February 18th – 24th, 2015 (-5 UTC)

Dear Friends and Family,

We departed Havana on the 15th of February for the anticipated two day sail to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. The Gulf Stream is the dominant feature and it would definitely let us know it was still here on our last day before we arrived in Mexico.

The first day, we motored for awhile and were then able to set sail with winds from the Southeast. We had nice protection from the land and were zipping along. We passed the famous harbor at Mariel where the Cuban boat lift departed from in 1980. This is where thousands of Cubans were let out of the country and Jimmy Carter welcomed them with open arms. They didn’t really expect as many people to depart as ultimately did, but you can get the full story here:
Mariel Boat Lift 1980 – Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariel_boatlift

As we approached the West End of Cuba, a milestone was reached. “Beach House” had sailed around the world via longitude within the tropics. These milestones for me are still  bittersweet and I suppose they always will be. I still often “see” Cindy standing where she always used to stand on the scuba cockpit hatch in her white visor, long sleeve blue sun shirt, white muslin pants and sandals. She doesn’t appear to me as often as she used to, but she did on this day.

According to our calculations, we should have been off Isla Mujeres, Mexico (near Cancun) by around 9 p.m. on the 17th of February. However, we were really feeling the teeth of the Gulf Stream. Essentially, the Gulf Stream is part of the enormous clockwise current circulation of the Atlantic Ocean. It is actually an offshoot of the greater North Atlantic “gyre” that gets compressed into the Western Caribbean, wanders through the Gulf of Mexico as “the loop current” and again blasts off the Florida Keys, up the US East Coast and across the North Atlantic to the British Isles . Two areas are of particular strength. One is off Florida’s Southeast coast and the other is where it essentially begins in the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and mainland Mexico. At this time of year, it’s supposed to be slower – around 1.5-2 knots, moving south to north – but we started experiencing speeds of 3.5-3.8 knots!

Now imagine that were going around 7 knots and you can quickly see that we were often going less than 4 knots over the bottom. This really slowed us down and worse, the wind angle changed from ESE, then South, then finally to the  WSW. This additionally slowed us down and we arrived 8 hours after we had thought we would. In addition, this made for a somewhat uncomfortable ride as we were plunging into 1-2 meter swells, current and wind against us. In some regards, it worked out okay as we were delayed till a few hours before daylight which would make a safer entry into the shallows of Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres means “The Island of the Women”.   See this page for how it was named:   Isla Mujeres: http://www.isla-mujeres.net/history.htm

 

Welcome to Isla Mujeres - The Island of the Women

Welcome to Isla Mujeres – The Island of the Women

 

Nikki on the beach at Isla Mujeres

Nikki on the beach at Isla Mujeres

Another factor was the “Cruise Ship Tango”. We passed several cruise ships all buzzing around the north side of Isla Mujeres en route to Cozumel which has become a cruise ship heaven….of sorts.  Cozumel which is a true scuba diving destination is now inundated with 4-6 cruise ships per day, six days a week.  It ain’t what it used to be and I have no idea what the appeal is to the tourists as there isn’t much to do there but dive!

Dodging the behemoths (doing the tango!), is always a bit challenging and stressful, but we do have experience at this sort of thing. You can imagine us, cold, wet and rained on at 4 am in a squall listening to Disney Music (think It’s a Small World) emanating from the speakers of a 950 foot Disney Cruise Liner! 4am, really?

At first light, we entered the long shallow reef on the north side of Isla Mujeres (only a few miles east of Cancun) and went through the islands’ canal into a sort of inner lake where we anchored and the finally tied up at the dock at Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina. Though I’d been to Cancun in 1996, I wasn’t really prepared for how much the area had grown. I might add….not for the better.

This is the canal from the outer anchorage into the inner lagoon which is very well protected and where we stayed at Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina

This is the canal from the outer anchorage into the inner lagoon which is very well protected and where we stayed at Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina

I’d not been to Isla Mujeres before, so Nikki and I walked into town which had all the usual tourist “chachki” traps and what turned out to be some nice restaurants. We stopped at Bahia Tortuga, a boutique hotel, bar and small marina. Friend Karen Derrick had been here with family last year and it was owned by a friend of hers from Sonoma, but unfortunately she was in the US so we didn’t get to meet here.. After dinner, we taxied back to the boat and planned our next day to take the ferry over to Cancun for a “recky” (that’s reconnaissance in OZ speak…:-))

This ferry runs every half hour from about 6 am to 11pm daily!  Cost was about 15.00 USD each way pp

This ferry runs every half hour from about 6 am to 11pm daily! Cost was about 15.00 USD each way pp

Culture shock was the order of the day. In 1996, Cancun was a place with perhaps 10 large hotels, a remote small town and what would look like the best of Miami Beach with sugar white sand beaches all widely spread out. Today, it makes Miami look like a quiet little hideaway. The overcrowding is amazing, the town is 100 times the size it was 19 years ago. The traffic was awful and there was a hodgepodge of old and US Mall “new”. It completely caters to the fly in tourist and now the ubiquitous cruise ships. In short, for me it had lost it’s charm irredeemably. Yet another unfortunate feature was the ever present Saragossa Weed. This “seaweed” grows in the mid Atlantic in the Saragossa Sea, and due to what seems the recent COOLING of the Atlantic Ocean (the past two years), the weed is dying off and has washed up on virtually every beach across the Caribbean. Notably, the cooling temperatures have also decreased the amount and intensity of the last two Atlantic Hurricane seasons. This phenomenon is well documented and if you google “Saragossa Weed” you can read all about it.

The ever present "Sargasso Weed" has inundated every beach in the entire Caribbean in 2015

The ever present “Sargasso Weed” has inundated every beach in the entire Caribbean in 2015

We did find a nice market and along the way met a taxi driver who we hired to meet us the next morning for our day trip to the famous Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza in the central Yucatan Peninsula. The Ferry runs every 1/2 hour from Cancun to Isla Mujeres and that made for an easy return. We went to a lovely restaurant and would be off on our junket the next morning.

We returned at 8 a.m. to the Cancun side and met our driver, Jorge. Jorge didn’t speak very much English, but had made the drive before. We’d take the toll road which added to our costs (about 35.00 USD each way!); the drive was about 3 hours, the road was very straight and in excellent shape. When we arrived at Chichen Itza, we were in luck (good planning) and we’d beat the endless line of tour busses that were sure to be close behind. We hired an English speaking guide (wearing an LA Dodgers baseball cap) and were off.

 

Chicen Itza Gate.  We arrived early enough to beat the big crowds that followed

Chicen Itza Gate. We arrived early enough to beat the big crowds that followed

I’d been to Chichen Itza 19 years earlier and was interested to see it again. This of course would be Nikki’s first trip. The area is actually quite immense, but due to lack of funding only a small part of it is excavated. It is thought best by the archeologists not too uncover areas until funds exist to preserve and maintain them. To this end, you can no longer climb the structures including the main pyramid known as “The Citidal”. I was able to climb this with Cindy in 1996. They stopped allowing the public to climb on them in 2007.

Nikki and Scott at "The Citadel".  This was the main temple structure of Chichen Itza and where many human sacrifices occurred at the top platform.

Nikki and Scott at “The Citadel”. This was the main temple structure of Chichen Itza and where many human sacrifices occurred at the top platform.

 

The Serpent shows up at the equinoxes in March and September and appears to be slithering down the stepped pyramid on the left. Click on the You Tube video URL I've provided to see it in action.

The Serpent shows up at the equinoxes in March and September and appears to be slithering down the stepped pyramid on the left. Click on the You Tube video URL I’ve provided to see it in action.

 

Sacrificial Altar. This is where the sacrificed victims heart was placed for all to see. Often it would beat for several minutes.  No thanks, sounds a bit too much like current events to me.

Sacrificial Altar. This is where the sacrificed victims heart was placed for all to see. Often it would beat for several minutes. No thanks, sounds a bit too much like current events to me.

Ball Court: You can see the "hoop" vertically mounted on the wall. The opposite wall is a mirror image.  Two teams would compete while royalty watched from the distant pedestal.  It is unclear if the winner or the loser's team captain was then sacrificed.  Currently, they think it was an honor the winner was pleased to oblige!....

Ball Court: You can see the “hoop” vertically mounted on the wall. The opposite wall is a mirror image. Two teams would compete while royalty watched from the distant pedestal. It is unclear if the winner or the loser’s team captain was then sacrificed. Currently, they think it was an honor the winner was pleased to oblige!….

 

The Citidal Pyramid is noted for how the Mayans knowledge of the stars and calendar worked. It’s also where under Toltec influence, the Mayan civilization turned to every increasing human sacrifices. These were performed at the top of the pyramid by the elite’s Priests. They were so precise in the orientation of this pyramid that on Spring and Fall Equinoxes , the “serpent” could be seen (his shadow) all along the edge of the structure as if were were climbing along the wall. This is pretty astounding and you can imagine that around March 21st and September 21st of each year, the crowds flock here to see this phenomenon.

Chichin Itza – Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza

You Tube Video: Watch the Serpent appear at the Equinox!: http://youtu.be/66ewEFbPCKg

Nikki’s favorite was the “Observatory”.  It is here that the Mayan mathematicians worked out the true 365 day calendar  and oriented the building to key celestial passages and events.  This is why is does not appear to be symmetrically placed on it’s platform which faces the four cardinal directions of north, south, east and west.

 

Nikki at the "Observatory"

Nikki at the “Observatory”

 

Note the asymmetry of the observatory to it's platform

Note the asymmetry of the observatory to it’s platform

It was a long day with a 3 hours ride each way, but very well worth it and a highlight of our time in the Cancun and Isla Mujeres.

 

German "Tall Ship" with Cancun in the background - departing Isla Mujeres

German “Tall Ship” with Cancun in the background – departing Isla Mujeres

 

Farewell Cancun - High Density tourism at it's finest....?

Farewell Cancun – High Density tourism at it’s finest….?

Every season, we somehow find a “buddy boat”. A buddy boat is another cruising boat who you more or less tag along with. We never know who it will be or if we’ll even find one (though we have every season!). When we were nearing our departure from Isla Mujeres, we met Dennis and Lizette of s/v “Windward”, a Norseman 447. This is the same type of boat that our friends Dave and Kathie have whom we met in the mid Indian Ocean in 2012. They became our “buddy boat” that year and Ron and Kathleen of s/v “Lady Amelie” (sister ship Switch 51) were last season. We would both be departing for Puerto Morelos the next day and it’s what Humphrey Bogart said in “Casablanca”…..”Louis, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”….:-)

Stay tuned for our second Mexican Blog….I’ll try to get it out in a few days!
KIT,
Scott and Nikki (written from Barefoot Cay Marina, Roatan – The Bay of Islands, Honduras)

February 12th-16th, 2015 (-5 on UTC)

Dear Friends and Family,

We arrived in Havana’s “Marina Hemingway” after an 85 mile journey from Cayo Blanco – the end of the Varadaro Peninsula.
We checked in at the Customs and Immigration Dock where the boat was again inspected; this time with a dog. The dog was a cute little beagle, who I was convinced was nothing more than the guys house pet. There was a little “mordida”(bribes) here. For now, I’ll just leave it at that. We did not experience this at Marina Gaviota.

The next day, we met a nice young couple, Dani and Tate from Louisiana. They had recently left the US for a planned 5 year circumnavigation on a Westsail 32 – s/v “Sundowner”. They were young and tough and will have quite the adventure by the time their 5 year plan is complete.

 

Dani and Tate's s/v "Sundowner" on the first leg of a world tour

Dani and Tate’s s/v “Sundowner” on the first leg of a world tour

Speaking of Americans… There were at least 15 and perhaps 25 US registered vessels here. Technically, we’re not supposed to visit Cuba of course, but again, as I had need of some mechanical assistance, that takes precedence when sailing a small boat on the big sea. Speaking of which, we were again told about the wonderful mechanics who would be down “any time”. We asked when, as we sure didn’t want to just sit and wait. Of course you know the answer?!….”Manana Senor”….:-)

We quickly surmised this may be a replay of our experience in Marina Gaviota. In short…it was.

As we were waiting for “Guidot”, we found a nice reference for a day tour of Havana with a young guide who spoke perfect English and would be escorting us in his
associates 1952 Chevy! We were met at Marina Hemingway and began our tour with our guide Ricardo telling us lots about the general history of Cuba. One of the first buildings we passed was what he called, “The ugliest building in all of Havana. Can you guess what it is?”. I already knew….it was the Russian Embassy and indeed, unattractive was an understatement, it resembled the Lego man crumpled up and on steroids. We were on embassy row where all the old colonial homes were the embassies of one country or another. The US doesn’t have an embassy, but rather an “interests section”. This is kept on the Malecon (waterfront) downtown away from all the other embassies. This “interest section” had been in Havana since just after the Castro revolution in 1958.

 

El Moro Military Fortress - The cities main defense in    years gone by

El Moro Military Fortress – The cities main defense in years gone by

We went down the Malecon where the Military Morro fortress across the way could be seen with the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana (commonly called La Cabana) fortress just inland. The La Cabana Fort was Che Guevara’s domain just after the revolution and at least a few thousand Cuban’s were executed here. This little fact was not on the tour….

For some interesting reading on the USA’s relations with Cuba since the revolution, see:
“Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana” by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh
This is a rather favorable tome as far as Fidel Castro’s relationship is concerned. It shows the convoluted nature of the entire relationship between the two nations.

If interested in Che Guevara: “Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him” by Humberto Fontova
Mr. Fontova and his family were exiled from Cuba after the revolution. He very well documents with first person interviews his take on all things Che.
He additionally writes a book on Fidel Castro: “Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant”.

Another book on Che which is far more favorable to his legacy is: “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson.
This book is quite long and uses mostly sources from Castro’s Cuba.

As to which slant you believe…read them and you decide.

La Cabana Fortress where Che Guevara oversaw the executions of anti revolutionary Cubans

La Cabana Fortress where Che Guevara oversaw the executions of anti revolutionary Cubans

 

Che's image is on the "Ministry of the Interior" building. Some call it the secret police building.

Che’s image is on the “Ministry of the Interior” building. Some call it the secret police building. Che was Cuba’s first “Minister of the Interior” under Catro’s Revolution.

The Military Morro fort on the point was used to protect Havana from raiders, pirates and other nations fleets till the Spanish American War, where it was obvious it had, like most of these forts, been made obsolete by technology. This was the harbor where the USS Maine blew up, beginning the Spanish American War. It’s still quite controversial how the Maine met it’s demise. Some say it was the Spanish, some an accident and some even suggest (which I’m sure is poppycock), that the US blew it up to have a causus belli to start the war. The evidence removed and not properly preserved or investigated; we’ll never know.

Obispo Street is the happening tourist mecca in Old Havana. The Capitol Building is in the distance under going renovations.

Obispo Street is the happening tourist mecca in Old Havana. The Capitol Building is in the distance under going renovations.

Next we stopped to do a walking tour of the old city which centers upon Obispo Street. Obispo Street has been extensively rebuilt as an important tourist destination. The streets just to each side of it look like slums. There is a big renovation plan to include them as well as the city center where the Capitol Building is. Ironically, it’s design was inspired by the US Capitol and like the US Capitol today which has scaffolding all around it for renovations, the Cuban Capitol Building does too!

Tourism is very big in Cuba, most especially Havana. Many of these busses were here for the day trip from the Varadero Peninsula

Tourism is very big in Cuba, most especially Havana. Many of these busses were here for the day trip to Havana from the Varadero Peninsula

One of the first attractions we saw was the United Buddy Bears exhibit the Plaza de San Francisco.  This is a touring exhibit, co-sponsored by the United Nations and private donors to promote tolerance amongst the peoples of the world. The Cuba Bear was an attraction, but no bear had a bigger line for families to pose for photos than, you guessed it…The USA Bear.

Unite Buddy Bears - a UN/Private Donation sponsored touring event to promote understanding between the nations.

United  Buddy Bears – a UN/Private Donation sponsored touring event to promote understanding between the nations.

 

 

Without question, the lines were by far the longest for the locals to get their picture taken with the USA - Statue of Liberty Bear

Without question, the lines were by far the longest for the locals to get their picture taken with the USA – Statue of Liberty Bear

 

Nikki supported her UK roots by posing with the UK Bear

Nikki supported her UK roots by posing with the UK Bear

 

And of course, no photo op would have been complete without Nikki posing with Austraila Bear!

And of course, no photo op would have been complete without Nikki posing with Austraila Bear!

After our experience with bears, we went to see the beautiful old Cathedral de San Cristobal de La Habana. It’s known for it’s uneven, non symmetrical towers. It took so long for the Jesuits to build it, that the design changed during construction. Christopher Columbus was interned here from 1795 until 1898 when his remains were moved to Seville, Spain.

This Cathedral was the site of Columbus' last internment before he was finally moved to Seville, Spain in the early 1800's

This Cathedral was the site of Columbus’ last internment before he was finally moved to Seville, Spain in the late 1800’s

Our next stop was the Plaza de Armas (Plaza of Arms) where the Hotel Isabel is located. Many US dignitaries including President Jimmy Carter stayed here.
The next stop was the Hotel Raquel which was built by Jews living in Havana. It has gorgeous stain glass arch windows and wrought iron elevator (lift) right out of the 1930’s.

Ricardo and Scott at "The Raquel".  This hotel is connected to the still existing Jewish Community of Havana. There are beautiful stain glass ceilings inside. Note the Mezuzah above Scott's arm on the door post

Ricardo and Scott at “The Raquel”. This hotel is connected to the still existing Jewish Community of Havana. There are beautiful stain glass ceilings inside. Note the Mezuzah above Scott’s arm on the door post

Next we went to the Hotel Ambos Mundos (Two Worlds – old and new). This was made famous by Ernest Hemingway who stayed here for months at a time in the same 5th floor room. He wrote a “Farewell to Arms” and the “Green Fields of Africa” – standing at his typewriter (due to a back injury suffered while an ambulance driver in the Spanish Civil war in Spain). Also decorating his 5th floor room (now closed and used as a museum) were several of the telegrams he received while here congratulating him on his Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. This hotel also has a lovely roof top bar where much of the old city can be seen and an open wrought iron elevator (lift) that is old enough that even Hemingway used.

Hemingways private room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel. Today it is a museum to his memory

Hemingways private room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel. Today it is a museum to his memory

The museums guide showing us the model of his beloved fishing boat, "Pilar" as well as the original telegrams in the frames congratulating Hemingway on his 1954 Nobel Prize for literature

The museums guide showing us the model of his beloved fishing boat, “Pilar” as well as the original telegrams in the frames congratulating Hemingway on his 1954 Nobel Prize for literature. “Pilar” is now located at the Hemingway “Finca” (residence). It is being restored as part of the Hemingway Museum. “Pillar” was the nickname of Hemingway’s wife, Pauline.

 

We then returned to our “ride”. A 1952 Chevy Bel Air. Remy was our driver and told us that he inherited the car from his Dad. The engine had been replaced and now has a Nissan diesel in it. I asked him how many miles it had on it? He said, “The odometer broke at 287,000”. I asked how long ago that was? He said, “About 25 years ago”. He said he really didn’t know how many miles it has on it.

Cool...a real live 1952 Chevy Bel Air

Cool…a real live 1952 Chevy Bel Air

 

Scott, Ricardo and Remy hanging out with Remy's 52' Chevy man....:-)

Scott, Ricardo and Remy hanging out with Remy’s 52′ Chevy man….:-)

We then went to a nice lunch at a local Palador (private home) which serves as restaurant and residence to the owners. Capitalism is slowly creeping into Cuban life. Some reforms have been instituted which allow small private business to flourish, paying certain license fees and taxes to the government. This is an exciting prospect for many Cubans which allow them to supplement their income.

Health care is free, but as Orwell said, “not all animals are created equal”. The elite and tourists get quick and very good treatment. Locals…not so much.
They may have to wait prohibitively long periods of time and the facilities are not the ones seen in the Potemkin Village Hollywood films as pictured by Michael Moore.

Cubans receive a ration card each month. They generally say it works out to about 2 weeks/month of basic needs in terms of food. The Cubans all have other means of supplementing their incomes as it’s necessary to do so to meet their daily needs. Like all places, some people are doing pretty well while others (many) aren’t. The rural areas are truly subsistence livelihoods while some in the big cities are doing okay. Our young guide Ricardo, is very optimistic as he says, all of Cuba is about the prospect of normalized relations with the US and ending the embargo. My distinct impression (and mind you), not everyone can say out loud – is that once Fidel and Raoul have passed on, the next generation of leaders will really make big positive changes.

After all this sight seeing, it was time for a visit to the very up market, “Hotel Nacional” for a Mojito. The National was built by Mafiosa Boss, Meyer Lansky as his Cuban retreat. Apparently, the mob bosses including Al Capone would meet here to discuss, “business”. Cuba became the center of Casino Gambling and of course Rum Running during Prohibition. The Hotel is beautiful and commands one of the best views of the Malecon and Havana Harbor. Another refreshing feature was that we had one of the two best Mojitos ever. Mojito means, “the little moistener” and was apparently Ernest Hemingway’s drink of choice.

Hotel Nacional - built by Meyer Lansky. A favorite hangout for the Mafia in the 1930's.

Hotel Nacional – built by Meyer Lansky. A favorite hangout for the Mafia in the 1930’s.

 

Scott, Nikki and Ricardo enjoying a fabulous Mojito - take note Ron!!!...:-)

Scott, Nikki and Ricardo enjoying a fabulous Mojito – take note Ron!!!…:-)

Our last stop on the way back to the Hemingway Marina was at Cuban artist, Fustero’s home. He has developed a niche mosaic as well as modern impressionist painting style. He has a great deal of latitude in his travels and has made a substantial income from selling his art world wide.
The street he lives on is lined with mosaic art and is a must visit while touring Havana.

The artist, "Fuseros" home. It's a living museum to his art.

The artist, “Fuseros” home. It’s a living museum to his art. The entire neighborhood around his home are done in mosaic tile art work.

As we realized “yet again” that we were waiting for the Cuban equivalent of “Guidot” for mechanical assistance, we decided that we would leave the next morning and head directly to Isla Mujeres, Mexico (our original intended destination). The cute beagle was back, small “mordida” yet again extracted. Our trip would be two days and two nights.

 

Goodbye Havana! - Exiting Marina Hemingway.  Once knows as Marina Monte Carlo, Fidel Castro renamed in the author's honor after his death.

Goodbye Havana! – Exiting Marina Hemingway. Once knows as Marina Monte Carlo, Fidel Castro renamed in the author’s honor after his death. They met only once.

 

Tug departing Mariel. This is the harbor where in 1980, the "Mariel Boat Lift" authorized by President Carter saw over 80,00 Cubans depart for the USA

Tug departing Mariel. This is the harbor where in 1980, the “Mariel Boat Lift” authorized by President Carter saw over 80,00 Cubans depart for the USA

Next stop, Isla Mujeres (The Island of the Women) and glitzy Cancun, Mexico.

Stay tuned!
Scott and Nikki (written at Cay Caulker, Belize

February 6th – 12th, 2015 (-5 on UTC)

Dear Friends and Family,

I noticed that some of you may not have received the Ship’s Blog on how we got from the Bahamas to TITSNBN (aka: Cuba).

The link is here: http://svbeachhouse.com/ships-log/bahamas-to-titsnbn/

Also, it is the Ship’s Blog post just prior to this one.  As a reminder for those of you who did not see the previous post – “TITSNBN” stands for – “That Island That Shall Not Be Named”.

We last left you having checked into Marina Gaviota, Varadero Peninsula – Cuba. The first full day we spent was in quest of finding some assistance from the local boat yard. Let me set the scene. Marina Gaviota is located at the very Eastern end of the Varadaro Peninsula on Cuba’s north coast, about 85 miles East of Havana. The peninsula runs more of less parallel to the north shore with a large bay to it’s south side.

The Marina (which is still under construction) is apparently under the ownership/control of the Cuban Military and will eventually be able to accommodate 1000 boats (so we were told). Raoul Castro (Fidel’s brother and current President) is in charge and has personal financial interests in the property. The Peninsula is 10 miles or so of 4 Star “All Inclusive” Hotels which the boaters all jokingly called, “The Tourist Prison”.

It’s not that you can’t leave the Peninsula, we did, but that they try and control all the prices and businesses where the tourist dollars flow. Sixty Five Percent of the tourists are Canadian. The Cuban’s enjoy their fun loving nature. The Germans are next. The locals say they are not overly friendly in the sense that they are not outgoing (which the Cubans definitely are!). Next in line is the British, French and other European tourists, closely followed by the Russians.
The Cuban youth (more likely most Cubans), DO NOT LIKE the Russians. We found them in our personal experience to be at best classless and rude. How’s that for a ringing endorsement? They acted like stero-types out of a cold war movie.

So after inquiring at the shipyard about getting some mechanical assistance (where we were told “manana” – tomorrow), we walked around the hotel area and met the local boaters. Most of the boats in Cuba are from Canada and Europe. Despite all, there are lots of Americans. Apparently, before 2001, there were LOTS of Americans. Now, the Cubans are very hopeful due to President Obama’s recent statements that the Americans will return….in big numbers. The Cubans like Americans.

We were told by our Dutch friends, Tom and Anneke that there was a Canadian gal named Debbie Armstrong who is the “Mother Teresa” of Cuba. Debbie, who we met the next day, was flattered by the remark. Debbie was a wealth of information and lives on her boat in Marina Darsena (Varadaro). Debbie told us, that the Cubans have closed Marina Darsena to International Boats upon arrival as they want all of them to go to Marina Gaviota (where the Cuban Army/Raoul Castro) have a financial interest. The trumped up reason was that the “incinerator for international garbage at Darsena no longer gets hot enough”. Ah, welcome to the third world….:-)

Debbie Armstrong - (seen far right with Pink top) - Holding court with the cruisers to get the lay of the land aboard Beach House.  Marina Gaviota, Varadero

Debbie Armstrong – (seen far right with Pink top) – Holding court with the cruisers to get the lay of the land aboard Beach House. Marina Gaviota, Varadero

Since we were stuck awaiting “Godot” (as it turned out), we decided to have a look around for ourselves. We hired a car and took a two day tour to the South side of the island to visit the towns of Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara.

The roads were overall pretty good and we heard that the major highways were built by the US back in the 1950’s. Care had to be taken as occasionally, the pot holes were an issue. Seeing all the crummy Russian Lada’s and a wealth of American 1950’s automobiles was quite a hoot.

We would see hundreds of these classic 1950's US Automobiles.  Note the Russian Lada in the upper left

We would see hundreds of these classic 1950’s US Automobiles. Note the Russian Lada in the upper left

 

Our first stop was the south coastal town of Cienfuegos.  It was an old historic town with lots of Spanish Colonial architecture. We first visited the Marina and the Club Nautico and quickly realized in essence…they were (politely stated), “down trodden”.

The wayward home for boats on the south shore at Cienfuegos Marina

The wayward home for boats on the south shore at Cienfuegos Marina

The Plaza in the "New" part of Cienfuegos. Note the Classic Car in the foreground

The Plaza in the “New” part of Cienfuegos – Note the Classic Car in the foreground. Cienfuegos was very clean in the new areas and definitely ready for it’s close up….:-)

 

In small ways, Capitalism is making a big resurgence.  These young artists were very  "market savy" young entrepreneurs

In small ways, Capitalism is making a big resurgence. These young artists were very “market savy” young entrepreneurs

We soon found our way to the “new” part of the town which is only 200-400 years old. Nicely being restored, it is now and one day will be – quite the tourist destination. There is lots of history about the Revolutions of the late 1860’s and Jose Marti’s revolution of the years around 1895-8 which was a precipitator of the Spanish/American War. We found the people everywhere we went to be open and friendly. They just love Americans and were thrilled to see more and more Americans arriving on their island…more on this later.

From Cienfuegos, we drove to the historic Colonial town of Trinidad. Founded in 1514, the town just celebrated it’s 500th year anniversary!

The main Plaza in Old Trinidad. The city has just celebrated it's 500th birthday!

The main Plaza in Old Trinidad. The city has just celebrated it’s 500th birthday!

The central area is a walking tour only and quite the tourist scene. There are just dozens of busloads of tourists in much of Cuba. Who knew?
Trinidad has a very old world charm and for the most part, Cuba reminded me of most of the Central American countries and Mexico that I have visited. An interesting feature is that this is a rare island in Latin America where there are no indigenous people mixed into the gene pool. About 60% are of direct Spanish heritage, 20% mixed race and 20% Africans who were freed and descended from slaves. Cuba was the last place in the Caribbean to abolish slavery which was part of the first Revolution in the late 1860’s.

The indigenous peoples either died of disease or were enslaved by the Spanish after they conquered the island. According to our guide, there is racial discrimination in Cuba, but not so much in the economic sense. It seemed to be more of a situation where they just didn’t want to mix socially.

We stayed in what is called a “Casa Particular” where we stayed on the second floor of a private home. One other young couple was there who were from Israel and we had some great conversations. They were doing a “gap year” after their army service – seeing the world on a shoestring budget. They wondered why we were staying in a “Casa”? We told them that there were so many tourists in town, we could not find another hotel room. To give you an idea, the “Casa’s” fee was 25 dollars/night! It was clean, but not overly comfortable. Hence, we stayed one night. The Iberostar (a very lovely old Colonial Hotel) was booked solid at 450.00 USD/night!

En route back to the boat, we stopped at Santa Clara. This is where the monument to Che Guevara is and his mausoleum. It is here, that his bones and those of his 40 ill fated companions are interned. It is sacred grounds to the “believers”. They were killed in their attempt to spread the revolution to Bolvia, supposedly with the assistance of the CIA. Some locals believe it was Fidel who ratted out Che to the Bolivians.  He was jealous of his cult of personality which was known. Perhaps we’ll never know?

Che and his companions remains were turned over to Fidel Castro in the late 1990’s which is when this monument was built. Santa Clara was chosen as it’s the city where the decisive battle was led by Che to overthrow the Batista Government. When we drove back to Marina Gaviota, we saw a hotel that was built by Batista for his Generals. It looked like a nuclear blast facility on an immense scale.

Memorial and Mausoleum to Che Guevara and his Bolivian Guerillas

Memorial and Mausoleum to Che Guevara and his Bolivian Guerillas

 

Photos of Che - which of course rings greatly of propaganda - are everywhere.  His image is the most reproduced of any image in the world!

Photos of Che – which of course rings greatly of propaganda – are everywhere. His image is the most reproduced of any image in the world!

Che is a mixed bag in Cuba. His picture is EVERYWHERE. Fifty photos or drawings of Che to every one of Fidel you see in the countryside. Fidel has no monuments to himself as he realized they might become used as a symbol to show some of the people’s displeasure with him. Che has become the iconic symbol of “revolutions” everywhere.

His image is on everything and for sale. So much for the anti-capitalists. The young kids don’t think much of him and realize that he was at least as bad a guy as a force for freedom in Cuba’s history. They “respect” Fidel and Raoul Castro, but believe that – “they are the past”. They are VERY much looking forward to the day when normalization with the US will occur and are a well educated people who will embrace the West in a very big way. The people, especially the kids under 35, have no reservation about telling you their opinion of everything Cuban. From “Hawkish Cuban Americans” to the excesses of Fidel, Raoul and Che the youth will unabashedly discuss all things Cuban. And oh by the way, they singularly despise the Russians……nuff’ said.

After seeing the “Soviet Style” Mausoleum to Che, which includes an almost terrarium like display by his internment – representing the forests of Boliva where he died – we did the long drive back to the boat. Along the (in fact both ways), we saw huge block (read that as very UGLY) Soviet era schools and housing mixed into the sugarcane fields. They are now all in complete disrepair with only squatters living in them. Very eery looking.

We saw dozens of these Soviet era style school and housing blocks.  For the most part they were completely abandoned  except for the squatters

We saw dozens of these Soviet era style school and housing blocks. For the most part they were completely abandoned except for the squatters

When we returned to the boat, we needed to do maintenance and took the day to try and follow up with the boat yard. Again…..”Manana”. This would be the theme for our getting a bit of mechanical assistance while in Cuba.

The next day, a weather window started to open, so we checked out of Marina Gaviota and spent an evening with a Canadian and another American boat at Cayo Blanco. Quite tricky in the anchorage, but pleasant and quiet. This is the place where one of the dozens of “day cats” bring the tourists to snorkel and sun on the beach. When I say dozens, I mean dozens of these 80 foot Fontaine Pajot day catamarans.

There were dozens of these big 80 foot Fontaine  Pajot Day Charter Cats.  Whether the weather was good or not, they were usually full of people staying at the "tourist prison", heading out to Cayo Blanco

There were dozens of these big 80 foot Fontaine Pajot Day Charter Cats. Whether the weather was good or not, they were usually full of people staying at the “tourist prison”, heading out to Cayo Blanco

As we could not get any assistance for the foreseeable future, we decided to try Havana – 85 miles to our West.

The wind was light and the current with us – most of the way. When the current turned against us, about 20 miles East of Havana, it really slowed us down. We arrived late in the day at Marina Hemingway, named by Fidel for the late author whom he met once in Cuba. Hemingway and all things Hemingway are an industry in Cuba. More on this in our next Ship’s Blog.

Ernest Hemingway used to come here by boat to what was then known as Monte Carlo Marina.  Fidel Castro renamed it after Hemingway's death to Marina Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway used to come here by boat to what was then known as Monte Carlo Marina. Fidel Castro renamed it after Hemingway’s death to Marina Hemingway

We again went through the very formal check in procedure. This time with a dog (whom I was convinced was just the Customs guy’s house pet) who supposedly sniffed for narcotics and gunpowder. Every time you arrive or leave a Cuban port, they thoroughly check the boat. We suspect they are concerned with smuggling people out by boat, but today, Cubans are allowed to leave the island. First, If they can afford too – the average Cuban makes 15.00 USD/month and secondly, If they can get a visa. Ecuador is the only country in the world where Cubans are not required to have a visa and as such, they do travel to Ecuador the most. They can apply for a visa to the EU, Canada and even the USA. The USA visa costs 160.00 USD and there is no guarantee it will be issued. Overwhelmingly, they are not issued and as such, due to the price, most Cubans do not request a US visa.

The last thing that happened as we arrived here, different from Marina Gaviota, (and we were warned) about officials asking for “gifts”. We did experience this. I’ll leave it at that.

Next, we would try and find some mechanical help in the big city and while waiting, we did a tour of Havana! Can’t you just here Lucy and Rikki Ricardo doing the rhumba in the distance?…:-) Stay tuned for that experience – a real eye opener – next!

KIT,
Scott and Nikki (written from Puerto Morelos, Mexico)