Cuba 2017

March 13, 2017

There seemed to be a fair amount of current in the channel between Cuba and Jamaica and we crabbed at near 30 degrees from the rhumb line to offset this. At midnight there were still rain cells roaming around but these died away and after about 0400 hours, we were close enough to Cuba that the rollers we had been suffering with as they hit near directly on the beam, died away leaving just a slight chop.

At 0800 hours we approached the narrow passage through the sea cliffs, dominated by the formidable fortress of El Castillo del Morro. I told Annette to let me know if she saw smoke from the Castillo, in which case we would turn and run for it. In fact as we neared land we could see that the cannons of the ancient fortress were not the true risk, instead these would be the modern camouflaged concrete bunkers just behind the beach.

At 0827 hours we dropped anchor at 19 59.0 N 075 52.184 W

By radio we had been told to wait about 30 minutes for the Immigration officer but it was around 1030 by the time he showed up. We handed him our passports, Jamaica clearance certificate, boat registration and he departed indicating that we needed to wait for “the doctor”. We had just sat down to eat our lunch when the lady doctor came aboard. She was wearing a tee-shirt bearing the legend, “Kiss Me”, bordered with a motorcycle fringe and silver studs. Her long hair was two toned, yellow and magenta and she sported inch long, intricately painted, acrylic finger nails. She had lots of useless forms to complete about de-ratification certificates, the number of deaths onboard and the like. She then asked for our yellow fever certificates and although they had expired some four years ago, didn’t seem to either notice or mind. She took our temperatures – both normal. Then she lectured us on mosquito safety, using Chlorox to sanitize drinking water and also to wash any fruits and vegetables. Finally she asked us for a “gift” of cash. We gave her a little cash. Then she asked for a beer. We were surprised by this one but popped a beer and poured it into a glass. She drank about half of the beer we gave her and as we learned from another crew, when they gave her a can of beer, she had slipped the unopened can into her bag. Annette offered her some candy, she took all of the proffered sweets plus the bowl they were in. Now we were more than ready to get rid of her! She then abruptly announced that we were to take her to the dock. I assumed that we were to launch our dinghy but no, she meant the whole boat. This precipitated a flurry of activity on our part as we deployed fenders, lines and powered up the instruments, so that we could read the rudder positions and water depths and then proceeded to raise the anchor. Annette and I were both very cognizant of the fact that the doctor was now on our boat unaccompanied by either of us and that bag of hers could hold a lot of stuff.

A little after noon found us tied up to the dock and after cramming the remains of our lunch down, (the doctor hadn’t confiscated this) we headed over to the Immigration office. Here we dictated endless pieces of useless information, duplicating just about everything the doctor has asked for, that were then meticulously typed into a computer form. Forms were printed, signed, more forms printed and more signatures. Eventually we were done and were passed onwards to the harbor master’s office to pay a cash balance of US$240 for clearance fees. By 1430 hours we were also “done” here, although we were warned that, “Agriculture might come tomorrow”.

I plugged our power umbilical into the dockside electricity pylon and began deploying our newly constructed fender boards to hold us off the rough concrete dock. Annette poked her head out of the cabin and informed me that the air-conditioner had just died. Bugger! I discovered that although the supplied voltage looked great, it crashed to nothing if you turned anything on. Back to Harbor Master’s office where he told me to “try another pylon”. This was a waste of time and although I did try two more pylons, this quest for power was doomed to be fruitless since all of the meters were reading 000000, meaning nobody had ever extracted usable electricity from them before.

The marina restaurant was open but we had no Cuban cash to pay with. “We will work something out”, said the Harbor Master. This seemed a little vague so I asked him if there was any place in the marina where we might change a small amount of cash? “Yes”, he replied. I did not press him further since I did not want his head to explode whilst I was standing close by.

Just before we were to leave on an exploratory trip to the marina restaurant, the Swedish crew aboard S/Y Aela, whom we had befriended in Port Antonio, dropped by to visit us. They reported that the marina restaurant sucks anyway, rice and beans being high on the list of haut cuisine. We ate aboard. A long and busy day.

March 14, 2017

Early this morning, Timothy (S/Y Aela) came to sell us some unused CUC’s (convertible pesos) and with this purchase we now owned enough for the taxi ride into town to the bank. Cuba has two currencies. There is a convertible peso pegged at one per US dollar, except that when you exchange dollar bills, there is a 3% charge for the currency conversion plus a 10% penalty charge for the US currency. The bottom line is that a bank will give you only 0.87 pesos or “CUCs” per US dollar. The second currency used here are non-convertible pesos “CUPs” and they exchange for around 24 CUPs to a CUC and are only legal tender for Cubans.

Our taxi was a Chevrolet of indeterminate vintage, the headliner was long gone and instead had crumbling domestic ceiling tiles (probably asbestos) glued to the rusting metal. Our driver drove at high speed on the near empty roads, honking his horn at anything that moved and throwing us from side to side of the vehicle as he careered around the bends. When we came to a village, he hurtled through the mass of pedestrians, children with footballs, dogs, chickens and donkey carts, blasting his way with his horn. If anyone stepped the wrong way they were gonna be toast. We gratefully arrived in downtown Santiago unscathed and he was crushed to discover that we did not need his services for the balance of the day.

We were waiting in line on the sidewalk in front of at a currency exchange office when the door opened and a handful of people were allowed to enter and again we stood behind a line, closely monitored by a security guard. When motioned to a teller booth, Annette and I stepped forwards, breaking the taboo that only one person at a time might approach the booth. Annette was swiftly ushered back across “La Linea”. I exchanged all of the Euros (no 10% penalty!!) we had obtained in St. Martin last year and we were now flush with cash and could order sandwiches and ride taxis at will.

This morning’s stock racer wannabe taxi driver had airily waved his hand in the alleged direction of our first desired destination of the Museum of Carnival but he had been visibly annoyed that we were done with him, despite the fact that our plans for the day had been explained to him a half dozen times. Nevertheless our Spanish was good enough that we soon located the building in question. This Museum was unexpected, the costumes quite different from those worn in Grenada, as Carnival here is a celebration of the feast of Saint Santiago, the patron saint of the city. Unfortunately all of the documentation of the exhibits was in Spanish and I believe that I translated correctly perhaps 80%. Just as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the freed slaves used the opportunity of the feast to celebrate their emancipation and in the early days were banned from participating. Throughout the decades, the Carnival continued to have political overtones and a newspaper headline was displayed that indicated that Fidel Castro was involved in a 1950’s Carnival event that resulted in more than 50 deaths. There is no internet at the marina to research this further and correct any mis-interpretations, so this will be a “later” project. We met a local artist “Ashe” and chatted to him at length regarding the Santiago art community. From him we obtained the name and phone number of one of main organizers of the Santiago Carnival, scheduled each year in July. We would like to see the costume making process if possible but this will need a fluent Spanish speaker with a cell phone.

For lunch we stopped at a large downtown hotel that was somewhat light on menu options. My ham sandwich consisted of stale bread with slices of ham, no condiments, mustard, mayonnaise etc. Annette selected the pork roast and had a similar experience but with tougher meat. On a positive note, the beer was good, it was cheap and with a good view of the harbor from the fifth floor of the hotel.

Annette still collects stamps and our next stop was the post office to buy used postage stamps, plus new stamps to mail her post cards.

We spent much of the afternoon at the Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum. The upper floor was fine arts and had a collection of portraits that had been sent from Spain to Cuba in the 1800’s. Interesting paintings. My favorite piece was a very large mural sized work showing people checking their lottery tickets versus the published results and this painting had been displayed at the New York Exposition in 1894. We were surprised that there were also several paintings of a political or social nature referencing the Cuban carnival and the disparity of social status in the 19th century. The lower floor of the museum had an extensive collection of artifacts ranging from the pre-Columbian Taino culture through to modern times.

As we walked back down town we stopped in to visit the rum museum and I learned that the “Ron” in Ron Bacardi is not referring to “Ronald the rum maker” but is the Cuban word for “rum”. I also learned that the Bacardi family had established a distillery here around the time of prohibition in America and it was naturally very successful.

By now we were getting tired and stopped off at a bar to get a couple of restorative beers but their music volume was set above the pain threshold, conversation impossible, thus we left and found a taxi. This taxi was a modified Willie’s Jeep. There was a red light flashing on the dashboard and the driver stopped at a gas station. I first noticed that he stopped at the diesel pump and then observed that after he had filled up, the fuel gauge which had been showing about a third full did not budge. By now the red light had stopped flashing and I concluded that this was the actual fuel indicator and the Jeep had been converted to a diesel engine. Our driver was ancient and drove calmly and sedately. We liked him.

That evening we took the advice of some local lads to eat at a “nearby” restaurant. We climbed into a Russian “Lado”, identifying it as a Fiat 124 derivative (Fiat sold the factory to the USSR). After ten minutes or so, our driver pulled over and we waited while he added gasoline to his tank from a one gallon plastic juice jug. We then continued on for another ten minutes to the local restaurant. The food was excellent, Annette ate octopus whilst I stuck with Red Snapper but there was nothing “local” about the price we were charged.

March 15, 2017

We had arranged for taxi to pick us up and had discovered late last night and to our horror, that Cuba follows the stupid American practice of “daylight savings”. This meant a rushed breakfast before meeting our taxi driver Isidro in his 1956 Chevrolet. The car had been purchased new by Isidro’s father and had been lovingly maintained ever since. Isidro was educated as a mechanical engineer at the University of Santiago and had worked thereafter as an engineer in systems automation, before becoming fed up with his job and quitting to become a taxi driver. This car was not only near immaculate but had working air-conditioning (heavily emphasized in his advertising), driven of course by some flavor of diesel engine. Annette was delighted with the vehicle since her first wheels had been a ‘57 Chevy and at age 18, she had cruised the Las Vegas strip with the windows down and the radio blasting.

Our destination this morning was the art community of El Oasis, located east of Santiago. We first stopped at the Granjita Siboney, the house where Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries plotted their first attack on a military installation in downtown Santiago. The house was pockmarked with bullet holes around the entrance where the Batista troops had belatedly sought the attackers. Inside the original furniture had been preserved, together with displays of the home made uniforms of the revolutionaries, plus some of the arms they had used.

We found the El Oasis art community a little strange, in that they had five active artists in the community but parked out in the sticks so to speak, miles from the City of Santiago. The artists were all well advanced in years and we assume retirees. Yesterday we had learned that retirees make 8 CUCs per month. A working doctor or engineer between 20 and 30 CUCs per month. It was hard to imagine survival on such an income and now perfectly understandable why an engineer would quit his job to drive a tourist taxi. The artist’s individual workspaces were tiny but their work was excellent.

Our next stop was at the “Valle de la Prehistoria”, featuring the three periods of Triassic, Jurrasic and Cretaceous with life size models of dinosaurs, mammoths, etc. The park was huge and considerable money had been spent developing it. The central pond with its rocks and waterfall was dried up and all around us, the concrete dinosaurs were decaying, needing both paint and patching. We were the only visitors and there were dozens of employees around. This is after all mid-week in March and we assume that during the summer school holidays the place would be bursting. What was fun was that there were horses (feral or otherwise – hard to tell) that were grazing amongst the prehistoric herds of horses and between the mammoths and adding an unexpected aura of reality. We looked for Ayla of the Cave Bear Clan but she was probably back in Hollywood organizing political protests.

The art community of Verraco was far more active than the El Oasis community and we visited potters and painters. The pottery workshop was extensive, a family run affair with lots of machinery and multiple kilns for large scale production of ceramics. We watched our guide skillfully cast a large pot on a wheel and it is always a pleasure to see a true artist create something from a rude chunk of clay. We were not in the market for ceramics however and moved on to the painter’s studio. Annette particularly liked the marquettes and studies in India ink by the artist “Bayola”, painted on the reverse of cardboard seafood packaging.

Lunch was at a beach restaurant at Playa Larga. Excellent food but again outrageously overpriced. It’s a general rule that when near strangers tell you that you are like family to them, you should clutch your wallet tightly.

Miscellaneous Cuba impressions:

We were surprised at the number of people with medical issues. One man we spoke to said he had been in a car accident, he needed surgery in Havana but it was too expensive to travel there for treatment. Similarly dentistry seems to be problematic and many people have bad teeth.

Most vehicles are of 1950’s American manufacture, including lots of Willy’s Jeeps. Other sedans were Russian Lados / Fiats; Chinese buses and trucks predominated. I could not determine the manufacturer of the replacement diesel engines and when I suggested “Isuzu” engines, I got a blank look. Our taxi had no working speedometer since the speedometer cable did not match the transmission. Fuel is about $4 / gallon, the same as Jamaica but “very expensive” to people on a limited income. The traffic is light with plenty of mopeds and lots of donkey carts. We also saw donkey cart taxis. Many of the roads have large potholes and even the wildest of our various taxi drivers have been careful to negotiate these and meticulous about stopping at stop signs, even on an obviously empty highway.

Their “Safari” type buses are based upon large trucks more like military transports, rather than the pickups found in other Caribbean islands. These require a really big step up to get into and we could see that they were very crowded. Our fellow sailors on the Swedish boat rode the buses but we didn’t. Unlike St. Thomas, the trucks had solid metal sides to within about 2 feet of the roof, and this gap is then covered with heavy bars. The roof too is metal and must be like an oven inside on a sunny day. The trucks are grim looking, bare metal and no decorations. There were no visible safety exits and I wondered if these could double as paddy wagons for transporting prisoners.

We visited a grocery store, and this reminded me of the USSR. There was a list on the back wall with pricing of the bulk items for sale, rice, beans etc. There were no aisle displays, the other food items shown behind a glass counter. We could see sacks of food stacked in a warehouse in the back. People lined up to order and pay for their food.

There were no sidewalk cafes or bars downtown. The bars that we saw / entered were darkened dives with hammering music. Alcohol here is cheap and at the downtown hotel it was $2 per beer or $1.50 at a downtown restaurant. The rum is also very cheap.

People have been friendly and helpful when stopped for directions. They were similarly helpful at the currency exchange and the post office when directing us where to go, which window to stand at etc.

Many of the villages / communities have small, near identical homes. Between the villages, the land is very dry, the grass cropped short and brown. We were told this is normal. The cattle we saw were skinny with ribs showing; ditto the horses. Sheep and goats were common and looked better fed. There were few dogs to be seen and just a handful of pigeons around the downtown monuments. There were plenty of fruit trees just about everywhere.

There are just a handful of boats in this marina and no other American flags.

March 16, 2017

This morning I spent an hour or so diagnosing a problem with the autopilot. I tracked the power supply though the main breaker box, the fuse in the distribution panel and eventually found a burned out fuse in the control unit itself. It was a 5 ampere fuse and I had on board 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 but no 5’s. I have temporarily used a 10 ampere fuse and everything is working again. Over the past few months I have networked together three different generations of Raymarine electronics and am a little concerned that I may have overloaded one of the buses. The fuse is a common “plug in” type used extensively in automobiles and I could probably get it at the Santiago Walmart if such existed. I asked at the marina office if there was a car parts store and was told that they don’t really have parts stores. There are individuals around who can find parts however.

In the afternoon we headed for downtown Santiago in a local “unlicensed” taxi and on the outskirts of the city, a policeman signaled our driver to pull over. What happened next was interesting. Yesterday, we were in Isidro’s air-conditioned taxi when a police officer signaled him to pull over. He stopped, rolled down his window and handed the police officer about three different documents through the window. When we asked if we should produce passports, he shook his head and said that it was just a routine document check. After four or five minutes, the officer handed the documents back to Isidro and we set off again. Today, our driver stopped, jumped smartly out of the car and went to the rear. Within seconds he was back in the car muttering that now he had to pay the policeman something when he returned to the marina.

We visited the 15th century villa of the conquistador, “Casa de Diego Velazquez”. This was a huge mansion sitting on a downtown square and had been restored and filled with period furniture from the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. French, Italian, Spanish, German and English porcelains, Mexican silver and Cuban mahogany furniture filled the rooms. Several of the doors were original, including the original hinges. The various rooms had uniformed guides who pointed out the artifacts but none spoke English and we received the barest minimum of information in Spanish. The overall effect was that Diego Velazquez lived very well in a beautiful home.

We continued walking around the town and met our first aggressive street people. I was pelted with requests to change money, buy rum, buy cigars, take a taxi, take a tour, all within seconds followed by a gruff demand to “give me a present”. Instead I provided a suggestion on a physical act that was probably impossible. Annette realized she was being stalked for about two blocks by a small woman hovering a few feet away. She whirled and stated loudly, “No, gracias!”. The woman scurried away. These have been the only incidents when a polite “no” hasn’t worked, otherwise people here have been just delightful. We met Isidro, yesterday’s driver who was waiting in a downtown taxi rank, his car being the best looking of all. The streets were lined with amazing old Buicks, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, Ramblers, Jeeps just parked alongside the curbs. In the USA you would be charged admission just to look at them. We did find a pedestrian mall, including a department type store with the name “California”, although we did not explore the interior since it was getting late. Instead we had supper at an Italian restaurant on the mall. The only item on the menu was lasagna, thus we ordered lasagna. Three beers, one soda and two lasagnas came to $15.50.

March 17, 2017

This morning we tried the internet at the marina hotel - one hour for $1.50, using their computer. The operating system was Windows XP Professional. The keyboard did not quite match up to the computer however. There were two “alt” keys, either side of the space bar. I finally discovered that the combination to get an “@” symbol was the right “alt” plus the “2” key. The “-“ sign was produced by the “/” key, thus it took me nearly forty minutes to get to see my e-mails. I had begun the morning with a plan to check e-mails, research tourist sights in the next town, check the bus schedules and browse the international news but had to make do with just checking my e-mail. By the time I had forced the browser to report tourist information in English rather than Spanish, my one hour internet usage coupon had expired. We could have purchased another coupon but life is short and there only so many hours in a day.

We visited “El Morro” also called “El Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca”. This is the imposing fortress that guards the entrance channel to Santiago. If I read the limited information correctly, its main use over the centuries was to provide some protection to the town from the marauding English and Dutch pirates who plagued these waters. The fortress was extensively rebuilt in the 1800’s but modern weaponry had rendered its defenses obsolete by the time it was finished. It thereafter saw use as a military prison. The construction was interesting in that it looked as though it was constructed of concrete but a closer inspection showed that the inner core was local rocks, pieces of coral etc. cemented together in a loose matrix. To prevent erosion of the mortar, the surface was then sealed with a kind of stucco. This was not the Chateau d’If. Edmund Dantes could have tunneled his way out of this place in way less than 17 years.

Back at the marina they were preparing for a large wedding and reception to be held at the marina hotel. While Annette was taking pictures of the bride, I chatted with the marina manager on duty. He had worked as a Russian translator in the days of the USSR and at that time there were thousands of Russians on the island. After the fall of the Soviet Union they simply vanished, as did his job. He hastily studied English in order to obtain his current employment. His English is very good and I found him knowledgeable on many subjects. He confirmed as we suspected, they are under a severe drought here, without rain for the past two years. He works a schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. I assumed that he was on “standby” like a fireman, or hospital emergency doctor but he said that the marina provides no place to sleep or doze, “just chairs”. He stays awake for 24 hours and “chats” to the security guards. Physically draining for a 58 year old man. I asked if they had a kitchen for meals but he indicated again that there was nothing provided. He brings some crackers and something to drink from his home.

When we awoke this morning there was an American flagged vessel moored on the dock across from us. They had arrived in the wee hours and anchored. At 0300 hours, they had been visited by the doctor and immigration officials, so again, our intelligence about arriving or departing outside of daylight hours has been proven incorrect.

The local Cuban people we have visited have been very curious about life in the United States. What do we do on a week-end? What is our apartment like? Do we have broken cellular phones or broken computer equipment? What do we do with our broken phones? What do we eat for breakfast? Do you have lotion? Just as when I worked in the Soviet Union in the late 80’s, we found the questions people ask, tell a lot about their lifestyle. We have observed that two children seem to the norm and haven’t met anyone with a “large” family.

March 18, 2017

Today’s goal was to take the local ferry boat into town, allegedly faster than the taxi because the former takes a direct route by water and the latter must weave around the perimeter of the various inlets for a 20 minute and 10 CUC trip. Once in town we head over to the “Viazul” bus station and buy / book tickets for a Monday morning trip to the nearby town of Holguin, before visiting the Museo de Clandestinidad, the museum of Castro’s underground struggle.

Well that was the plan. The ferry boat was supposed to arrive at 1200 hours, adjacent to the marina but didn’t in fact show up until well after 1230 hours. The local people all piled aboard and the departure was further delayed trying to find change for the 5 CUC note we presented. Our “tourist” fare was quoted at 1 CUC each and the locals all paid in CUPs, the “Cuban’s only” currency. In Santiago we fought our way to exit through the mob of people boarding at the terminus of the ferry route – no, that’s not true. There was a huge mob of people waiting to board the local ferry boats but just as we have witnessed with the crowds at the bus stops, there was no pushing and shoving, people wait patiently in line and part ways to let you pass.

We had been told that the Viazul office was very close and asked directions from a number of people. They all seem to have different ideas as to where this office lay although none disputed its existence. We followed the directions given and walked perhaps a mile up the steep hill into the city center, stopping to visit a couple of craft markets on the way. We found ourselves back at the Tourist Information office and asked for further directions. The girl within described the pedestrian walkway we had discovered a couple of days ago. “Is that the street with the “California” store and the “PanAmerica” store?”, we asked. She looked puzzled. “Do you know this street?” “Yes.” “What is it called?” “It is the same street”. We followed her directions and returned back downhill to the road near the ferry terminus. Here we asked for more directions and by now it had begun to rain. We must have asked another three people before we found the office, which we did at 1540 hours. Nobody we asked had mentioned the little fact that the office we sought was inside the main railway station, just down from the ferry terminus. There was a line to the ticket window and as we stood there, we studied the timetable on the wall behind us. The morning bus takes 3 hours and 40 minutes to travel the 134 kilometers (84 miles) from Santiago to Holguin, arriving in the afternoon.

This was not going to work. We could not visit Holguin and return on the same day and without usable power to the dock, we were going to have to shut off the  refrigerators on the boat, since they run from the house batteries. We decided that we would instead travel to Holguin by taxi.

Just like a Las Vegas casino there was no clock to be seen anywhere at the railway station. We haven’t ever seen a moving train either, although there were real enough looking empty waiting rooms, guarded by bored looking security people. The railway station provided the only bargain to be found, 60 cents to use the toilet to take a pee. Most other places in town charge a $1. We has asked at the Tourist Info Bureau about taking a train to either Holguin or Havana and the people there had recoiled in horror at the prospect. “You don’t want to do that!”, we were told, “You will never get there with the train”. The “why” remains a mystery.

By now it was too late to visit the museum and instead wandered through town absorbing the lifestyle of the city. There is very little trash on the sidewalks despite a total absence of trashcans. One of the benefits of not having a packaging industry, I suppose. Most of the stores were sparsely stocked, in fact near devoid of stock. The few shoppers were monitored closely by the salespeople. There were several pharmacies and these were large stores but again, near empty. No racks of toiletries and cosmetics as in the rest of the world. Instead there were bottles of colored liquids behind the counter that made me think of medieval apothecaries. We did not investigate to see if these were herbal remedies or pharmacological presentations of common drugs.

The craft stores all sold the same stuff, walking sticks, wood carvings, Che tee-shirts, Che hats, Che posters. Fidel not so much but then the Bolivians didn’t shoot Fidel did they? I wondered if these products were locally made or produced in Indonesia.

The bakery gave Annette a bread roll and allowed her to take pictures of their interior. If we could keep this up we wouldn’t need supper tonight.

March 19, 2017

Sunday in Cuba. We used the hotel internet to see if the museums in Holguin would be open on a Monday but all we could determine was that the “TripAdvisor” website claimed they existed. We also found internet queries that indicated the Crystal brewery in Holguin did not provide factory tours. The weather forecast is projecting higher winds next week-end and we have begun to plan for a Thursday departure to Jamaica.

We called our favorite taxi driver, Isidro on the satellite phone to see if he would drive us tomorrow and after a thoroughly unsatisfactory call with distortion and disconnects (why does it always go so smoothly for Jason Bourne?) felt fairly confident that he would at least pick us up tomorrow. Thereafter, we would just have to wing it.

Today’s highlight was a visit to the Teatro Marti for a performance of a Folkloric Ballet. This was awesome! The audience was small but the performers, singers and musicians top notch. The dancers were very skilled and possessed of enormous energy. The choreography too was excellent, the costumes of the girls very similar to those of flamenco dancers but the dance style itself made me think of a Polynesian Salsa with some Michael Jackson thrown in. The event reminded me of a Rachmaninoff concert we had attended in Russia back in the fall of 2000 in St. Petersburg. A lightly attended, shabby theatre transcended by the highest quality of performance from the actors and musicians.

March 20, 2017

Isidro was waiting with his 1956 Chevrolet taxi at 0700 hours this morning and we departed for Holguin, the birthplace of the Castro boys, Fidel and Raoul. The trip began with light traffic on a four lane divided highway, reasonable surface, then went to an Autopista (freeway) for a limited run before turning north west across the tail end of the Sierra Cristal mountains. From here the road was two lane, often with major, axle breaking potholes, or a patch where the the roadway had been repaired with unconsolidated rubble but not resurfaced. The traffic was still fairly light, about one third of all vehicles being horse-drawn, a third passenger carrying trucks and buses and another third commercial trucks. We saw bullock teams harnessed to a plough and working a field, as well as multiple farm carts, loaded with goods and being drawn by a pair of oxen. As we drove, we caught occasional glimpses of the railway but the only time we saw a vehicle on the rails, it was carrying a uniformed track maintenance crew that our driver said was “military”. The land all around us was planted with sugar cane and much in the process of being harvested. I noticed that there were heavy trucks hauling two or three trailers, each loaded with cane, cut into small pieces. The harvesting was being performed by huge tractors, and these were dumping the shredded cane into the waiting trucks, just as we saw in the Bundaberg region of Australia and similarly, the root remains of the harvesting were disced under the rich dirt instead of being burnt as would happen in Fiji or Panama. The cane railway spurs looked operable, in poor condition and we assume have been replaced by the heavy truck / harvester combo we witnessed.

Although this was a rural community we were travelling through, there seemed to be people everywhere, walking the empty stretches of roadway, waiting in groups, we assume for transportation and sometimes just heading for the horizon across empty fields. What do they all do for a living? There seemed to be too many for a modern agricultural industry and no sign of the chopped up small holdings of a subsistence farm economy. We passed by men trimming the weeds and roadsides with scythes but machetes were the norm. No weed-whackers. People greeted one another and we saw that some of the men seemed to be delivering milk by horse and trap to the individual homes and chatting with the housewives. In their yards, people were growing vegetables, had chickens and geese and we saw no pigs.

The road was well sign-posted with speed limit signs, “no passing” zones, “end of no passing” zones and center line stripes. We noticed that all drivers seemed to obey these signs, even when trapped behind a donkey cart on an otherwise empty road. Whenever we saw bicycles or motorcycles, we noticed that the riders were wearing helmets. In the 84 miles from Santiago to Holguin, we passed some 4 police checkpoints, at least those I observed, usually a pair of officers with motor-cycles and upon our return, our driver was again stopped to have his documents checked. I can’t quite see the percentage here, when one considers the paucity of traffic and the density and frequency of document checks. Is this simply a “rice bowl” issue? (i.e. I go through the motions to get my rice bowl).

We saw few dogs, no cats and no road kill. There were no hawks, just four or five Black vultures drifting lazily in the sky.

We arrived in downtown Holguin before 1000 hours and after the necessary beer break, hit the first museum, the Museo Provincial La Periquera . Inside the doorway were two women, sitting at a table and ignoring us. I interrupted, asked politely, “La entrada del museo, esta alli o aqui?” “Si” was the answer. (I had intended to say – is the entrance to the museum here or further inside? and the answer was “Yes”). We asked how much and were told two pesos (pretty standard). After we handed them a five peso note, they insisted that they had no change and to leave and come back with the exact money. When we didn’t budge, they grudgingly handed us a three peso note and we entered.

This museum is supposed to have a good collection of post-Columbian artifacts plus is a “shrine” to Fidel. The first room we entered was huge and dark. There were a series of massive doors on two sides and all but the one we had entered were firmly closed. I tried the various light switches to no effect. A Spanish couple, currently living in Germany, entered the gallery to share our gloom and Annette returned to the two ladies and asked them to turn the lights on. They claimed there was no electricity. By now we had opened three more of the doors but when Annette opened a door to the square outside, one of the ladies, horrified, rushed over to close it. Annette gently took her by the elbow and positioned her on guard in front of the forbidden door, while she continued to take her pictures. This act provoked the ladies to remember where the breaker was for the electricity and magically all of the lights came on and the museum was illuminated. All of the doors leading off the interior quadrangle were closed and I ignored the ones that might have been labeled “library” or “office” and found a long gallery that was locked up but seemed to contain museum artifacts. One of the doors was sealed by a string across the jamb with a glob of wax at each end like a Shakespearian document. The seal was easy to break, the door unlocked and I soon found the light-switch. Annette and I perused this gallery at length and upon exiting, a third lady came up to us and exclaimed, “Are you by yourself? You have been in there? It is not possible!”. “No”, I said, ”It is perfectly possible, we have just done it.” She expostulated that the museum was closed and under reconstruction, besides, we would have needed to pay at the entrance. “Yes, we have already paid”, we told her. She took off at a near run for the entrance and we continued our tour of the museum. When the lady returned she was obviously flustered but managed to tell us that the building that housed the museum had once been occupied by troops and the multi-colored uniforms had caused the local people to name it the “Parrot House”. She also mentioned that the building was the site of the first movie to be shown in Holguin.

By now it was lunchtime and although the hotel restaurants didn’t open until noon, we found a local place that served us a quite pleasant pizza, beer and fried chicken. Our next destination was the Casa Natal Calixto Garcia, the birthplace of General Garcia who fought against Spain when this was a Spanish colony. Holguin is hardly Mexico City so the “Casa” couldn’t have been far from the main square and the museum we visited earlier. During our sojourn, we found ourselves passing the Centro de Arte Holguin where they had an exposition of Guadalupe Palacios’ work. The exposition was titled “Vivir” and was mainly numbered monochrome prints. Guadeloupe’s work was excellent and we were surprised that the gallery was not permitted by law to sell any of the pieces; for that we would have to contact the artist directly.

We continued our search for the mystery Casa Natal Calixto Garcia and just like the ephemeral Viazul office we searched for the other day, it kept moving around the city, always just tantalizingly three to four blocks ahead. Finally we just gave up and dropped into the Union of Cuban Artists’ building to look at their art and chat to the local artists there.

Overall this was a great day and Holguin is definitely the place to come to peruse and purchase some fine art.

March 21, 2017

The forecast for Thursday has deteriorated and the optimum window for our departure we now decided is Wednesday. We notified the marina manager that we will leave tomorrow morning and confirmed the amount of our final bill. Once we had determined that the city electricity supply was good for perhaps 6 amperes, we had managed to move the electricity meter on this dock from 000000 to 000014, a total of 14 kilowatts in ten days, mainly by boiling water for coffee and tea.

After lunch we visited our final Santiago museum, the Museo de Clandestinidad, a museum celebrating the “fifth column” activities in the Santiago area during the Castro revolution. Like the other museums, everything was documented in Spanish and without translations. The exhibits were sparse and the museum a bit of a disappointment.

We shopped for souvenir tee-shirts and the like but these were surprisingly hard to find and had to make do with “ Yo (red heart) Cuba” baseball caps. We finished up our shopping at the fifth floor bar of the hotel on Cespedes square. We had waited patiently in the downstairs bar watching waiters ignore us and before walking out to ride the elevator. The top floor bar has a breeze, live music and equally worthless waiters. Annette walked over to the bar to place our order and then, when the waiter failed to deliver the tray of drinks sitting on the bar, Annette grabbed it and delivered it to our table herself, pursued by the embarrassed waiter. Pretty funny from my perspective. I tipped the musicians.

We had arranged to meet some Cuban friends for supper in town and this event wrapped up a truly enjoyable visit. Cuba will surely change dramatically over the next few years as the last few leaders of their revolution succumb to old age. Everyone expects a huge influx of tourists from Cuba’s giant neighbor to the west and the subsequent loss of innocence and charm. We will remember the frustrations of living temporarily in a society still trapped in the 1950’s but we will also remember the friendships and generosity of a proud and industrious people. Vive Cuba!

March 22, 2017

An early morning rise and we made the final checks on Doodlebug. The Customs and Immigration officer had declined to check us out of the country last night and insisted that we call at his office at 0530 hours this morning. This we did and I hammered on the darkened office door without response. Back to the marina office and the marina manager walked over with me to hammer on the door of the darkened apartment adjacent. A sleepy and tousled figure finally opened the door. Then we waited for him to get dressed into his official uniform. He meticulously checked our passports against the already prepared exit document and did the same thing with the boat registration certificate. Finally he was satisfied, handed me the exit document and announced that he needed to inspect the boat. He was looking for stowaways of course and he checked the four cabins and the toilets, missing the two forward cabins, stern lockers, engine rooms and fly bridge. We did not complain about the shoddy searching and he left.

At 0615 hours we dropped our mooring lines and headed out into the darkness, using radar and GPS charting to miss the unlit navigation buoys. Once clear of the fortress of El Morro, we were in open water with Jamaica lying in a rhumb line course to the south of south east. There was 7/8 ths. cloud and seas higher than expected, in the 3 to 4 foot range. About four miles off the coast of Cuba we changed course to miss a tiny and unlit boat containing three fishermen casting lines. We thanked the heavens that they did not wave for help and we never had to face the moral dilemma of what to do next. We had discussed this before, as in what do you do if you come across a boat crammed with thirty or so refugees in dire straits? Do you allow them to board when there are only two of us and easy to overpower? What if they board and then become unhappy with the proposed destination? The sea easily hides many crimes and democracy just doesn’t work here.

This was the last vessel we were to encounter until we were close to Jamaican waters in the mid-afternoon. The seas were empty and the radar at a 12 mile radius setting showed a blank screen. In early afternoon there were a few light showers and the wind began to build from the east. This was definitely not forecast and we soon had whitecaps and 4 to 6 foot seas directly off the beam and knocking us around. By late afternoon, the wind began to die away, as did the waves and we were approaching the Jamaican coast, heavily shrouded in clouds as it was. The sun set as we maneuvered to line up with the entrance channel, compensating for a fairly strong current setting us to the west. Darkness descends quickly in the tropics and in the channel behind Navy Island, the navigation markers were invisible until they flashed their warning lights.

We slowly eased up to a mooring ball which Annette lassoed on her first throw. This did not pass unnoticed by a neighboring yacht who not only complemented us on our smooth arrival but offered to use their dinghy to help us put a line through the shackle on the top of the mooring ball so we wouldn’t have to launch our own. It was 1955 hours when I passed the order to shut down the main engines (well OK, I turned the key myself) and declared that we are in Jamaica! Our position is 18 10.8 N 076 27.3 W