it so much. Now let’s clarify. Everyone I know comes to Jose Ignacio, or near Jose Ignacio, they find Punta del Este ugly. I do as well. But they find the area between La Barra and Laguna Garzón along the coastline just beautiful. The farms, the beach houses, the restaurants, the overall scene. Now what is sad though, is that most of those who come here do not see the countryside. I do every day as I go on my mountain bike rides. Today I managed to take these pictures. I know there is nothing really special to them. Indeed the charm of this part of Uruguay is that it’s so special without having anything really special about it.
Let me show you my pictures and see if we agree.
Sailing around Menorca we found this incredible yacht. Maybe somebody who looks at the pictures can tell me her name. In the meantime it was funny to see that some nudists had discovered this ultramodern wet dream ahead of us
Ok now I know it was this yacht the most expensive in the world, $300M to build $1M to refuel, $20M to maintain per year, designed by Starck
We just spent a long weekend in Baeza and Ubeda in Andalusia.
I moved to Spain in 1995 and I thought that by now I knew this country very well. But then there is always something new to see. In this case these two beautiful towns in Northern Andalusia. Other than my family and friends here, what I love about my life in Spain is that I get to build global start ups, out of Spain. That I get to build Fon in Spain. That when I leave work, I am in Spain. I am not saying that California is not attractive, and it also has great weather. But to me, there’s something missing in California, or New York, or Florida. I love visiting USA but after spending 18 years of my life there I still feel better in Spain. And I feel better in Spain than in UK or Germany. Italy and France could be a contenders as they are beautiful countries as well. But the environment for start ups in those two countries is horrendous.
In any case here are two minor, further proofs as to why Spain is better.
I have had Aphrodite for 10 years now. During those years I have been able to combine my life as an entrepreneur and my life as a sailor getting around 20 to 40 days on board per year. Aphrodite spends summers in the Mediterranean and winters in the Caribbean, so she has many Atlantic crossings under her belly. She is a 92 feet Ketch built by Vitters in the Netherlands and designed by Andre Hoek with one purpose in mind, safe and fast cruising. With its flashed deck Aphrodite is the perfect explorer sailboat.
And this summer we once more put Aphrodite to the test together with Nina my wife and Isa, Tom and Leo. For close to two weeks we sailed the islands around Sicily and what follows is a review of them that can serve others as a guide of what to do and what to avoid in the Sicilian Islands.
My short take on them is that you should only use Capo Milazzo as the port of embarcation for sailing the Aeolians but waste no time there. Avoid Lipari and Vulcano in August because they are the most popular of the Aeolian Islands and if you are on a sailboat you can do better than that, and focus on the rest which are absolutely phenomenal. Sail directly from Milazzo to Stromboli.
Stromboli is one of the jewels of the Med but there are caveats. The island has two towns, Stromboli itself and Ginastra. Stromboli is charming but quite touristy and just not as elegant as say Panarea or Ginastra itself in the same island. So while most people spend time in Stromboli, I recommend making Ginastra the center of your exploration. For example, while going up to the volcano is organized with guides and many tourists on the Stromboli side, if you are like me and prefer to open your own path and be alone, put on a pair of jeans (as the path that goes up from Ginastra to Stromboli is barely used and has many thorny plants) and go up on your own. In Stromboli we mostly ate on board so I have no restaurants to recommend. After seven the Guardia Costiera leaves the area where the volcano spits lava ever 15 minutes or so and you can get as close to the volcano as you want.
When you sail from Stromboli to Panarea there are three tiny islands that are worth a stop. They are all beautiful and the middle island has a sulphur gas that comes up from the bottom of the sea around 10 meters deep and you can go snorkling around there surrounded by shiny bubbles. Warning: my wedding band, normally silver, turned brown as a result of that swim but metal cleaning products normally used on sailboats worked and fixed the problem. So after spending a day or so you can get to Panarea at night.
Panarea is the only Aeolian with true night life in the sense of large choice of elegant restaurants and a couple of chill out bars. We only ate in one, Quartara, and both the food and atmosphere were great. The town of Panarea deserves a 3 hour walk in both directions. I also recommend a hike to the heliport from where you have a great view of Stromboli. If you have 800€ to spare go for a helicopter ride of Stromboli with Air Panarea, the owner of that helicopter airline is a particularly nice guy and my 3 year old had a good time pretending to be a helicopter pilot together with his 4 year old.
Salinas is the most complete of the Aeolians, by that I mean that if you have a weekend to spend in one Aeolian Island I would recommend Panarea, but for a whole week, it would be Salinas. Salinas has roads, cars, scooters, towns, and yet it is not as crowded as Lipari. Friends of ours spent their honeymoon there and I can understand why. The best town is Malfa, by far. The 4 other towns can’t compare. The place to eat is the Signum Hotel. Rent a scooter, go around, hike, go to la Caldera (sailing and over land different, complementary experiences). Salinas must have much more to explore than what we saw. I would go back there.
Filicudi and Alicudi are the lesser Aelioans. But lesser in the sense that they are smaller, yet in terms of beauty per square meter they hold their own. Filicudi is all focused on one side, the one protected from Mistrals. It is interesting how Mistrals the strong NW winds that go through the Western Med 2 or 3 times a month, have shaped development, both humans and naturals around the region.
In the Aeolians, Mistrals have created a situation in which lava flows face the Mistrals and nature and people avoid them. Stromboli, Alicudi volcanos flow towards the Mistrals. I don’t know why but I have a sense that erosion help decide the path of least resistance for lava flows. Filicudi has these amazing phallic rock formation sticking out 70m off the water that are worth sailing around, quite a few times.
Alicudi is the smallest of the Aeolian and yet incredibly steep. What is unique about it is that the 100 homes or so that have been built there can only be inhabited by athletes who, as Tom said, are willing to go up and down the equivalent of the Empire State by staircase, every time they need milk. And they are inhabited by athletes, I have never seen fitter people and animals as in those islands. The mules work non stop bringing such essentials as drinking water to the homes on the side of the extinguished volcano. We went up to the last home and it took us over an hour of the steepest hike of our lives to get to it, at 488m over sea level.
The Aegadian Islands
From the Aeolian Islands we sailed to the Aegadian and my general comment is that they are not worth your time for anything other than a passage stop from the Aeolians to Pantelleria. On that passage what you may want to do is to stop in San Vito lo Capo, a quiet nice town in the North West corner of Sicily and in Trapani. Trapani is kind of run down but it has a decadent beauty that I liked. It reminded me of Essaouira in Morocco. If you go to Trapani get a car or some means of transportation and go to Erice, a beautiful medieval town up the mountain.
Now back to the Aegadians, we were so poorly impressed by Trapani that we did not even try to go to Levanzo. But Favignana was slightly better. At this point let me grade the islands so you get an idea of what I mean about the Egadi. Vulcano B+, Lipari B+, Stromboli A+, Panarea A+, Salinas A+, Filcudi A-, Alicudi A- but Trapani C, Favignana B. You get my point. Favignana does have a town that has its moments, it is quite busy so if you miss seeing people out and about you may like Favignana more.
But in Favignana the markets are not local fruits and vegetables but Chinese goods sold by sad looking African emigrants desperate to make a living. Still we managed to find a charming restaurant in the Augusta hotel, a garden restaurant where we ate well. In general I would say that we still have to find one restaurant in which we ate poorly. All of them are great Southern Italian food for 20 to 40 euros a person. We only got ripped off once and that was at the restaurant Al Tramonto in Pantelleria where they charged us €96 euros for a mediocre fish or €50 euros per person for a meal that anywhere else would be half of that. Otherwise eating in the Sicilian Islands is generally a phenomenally predicable experience.
And in Favignana we did have a special moment and that was when we coincided with a local, religious celebration in which a Madonna was brought into the church by men in uniform. The light was perfect, the church attractively small and while religion is to blame for a lot of unnecessary killings among humans when properly practiced it can be especially picturesque.
Is Pantelleria worth a day of sailing to get there and another one to get back? I am not 100% sure but we did enjoy it. Pantelleria, like the Aeolians, is a volcanic island. The volcano is not active but there’s “fresh” lava all over the place. As other volcanic Islands, Pantelleria is very steep, with poor anchorages as sandy bottoms are rare. We only found one in Scauri and that’s where we stayed. Avoid Pantelleria town, it is depressing and after a long sail to get to Pantelleria Island if that is the first thing you see, as it happens to us, you will question the whole trip, and if you haven’t slept well, your whole life after seeing that dump of a place. But Scauri for example is Aelian level material. So Pantelleria gets a B+ in my blog because of Scauri, because of the South, because of the hikes and local lava based architecture.
Unless you are one of those sailors, like me who likes to see everything and come to his/her own conclusions, just go to the Aeolian Islands. You can avoid the Egadi and regarding Pantelleria, if it was say 3 hours of sailing from Stromboli I would say go for it. But to sail 2 days from the Aeolians to go to Pantelleria is not worth it.
We are at Bab Ourika, Google it, arguably one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. For us it’s paradise.
We flew in from Madrid yesterday. There is no ash cloud in Spain. But as we sat down for lunch we found that the 20 or so guests who are in this hotel speak as if they were in prison. They shout from table to table, coming up with alternative plans to escape paradise. A train to Tangier, a boat from Bilbao. They frequently curse the British government for leaving them stranded.
Nina and I intervene, offering a return flight in our plane that is coming to bring our children for my birthday celebration this weekend. They kiss our hands. We feel sorry. Paradise turned on them.
A Linus asked me today if, once FON is launched in France, French Linuses will be able to connect in Spain and vice versa. My answer is YES. One of the most incomprehensible policies of major operators like Vodafone, Orange and T Mobile is precisely their roaming policy. In an open border Europe and a global internet without borders, these operators over-charge you as soon as you step out of your country. Our plan is to have FON in as many countries as possible and enable FON members to connect wherever they are.
Imagine you have a WiFiFON, you go to Paris and you receive a phone call to your Spanish landline number. Well, the person calling you will pay what he/she pays for a call to a landline number in Spain (or nothing, if the person uses a flat fee calling plan) and you don’t pay any roaming charge when receiving that call in Paris. But there’s more: all your calls to other WiFiFONS are free and all other calls are at really competitive rates, similar to Skype rates.
Here´s another complicated post to write. On the last one I sounded “homoweird” and now here comes one in which I may sound racist. But here it goes anyway. It refers to Polynesians and Melanesians. And my statement is that Polynesians seem to be much more admirable people than Melanesians. As a warning I will say that my contact with both groups is the very limited experience of a bike riding tourist, still these are my observations from travelling around a week in Melanesia (New Caledonia) and over a week in Polynesia (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and Tikehau) and riding rented bikes: in short Polynesians appear to be a much more “advanced” culture than Melanesians. This is what I mean. In New Caledonia Melanesians make about half the population of the country, the rest being Europeans, mostly French, and some Asians, mostly Chinese. In Polynesia the blend of people in the islands seem to be about the same. About half of the people are Polynesians and the other half Europeans, including tourists, as there´s much more tourism in Polynesia than in Melanesia. But there the similarities end.
Nature vs nurture. I tend to side with the Nurture side. In general, I believe that education and overall upbringing play a very important role in the personality and skills of most individuals. But in the case of at least a certain type of sexual orientation, given my experience over here in the South Pacific, I have my doubts. Here´s the observation.
Since we arrived in French Polynesia we had 11 dinners in 9 different restaurants. In all of the 9 restaurants waiters were either women or extremely effeminate men. Intrigued about this I asked around and was told that in this part of the world the only men who want to become waiters are the “mahu” or men raised as women. Other men do all sorts of jobs around the hotel, they are gardeners, they carry luggage, they are managers, they steer boats, but they are not waiters, which in Polynesia is considered a job for women only. And what are the mahu? Well they are men who, while dressing and looking as men, behave as women. They walk as women, have high pitched voices, they are men who seem to show you that there´s something radically different not only about men and women´s bodies but about gender behavior as well, and that you can have the body of a man and the behavior of a woman. Now what I find hard to believe is that these men are like this because they were “raised as women”. Is it nurture or is it nature? Are they raised as women or is it that from the time they are very little that´s what they want to be and they are raised accordingly? Aren´t the polynesians on to something that is better, namely accepting sexual orientation early on? Aren´t we in the West forcing would be Western mahus to be men as much as we used to force lefties to be right handed?
I am in the South Pacific. I have been here for two weeks. I was in New Caledonia, now I am in French Polynesia. I also think this is the longest time I have been without internet, without using a computer, without writing e mails or surfing since 1994.
New Caledonia and Tahiti belong to France, they are French Territories, to use their terminology, Territoires de Autre Mer. And in many respects they are like France, their GDP per capita is like that of France, their cars are like those of France, their bread is fortunately like that of France, but there´s however one susbtantial difference that accounts for the fact that there´s practically no internet access here and that is that France is in the European Union and the European Union forced France Telecom to compete while in New Caledonia and Tahiti there´s no competition in telecoms, and it shows. Monopoly telecom services are incredibly poor. I should know. I built Viatel to fight monopolies and being here only makes me happier that I did so. In a monopoly world mobile phone services are pathetic. In New Caledonia there was no roaming for Vodafone and even after I acquired a local sim card I found that there was no GPRR service and that sms worked received mode only (my replies appeared as sent but never arrived at their destination). In Tahiti things were only slightly better. My Vodafone Blackberry worked, but only as a GSM phone, no e mail. I could send and receive hugely expensive sms. Surprisingly when I bought a local VINI (name of the local operator number here) phone number to try it out, I could again only receive and not send international sms. And as far as the internet goes, things are awful over here.
In the French territories you can fly modern planes, you can rent boats, helicopters, drive the