Monday, April 21, 2014

Jamaica Farewell

Jerk Chicken and Red Stripe with "Festival", Yumm!
It was a high wind passage from Cuba. Forecasts had called for moderate conditions with 15 kts of wind leaving Santiago de Cuba building to 20-23Kts mid passage than back down to 15kts on our approach. Seas were forecast to be no more than 6 ft in swells with a long interval all out of the East to South East making for a broad reach throughout the 120 NM/ 24 hour SSW passage.

Unfortunately as the winds started to build they never stopped! Eventually reaching 35kts with seas building as high as 15 ft. Luckily the direction was correct so it was a broad reach and Wahoo did her thing rising up the swells peering over and then sailing  down. We had already doused the jib and were sailing with a reefed main so we had a steadying sail already in place. Actually it was about as good as possible under the conditions and while neither of us slept we made Port Antonio in a reasonable amount of time as we were able to sail at about 5kts throughout it all.

While it's not something I want to do again I must say that the really bad part was wondering what the Windward Passage had in store for another Marcomb. While we weren't directly in the passage we were in the approach to it. For any of you who know the story of my brother and his wife, Roger and Lindy, when they hit a storm in this passage and barely escaped with their lives you'll understand my feelings.

Port Antonio - street work in progress
But Jamaica was all we could wish for and then some! As soon as we reached the entrance to the harbour its protecting arms sheltered us from the seas. Once inside, the mountains calmed the effects of the wind. This is the most sheltered and lovely harbour we've ever been in. The dockmaster said that even when Hurricane Sandy passed over there were no ill effects.

The marina, Errol Flynn, is named for the famous actor as he kept a boat here as well as a home. In fact his wife just died and left their 2000 Jamaican acres to their grandson. It's also the best equipped marina we've ever been to. There are both slips and an anchorage, power, water and WiFi, plus a laundry. Also onsite is a pool with bar, beach with beach bar plus a restaurant and bar - all overlooking the beautiful harbour with its surrounding hills and mountains.

The Harbour from a Port Antonio hilltop
Port Antonio is on the NE coast. The town and market is an easy walk away and the lush Jamaican mountains are all around. Its away from the touristy parts of the island and yet offers plenty for the visitors who come and stay for awhile. Beautiful homes dot the hillsides looking out into the Caribbean Sea. I gather they mostly don't belong to Jamaicans.

Having visited twice on a cruise this time we found a much more natural Jamaica filled with the delight of mixing with locals in a relaxed setting.

Roy being Roy at Boston Beach

Boston Beach where Jerk was "invented"

Getting Jerk chicken
Eating Jerk Chicken
We finally felt like we were on vacation and entertained ourselves with a trip to Kingston to the Bob Marley museum and Port Royal, another excursion took us into the mountains for a hike to  Reach waterfall. We enjoyed beaches with their powdery pink sand and crystal clear waters.

We ate lots and lots of jerk chicken and pork. Jerk is served with a seasoned fried dough they call Festival. No one could explain the name. But it sure is good.

Part of Reach Waterfalls. We jumped in the falls, swam at the falls and went through a cave into the falls. Regular tourist! 

We hate to say it as we could have stayed lots longer but JAMAICA FAREWELL!

The marina even seems to have its own Rasta -rafter who comes to the boat to offer coconut water, bananas, breadfruit and ganja.

Tomorrow we're off for a 165NM passage to Ile a Vache, the island on the SW coast of Haiti which is a must stop on every cruisers bucket list. Benign weather is in the forecast as we actually cross the Windward Passage. All the weather forecasters say the same so lets hope the stars align and we actually do get 5 - 10kts of wind with seas no more than 4 ft all from the East which is the only bad part of the forecast as usual -  we're going East.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Six Weeks along the Cuban South Coast

How can I possibly tell you all we saw and felt on this journey - seems an impossibility. Like the Country itself each word and picture will tell a hundred stories. (It’s going to be long, I apologise.)

First you might be asking why would we want to visit the largest island in the Antilles; so large that every other island can fit inside with room to spare. 

I can blame it on many things - how else do we get to the Eastern Caribbean without a long passage, or the fact that it’s not everyday you get to visit a Communist country AND one that’s denied to most Americans. It’s illicit and illegal and so very mysterious. But maybe it was just Desi Arnez, his accent, his music…

Let me tell you about the challenges we knew we’d face. First, we are sailing to windward, the currents and trade wind go East to West and we’re sailing West to East. They say Gentlemen never sail to Windward! At the least it will be uncomfortable, at the worst we’ll be beating into some high wind and waves instead of riding over them. Also due to the embargo we have to carry with us all the money we will spend, emergencies not withstanding. No US credit cards, no US bank ATMs. We’ve also read and been told of the endless difficulty in getting staples for added provisions and the fact that potable water is difficult to come by. Fuel is an unknown. We’re also still having problems with the depth sounder - it only works when we don’t need it. Rarely works in depths less than about 12 ft. And then there’s the fact that we’re missing Mardi Gras. How awful is that! Also Roy’s birthday is a BIG ONE and must be celebrated in high style! 

But what’s life without a challenge?!

Lest you worry, let me also tell you we do have some communication including a way to get weather. We now have both a working SSB and a Sat Phone with 300 minutes good until June 2. The SSB allows us to both listen and talk to Chris Parker every morning. So we tell him where we are and where we want to go and he tells us the weather and whether we should venture out or not. Plus every evening we receive an email with the weather forecast from him. We can also talk, text and receive email along the way. Minutes are about $2. per but it does give us some form of emergency communication.

The internet available in Cuba is at the tourist hotels where you buy a card for an hour on their old slow PCs. Not something the regular guy on the street can do. We didn’t even try.

Feb 26 - 27
We left Cozumel around 2:30pm under bright blue sky's with a light E wind and seas at 2-4 ft. This was very good as it tallied with Chris Parker's forecast. We had been worried as sailing Belize to Mexico we had seen wind and seas much higher than the forecast. But now we were on track and both wind and seas should lessen even more as we approached the Cuban side of the channel.

Without AIS we kept a careful watch on the radar so as to avoid commercial traffic in the channel. We saw about 25 ships and while having AIS would have been good we did fine without it. I did fine because I slept a good bit and didn’t notice all the ships, Roy did fine because I slept a good bit and didn’t notice all the ships. 

Los Morros Marina
The next morning by 10am we were  clearing in at Los Morros Marina in Cabo San Antonio. They even remembered us from last time, asking about Austin and the letter he's left for the Swedish girl. 

This time, as last time, the doctor came first. He was nice and concerned for our health. When we told him we’d come from Belize he was full of compliments for Belizean healthcare and culture. Next came the officer of the Ministry of the Interior, the Guarda Fronteras. He took our passports to the Immigration officer who never came aboard. He also arranged for Roy to exchange our Canadian dollars for CUCs at a nearby hotel. Our next visitor was Alex, from Agriculture, he was wonderful. He inspected our vegetables and explained about the insect that is playing havoc with the Cuban tomato crop. Our last inspector, who would inspect our meat and diary, didn't come until the next day. Again once it became clear to him that everything we had came from Belize all was fine. 

In Cuba the Guarda must clear you in and out of each port, giving you a Despacho to be presented at your next port. While its permissible to visit the uninhabited islands in the three archipelagos that are on the southern coast you cannot visit a town or settlement that doesn’t have a Guarda station. (Don’t get smug. We heard its exactly the same in the States for foreign vessels, even Canadians!)

Alex, the officer from Agriculture came back several times to visit. Actually everyone came and visited. We were like Grand Central Station. Offers of seafood were nearly constant and I was sorry our freezer was so stocked. I was going to get even more sorry as the trip went on. Roy was concerned we had received a bad exchange rate. Alex called a bank and gave us information on daily fluctuations. We had great discussions on Cuban agriculture, New Orleans music, wages and costs of goods in Cuba. Pictures of families and Mardi Gras were shown around. Mardi Gras beads, King Cake, candy and other small gifts were handed out. Some spoke a little English, Roy speaks a little Spanish and our beer kept the conversation flowing. 

The Marina charge is 25 CUCs per day for our 42 ft sailboat that included electricity and potable water. Diesel was available at 1.20 CUCs per liter. 

High Finance
Knowing we’d be hit by Fidel’s 15% tax on American dollars we came in with Canadian dollars hoping for a better exchange. It just so happened that the Canadian dollar fell by nearly that much between the time we bought them in Houston and redeemed them in Cuba. A big hit for our budget. 

Cuba currently has two forms of currency for added confusion. The National Peso is the basis of the Cuban currency and in 1881 was pegged as par with the US dollar. The peso lost value after the 1959 Revolution, the US Embargo and the suspension of the US Sugar Quota.In 1960 the peg was changed to the Soviet Ruble. 

In the 90s Cuba turned to tourism as a way of combating the hardships of the “Special Period”. This is when the Soviets pulled out leaving Cuba’s economy in free fall and its citizens enduring famine. First the US Embargo then the Soviet pull out, these people don’t get a break! The government sought to limit Cubans interaction with foreign tourist and so in 1994 they created the CUC on a par with the US dollar. The CUC would be used by tourist, the peso by natives. The CUC fluctuates like any currency but there is also a tax by the government on all exchanges. After the tax a US dollar is equal to .85 CUC. The peso is about 1/25th of a CUC. 

 Cubans are paid partly in pesos and, now, partly in CUCs. Cubans make the equivalent of about 12 - 35 CUCs a month. Most staples are purchased with pesos and enjoy controlled prices. Other goods are purchased with CUCs in dollar stores. Household electricity is now paid in CUCs.

Full employment is mandated under Cuba’s system. But everybody needs to hustle and have more than one job. We heard that the saying is, "everyone pretends to work and the government pretends to pay”.  

Another form of currency along the Southern coast

Alex, his story:
Alex is in his mid 30s. He was educated in Agriculture. After the Soviets left this was very important as the main food produced both before the 1959 revolution and during the Soviet period, 1963 - 1991, was large plantation crops like sugar cane, bananas and pineapples. There was heavy use of industrial chemicals and the land was seriously depleted of nutrients. A hugh incentive program was put in place to encourage individual farming and to enrich the soil. So when Alex was coming of age jobs in agriculture were important. After graduation he went to Isla de la Juventud to teach agriculture at the college. He learned english and got a better job in the Ministry of Agriculture. His english led to him being at a Port of Entry. At 30 CUCs a month and about 15 for his wife, a teacher, they struggle to make ends meet. Alex fishes in his off time. He works at Los Morros 2 wks on/2 wks off. They have a teenage daughter and are saving to add a room to their house in Pinar del Rio in order to be a Casa Particular (Think Cuban B&B). Need I say how difficult this is, adding and furnishing a room and bath is near impossible for them but they are striving. - a lady Alex met has promised to send him $1,000. We, on the other hand, promised New Orleans music which he loves. Of course, I must wait to hear from a friend of his who is in Miami. Then I will send the Cds to the friend as there is no way for me to send anything into Cuba.

March 1 - 3
We had been waiting for favourable winds to round the 3 capes to the South. Cabo San Antonio, Punta Perpetua and Punta des Hollendes. This area is know for its tricky currents and confused seas as the coast of Cuba interacts with the Yucatan Channel. A 15 kt East wind was perfect for the 35 NM run to  our next anchorage at Maria La Gorda. Staying 1.5 miles offshore we rounded Punta El Cajon with very little current until we reached Cabo San Antonia and started our turn to the East. By the time we passed Punta Perpetua, we saw a 1 kt current against us. Seas picked up until we rounded Punta des Hollendes. Heading E across Bahia Corrienties to Maria La Gorda with only a 1/2 kt current from the NE  we hoisted sails for the 17 NM run across the bay arriving around 3pm. There were four mooring balls and we picked up one and secured the boat. The Guarda Frontera called us on VHF and met us ashore for a simple checkin. 
Note: mooring balls are at 21 49.23N, 84 30.40W.

Maria La Gorda is an international dive resort. It is quite busy and has an open restaurant and bar. There is also international telephone, internet and money exchange in the office. We listened from the boat as a Cuban band played the Saturday and Sunday nights we were there. Another sailboat going West picked up the mooring next to us and we exchanged information on our various ports of call. I snorkelled around the boat. The water is very clear and there are patches of coral with lots of fish. A thrill to be literally IN Cuban waters. To conserve water we swam and washed in the sea with just a little fresh water rinse. 

Nesim, the Turkish guy:
Nesim was single handing from Turkey via the Canary Islands then onto the Caribbean. He had headed to Cuba from Martinque. Engine problems had kept him in Juventud for nearly a month and several weeks in Cayo Campo prior to that. He was headed to Belize and Rio Dulce. His anchorage info on Cayo Campo was great as neither guide indicated the better anchorage near the Biological Station. Plus he allayed our fears of going up the river to Nuevo Gerona on Isla de la Juventud.

After checking out with the GF we headed towards our next stop at La Furnia, wanting to break the trip to Cayo de San Felipe into two shorter hops as the wind was dead ahead. We approached La Furnia on a course of 65T, and dropped anchor on the shelf in about 35ft of water at 21 54.64N, 84 02.77W, less than 1/4 m from shore. This is a rolly anchorage as the rollers round Cabo Francis and head North.

On his styrofoam "boat"
Cuban Fisherman 1: 
There is a small settlement off the beach and we saw the men come out in the evening with their styrofoam block "boats" and head into the sea to fish. We watched them through the evening as their small lanterns flickered. They fished through the night with nothing but hand lines for catching and their own feet for propulsion.The neumatico fisherman of Cuba, born out of necessity after the 1959 revolution. Originally they fished with hand lines in rubber inner tubes from cars and trucks drifting with the current. These men were the more “modern” version using a large slab of styrofoam and having room for more lines and a light. They fish to feed their families or maybe sell to a neighbour, the lucky ones have flippers. 

March 4
Mardi Gras! 

We rose early eager to get away from the rollers but our first task was to text Mardi Gras greetings via Sat phone to our New Orleans friends and family.  Coming on deck we were amazed to see some of the men still fishing. After raising the anchor we passed as close as was safe and handed over a bag filled with the last of our Mardi Gras beads, medicine, candy, t shirts, and fishing gear. Breakfast, of course, was King Cake. That night we found a safe anchorage on the northern side of Cayo San Felipe. Our plan of enjoying a few days of crystal clear waters, sandy beaches and snorkelling hit a snag when Chris Parker said the wind would switch to the SE making the Southern side of Cayo San Felipe untenable as an anchorage.

We dropped anchor at 21 57.58N, 83 39.32W. It was heavenly to have a calm night. We enjoyed a bottle of wine and some of the wahoo we'd traded our Turkish friend for. A beautiful sunset in this isolated spot capped a very good, if different, Mardi Gras day.

March 5

On the Rio Las Casas - Cubans are friendly people!

A good night's sleep and mild East winds. We’ll easily make the 45NM to Nueva Gerona today. There’s a front on the way but we should make the river entrance before it gets here. Nueva Gerona is the capital of Isla de la Juventud. Columbas landed on this island during his second voyage in 1494. The island had it share of pirates and inspired both "Treasure Island" and "Peter Pan". This island, once called Isle of Pines, was a prison island going back centuries. In the 1930s a model prison was built here housing mainly political prisoners. Fidel, Raul Castro and their compatriots were held here after their defeat July 26, 1953 at the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. They were released in 1955. After the 1959 revolution Fidel had the island renamed and young people from all over the island came as part of their community service to work in the farming ventures. The island had always held a large population of Asian farmers and was considered the bread basket of Cuba for awhile. It still houses the Agricultural College and many farms as well as an impressive marble quarry.
Barracuda anyone?

We arrived at the entrance buoy to Rio Las Casas around 3pm and passed 3 neumatica fishermen in the traditional inner tube. One held up a huge Barracuda, offering it for sale or just showing us his catch, we weren't sure. 

It is an easy entrance. We motored the   1 1/2 miles past docks and industry to the city port. The dock and port authority are within a gated and guarded fenced area with many security guards around. There is no fuel, electricity or potable water at the dock but its free. As we've come to expect, the authorities were courteous, friendly and helpful. American sodas were appreciated - we had cokes and sprite onboard from Mexico.

Main Boulevard is a pedestrian Mall
March 6
Roy's birthday! It was fun, the guards had been told
Buying Mangoes - they take pesos

and all wished him a Happy Birthday whenever they saw him. One even sang it! We walked the few blocks to the central Boulevard and square, perused the vegetable markets, had ice cream. We were pleasantly surprised at the produce. There are many small markets where local produce is sold for ridiculously low prices. 

These are paid in Pesos; the private market and grocery stores require CUCs. Soft serve ice cream is available for 3 pesos about .12US.  Eating street food, one of our favorite things to do, gave us three 4" poboy type pork sandwiches and four 4oz drinks with 2 sweets for the equivalent of .80 cents.

The guards recommended a restaurant on the Boulevard for the birthday dinner and even though the front had brought rain we had a fine time. The bici-taxi tried to keep us dry.

He doesn't look any older - 
There's a horse in front of the jerry cans
Nueva Gerona is prosperous (by Cuban standards). Most streets have a mixture of private homes and apartments of concrete construction. The homes are right next to each other each with either a landscaping or a concrete fence. We also saw apartments that were either old colonnaded colonial buildings that had been divided or 3-plus story concrete block buildings of Soviet style. Interestingly nearly everything had bars on the windows, even the high apartments. Yet we've heard and experienced Cuba as a very safe country. One thing was always obvious: everyone's love of their country and their pleasure at welcoming us as visitors. Always we were told that the people were more important than the government and there is no problem between the people of the USA and Cuba. They say we are family!

The next day we decided to replenish our fuel tanks. A horse drawn taxi solved the problem of getting 6 fuel cans to the service station and back.

Bici-taxis, Horse-Taxis, Classic cars they all share the streets

To complete our use of all 3 types of taxis we hired a car taxi to take us to the Model Prison Museum, this was very interesting plus we saw some of the countryside including a tourist beach on the NE side of the island.
Carlos, his car and the Model Prison
Carlos: his story. 
The car taxi driver was Carlos and his car was a 1940 English Ford Anglia with a 1965 Opel engine. Carlos had worked 20 years on a freighter, saved some money and bought this car for $5,000 US dollars. Anyone in the tourism market makes better than average money but taxi drivers and owners of Casa Particulars do the best. He was a great guide. His grandfather was a guard at the prison so he was very knowledgable. When he took us to the side of the island that faced the Caribbean and sat down for drinks we learned, for the first time, how much better things were under the Soviets, more and better food and clothing. But he also talked of the downside. Cubans were treated as children and never learned to stand on their own two feet until it was too late. Later he took us to meet his young wife and son. He tried to find us limes for my G&T. The lime search was unsuccessful but he did find us breadfruit and since we still had limes but no breadfruit we were quite happy with the results of our search. After paying him we wanted to do more so we walked back to the square with “ presents”, an outfit for his 2 yr old son, an Astros T shirt for him, soap and lotion for his wife plus some candy, Victoria Inn pens and pads. 

A picture in the museum shows Fidel and the 1953 revolutionaries being released from the prison on the left and on the right after the 1959 successful revolution at a conference on the Isla de la Juventud after he changed the name of the island.

March 9 - 11
On to Cayo Campo. Once out of the river and through the Pasa de Quitasol  the waters of Golfo de Batebano turned the brilliant turquoise blue we'd been waiting for. We headed SE along the Archipelago de Los Canarreos toward our entrance waypoint of 21 36.50N, 82 18.40W. This would take us to the channel between Cayo Campo and Cayo Hicacos. We were able to raise a sail for those last 20 Miles. Approaching the Pasa Hicacos we passed our first fish station. We rounded the Cayo to anchor in front of the Biological Station and found 4 other boats at anchor! Three French boats going West, they left later that evening, and a large boat that takes tourist from Havana for catch and release fishing that left the next morning.

WAHOO and a monkey at Cayo Campo
Cayo Campo is lovely. As beautiful as anything we've seen in Belize or the Bahamas. The clarity and colors of the waters alone would make this a spectacular anchorage. But we must add to the pleasures of this spot by saying that the snorkeling near the reef was fine and the hospitality of the 3-man Biological Station Staff made this a real treat. We dinghyed ashore to say hello and see the Korean monkeys that live on the Cayo. We brought with us some rum as a treat to these men who spend 30 days out here to care for the nature preserve. However, we were the ones treated as they immediately cooked us a mouth watering lunch of pork, fresh lobster, cucumber salad and rice and beans.

Cayo Campo Korean Monkey

Biological Station - see the pigs?

Lunch is being prepared with a little help from the residents

Thanks guys!
There was much visiting back and forth. The monkeys were a treat. They are very tame. All we could find out is that sometime in the past they were brought to Cuba for experiments and now live on these islands with the Biological staff to care for them, the pigs, iguanas and jutias that live here. There are two types of monkeys and they each have there own separate islands. Guess they don’t get along.

So the meal was payment for the rum. Then I felt compelled to bake them a loaf of bread and give them that and butter. They said they needed batteries which we had plenty of and we offered a knife as their’s was in sad shape. They retaliated with more lobster. It was probably good that we had to leave or all the contents of WAHOO would have soon been ashore, replaced with lobster, pork and fish. 

Time to leave and the guys are going to lead us through the reef pass on the Southern side of Cayo Campo. Going through the reef is not on any chart. It will save us 3 days of Easting and we'll be in Cayo Largo tonight. That would be good as there's a Cold Front with pre-frontal squalls due here tomorrow, late afternoon.

Ok, it didn't work and we were aground with a falling tide. But one of the ferro cement fishing boats came and pulled us off. Who says you can't call "Onstar" when in Cuba...

9:40am and we're outside of the reef. I don't suggest this course to anyone in a keel boat. We were lucky and it's not good to use up your luck when sailing.
But we made it to Cayo Largo before the front!

Marina Bar and Restaurant 
March 12
We arrived Cayo Largo yesterday around 5:30pm. As you come across the reef the depths change rapidly from thousands of feet to hundreds to fifties and then twenties. Makes you catch your breath when you don’t have a reliable depth sounder.
Gotta make the lines tidy
This is a very fancy place with floating docks, a restaurant, bar and disco. There are even shops selling souvenirs. Should you need provisions they can be ordered for next day delivery. The marina is expensive by any standards at .80 CUC per ft per day including irractic electricity and nonpotable water. We did take advantage of their laundry service; we seriously needed some clean clothes. (More than I wanted to do in a bucket). This a a big dive and fishing operation. There are hotels about 12 miles away and a shuttle bus runs back and forth. It really is a pretty place and once again the port captains and staff are very helpful.

It seems all the boats that sail Cuba's Southern shore stop here so there's no telling who you'll meet. We met friends of Sebastien and Lily on Trinidad ll and made new friends with US boat from SC. There was plenty of information trading over drinks onboard and ashore.

March 13 - 14
WAHOO at Anchor

There's an anchorage nearby. After two nights in the marina, considering our budget concerns, we moved to the anchorage. Just as getting in was tricky so was getting out. I won't say more. It was a squally day as a cold front was over the NW Caribbean bringing stronger than normal NE winds and rains from Eastern Cuba down to the Bay Islands of Honduras. The anchorage was fine and we spent the day reading, baking and passage planning.

March 15-16
Windy conditions and another stronger front was pushing into the NW Caribbean by Sunday making us re-examine our carefully laid plans. Chris Parker's recommendation was to sit tight until milder weather prevailed Tuesday and Wednesday. However, we thought there was a good, if short, weather window later today (Friday) into tomorrow. We rashly decided to push through and make the 80NM passage to Cienfuegos in one long overnight. Leaving the anchorage by 5pm Saturday we could make the reef pass by sunset than continue motoring slowly in order to not make Cienfuegos before full light around 8am. We thought we would have light NE winds and calm seas until the front came in on Sunday. We buddy boated with  Trinidad II. Ha Ha, best to not fool around with Mother Nature!

By 8pm the winds picked up with gusts around 30kts from the NE to the SE and back making for very rough and confused seas. The radar was showing squalls to the SE. The wind and seas stayed up making our easy 80M passage more of a nightmare. Our buddy boat was having problems with his autopilot, seas were 6-7 ft and we were praying neither boat would develop engine problems. As they have a habit of doing, the night finally ended and soon after dawn the winds started dying down. But the rough seas and high winds had slowed us, often to barely 2 kts. We made it into Cienfuegos around 1pm. The trip took 50% more time than expected but we were all safe and, as the marina was full, happy to drop anchor at 22 07.52N, 80 27.27W. Roy and Rolando from Trinidad II went ashore to check us in with the Guarda. Once all that was done how wonderful a shower and falling into bed felt.

Cuban fishermen 2: 
Up from the neumaticas are the men who have small row boats or, lucky them, a small outboard engine. Depending on where they live they will fish for their families but also for the fish stations that dot the Southern Coast. They may fish for lobster using traps or just have hand lines but even if all they can do is row they are much better off than the men who have only their feet for propulsion.

Placing lobster traps

March 18-21
The Cienfuegos marina has a little of everything including fuel and yellowish but potable water.  Thankfully we were fine for the moment. We had cut our water consumption in 1/2, down to about 5 gal per day. 

There is a bar that sometimes serves food, a simple ship chandler and lots of security. Cienfuegos is one of the larger Cuban cities and its "downtown" is lovely. Many old colonial buildings are in good shape. The main square has a cathedral, art galleries, museums and the amazing Thomas Terry Theater. Built in 1886, it is a guilded marvel, filled with murals and still operating as a theatre. Sugar made for great wealth and Cienfuegos prospered during the centuries when sugar ruled. Beautiful town homes line the broad boulevards.

Many small restaurants gave me the idea that the early Paladars have morphed into privately owned small restaurants. We saw lots of Casa Particulars both in Punta Gorda, near the marina, and in the city itself. With a beach nearby and the delights of the city, tourism is alive and well in Cienfuegos. While there we saw two cruise ships dock at the downtown port. One was a lovely cruising clipper the other a small cruise ship that does weekly cruises from Havana that also include a stop in Jamaica.  

Inside the Thomas Terry theatre you can still see the luxury that sugar could buy

Cruise on a Clipper

It's a 30 minute  walk from the marina into town. You can take a car or bici-taxi. We walked as after days on the 
Cienfuegos Yacht Club
boat stretching our legs felt good and the walk is mostly along the Melacon. There are grocery stores with the usual limited assortment plus a wonderful fresh market that sells fruits and vegetables and some meats. We heard of a seafood market near the marina but as our freezer is stuffed with seafood we gave it a pass. Right next to the marina is the Cienfuegos Yacht Club, WOW! Who belongs to this? It is beautiful with a great swimming pool and a bar and restaurant. It looks great and was very busy on the day we visited for drinks. Next to that is a beautiful colonial hotel. Again we had drinks but not dinner. Hmmm, seems a trend.

Our 30 day visas were going to run out in 10 days so we needed to extend them. The visa extension gave us our interaction with Cuban officials who were NOT tourism oriented and it wasn't fun. We had to go downtown to the city Immigration office. The office was filled with people standing, sitting and walking around - there seemed no line, no information, no one to ask what to do. Eventually Roy got the attention of a lady in uniform and explained what we needed and we were brought into the room where Roy was immediately told he couldn't be there in shorts. Now Roy looked very nice; he had on dressy shorts, a collar shirt and deck shoes. We took exception - We were not scruffy boat folks! After some polite back and forth the lady official did take our passports to start the process. Immediately it was obvious we had come unprepared for she asked for our insurance. We assumed she meant the ones we'd bought in Los Morros. When we said they were back on the boat she said come back tomorrow in long pants (to Roy, my short skirt and hers didn't matter). She also asked about our stamps and said to get them from the bank. Stamps are how you pay and you get them from the bank! Who knew.

The Immigration Office

We returned at 9 the next day, waited until 12:30 when we were told the office would close for lunch and reopen at 2:20pm. Frustrated but resigned we left to get some lunch. (Ended at a tiny restaurant who's owner was a HUGE fan of classic rock n roll, posters and album covers of all the great bands covered the walls-had a fine shrimp filled lunch). We walked back around 2 and noticed the doors were open. So we went in to learn that the line had shuffled and we were no longer next ( never did learn about the 2:20 reopening!!?) When our turn came we handed over the insurance policies assuming they would be extended along with the visa. Understand that both times when we arrived in Cuba insurance was handled along with all the clearing in paperwork. We told her we understood about the insurance needing to be extended also. Then we realized what she was saying was that we had to go elsewhere for the policy. It's now 3:30 and our meager Spainish has begun to break down. We are not at all sure where we are instructed to go but grasping at straws we hire a bici-taxi and show him the address on the policy. He takes us and sure enough Roy sees the sign for Essen, the company that sells the insurance. Inside they seem totally befuddled about our needs and ask lots of questions, stare at their computer screen, ask more questions, But somehow the issues got sorted out. Luckily our taxi had waited and we were soon back at Immigration and once more at the back of the line. But by 5:30 we had our visa extensions and were on our way back to the boat for several stiff drinks.

Cienfuegos Market
A Moment-
As we sat in the bicycle taxi making our way through the streets of Cienfuegos, somehow after all we were going through, I sat back and relaxed. Then I realized our driver was playing Chopin on his radio! I listened and looked around breathing in the sights, sounds and smells of this foreign city. This was the moment, the reason we travel, the delight of things I have never seen and will probably never see again.

Our taxi outside the Casa Particular, Trinidad

Seems our funds can stretch to a little overnight trip to Trinidad. Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba are the two oldest towns in the new world. They were founded in 1514, not that long after Columbus first set foot here. We contacted Candido, a nattily dressed bicycling agent who has found his nitch arranging the cruisers' trips inland. He arranged for a taxi to take us to and from Trinidad plus a Casa Particular for us to stay in. Great experience! 

This is a well preserved colonial city that is also a World Heritage Site, it has been a tourist destination for a very long time. We enjoyed walking the narrow streets, visiting museums that had been governors' houses and sitting in the cafes listening to traditional Cuban music. It was also interesting to hear how our Casa Particular worked. The house, part of a row house dated from the early 1700’s. It had been made into smaller private homes in the 19th century to accommodate the wealthy sugar planters who wanted a town home. After the 1959 revolution the father of the couple running the CP bought the house under Castro’s plan for private ownership. This couple is renting from his father, something that was outlawed in the early days of the revolution when it wasn’t allowed to own more than one property. They have two rooms that they rent, each with private bath. The rooms rent for 15 CUCs a night. 

Contrast that with my next story.

Maryelvis: her story. 
We met Maryelvis in our search for a map of Trinidad. She sits in a very modern building (mall) with an atrium and fancy shops. She works for Cubacan, the government tourism agency selling tours in and around Trinidad. Maryelvis speaks perfect English so we took advantage and sat to hear all about everyday life. Here’s what we learned. She is originally from Havana and went to school to become an English teacher but during the year that she would teach and give back to the state prior to being certified she was sent far from home. It was a difficult assignment and on top of that her father was diagnosed with cancer. She gave up and went home to help nurse him. During this time she got a job in tourism. First in a hotel, eventually with her language skills as concierge and now with the tourist agency. She makes about 15 CUCs a month plus tips. Her job brought her to Trinidad. Her husband is a musician, a bass player. Because they are not from Trinidad he doesn’t get the best gigs where the tips are high. Nine years ago she became pregnant and they decided they needed their own home so they bought a “garage” from a friend and started turning it in to a place to live. They are still at it - concrete costs $6 CUCs a sack. Her husband does all the work himself. Electricity costs them 8 CUCs a month. They don’t yet have running water in the house but can use the friends bathroom and get water there. We talked about the food allowance each Cuban gets. What I mostly remember is that it's very meagre. Children get breakfast, lunch and a snack in school so that helps. She works in a place where it's frowned on for Cubans to shop and they can’t afford anything anyway. Surrounded by luxury she can’t even buy her son a ice cream there. 

During the conversation she talked about scarcity. Right now there’s no deodorant for any amount of money. She said at least under the Soviets everyone had what they needed, it was ugly but everyone had the same things so it didn't matter. 

We had brought nothing much to hand out in Trinidad. All we had with us were a few things I intended to give our taxi driver. But in going over what we did have we realised our  travel kit was well stocked with allergy medicine, aspirin and antibiotics. So we packaged those plus some extra soap and our deodorants and a colouring book, crayons and a t shirt for her son. When we presented them she came near tears. Seems her son has asthma and there hasn’t been any allergy medicine at the clinic. It was hard to part as we knew there was no way we would ever be in contact again and Maryelvis had touched us in a very special way. This is when we realised that Cuba can break your heart.

March 22
"On the road again, just can't wait to be on the road again". By 8:30am we’re on our way to Casilda and the Marina Cayo Blanco about 40NM East.  Casilda is the port for Trinidad it's where Cortez departed from when he left to conquer Mexico. We are constantly in awe of these places and connections with the great New World explorers we read about in our history books. 
Cobbled streets in Trinidad

As usual we were dead into the wind. The Golfo de Calzones has a long fetch and seas build quickly but around 3pm the wind started to die. We motored along and reached our turn into Bahia de Casilda around 4pm. We continued through the ship channel until we reached the iffy portion of the trip. There we dropped anchor to wait until morning before trying the final approach. It was a lovely quiet evening. Cocktails, a swim  with a fresh water rinse, grilled fish and coconut rice for dinner all while watching a perfect sunset to the West and Trinidad rising up the hills to our East.

March 23-24
We are very tired of running aground! We decided to take the IPad in the dingy and a sounding line to sound the entrance to the marina. The INavix program on the IPad was set to leave a track and we added waypoints on our way back from the marina to WAHOO. Back aboard, the waypoints were added to both MacEnc on the laptop and our Raymarine chart plotter (whose charts are not as good as those on either the laptop or the iPad). We followed our waypoints at dead slow and made it in without a hitch.

Waypoints to Marina Cayo Blanco
21 42.04N 79 58.78W Ship Channel Entrance
21 42.01N 79 57.39W
21 43.41N 79 57.40W
21 44.40N 79 59.15W leaving Ship Channel initial approach to marina
21 44.63N 79 59.55W our anchorage
21 44.44N 79 59.62W red marker leave marker 50 ft to starboard
21 44.37N 79 59.62W
21 44.33N 79 59.61W leave green marker 30 ft to port
21 44.30N 79 59.57W moving towards left of channel to make turn
21 44.29N 79 59.58W stay center of channel
21 44.24 N 79 59.62W  lagoon has 8 ft

How wonderful to be in a place with both good electricity and good water at the boat! We had no idea how GREAT this would feel to us. Everything we thought would happen in Cienfuegos was here. Long showers, AC to sleep, laundry, fuel and water all with smiling Guarda and Port Captain. The fuel is "black market", you get it in jerry cans from the security guard at the gate. The water is clean and clear, I hear it comes from the mountains around us. Both of these are why we didn't even try to manoeuvre to the fuel dock in Cienfuegos. Plus the guard who arranged for our laundry and fuel brought us some fresh vegetables. These were really appreciated as in the hassle and days spent getting our extension I had forgotten to go back to the market for veggies. I don't think we'll see another market until Santiago de Cuba.

Today I'm using the pressure cooker to get both red and black beans in the freezer, Roy is once again working on the depth sounder. Tomorrow we're off to the Jardines de la Reina - and the answer to my most pressing question of the trip. Will there be wild flamingoes at Cayo Maches de Fuera?!!

March 25

Cayo Maches de Fuera is 25 NM SE of the marina in Casilda. We arrived around 1pm. This is a pretty Cayo with a sand beach, a coral reef for snorkelling as well as many coral patches to either run aground on or snorkel over. No flamingoes! Well maybe that was a few we saw flying in at dusk but certainly not the 100s Nigel Calder describes in his guide. 

Later that evening the wind whipped up from the NE verging S and E, eventually we were in gusts of nearly 30 kts. We spent the night on anchor watch and were glad for the protection offered by the surrounding reef as it kept the wave action down.

 Jutias are nocturnal and usually very shy. This little guy knows that cruisers visit during the day. He doesn't even mind sharing with an iguana or two!

Unusual corals didn't make up for the lack of flamingoes

March 26-28
Listening to Chris Parker we knew we were in for 3-4 more days of high winds as a low in the GOMEX was sucking all the air out of the NW Carribean and until it moved on we were looking at SE winds in excess of 20-25 kts with higher gusts. The question was "do we stay or do we go". There was much better protection without coral reefs 18miles SE at Cayo Zaza de Fuera but our anchor was holding and it would be rough getting there as we would be facing wind and seas on the nose. We had just decided to stay when the wind settled down for its midday nap. We had noticed that contrary to everything we had read, on most days there was a lull from around noon-1 until mid-late afternoon. We decided to chance it, at least the current conditions allowed us to extricate ourselves from the surrounding reefs in relatively light wind. So up anchor and away we went. We actually had about an hour of nice weather and were sailing with the genoa jib in a 15 kt NE wind when the wind switched again to the SE and went to 22kts, once again we were motoring into wind and seas.

Coming into Cayo Zaza we saw we wouldn't be alone in seeking protection in the sheltering lagoon. Tata, a Cayman catamaran we had met in Marina Cayo Blanco was there as well as one of the ferro cement fishing boats and another cat with a lovely German couple aboard. This really was a good anchorage. Even though the wind blew we felt very secure.

Even before we were completely anchored the fishermen came offering us fish and lobster. Roy dingyed over and a deal was struck. We even got 5 gals of diesel in the bargain. After saying hello to Tata and meeting Andie and Petra on Bonafide we settled in to an evening of drinks, dinner and "TV" watching.  During the night we kept an eye on the anchor but had a relatively peaceful night. It wasn't until about 10am that things went awry. All of a sudden we were drifting, the anchor had slipped! Three tries and we were getting frazzled as we couldn't get it to bite. We carry two anchors. Our main anchor is a Fortress and has 150 ft of chain and 150 ft of braided nylon line. It holds best in sand and sand over coral. We were anchored with our Claw anchor as holding here was turtle grass, mud and sand, same as Maches de Fuera. This anchor is better under these conditions than the Fortress. It has 50 ft of chain and 150 ft of line.

After so many unsuccessful attempts Roy was getting increasingly anxious and I was not much help. The captain of the fishing boat hailed us and indicated he was coming over to help. He rowed over, climbed aboard and directed us to the inner lagoon. In addition he called a crewman  who swam over and dived down to push the anchor down into the mud as we backed. Roy then also put down our fortress for more holding. We were so very grateful for the help and now were secure again. Roy tried to pay the Captain but he smilingly let us know that his help was offered in friendship not for pay.  We did get him to accept a couple of bottles of rum and when he eyed one of our gas cans Roy gave it to him. Later he handed me 5 tomatoes and two more lobsters.

This has never happened in our five years of sailing WAHOO. Anchor issues make you miserable. We will rethink the Claw though it's always worked before. For starters we will add more chain as soon as we can.

The rest of our stay at Zaza was thankfully uneventful. We enjoyed the company of Andie and Petra, the Germans from Bonafide, as well as the fishermen until Friday came and better weather prevailed.

Ferro Cement Fishing Boat

Cuban Fishermen 3
Our friends at Cayo Zaza and also the men who pulled us off the sand shoal in Cayo Campo are fishermen who go out for 10 days on and 5 days off in 50 ft ferro cement boats. The boats are state owned and the Captain and 3 men crew work for a salary and a percentage of the catch. The catch is state owned. All lobster goes to the state run tourist hotels and restaurants. No lobster ever make it into the local markets. Occasionally fish make it into the markets but they are expensive and few Cubans get to eat fish.  The fishermen are not supposed to mingle with foreigners and so don't want pictures taken. As throughout Cuba the black market is alive and well. We never saw a fisherman who didn't offer fish and lobster. It's usually a trade for something they need.

Living conditions aboard are adequate but sparse with bunks being in a forward cabin with little personal space. An extremely basic head connects to the bunk room. Topside is a hand pump with potable water and a simple galley but no refrigeration. The engine room is impressive, the one we saw had a 185hp Yanmar Diesel engine. There is an ice hold for fish and an interesting hold for the lobster midship. The lobster hold is water tight all around but the bottom has a grid of two inch holes spaced 6 inches apart allowing a natural salt water well. The lobster are still in cages in the constantly refreshed salt water hold.

March 28
Under clear sky's with 15 kts of wind out of the NE we finally were able to continue and we motor sailed SE to Cayo Breton, the most westerly island in the Jardines de la Reina. Avoiding sand shoals and coral patches without a working depth sounder is no fun. But going slow, watching the charted depths and me on bow watch got us safely to our anchorage. Would the wind stay NE or switch to SE had us wondering whether to anchor on the South or North of Cayo Breton. We opted for the North thinking swells from the Caribbean might make the Southern anchorage rolly.

Our plan had been to spend several days enjoying some sandy beaches and snorkelling along this beautiful archipelago. But we were now feeling the pull of Jamaica and wanting to move on. We reviewed our options and the coming weather pattern. There were several benign days ahead of us that would have been perfect for staying in the Jardines de las Reina but as benign weather is often followed by something else we would probably have to take the tortuous inner route through Canal Pinque and Juan Surez over to Manzinello and down to Cabo Cruz. This could take as long as 6 days. We had been prepared to do this but now were rethinking the plan. If we took advantage of the weather we could sail down the archipelago and jump directly over to Cabo Cruz.

March 29
We're going direct. So a pleasant day of motoring on the North side of the islands brought us 37 NM to a pretty anchorage off of Cayo Anclitas in Canal Caballones. There's a floating hotel in the nearby lagoon that specializes in fly fishing. We saw the small boats zipping around with white clad sport fishermen. Later in the evening a motor yacht from Cayman anchored nearby. We had a swim in the crystal clear waters but didn't venture far as the current was very strong.

March 30-April 1
We got an early start in under 10 kt West winds to continue to our next and last stop on the Caribbean side, Southern side, of the Jardines de la Reina. Our next anchorage is off the beach in front of another hotel. We will only have NE protection so we're hoping the prediction of NE winds will prove correct.

To quote Capt Ron,  "if it's gonna happen it’s gonna happen out there"." We had been motor sailing SE along the 35 miles to our next anchorage helped along by a light wind from the NW. Nigel Calder's guide said you could anchor in 2 meters of good holding sand. As we approached our depth sounder had again decided to take a holiday so I was watching the bottom and when it looked about 3 meters Roy used our sounding line prior to dropping the anchor. Neither of us felt good as there really was no protection and we would have to count on a wind shift to the NE and light winds. Seemed a bad way to spend the night as we could end up on the beach if the wind went South and the anchor dragged. Of course the Fortress, our anchor for sand, had never dragged so expecting sand we dropped it only to find we were on a thin layer of sand over coral. We looked at each other and both said let's just sail on. So up came the anchor and we headed to Cabo Cruz about 60 NM to our SE. We figured we shouldn't get there before dawn as the anchorage was next to a breaking reef with scattered coral heads. We didn't want to be fumbling around in the dark with no depth sounder.

Approaching Cabo Cruz, lighthouse in the distance

It was now only 3pm. It meant not doing more than 3kts an hour, a strange problem. We turned off the engine and reefed the jib. As the wind strengthened to 22 kts and the waves to 5-6 ft Roy sailed out making for a point that would allow a long down wind sail straight to our entrance waypoint. By 11pm when we could turn the boat for our downwind run Roy was ready for a break and I sat at the helm for a couple of hours. The downwind plan worked so well that about 2am we decided to do the 15 min timer thing, where you snooze until the timer goes off than check that all is well set the timer and snooze some more . We did that until 5am when we sighted the Cabo Cruz lighthouse and I roused to make coffee and tea. By 7:30am we were dropping the anchor in a real sand anchorage. We had managed to take 16 hrs to go 60 NM.

As I was stretching out for a nap I heard Roy talking to someone. Odd, I hadn't heard a boat come up. Looking out, there was a swimmer in the water asking if we wanted lobster, fish, eggs, tomatoes, limes…

Amazing! We were easily 1/4 mile from shore. He would have had to swim back and then return with our order! But it gets even more amazing. When Roy said we didn't need anything there was some other conversation. Then he asked if we had any extra flippers. Seems his were broken. He showed Roy. He had swum out here with flippers that just flopped back and forth! We do carry extra snorkelling gear for guests. This looked like an emergency so Roy handed over one of our two extra pairs. He was so grateful. He put them on and stowed the broken  pair on a line around his waist. On this line was a small bag with 4 lobster tails. He insisted that Roy take these as payment for the flippers. Obviously he didn't think this was payment enough as a few hours later he swam back with 3 conchs. Then we watched him swim back home! 

Cuban Fishermen 4: 
Add a swimmer with just mask, snorkel, flippers and a small bag tied around his waist to the types of fishermen in Cuba.


Cabo Cruz hangs on the Western tip of the Eastern landmass. The Sierre Maestre mountains are to its East. Las Colorados, the beach where Castro, Che and the revolutionaries landed in 1959 is to its North. South and West is the sea. This tiny fishing settlement has a wonderful masonry lighthouse, fishing dock, one street of residences and a school. We couldn't go ashore because of Cuba's rule about foreign boats only landing where there's a Guarda. But we saw quite a bit by dingy. Everyone ashore waved and we waved back. Cabo Cruz is protected by an impressive bluff and a mile long constantly breaking reef that extends Westward into the waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Cabo Cruz Lighthouse

April 2
We were on the move East by 6:30am to avoid the higher SE winds that seem to develop in the afternoon and evening. This coast is dramatic with the mountains rising right from the shore. After a start with 28kts of NE wind things quickly settled down to 12 kts and below. The sea gave us 2-3 ft swells with long intervals from the SE. The 35M day proved to be an easy motoring day and we arrived in Marea del Portillo by 1:30pm. The anchorage is both well protected and dramatic. All day we had been about 1 mile offshore of rocky cliffs and now we were anchored with the Sierre Maestra as our backdrop.

Marea del Portillo is a small rural settlement. The Guarda rowed to the boat to
clear us in (and out, he was’t too kean on coming back for a 5am departure). We went ashore at the public beach and were immediately taken into a home where onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and eggs were offered. We really didn't need anything but knew they wouldn't take anything from us except as payment for goods given. So in exchange for a few onions, a pepper, 3 cucumbers, a bottle of homemade honey we handed over two pairs of shorts, 4 T shirts, fishing line, hooks, and two flashlights with extra batteries. They then gave us 4 green mangoes. Everyone ended happy.


After our transactions we dinghyed over to the West side of the bay to see the resorts. Our two cruising guides both indicated you could get drinks and even eat at the buffet. Seems things had changed. This very impressive hotel was now an all inclusive resort. We were just as happy to walk around and see this lovely resort filled with vacationers escaping colder climates. The two sides of this bay are a stark example of the Cuban economy. On one side, a small rural settlement that hadn't changed in decades where people fished and farmed for their living. The other side, a beautifully landscaped luxury resort where Cubans aren't allowed except as staff. 

Tomorrow it's 50NM to Chivirico with its extremely difficult entrance.

April 3
Morro Castle guards the entrance at Santiago de Cuba

Its 4am and we've decided to forego Chivrico and go all the way to Santiago de Cuba. It's about a 75NM run, nothing we haven't done before. We are afraid of Chivrico especially with our depth sounder problem. 

Chris Parker says we should do fine until late in the afternoon. There's something coming through the Windward Passage that will bring high winds and squalls late afternoon. We don't know how late but figure we can be in Santiago by 4:30 or 5. Hopefully, the front will be later than that. We entertain ourselves trying to pinpoint when late afternoon becomes early evening.

Late afternoon must be 3pm as that's when the wind picked up. Throughout the day we'd seen wind shifts from NE to E. Sometimes as high as 18kts than falling to under 10. The SE swell would also vary from about 3ft to as much as 8ft but once 3pm came the winds and seas stayed high, gusting to 28kts out of the SE giving us a nasty beat. Felt like forever but 5:30 saw us entering the harbor under the looming Morro Castle fortress.
The marina at Santiago was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. There are only 2 working piers with slips alongside. Repairs are ongoing. We got the front half of WAHOO tied up but had to wait until morning and another boat's departure to get a full berth. Our front half allowed the clearing-in process which was more rigorous than we'd seen at Los Morros. We even got the drug sniffing cocker spaniel. The doctor inspection is always a treat and this time was no exception. He asked if we had beer and when we handed him one asked for another for his wife. Both went into his black bag for later. Everyone is very proud of Cuba's medical profession but the truth is that there are in dire need of everyday supplies like antibiotics and bandages. Doctors at the state clinics get meagre  pay like everyone else and like everyone else must hustle to make enough to live. You can easily get a world class hip replacement but don’t need antibiotics or allergy meds!

April 4-5
The Virgin de la Caridad, patron saint of Cuba

The Basilica of El Cobre

After getting the boat secured we hired a taxi to take us to El Cobre. This is the area of the copper mines. We wanted to visit the Basilica de Nuestro SeƱora de la Caridad del Cobre. The home of the, patron saint of Cuba. La Virgen de la Caridad. People all over Cuba pray to her and many make a pilgrimage going up the 254 steps on their knees and bringing offerings to either ask for or thank her for her protection.

After having his fisherman pray to Virgin to allow him to land his marlin in the “Old Man and the Sea", Hemingway donated his Nobel medal; we brought yellow sunflowers.

On our return to the marina we were being told stories about the virgin by the Dockmaster when someone else came up and asked a favor. The marina flag poles were going back up with flags from all the countries that visit the marina. They asked if we had any flags to donate - we quickly took down our US ensign that flies from WAHOO's stern and did our part for Cuban-American relations. It is smaller but flying proudly amidst the other countries. Everyone in the marina cheered as the stars and bars were raised!

The stars and bars flying proudly

Saturday we had arranged for a taxi to take us to the historic section of town, Plaza Cespedes. I had guitar strings from John Edward so was looking for local musicians. We had heard guitar strings were difficult to come by. But first we started out at the house of Velasquez, founder and first governor of Santiago de Cuba in 1514. Velasquez was the first governor; DeSoto was the first mayor! What a great experience. The curator of the museum showed us around. He was a first rate historian who had, as a student, helped with the early efforts to restore the house, 30 years ago . When his professor retired he moved into the curator position. His love and knowledge was very much in evidence as was his desire for us to make a personal contribution to the restoration fund. He very openly stated that while ticket prices went to Havana any gift for the tour went into the restoration fund. Did we take him at his word because he seemed so earnest or because he was obviously a friend of John Cleary, acquaintance and New Orleans piano player? Did it matter? The house was started 1519. It has an open courtyard in the center. Of course, it reminded us of New Orleans. 

After a delightful hour we tipped and headed into the square to look around. We were immediately hailed by the Customs officer from the marina(or at least he seemed to be that) who led us to a wonderful bar which served great mohitos. He told us of a good spot to see local musicians and also to watch the hand rolling of Cuban cigars. He also offered to get us cigars and 15 year old Cuban rum for a fraction of the going rate. Hmmm, we'd heard lots about the so called underground for less than authentic cigars but the rum? We don't smoke so it was easy to turn down the cigars but $20 for 15 year old rum seemed worth the risk. Money changed hands. Is this the first or second hustle of the day or neither. It's Cuba, who knows. 

The making of a Cuban cigar. Hand rolled, placed and pressed.


Another hour slipped by at the bar before we wandered out to go and look for the musician and the guy rolling cigars only to discover that we had neglected to bring enough money with us. A round trip taxi ride back to the boat followed. After our return we are searching for the Cafe Isabella and amazingly found it. Sure enough this was a local spot offering Cuban coffee and beer. There was a guy rolling cigars in one corner and a classical Cuban music trio performing in another. After snapping pictures of the roller we declined a purchase but offered a tip and went over to the trio. At the next break I put some of the guitar string packages on the table. This was a huge hit and we enjoyed our beverages while sitting and listening to this wonderful husband, wife and sister trio. Soon we were also being asked to come to dinner at their house tomorrow night!

Would we buy their CD and their video for 10 CUC a piece See what I mean? It's a hustle and we're not too good at this sort of thing. But we buy the CD and the Video,  agree to dinner where we will bring some lobster for them plus wine for dinner. No problem. Even though we understand less then 1/2 that's being said we're having a good time. He'll pick us up at the boat at 5pm. But do we have any extra aspirin, oh and maybe something for the stomach, Tums maybe? At least I think that's what I'm being asked for. We exchange contact information and soon are on our way. After we leave I'm not so sure, just what have we agreed to. 

Enrique and Mariella

Horse and Cart in Cuban streets are a normal thing
We're now looking for a street scene with musicians and food vendors but having no luck. It's very obvious that we don't know where to go and so are easy pickings for our next adventure. We're being offered a taxi ride and while we turn it down Roy asks if the guy knows where we will find such a place. The driver speaks no English and Roy's Spanish is getting us nowhere when a guy walking down the sidewalk speaks in English asking what we are looking for. Roy explains and the English speaker says that's happening in a different part of town. He and the taxi driver confer and soon all four of us are in the taxi. After about 15 minutes we do come to an area that is obviously being set up for some type of fair. There are all the things we asked about but this isn't a street scene and the music we're hearing is more disco then traditional Cuban music. It's all set up around this big concrete square. Not what we had pictured and I really felt uncomfortable. Back in the cab to our original square where the driver is asking for $6 each way and the English speaker is asking for $10. Roy settles with the $12 round trip and the driver can square the English speaker. It's now getting on for 5pm and we're both pretty frazzled. We've already spent more on taxis than we can afford and we're thirsty and hungry but don't want to go into any of the hotels nearby as they'll cost a bundle. Right about now the taxi that took us back to the marina for $6 shows up. We ask him to drive us back figuring we're done for the day. We'll eat and drink on the boat and this is the most economical driver we’ve found. On our way back we obviously relaxed too soon because a conversation about Morro Castle soon has us on the road for a visit. So we visit the castle/fort which we had intended to do but by tour boat for $1 per person. Finally we are returned to the marina and what we thought was going to be a $6 cab fee has grown to $15.

Children performing a Cuban Dance

Lack of language skills coupled with a desire to understand and experience the local culture leaves you open to being taken advantage of which leads to feeling resentful but knowing how difficult life is here makes you understand. Who can be angry about people who need soap and deodorant.

April 6

We accept the dinner invitation. Enrique, the guitar player, graciously offered to meet us at the marina. His house is in a typical middle class neighbourhood, that means a concrete dwelling usually with walls common to your neighbor. Enrique and Mariella live on the top floor which gives them a nice view and let's the breeze blow through. The entrance would never meet any safety code! From ground level outside you go up the tiniest, narrowest, steepest spiral staircase imaginable. Next is a set of steep tiled steps which make two 90* turns to get to their front door. Their flat is basic but comfortable. It has a living/dining room, 2 bedrooms and a kitchen and bath. They take care of Mariella's paralysed mother who seemed very ill. She is in one of the bedrooms. Enrique's sister who has recovered from cancer also lives with them. She plays the bongos with them at the cafe. They are from musical families and have been playing since they were young. Mariella has a beautiful voice and also composes. Enrique has a flair with his guitar and a great showman personality. The language barrier was an obstacle but they solved it by playing videos of their performances around the Caribbean. It was a joyful evening filled with stories and laughter. Even though their income is modest they enjoy life, get to travel and have a few conveniences like a computer (no internet), tiny TV and refrigerator. Their goal, like Alex, is to enlarge the house and become a Casa Particular.

We brought gifts; the rest of the guitar strings for Enrique, some sweet rolls that I had baked, 2 large lobster tails, ground beef and medicine plus a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Just like the lobster no Cuban beef is allowed in the markets. They go to the hotels, restaurants and the military. If a Cuban kills a person he gets 5yrs in jail if he kills a cow he gets 20 yrs. They said they would have to be very careful cooking the simple ground beef we brought. They served us a delicious dinner of pork, rice and beans, fried potatoes and sliced tomatoes. It was a wonderful experience and we were grateful for their invitation which gave us such a grand opportunity. We exchanged addresses and hopefully will one day meet again.

Cattle are everywhere, you can look but don't dare try and eat one.

April 7
Its time to leave Cuba. Thought we had a few more days but Chris Parker says we should go today or wait until after the weekend! So we hurried up and paid our bill at the marina, used all our remaining CUCs to buy rum and cleared out with Customs and Immigration. We are now on our way to Jamaica with many great memories of Cuba but mostly we will remember the wonderful Cubans that we met and fell in love with.