trinidad, cuba

 

Journal entries from January 8, 2017 to January 11, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The cold front that was predicted to arrive tomorrow came early.  What I thought was just an afternoon rain squall rebuilt with increasing wind overnight that is now a steady thirty knots.  Waves are crashing over the sea wall next to us and everyone is anxiously watching their boats.  Will and I hope the winds die down by tomorrow morning so we can leave on our bus tour to Trinidad without worrying too much about Walkabout.  Fenders and spring lines are in place and doing a good job but in high winds ropes chafe and fenders pop out.

Last night we visited the local yacht club and were welcomed in to sit and talk drinking Cuban rum into the night.  We found out the sailboat Surprise that left Canal #1 to re-position in a calmer spot is owned by Pat, a ship captain who commands very large oil tankers.  That would explain her expertise , also she knew what weather was coming and made a good move.  Because she has been here many times before, she gets what she wants.  The bar conversation went on and on.  The only other thing useful that we gleaned from it was the location of a better than average little restaurant just around the corner that we visited this morning, both of us eating a breakfast of fried eggs with ham and cheese for only 3CUCs apiece.  There will be no outside adventures today, reading, writing and watching Walkabout will be it.

7:55 PM  The wind is backing down some but is far from gentle.  It does, however, look like it may be alright to leave the boat unattended for the next three days while we “journey into the interior”.  The fenders are staying in place even with a higher tide due to this passing cold front.  We had one pop out on us this morning and passersby pointed it out.  Grinding Walkabout down into a fine powder is not what I want.

I went for another bike ride late this afternoon, not far, and only to get some exercise.  Traffic on Sunday is very light.  I went east toward Havana on Avenida de Americas about three miles and turned around when the slow lane became so rutted it was hard to stay out of the way.  For dinner Will and I went back to our haunt the Chinese place and tried a couple more of their dishes. They do not disappoint.  We have packed for our excursion and will catch a cab into Havana tomorrow morning to be at the bus terminal to travel to Trinidad city.  It should be quite the trip.

Monday, January 9, 2017

???
???

After a quick ride in a four door 1956 Chevrolet to the Viazul bus station in south Havana, across the road from the Cuban National Zoo, we boarded for our ride to the City of Trinidad 270 miles away.  We traveled light, carrying just enough for two days and nights.  Even then our small bags would not fit in the narrow overhead bins but had to be stuffed under the seat.  All the seats on the bus were occupied, Viazul is a government run company, as are most other tourist bus companies in Cuba.  With no competition demand is high.

There has been a substantial loosening of the total control that communist Cuba exerted over it’s people since the revolution.  Half a million government jobs were eliminated in 2011 and many of those workers now hold private sector positions.  Basic needs are still met by Cuba’s socialist structure, nobody is left to be hungry, homeless or without medical care and opportunities to earn money to buy into a more modern lifestyle are springing up.  A new commercialism is on the horizon.  First though, other primary changes have to happen.  The double monetary system has to go.  Tourists have the CUC, the Cuban people use the CUP and it brings on trouble for both. Visitors often feel cheated and Cubans feel, when foreigners use CUPs, that they are being encroached upon.  There has to be only one currency.  The government also has to become less autocratic and allow visitors traveling around Cuba greater freedom.  We were asked for our visas wherever we stayed, changed money, or got on a bus and it got to be a bit tiring.  The procedures reminded Will and I that we were in a communist country. propaganda.2

propaganda.3
Cuban Interstate

The Viazul bus made it’s way out of Havana onto the Autopiste traveling at 100kph, not very fast for a six lane highway that was not crowded.  The bus stopped for lunch at a restaurant where we bought Cuban sandwiches for 4CUCs, while other passengers sampled the buffet.  Efficient and well run, the restaurant was a good example of a private firm working with a public company.

pio cua
Bus Stop
cienfuegos.2
In Cienfuegos

After the break our route took us down to Cienfuégoes, an historic city with a large seaport.  The most relevant thing to us was the city’s proximity to Playa Gitón, known to most Americans as the Bay of Pigs.  Billboards along the road remind Cubans that they won that slipshod affair and should never forget it, nor let down their guard.  Propaganda posters, billboards and handpainted slogans are everywhere but very little commercial advertising can be seen except for signs on stores and shops.

cienfuegos.1
The Boulevarde in Cienfuegos

trinidad.1With only an hour of daylight left we pulled into Trinidad and our first order of business was to find a room for the two nights we planned to stay.  Held at bay outside the bus yard were at least a hundred shouting “touts” holding up cardboard signs for “casa particulars” or guest rooms in and around Trinidad.  Since they get a cut of the room fee we sidestepped the mob and after aimlessly wandering for twenty minutes asked a lady if she might know of one close by.  Naturally she did but I don’t believe she got as big a cut because we were warmly welcomed by Julia and her husband Ramón, who runs a gas station, into their comfortable home.  But the room was only available for one night and the procurer would have to find us another for Tuesday.  No problemo.

Simple but clean. $30CUC.
Simple but clean. $30CUC.

Comfortable now that accomodations had been found we hunted down beers and, later, a rooftop restaurant for dinner.  A band was playing Cuban tunes, the meal was served and we settled in to watch the sun sink into the Caribbean Sea.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017  Trinidad, Cuba

trinidad_morning.9
We woke this morning to crowing roosters and a schoolboy shouting “Alejándro!” to his friend.  Catabatic wind blowing down from the nearby mountains wafted smoke past the wooden shutters on our iron barred bedroom window.  Horses hooves on the cobblestone street, people greeting each other, “Holá“, “Buenas dias“, more children being packed off to school, all this began our day.

trinidad.2
Trinidad’s Old Town

Trinidad has two parts, one is the old district, gated off from the slightly more modern and far more crowded surrounding city.  The old town retains its cobblestone streets and Spanish era buildings and churches.  Residents who live there have made an investment in the burgeoning tourist economy, many run popular establishments there.  Traffic is limited to pedestrians, horses and carts, and vehicles with a special permit.  So one can wander freely without worry of being run over.

casa2.3
The second casa particular and the lady who arranged our stay.

After an excellent breakfast at Julia’s and moving our stuff to our second casa particular we walked down to the bus terminal to buy return tickets to Havana.  I thought it odd that we couldn’t buy round trip tickets in the first place – but we couldn’t. No hay.  And, there would be no seats available until Sunday, a dour ticket agent pronounced.  But, surprise, surprise, as soon as we turned away from the counter our problem was solved: A Lone Arranger appeared promising us a taxi ride back to Havana for only ten CUCs more than the bus would have cost. He said we would be sharing a car with another couple and took down the address of our casa and said to be out front at 8:30AM Wednesday.  We took him at his word and set out to see the city.

trinidad_morning.4
Radio Cuba
trinidad_morning.6
Underground Disco

First, we struck out for a climb up the mountain north of town for a better view before the sun got hot.  trinidad_morning.5Following a narrow rocky road past the last buildings we climbed past a disco in a cave then a couple kilometers more past cactus and brush to the Radio Cuba tower on the hilltop.  From that vantage you could see all of Trinidad, it’s small airport, jagged mountains to the east; all spreading down to the vast, and empty, Caribbean Sea.  No boats on the water, no planes in the air.  If you didn’t know there were a thousand tourists down below the place would feel positively bucolic.

Caribbean Sea
Caribbean Sea

trinidad_morning.8

Back in town we walked up and down the streets sidestepping horse manure and the streams of dish water tossed out of doorways and windows above.  The sun was getting hotter, street smells stronger and by lunchtime we were searching for a resting spot.  A menu sign offered, “hamburgueso” and “spiggeti“, and cervesa we assumed, so we cooled our heels inside for an hour before venturing out again.

A street with endless rows of stalls all selling more or less the same variety of trinkets was a thing to go through, instantly assaulted by pleas from peddlars to buy their hats or shawls or shirts that were swinging in the breeze.  I got the “Che” Guevara shirt I’ve always wanted and both Will and I now wear authentic straw Cuban hats.

che
The iconic Che.

Will wanted to buy some more wifi time, I wanted to exchange money for taxi fare so we walked to the hotel district downtown.  There we sat on benches in the municipal park with a thousand other visitors, and locals too, staring into our “devices”.  I was glad to have done that – all was well back home.

Finding a money exchange was a bit harder and, after I did, the transaction was not so simple.  I wanted to exchange one hundred US dollars to CUCs. My two fifty dollar notes had a little dab of pink on one edge and the clerk shook her head, “No!”, she couldn’t take them.  So I handed her five tens instead, I didn’t need that much anyway.  She needed to see my visa.  She then recorded the serial number of each US note on a form and made me sign it before slowly counting out my 43.50 CUCs.  Since Cuban currency is worthless outside Cuba I felt exchanging US currency necessary only when I ran low on CUCs but it is likely I’m too conservative because money changing is a real hassle.

trinidad.3
Trinidad’s Central Plaza

To end the day and our visit to Trinidad we ate on the rooftop “terrazza” of a little place on the same street as Julia’s casa.  Big plates of roasted pork with beans and rice washed down with Bucannero beers and a view over the “cuidado viejo”.  There was music in the town square that evening and it really got going about ten with very talented bands.  We sat near the stage drinking rum from plastic cups as the crowd filled in around us, everyone watching the samba dancers and listening to Cuban rhythms far into the night.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our second casa particular was comfortable but lacked Julia’s friendliness, we didn’t even learn the lady’s name who owned it.  We think she lives alone although she had people calling on her when we were there.  casa2.1She served us coffee in the morning as we couldn’t linger over breakfast, quickly retreating to her TV in another room.

taverna de bojita

The taxi driver showed up on time and had us loaded in his Jetta diesel car with his “procurer” along to gather up the other two passengers at their lodgings.  We were joined by two young people each traveling alone.  A guy from Poland, Jacque,  and a girl from China whose name I can not even guess at, but she is studying in Cleveland and speaks great English.

Our driver, Ramón, was worth everything we paid for the ride. It took almost an hour for the taxi pimp to find the two other passengers because he got a wrong street address.  During the wait we talked with Ramón and learned much about life in Cuba. Ramón is a gregarious, retired Cuban army officer who piloted MIGs in Angola.  He is fluent in English and knows some of at least three other languages. His retirement taxi driving job takes him all over the country and he knows Cuba inside and out.  What surprised us the most about Ramón was his forthright optimism for Cuba’s future.  He has definite opinions of what will work and what would not.  The old system is not working.  He hopes the US will lift the embargo, the sooner the better, and he, like us, thinks the double monetary system has to be eliminated.

On to Habana!
On to Habana!

Driving much faster than the bus, Ramón took us back to Havana in four hours, with a relief stop halfway.  He gave a running commentary on the places we passed – far more entertaining than staring out a bus window.  Pointing down the straight lanes of the Autopiste he told me that it was an alternative runway for the air force. “Like your interstate”.  I asked him what the odd looking metal things occasionally lying beside the highway were for, big pipes spiraled with long spikes.  “We drag them onto the highway to keep planes from landing”, he explained. A defense mechanism.

cane
Sugar Cane operation.

I learned that Cuba grows almost all of it’s own food and is a major exporter of sugar. Sugarcane fields we passed stretch on for miles. Tamarind groves line the highway, as do rice paddies in various stages of production, flooded and dry, being harvested by hand. Another major crop is mango.  They grow a variety of mango that weighs up to three kilograms, as big as a football and full of juice.  Ramón was quite proud of Cuba even though we found him to be just as critical of it’s faults – as he saw them.
While we rode along Ramón was on his cell phone trying to get rooms for the two other people in the car as they had no place to stay in Havana. Call after call with no luck. Havana was full.  Just like Trinidad.  Jacque did get a place to stay, at a higher price than he liked.

Havana Street

The Chinese girl, however, really didn’t like the price and, since Ramón hadn’t found her a casa yet, she just took her backpack, and her chances, and we left her on the sidewalk.  She seemed to know what she was doing.

Havana Street
Havana Street

Ramón was not impressed, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” he remarked.  I think he was referring to both of them for not having arranged rooms earlier…  We refrained from comment.

For a little extra, even though Ramón didn’t ask for it, Will and I were driven right down to Walkabout and found her just as we had left her.  Showers and a beer later we were back to feeling normal and ready to go.  Dos viejos y le mar.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

rpk

habana

 

Journal entries from January 4, 2017 to January 7.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Havana, Cuba is huge. Will and I took the TransTur bus into the city yesterday, it cost one CUC each to ride and we used transfer slips for the return trip. The buses are new Chinese YuTong double-decker sightseeing affairs, very popular and packed with tourists like us. On the way to the central district we had to remain on the inside as the top was full, later we got to ride upstairs. We stopped at Revolución Square but the exhibits and monument were closed so we used transfer tickets to continue on downtown.

Fidel_on_Hotel
Revolution Square, Havana
Jose_Marti
Monument to Jose Marti.

Red_Buick

It’s tiring, riding buses so the first order of business was refreshment and we bought beers in a little dive before heading out into the crowds.

havana.6
Rest Stop

Havana once was the pride of the Caribbean and it could be again but will take a great investment in capital, training and attitude to turn it around. So many pre-Castro buildings are crumbling and many 1960’s Soviet era structures are beyond the point of rehabilitation. It will take a mighty effort that I cannot see happening in the near future even with the new detente between the Cuban government and the USA.

havana.13
Along the Malecon

Time interrupted, that’s my impression of Cuba so far. Everywhere you look 1950’s vintage cars are churning up the highway billowing smoke. Don’t visit Havana if you suffer from asthma. The cars owners use them as taxis and you can ride almost anywhere for about the same money as on a bus.

havana.11

We took a ride this morning on our second sojourn into the city in a 1956 Pontiac that it’s driver had to down shift at every light to go slow enough for the brakes to work. He was pretty skilled at getting it to stop. He charged us ten CUCs, half of the bus fare and got us there in half the time. We hailed another for the ride back tonight but for the life of me I could not identify the make of the car, it had been pieced together from so many different cars it didn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen. But it roared down the highway just fine.

Muses on the Revolución

Will and I waited in line to see the Museo de Revolución this morning. The museum occupies the former governor’s palace in central Havana. The building must have been a grand affair back in the day, it is four stories tall with a central courtyard, dozens of rooms and a magnificent ballroom decorated with columns trimmed in gold and a vast frescoed ceiling. That room is being restored and no visitors may enter but you can get a good view from porticoes on higher floors.

Arrow
Arrow
Slider

An exhibit of the history of the Cuban Revolution beginning in 1953 when Fidel Castro Ruz and a dozen compatriots first attempted to overthrow the dictatorship of US puppet Fulgencio Batista, failing and ending up imprisoned.  If only a part of Batista’s brutality were true Castro would be exonerated by the world for his actions.  He said so himself.

History is written by the victorious and the museum relates that version of the chronology of the buildup to and the subsequent guerrilla war for control of the island.  Castro, Che Guevarra, Raul Castro and many other heroes of the Cuban Revolution are depicted in the most glorious fashion. Who would expect otherwise?

museo.6
The Granma.

Behind the palace in a guarded glass envelope stands the Granma, a 60 foot motor yacht that carried the exiled revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba to start their second, successful assault on the dictator’s forces. Scattered around this building are two propeller driven aircraft, a bullet riddled bread truck, a small Russian tank, jeeps and armored bulldozers.

Che's radio.
Che’s radio.
Fidel in ironwork.
Fidel in ironwork.
Punctured delivery truck.
Punctured delivery truck.
Armored assault vehicle.
Armored assault vehicle.
Eternal Flame for the Heroes of the Revolution
Eternal Flame for the Heroes of the Revolution
diorama
Diorama of Guevarra and Ernesto Cienfuegos

Also, the engine from a US U-2 spy plane the Cubans shot down just prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion and an example of the Soviet rocket that did it. Our CIA is featured in quite a few documents, nothing admirable there. Lots of bloodied uniforms and gory pictures in the display cases, and Che’s radio transmitter. There also was an embarrassing caricature display of Batista, and US Presidents Reagan, Bush One and Two on a wall declaiming them as “cretins”.  The revolution was not won without heavy sacrifice (20,000 killed, mostly civilians) and if Cuba has anything to say it will not be soon forgotten.  Whether stable relations between our country and Cuba can be formed remains to be seen.

Thursday, January 5, 2017 Marina Hemingway

These two intrepid travelers spent this morning searching for a rental car – without success – the CubaCar agency had nothing for us and, after walking a few blocks from the marina and a subsequent taxi ride struck out again with a local rental agency. So it looks like if we want to travel to another city for a day we’ll have to take a bus. Will wants to see the town of Trinidad, southeast of Havana by sixty miles, an historic town that, the guidebooks say, has plenty of early Spanish architecture and a lively bar scene. We tried to join a tour bus trip and that too was not possible since we were not part of the all inclusive tourist apparatchik. A local taxi might be possible, the cost is high and comes with no assurances. Not to worry, we’ll work it out. The rest of today we’ll spend on board catching up with our writing and getting some rest.

On our search this morning for rental cars we wandered into a small restaurant (the CubaCar sign was just outside) where we met a local entrepreneur, Jesus, who immediately sized us up and offered his services in our quest. “I know rental car company”, he announced, “just a few blocks up the street”, and summoned one of his minions to fetch a taxi. Not that we are incredible, or incredibly stupid, but we went along with him. But, of course, he couldn’t produce. There just aren’t any rental cars available, anywhere, any more than there was electricity in Jesus’ house this morning. But Jesus was full of life, entertaining us as we plowed along in his hijacked taxi through the exhaust filled streets. He diverted the taxi ride near its end to his own house, which he insisted we had to see, a little cement thing he shared with his mother and two dogs. Will bought some of his counterfeit cigars and I laughed at his jokes, if they were jokes, about chicas and Viagra. A side trip to the lower end it was. You cannot blame the hustlers for trying to squeeze money from rich European or American tourists, the average wage in communist Cuba is forty dollars a month. A taxi driver getting a dollar a mile is making big money if he works off the meter. A cigar hustler can make a month’s salary with one sale of a bag of mislabeled cigars. But, the tobacco in a cigar with a fake label is still Cuban tobacco and better than anywhere else. Even though we came away with no rental car the adventure was worth it.

Waiting_for_Bus
Tourista

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Even though you might think I had learned my lesson I went out on my rusted bicycle this morning pedaling down the highway to Santa Fe, the little burg just west of Marina Hemingway. The right lane of the four lane road is for slow moving vehicles, like bikes and horses, pedal cars and pedestrians, of which there are plenty. So I didn’t feel at all threatened like I did back in Marathon. Car drivers stick to the left lane and don’t crowd out people who have to travel on foot, or horse or pedal power. A refreshing situation I thought as I rode through the town and into the countryside. After six miles I had had enough and headed back, the noontime sun was beating down on my Yankee body and I was cooked. I stopped to read a menu in a local eating establishment, the prices were in Cuban Pesos. A decent breakfast, desayuna, was about a dollar and a half. I didn’t have any pesos, just convertible Cuban currency so I didn’t buy but will go back if I can. It is becoming apparent to me that many things in Cuba are only available after much study and acclimation. Two weeks is not going to do it. So far, I can recommend that one get CUPs as well as CUCs and frequent as many local places as you feel comfortable with – in as short a time as you can. Some advice, but that’s what it looks like to me at this point.

CUP_CUC
Cuban Convertible Currency vs Cuban Peso

Later in the day, after I washed my laundry in a bucket on the pier next to Walkabout, a rather large, 22 tonne, sailboat named Surprise tied up close behind us captained by a woman with two younger girls as crew. Surprise is no ordinary sailboat, it is fifty-five feet long, made of wood and gleams with that special look constant care imparts. I had biked to the store for beer and was going back to the boat when a rain squall came along blowing thirty or so. I’m riding sideways down the dock with my backpack loaded with beer cans passing sailboats hard against their squished fenders and noticed the boat just ahead of Walkabout was grinding its hull against the concrete pier. We had two spare fenders so Will and I pushed the neighbor’s boat out, dropped in the fenders and got it off the pier. Surprise behind us had that happen a few minutes earlier and Will had put another one of our fenders on that boat too. We got a bag of cookies from the women for Will’s good deed – the other boater hasn’t returned yet.

surprise
Surprise

The wind squall was too much for the captain of Surprise and she arranged for a different dock space in a canal further inland. Now, the wind was still blowing hard pressing all the boats in our canal up against its concrete sides, but this captain was intent on moving her boat. She sent her two girl crew out in a dinghy to tie two ropes to a post on the other side of the canal and slowly winched her boat out into the middle before backing out. Will and I were dumfounded watching this action but it went just as she had planned. My big concern was that the post might pull out of the ground and let her boat careen into mine but it didn’t happen.

Since all this occurred the wind has died down a bit, Surprise successfully moved and we are now without close neighbors but a bag of cookies richer. A good thing, because tomorrow a cold front is supposed to reach us with strong and prolonged winds from the North and good cookies are hard to find.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The cold front that was supposed to materialize later today arrived early, what we thought was just a rain squall built with increasing wind overnight and now is in the thirty knot range. Seas are crashing over the sea wall next to us and everyone is anxiously watching their boats. Our hope is that the winds die down by tomorrow morning so we can leave on our bus tour to Trinidad without worrying too much about the boat. Fenders and spring lines are in place and doing a good job but in high winds ropes chafe and fenders pop out. We shall see.

yacht club

Last night Will and I visited the local yacht club and were welcomed in to sit and talk drinking Cuban rum into the night. We found out Surprise is owned by Dot, a ship captain who commands very large oil tankers. That would explain her expert seamanship, also she knew what weather was coming and made a wise move. Captain Dot has been here many times before so she gets what she wants too. The bar conversation went on and on. The only other thing useful that we gleaned from it was the location of a better than average little restaurant just around the corner that we visited this morning, both of us eating breakfasts of fried eggs with ham and cheese for only 3CUCs apiece. There will be no outside adventures today, reading, writing and watching Walkabout will be it.

rpk

marina hemingway

Monday, January 2, 2017

We left our secure anchorage in Sisters Creek Saturday afternoon, fueling up at Burdine’s dock and re-anchoring just outside the Boot Key entrance channel.  Marathon was a nice place to hang out.  It’s a lot like Vero Beach and many live-aboard sailors stay here for years soaking up the sun without the expense of a house or apartment.  Florida is cracking down on some of those who outstay their welcome, letting the boats they live on become derelicts.  Homeless on the water is one way to put it.  Marathon has partially solved that problem by making it almost impossible to anchor in the harbor by installing 226 mooring balls in all the previously good spots to anchor.  That’s why I had to anchor in Sisters Creek, because there were no mooring balls available.  No room at the inn.

mangrove_moor
Down on Sisters Creek

We spent a bouncy night anchored with our stern to the sea, and left at 0800 Sunday morning  on a direct course to Marina Hemingway on Cuba’s north coast, nine miles west of Havana.  The forecast was for winds in the low twenties and seas up to seven feet, not what I would normally choose but it was viable window.

At times the crossing was fun, sometimes it was terrible.  The wind twice hit thirty knots and the waves crested eight feet more than once, even higher in the Gulf Stream, but what really got to us was the opposing current of up to three knots that didn’t let up until we saw land early Monday morning.  Our sails were set for beam reaching on a port tack, mainsail on its second reef, yankee jib and staysail up as well.  Our boat speed through the water read between six and seven knots but the GPS told us we were moving at less than five knots toward our destination.  In the Florida Straits the Gulf Stream is forty miles wide, we were crossing it at almost a forty five degree angle so we had opposing current almost the whole way.  The 123 mile passage took us twenty-six hours.

At sunrise we could see the coast of Cuba and the highrise buildings of Havana. Soon we were being hailed by the Cuban Coast Guard asking us who we were and where were we headed.  For a minute it looked like they were going to challenge us but then the cutter turned away apparently convinced we weren’t a threat.  We didn’t understand them and they didn’t understand us.  No entiendo.

Someone was paying attention. In perfect English the radio operator at Marina Hemingway hailed us as we were looking for the channel entrance buoys and gave us explicit instructions on how to enter.  Waves were breaking on the reef on either side of the channel, in a strong North wind it would be impassable for sure, as we had been told.  The radioman said to go to the sea buoy, which we now could see, and then turn to a course of 140 degrees and continue down the channel to the Customs Dock.

Customs_Dock
First Boat in Cuba This Year

The marina did have a straight forward entrance, well marked with lighted posts. We got Walkabout’s sails down then motored into the harbor without any problem.  Then we rounded the corner and tied up at the blue painted government Customs dock for their praxis which took an hour.  A white coated medical doctor took our body temperatures looking for fevers.  Our passports were stamped by uniformed Guarda Frontera officers who took ID photos and gave  us tourist visas.  You must carry the visa with you all the time you are in Cuba, it’s fine to leave your passport locked away on your boat.

visa

Gabriel, the marina’s dockmaster assigned Walkabout a spot in one of the four long concrete lined canals that make up the facility.   We slowly motored over to Canal #1, the first canal parallel to the sea wall, our place was about halfway down the 3/4 mile-long canal.  Marina staff helped us tie up, two pleasant agricultural department officers rooted through our refrigerator and that was that.  Tips amounting to twenty dollars were handed out to the dockmaster and ag officers but that we expected.

Parked in Canal #1
Parked in Canal #1

We were all done checking in by noon. The two ag officers stuck around for a beer, both were named Raól, so we asked the one Raól who could speak English as many questions that he had time to answer before they went back to work and that way got an early education of sorts.  Most important was where to change money and how to get Wifi, both require a trip to Havana where the big hotels are located.

Let the adventure begin!

Final Preparations

Journal entries from Dec. 24 - Dec. 31, 2016.  Boot Key, Marathon, Florida.

 

Saturday 12/24/2016

marathon_bikes
Bicycles in the marina, note the Christmas tree decorations.

I talked to Chris Parker this morning and told him of my plans to leave on the 30th for Marina Hemingway.  He said that the entrance to the marina was difficult to navigate in northerly winds and he expects a cold front to sweep down there on Friday. He recommended that we get going Thursday and make port by Friday at the earliest time we can.  Will doesn’t know of this and it may change by the time he arrives but as of now I’m planning to leave on Thursday morning.
Our permit does not jive with the weather of course but I can’t help that.

There is a pot luck lunch/dinner tomorrow afternoon at the marina.  I will make an Italian cabbage salad, I bought the fennel seed today and have everything else.  Got to bring something.

Sunday 12/25/2016
Once again it’s Christmas and I’m feeling pretty lonely even if it’s my own doing.  There is a dinner at the marina building this afternoon and that should help.  Will is flying down on Wednesday, don’t know exactly when, I hope we’ll have enough of the day left to get some supplies in because the next morning I plan to sail.  A cold front is moving down by Friday night and we have to get in the harbor before it arrives.  It’s 123 miles and will take all that day and night to traverse.  There is the current to consider as well.  It would be better still if we could get going Wednesday late.  That would give me time to get there even if our speed dropped to four or so knots.  I’ll let Will know the details today.

xmas
Day after Christmas

Monday, 12/26/2016

The weather yesterday was very nice, 77 and drier than it’s been.  Today the pattern has reverted with an easterly wind, occasional rain and 80 degree temps.

I made a salad as my offering to the boater’s Christmas pot-luck. People really put on the feedbag including me. They had a buffet spread and a line a hundred cruisers long stretching down the side of the building.  Well worth the wait.  I joined a table with folks who had been out for years living on their boats and another couple who had just started.  It was great fun and I picked up a few good things to know.  Somehow flying had gotten mention, one couple lives in Colorado, and in the course of conversation they said they had met a guy from South Africa who gave hang gliding lessons and was on a boat and… I knew just who they meant, met him in Salinas, Puerto Rico two years ago.  Boy, do cruisers live in a small world.  Big ocean, small community.

Tuesday, 12/27/2016

Each morning in Marathon on the VHF radio channel 68 there is a cruiser’s net which gives a weather report, welcomes new boats, says goodbye to those leaving and notifies us of any activities that may be going on that day.  This morning I heard of an outboard motor for sale in town and followed up on the lead by riding my bike to the shop where it was.  It was a wasted trip of course, I already have a well used motor. But, it was such a nice morning I took the time and pedaled from one end of the island to the other riding in a bike lane or on the sidewalk.  I guess I’m getting used to it because I wasn’t as tired as the last time out.  I’m far more cognizant of traffic too, now I wave an arm when approaching an intersecting side street so the driver might notice me. It works.

An activity mentioned for one o’clock today was Mexican Train dominoes, a game I like to play so I thought I’d give it a go. So as not to waste a dinghy trip I brought a bag of laundry to pop in the machines.  Apparently the game isn’t as popular here as it is in other places, at least with men.  I ended up playing at a table with seven women, all good players.  I was tolerated and had an interesting time, my laundry made me miss a couple of rounds but they invited me right back into the game.  The women are all serious cruisers, some have been at it for years and years. And one lady said she was never going back to live on land again.  But, unlike a men’s domino game these women began to clean the tiles with handy wipes… all of them.  All I could do was laugh, and, when the timing was right, said: “See, you washed all the luck off”.  Ho, ho.

Wednesday 12/28/2016

Will Patten is flying down today to join me for the Cuba leg of my trip. I hope he has an open schedule. It will be a good change to have someone else onboard, it is safer and I can use the company.

Dec. 29, 2016  Marathon

Will arrived safely late yesterday, delayed in the Miami airport miasma and Route One traffic.  He is enthusiastic about the trip and has plans for our Cuban visit.  He will be our activities director.  I have enough to do just getting us there.

The boat is ready for the trip, all I have left to do is fill the fuel tank and that can be done on the way out of the harbor.  The weather and our schedule are in disagreement, a strong cold front is coming into the area on Friday and the next two days after it passes will have powerful winds from the east.  I thought about going to Key West because it is a few miles closer to Marina Hemingway, about twenty as the crow flys, but with the wind factor it’s a better plan just to hang out here in the river until Monday.  Besides, Will has a rental car so we can go anywhere we like until then.  We’ll use it today for provisioning.

I met the people who bought the old wooden boat anchored next to me.  The girl said they were trying to get out of the deal but sighed, admitting they had been impetuous.  What do you mean impetuous? It’s a wooden boat, built in the thirties and the transmission is shot, what’s not to like?  And the fact that it had been towed to where it is might have tipped you off that the $5000 asking price was too good to be true.

Thursday 12/29/2016

Since Will kept his rental car for a second day he and I took the opportunity to visit Key West driving down there on the Overseas Highway.  It takes about an hour to go the forty miles, traffic was heavy due to the holiday weekend and no one was in a hurry. Key West was packed with tourists.  I had been there with Jeanne some twenty years ago and thought the town was a zoo then; and Will said he remembered good times from his college days, certain places that he’d like to revisit.  But Key West changed.  The funky, laid-back little city has been changed over to a throbbing commercial venture that has little, if any, soul. Maybe it was the forty dollars it cost to park. Or, the singer in Sloppy Joes, the bar Will reministed about, who should have been playing on the pier.  At least on Mallory’s Pier at sunset the buskers showed real talent to the cell phone toting tourists. Two cruise ships were in town contributing their passengers to the mob. So we wandered around settling in at a joint where we felt comfortable, near the boat docks, and spent the rest of our time talking to well-heeled boaters.

Friday 1/30/2016

mangroves
Today the much publicized cold front is moving into Marathon and the Keys bringing cooler air and very gusty winds.  Walkabout is backed into the mangrove trees, her anchor dragged a few feet during the week and the rudder is in the riverbank at low tide.  Not much of a problem so far and we hope to leave Sunday afternoon. The wind predictions are for strong east winds tomorrow and less for New Year’s day.  I think we can have good sailing by starting early in the morning Sunday arriving outside the channel to Marina Hemingway Tuesday at sunrise. It won’t be a placid trip, the waves will still be seven to nine feet when we start but should go down as we get closer to Cuba.
Craig and Donna from Mighty Fine got here yesterday, we ran into them last night at Overseas, the restaurant across the road from the city marina.  They plan to stay in Marathon for the winter and have a slip at Sombrero. We’ll join them on the beach this afternoon.

Saturday 12/31/2016

Will and I ran errands in town this morning turning in our marina cards and getting some last minute internet.  I biked up to Publix and bought a carton of milk and some eggs.  On the way back a guy in a white SUV pulled out of a store driveway and knocked me off my bicycle. If he had not slammed on the brakes I wouldn’t be writing this.  Luck was on my side and I wasn’t hurt, only shaken up. The driver was all apologies of course and waited anxiously while I got my wits, and temper back. Later I complained to the marina manager, not that he could do anything but that he should warn other visitors of the problem.  Biking on the sidewalks is a given, the highway is far too dangerous, but drivers don’t always know you’re there.  The manager knew exactly what I was talking about but said this time of year there were just too many idiots in town…
On that note, at eleven we cast off the line to the mangrove trees, pulled up the anchor and headed out of Dodge.  Picked up some diesel fuel at Burdine’s dock and motored out of the channel anchoring again in the spot I took ten days ago where we will stay tonight.  The plan is to leave around seven tomorrow morning and set a course directly to Marina Hemingway.  The marina is nine miles west of Havana and we should be at the sea buoy outside the entrance by eight or nine Monday morning with a southeasterly wind coming off the land.  NOAA’s wind and wave prediction for the trip are Southeasterly wind of fifteen knots and seas up to six feet but averaging four and a half feet.  If that comes true we should be able to sail the whole way which would be a real treat.
Happy New Year to everyone!