Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Road trip to Vinales

IIt Vinales is a rural town about 200 km west of Havana.  It is inland in the mountains and we took a taxi there, $15 CUC per person. We arrived about noon on Friday and returned on Saturday afternoon. It is known as the best tobacco region in Cuba and the town is filled with casa particulars or homes that rent out a room.  We had been told to make sure we got a house that had a rooftop view of the mountains and when we arrived we wandered about until we found one that would take the four of us, we travelled with Jim and Janet from on the boat Viewfinder, they are from Montreal. 
        Enjoying the sunset with mohito in hand.
Horseback riding is big business in Vinales. 
In a tobacco drying shed. 
The ecological tractor of Cuba, all the work is done by hand, no mechanization. 
We witnessed a unscheduled cock fight, the darker rooster was the king of this particular patch and he made no bones about it chasing off all intruders. 
A tobacco farmer outstanding in his field.
Our buddies Ken and Wendy had been to Vinales and they said they had gone horseback riding and really enjoyed it.  I was pleasantly surprised that Barry agreed to come with me, we had a truly wonderful day. The temperature was very pleasant, the horses were "semi-automatic" (Barry's term) and the scenery was spectacular. 
The ecological tractor at work, they were beautiful well kept animals. 
They put us to work!!  The tobacco is picked in the field and the workers rip the leaves in half and pile them up their arms, then they transfer them to these poles and the oxen pull a bunch of the poles, which are riding on a wooden sled back to the drying shed. 
We bought one cigar here, the two Dutch boys who were on the ride with us bought 30 cigars and claimed they could sit around and smoke their brains out. Under the Communist system the farmers are required to sell 90% of their product back to the government and they get to keep 10% for themselves. A hurricane went through this area in 2008 and flattened all the drying sheds. The gov't paid groups of citizens from other parts of Cuba to come to this region and rebuild the sheds. The owners did not have to pay for this help but were required to feed and house, or provide places for the work crews to sleep. 
A worker is raising the pole with the newly picked tobacco in the shed, the dangerous part of the operation is when they have to move the heavily laden poles up to the top of the shed.  I don't think you can see but the tobacco at the top of the shed is much dryer than the leaves at the bottom. 
Next we headed into a cave on the side of the cliff. It was a 250 m. walk in a very dark cave that had stalimites and stalitites and there was a pool at the end that was filled with mountain fresh water. It was about a meter deep but very refreshing, Barry did not get wet, but I swam almost down to the end with our Dutch buddies. 
Our next stop was a coffee plantation. The small plants next to the mortar and pestle are about two weeks old.  At the moment the coffee is blooming and the small green beans are just starting to grow, they will harvest them at the end of the summer in August. The mortar and pestle is used to get the outer hull of the beans off after they are dried and before they are roasted. We bought some honey and some ground Arabica beans. At this farm they were growing tomatoes, onions and manioc as well. 
On the way home, both Barry and I were really stiff when we got off the horses, it was a four hour ride! I had a nice long shower once we got back to the boat and hopefully my butt won't be too sore today.  It was so worth it though, what a gorgeous day. Barry says if he could only take one trip in Cuba, Vinales would be his choice. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Habana Triathalon

We were lucky enough to be able to watch the Havan Triathalon which started on the Marina Hemingway grounds. There were two days of racing, Day 1 was a half ironman, I don't think there was a full and Day 2 was the elite sprint Triathalon. The swimming took place in the canals the boats are tied up on. They swam down canal 1 closest to the ocean and then up canal 3, missing our canal all together. 
This is the start of Day 1, not a particularly fair start in my opinion!! The woman who started the race had a non functioning megaphone to start and could not be heard. Day 2 start was much fairer, they had a line in the water and it was lifted after a command of on your mark! Well done. 
This poor competitor was not much of a swimmer and just after the start,I told Barry he was going to have trouble. 20 meters into the race he gave up and kind of panicked, looking for a way out. The tide was out and the barnacles on the wall as well as it's height made  it impossible for him to lever himself up out of the water.  The spectators had to haul him out. I saw him get on his bike however so at least he was able to continue on in the race in some fashion. 
The athletes getting out of the water by the yacht club and transistioning to their bikes. 
Just after the first transistion, notice his bare feet, his shoes are underneath his feet!
They race left the Marina grounds at this point and it finished on the Malelcon in downtown Havana. 
The start of the men's race on Day 2, on Day 1 both sexes raced together. There was a mad sprint for the lead and a fellow from Venezuela came out of the water an astounding 30 seconds ahead, he held his own in the bike but two fellows passed him in the run and he finished in third place.
In the woman's race the lone Canadian athlete came in second, here she is about 75 meters from the finish line valiantly trying to catch the leader.  I spoke with her afterwards and she said she was pleased with her early season effort.  She has two races in Florida, then one on the Gold Coast in Australia which will count for points in her Olympic bid, the best of luck to her.  A male counterpart from the same training team in Guelf, ON did not finish as highly but was close to the top ten. 

The sprint race on Day 2 was almost entirely run on the Marina Hemingway property, there was about an 800m section of the bicycle course that was out on the main road.  The transistion areas were very interesting to watch. On Day 1 I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of time lost in the changeover from the swim to the bikes. They swam further and quite a few wore wet suits on Day 1 but no one on Day 2 had a wet suit on. What killed me was the guys trying to stuff their gel packs in the back of their jersey's as they were running towards their bikes.  It must be the fatigue and the cold from the swimming portion, the water was only 20 degrees, but my gosh the mucking about trying to get those packs into those tight pockets was ridiculous!!  
It was great to watch the highly conditioned bodies and minds attack a sport. There were lots of officials, helpers and coaches to make sure the event went off well, on the second day they had volunteers in the water with paddle boards in case something went wrong. It was fun to watch, I had not seen athletes of this caliber compete in the flesh. We were so lucky it was held in this locations because we probably would not have even known it was on. 
Our new passports should be in soon, so we will watch the weather and head out once things look good.  We will head around the western end of the island and laze around the south side for awhile. I have been suffering from a nasty cold for the last few days and have been keeping my head down somewhat. 

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.