Sunday, February 07, 2016

Life at the dock in Cuba

This is where we are situated in Marina Hemingway. There are four long canals with cement edges and we are halfway along Canal #2. That means that the banos are at the end which can be a long way when you need to go. Once you get to the washrooms it is necessary to carefully select your toilet stall, 1 is there a door on the stall, 2 does the door latch 3 is there a toilet seat, 4 does it look like the toilet might flush, depending on your sensibilities you may chose to reorder these requirements and as Barry says in most cases the answer to all these questions is NO!  In the showers there is plenty of hot water, two out of the four stalls do not have a door, not a problem for me, in one the shower head does not hang up on the wall, in the second only half the water is directed up the shower head and in the third the drainage is very slow, which leaves stall number one which is my personal favourite, no door, but all water comes out, it is hot and you do not have to hold the shower head, bliss!! 
Directly across from us is a hotel complex reputedly half owned by NHL players and the swimming pool is right there.  We can use the pool for $10 per day, or slip rental being $20. We are treated nightly to loud salsa music and on the weekends an obnoxious DJ shouts out incomprehensible commands in Spanish, although I must admit they desist at about 2200 hours which is great. 
As you walk down the cement canal there are signs painted on the cement to commenorate boat's stays here.  I had fun painting ours and I am quite pleased with the outcome.  The 2016 is a bit squished but oh well, I am not about to paint over it and try again. 

On Saturday we headed to the local market and used up some of our local currency to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.  We are really enjoying the papayas, guavas and the small sweet bananas. There are two currencies here, one for locals and one for foreigners. The CUC is pegged to the US dollar so we are paying dearly for touristy things. Our first time on a bus we did not have any local currency and the bus driver let us ride for free because whatever we offered him in CUC was way to much and he had no change. 
This is just outside the Marina and we thought a fish might be a nice change of pace, he wanted $18 CUC for it which would be almost equivalent to a month's wages for a regular worker, we declined. 
We managed to find a place to get my passport photo taken, the ones I had done in Miami stuck together and were ruined when I took them apart. Then we found the Canadian embassy, got the forms, paid the money and new passports are being made as we speak.  We should get them back by Feb. 15, meanwhile we cannot switch marinas so we are here until our new ones arrive. Boat chores are underway, we have polished the hull and I am in the process of painting the lockers under both settees. Waxing the top sides is next on the agenda. 
The Conch rally arrived this week, a sailboat race from Key West-Varadero-Havana-Key West. It involved 60 U.S. boats and was a big deal. There was a big reception at the yacht club with a dinner with the Deputy Minister of Tourism in attendance and the dinner featured two roast pigs. It was great to meet the new sailors and hear their stories.  A number of Americans commented that they never thought they would have been allowed to come here. 
Internet access is not easy here at the marina and involves taking two buses to get wifi so blog postings will be few and far between.  I am having withdrawal symptoms from my former 4 times daily access to my Facebook friends and I have not spoken to any of my family since we have arrived.  I have been trying to get our winlink to work but so far have been unsuccessful. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Cuba

We just returned from a four day jaunt with our good buddies Ken and Wendy Squirrell formerly from Cop Out. They flew in from Canada and we luckily were able to hook up with them in Cinefuegos. We had a great visit wandering around the artistic towns. We popped into every gallery we could find, the art is so colourful and varied it was a pleasure to the eyes. 
We stayed in people's home, our version of a B&B. They are very strictly regulated so that they were all clean. The first one we stayed in Cienfuegos was the best, the bed was great, the toilet had a seat (this is a real bonus in Cuba, and the toilet paper was included) and the water only stopped once, Barry got to shower in a much nicer bathroom downstairs. 
Our balcony in the first place.
Orchids flowering in the downstairs courtyard, beside the table where we were served breakfast. 
For breakfast you would be served a standard fare, fresh fruit, papaya, bananas, pineapple, guavas and oranges, Cuban coffee with hot milk, bread, fresh squeezed juice, and eggs with cheese grated on them, a great way to start your day. 
We visited a theatre that had been built in the late 1800's and there were posters from Caruso and Sarah Berhardt in the walls. I could just image in the cream of Cuban society dressed to the nines attending performances here. 

We took the pedi-taxi down to the ritzy part of town and gazed sat the gorgeous mansions there. We visited the Marina and inquired about prices, then relaxed with a mohito at a waterfront bar. 
We discovered a sculpture park on the way back to our casa's and I couldn't resist taking a picture of two Canadians who know about these bugs. They are almost that big in the NWT!!!
We moved on to Trinidad which is close to the mountains. We hired a collectivo or a private taxi to take us there, the young man was a very good driver and we safely arrived at out next casa.  There is a network across Cuba, you just tell you host where you want to go the next day and they phone around and find a place for you.  Trinidad is close to the mountains and the sea, there are beaches and trips to waterfalls to be had.  We spent out time in town, the weather was not warm enough to hit the beach.  The first day we did a walking tour of the the old town, the view from atop the steeple of a former church was astounding.  I was not so sure about the integrity of the bells though. 
As we wandered about the streets and the main square we caught glimpses of life in Cuba. 
The main square in Trinidad, a very touristy town, beautifully restored. 

We ran across a gentleman who wanted to be our guide the second day, he arranged for us to travel by horse and buggy, notice the cobble stone streets, the ride was very bumpy at times. 
 We visited a train station 
A cigar factory
The cigars are being squashed by a press so they stay together. It was fascinating watching the process of these cigars being rolled by hand. 
Wendy is a potter so we had to stop at a pottery factory. I just love all the beautiful colours and I would have bought one of the masks I was looking at if I thought I could have gotten back to Canada in one piece. 
Ken and I ended off the day sampling the cigars and swigging some rum.  First Ken succumbed, claiming dizziness and nausea, I called him a wimp but 20 minutes later I made a beeline for my bed, ready to loose my cookies.  Thankfully a brief rest and We were ready to head off for our final dinner together.  It was a great holiday away from the boat and we rekindled the friendship that flourished through Indonesia, 
We are back at the boat in Marina Hemingway in Havana. We are heading off to figure out where the Canadian embassy is and renew our passports. We will have to stay in one place for at least two weeks until our new passports come. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Marina Hemingway in Cuba

Our first taxi!!

We have arrived safely in Cuba.  It was a rocky, rolly, quick ride.  We left with the tide at 1100 hours on Wed. and had to slow down about 0300 on Thur. because we were going to get there too soon.  We sailed slowly in under a triple reefed main and a handkerchief of jib out.  Clearing customs was a breeze, done effieciently and quickly, the only ones who asked for a bribe were the older agriculture officials, who did not consficate any of our food, but got a Coca Cola for their troubles. 
We immideately saw a couple from New Zealand whom we had briefly seen in Key West.  They had crossed on Monday.  They were going in to town with a Swiss couple so I went with them.  I managed to change some money and book a bus to Cinefuegos, on the south side of the island, to meet up with our Canadian buddies who have been here since Jan. 11.

We are now in Cinefuegos and they have e-mailed us a spot where we are too meet.  They just came in, woo hoo. Mission accomplished.  We will spend the next week touring around with them. I am on a hotel computer, not having quite figured out how the internet works here so no pics as yet.  I will say the taxi we took into town yesterday, it is about 10km, was a beaut, old, rusty red, converted from automatic to standard and the gear shift was just up through a hole in the floor. 
Gotta go.
This is the hotel where I booked the bus tour.  Good thing I took a picture because I did not know the name and I just showed the taxi driver the picture and he was able to get get us to the hotel. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Key West

This was the site off our port bow yesterday. Not something anyone living on a boat wants to see.  It blew up a houlie.  We had dragged our anchor earlier in the day so Barry stayed on the boat while I went ashore to take our computers to the "doctor", they are very ill. These clouds came complete with bolting lightning and LOUD CRASHES of thunder. One was so close to me, that I screamed.  Now I like a good thunderstorm, on the prairies you can see them coming for miles and you get prepared and then they stay around for awhile and you can count the time between seeing the flash and hearing the thunder. Here, there were four terrific crashes and then the whole thing was gone, blown away just like that, Mind you it did rain for quite awhile.  There were tornado warnings further up the coast but it bypassed this area. 
These beautiful boats are used to take tourists out for a jaunt and tonight there were three in the harbour for the sunset cruise. It is a Key West thing to line the harbour for sunset and all the boats paraded in front of the crowd on their way out of the harbour, just lovely. 
There has been a cruise ship in town everyday, I just love the paint job on this one.  Barry's brother Bruce and Margaret, the love of his life, are coming here on a big ship on Monday.  We are looking forward to spending the afternoon with them. 
We walked by this marker a couple of days ago. That makes three biggies, northern most point of continental Australia, the eastern most point of continental North Amerca and now the southern most point of the continental U.S. I guess you could say we get around!! 
In the past Key West was having issues with the Federal Gov't so a movement formed and they declared the area the Conch Republic! It had it's own flag and flower and marine animal. This is an example of Conch architecture. There are some stunning restorations in town.
Roosters romp through the streets. I heard a guide telling his charges that cock fighting used to be a big sport here.  In the 1970's Florida declared the sport illegal so the owners just let the chickens run wild.  Well this is a prime example of the umpteenth generation of chicken. The cars slow down to let them cross the street and there is a store full of chicken memorabilia, I could not resist a chicken shot glass for Barry's collection. 
These are the boaters that give the rest of us a bad name. They totally neglect their craft's and the boats are eventually driven ashore. No one wants to spend money disposing of them so there they sit, unwanted and just plain ugly. It is so sad. Thankfully, we were aboard Cat's-Paw IV when she decided to drag and  we just started the engine and reanchored. We let twice as much chain out this time!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Florida Keys

This is the cruising scene in Marathon, FA! It is the home to a huge number of boats for the winter. There is a radio net, they have yoga, baseball, Mexican Train, and meetings about Crossing to the Bahamas and what you can expect in Cuba. We are anchored in the outer harbour, about 2 nm from the dinghy dock, which costs you $22/ day to leave your dinghy, OUCH! I can see how staying here would be a comfortable place to spend the winter, apparently there are a lot of RV's here as well. I think we will move on down to Key West so that our crossing to Havana will not be so far. 
This series of shots were taken at the lighthouse on the south end of Key Biscayne. It is located in a state park on land that a newspaper fellow convinced the owner to donate to the state when it was scheduled for development. He felt that the people of Miami would need some green space, there are over 800,000 visitors to the park every year!  The lighthouse was built in 1855 and restored in the late 1990's, they had the bricks fired in a special way so that they would be like they were in the 1850's and they replaced all the iron stairs inside. It is now automated but still in use. 
The more modest homes of Key Largo, notice the cannons in this fellows' front yard, I was jealous, also the houses are built from large cement blocks. We talked with a taxi driver and he has been here 18 years and they have had 4 hurricanes, so the houses are pretty sturdy. 

We motor sailed down to Key Largo and pulled in behind a little island just at dusk.  We needed fuel and water so pulled into a Marina which we had to enter at high tide.  It was down a canal, which was about .8 km long and stayed there for the night. We arranged to go diving and what fun! Two really nice dives with lots of sea life, the corral on the second dive was a lot better and we saw nurse sharks, a bull shark possibly, and a largish sea turtle, plus a delicious looking lobster. There were a tremendous number so reef fish as well, all colours and sizes. I remembered how much I loved being under the water, yippee. 
 The start of the seven mile bridge from Marathon to Key West. I checked it out and Key West was the site of the filming of another 007 movie, so this will be our 4th Bond film location! 

So do the two boats look similar?? When we pulled in to Marathon there was another Fast Passage 39 anchored. The folks, Monika and Trent came right over and introduced themselves and we had a couple hours of a mutual admiration chat and then they kindly invited us to a potluck dinner aboard   their buddy boat. We had a lovely evening on a roomy 43 foot boat, the Last Tango, where Tim and Gigi were the hosts and a delicious bean stew was produced with fresh corn bread, yum. 
The last two days have reawakened my desire to continue cruising, the diving and the fellowship we experienced the other night. The ICW was not my favourite place, due to the shallow water, the constant fear of grounding and the inability to sail.  I am really glad we experienced it, we saw lots of places we never would have if we had hopped down offshore, but NEVER again!