It was with some excitement we arrived to Puerto De Vita, Cuba, one has heard so much about Cuba, both good and bad about sometimes complicated administration. We called up the marina and got a quick response. The harbour master meets up at the jetty and we were very quickly moored and secured. First to enter the boatwas a doctor, asking about where we been and our health, he even token our temperature, and luckily it was OK. Kerstin have had a bad stomach bug with high fewer during our passage, but thanks to Alvedon the fewer was down when the doctor came aboard, more about the doctor and fewer at the end of this blog.
The customs, immigration and drug dog came aboard, everything went very smooth and we could relax after the 330 nm long passage through the windward passage, which can be very tough as the eastern trad-wind, usually blow rather strong and push large waves across, as well as some banks causing strange wave patterns tough to navigate. We had waited for some time in Jamaica for a good weather window and we were rather lucky. It started with ca 12 hours of good sailing, speed exceeding 7 knots, then the wind died out and we had to motor the rest. Usually we are not so happy motoring, but this time we were as the alternative is bashing into + 20 knots and rough sea. Especially as Kerstin did not felt good at all.
The day after arriving we arrange with the very supportive girl Janet who worked at the marina, to call a Taxi for us to get to the nearest town St Lucia to change to some local money.
Immediately on of the rumours about the well-kept America cars that should be common on Cuba materialized. This Ford from 1956 took us to the “town” St Lucia.
Where we saw more ancient transport vehicles
This nice motor cycles
Most locals use horse taxi, probably much cheaper
At the bank, there were many working on the contrary to Swedish banks, and they do have money! which very few banks in Sweden has!!? It is true if you want to get money from a Swedish Bank you must check if the branch “do money”, and if they do you probably have to call in advance to make sure they have cash enough??? That is Sweden today.
The bank in Cuba had cash, two types CUC, for tourists and maybe rich people and CUP for local people. There exchange rate is 24 to 25 CUP for one CUC and one CUC is about 0,93 Euro. If one manages to pay with CUP, the cost is very cheap, but if one pay with CUC the cost is rather high.
We wanted to eat in the village, and the Taxi driver said, you should try the restaurant around the corner it is very good.
We took the chef’s “recommendations”, well I can’t recommend it, in fact the food on Cuba was no hit, in general very over cocked. The cost for the above dish was 17 CUC which is about 16 Euro. The price for a beer was 1,5 CUC. Not to high you might think but given that a local worker earns 15-25 CUC a month plus tokens for rice, bread etc, the price is extremely high. One can barely survive on 15-25 CUC. Now side activities are allowed and encouraged, activities, such as B&B or Casa particular as it is called, Taxi, or gardening for vegetables. Outside each bus station there was people guiding travelers to hotels, Casa Particular or taxis, and for each guest they manage to get, they got a percentage of the revenue. I guess most people have some kind of side activity, else life would be very tough. We talked with one of the guides we meet in the Botanical garden in Havana, he said when he got his first baby, he earned 15 CUC a month, and life was very tough, the only way they manage was through gifts from Cuban relatives living in USA sending cloth and other necessities to them. Now he made better earnings as a guide, but I guess the main income was tip from tourist like us.
Internet is not readily available, but at some areas there are WiFi available, in St Lucia it was on the “Boulevard”
A WiFi moment on the main street in St Lucia together with the locals
We wanted to visit Havana, the “only” way was Taxi about 60 km to Hulgin, from there 740 km by buss to Havana. The cost for the bus was 44 CUC, so nothing for a Cuban’s with an ordinary salary. After ca 13 hours on the buss we arrived late evening to Havana. We have been told that there will be plenty of people there wanting you stay at their “Casa”, but no one was there to offer any “Casa.” When asking at the information desk, they did not understand what we wanted, so we stood there like a “stupid cousin from the country side” what to do? We asked a person we heard on the buss spoke some English and they just askes around randomly, and a person came by and say follow me. Which we did and ca 5 minutes’ walk from the bus station, he pointed at a house and there we found a nice room for 25 CUC, breakfast for 3 CUC. It felt as a relive to finally have a place to stay and rest.
Breakfast at the Havana “Casa”. The host did not speak any English and we no Spanish, but we manage to communicate, and he had of course a friend who could drive us down town in the morning for a few CUC.
Down town we did not really know where to go, but a young man asked us if we wanted any help, we said first day here, but we manage. He then pointed out that it is 50 years anniversary with Samba music at the Castro House, he walked us there just a few blocks away and we bought ticket for the evening.
The Castro House a house for culture, looks as it is in good condition, but that is due to photo taken at same distance, it was rather run down.
People was enjoying and some was dancing around the tables, this young man had the right moves. Most artists this evening probably performed when they opened 50 years ago, some still going strong others less strong. But it was a nice evening, listening to music is a must when in Havana.
So how is Havana?
Difficult to put an etiquette on Havana, it has some areas with very nice and well-preserved old houses
Some example on well-kept houses
Cathedral square very well preserved with many tourists and restaurants close by
Plaza Veija was another well-kept area
as well as the harbor area with a police station in the old fort
Another nice house, please note the “street roof” held up by chains, it appeals to a sailor
A well-kept pharmacy more like a museum
Havanna also have an internet square with WiFi
That attracts many locals as well as tourists
And of course, you see an abundance of old American cars on the streets
Some nice old American cars
More follow below for the one interested
The surprising thing was that many old trucks was still in duty as trucks.
Many houses are in very bad state and the old town need a lot of refurbishment
Would not fancy to live live in any of these houses.
Example of houses where only the front remains, most of the other structure looks as if it has collapsed
Nature is taking over some of the houses
If one looks in through the doors this is what one could find
People lives in the old town side by side with the still rather limited amount of tourists. Even though the streets are mainly in a run down state with poor and homeless people on the streets, one feels very safe walking around.
A bakery with very limited selection of bread.
When in Havana one must visit some of the places Hemingway used to visit, our choice fell on the old bar Dos Hermanos or Two Brothers.
The bar has been frequented by many famous visitors , not only Hemingway, but also Eroll Flynn who we “meet” on Jamaica.
This is how it looked in the old days
now à days
Dos Hermanos is situated just outside the old ferry terminal, now the terminal is very run down
Kerstin and I enjoying a Mojito and Cuban Music, very nice indeed, the orchestra approached our table and sang a few romantic songs for us, of course for tip, which we gladly gave.
Another Hemingway hangout was
La Bodeguita Del Médio, but that had turned in to a tourist trap, so we only passed by.
The second day in Havana started with Kerstin’s stomach was out of order again, so we needed a pharmacy, but as a tourist you are only allowed to use special pharmacies for tourists. With Spanish English mixture we explained the situation for our host at the Casa, and of course he had a friend who could drive us to the pharmacy, they had what we needed, and we took a Moped taxi back to the Casa.
View from the moped taxi, Not very continent at the corners or passing pot holes but fun to have tried. After we visited the Botanical garden in Havana, the guide claim that there are more than 100 different spices of palm trees on Cuba and that 90 % are endemic.
This palm tree is named “the old man” the fur/hair should represent the beard on an old man.
Forgot the name of this tree but the fruit can weigh up to 40 kg, supposed to be very good, we will try next time we see one in the market.
More from the garden
Innovative solution for the fire extinguisher
The very tranquil butterfly house
That ended our visit to Havana
Vinjales is a Natural reserve and an UNESCO world heritage, situated on western side of Cuba, about 4 hours bus ride from Havana. We arrived an afternoon and now there where numerous persons offering Casa Particular or B&B as we say. Who to choose among a few dozens of persons offering their services? Some people have the skill to approach others, I made the same reflection on Ila A Vache, Haiti, the young man we choose was obviously more successful than many others on the island, and the lady we choose, or maybe she choose us, I’m quite sure she get more guests than many others. There where 100 of Casas and most them have a sign with vacancies, Our Casa was now full i.e. three rooms that were taken. Some have the skill others not, it is the same where ever in the world and whatever trade, some are more skillful than others.
Our Casa on down the main road.
Nice porch outside the room to enjoy the morning coffee after a “nice shower”
Hot water shower Cuban style, I wonder how many are electrocuted each year. I do not think the Swedish authority would fancy such a solution!!!!
The neighbor had a restaurant on which we of course got a special deal.
With a nice view.
Outskirt of Viñales Main Street, an observation when traveling by bus through villages, there was always a lot of people out on the streets, activities was always going on and the atmosphere as we interpreted it was friendly, happy and positive. With stalls for fruit, vegetables, a horse taxi and local bar/ cafe.
Old way of transport is still common on Cuba not only in Vinjales.
Most visitors took a guided tour in the valley of Vinjales, but we decided to walk around on our own, and we are sure we made the right decision. The surrounding was very beautiful, and we could walk around in our own pace.
Last Casa before getting out on the trail
That will take us around this mountain in the valley
A very beautiful landscape
With with many small farms
Organic pig farming, as organic as it gets. In Sweden one tries to market happy pigs, hard to beat this pig on happiness, very extensive farming. In general most of the farming was in very small scale and most of it looked very extensive and not very intensive. We saw no large field even though we made many 100 km by buss on the countryside.
Sand sleigh powered by ox’s
A real Cuban Cowboy or should I call him “Tobacco man”
Tobacco is the main crop in Vinjales
Again in very small-scale extensive farming, with old traditional methods
Pre drying on the field
Barns for final drying
Tobacco drying in in the barn
We were invited into a small farm by the young man to the right, he showed how cigars are made, I who always thought they were made by young women rolling the cigars on their thigh. But that was not the case unfortunately, but Kerstin was pleased to study this handsome young man making cigars, so she forced me to purchase a whole bunch of cigars even though we do not smoke.
The cigars we bought, packed in palm leafs, works as a humidor the young man claimed and Kerstin believed him.
They also grew coffee but most of the crop is tobacco.
Strange we saw pine trees we have seen them on other islands as well, for us it is trees for cold climate not hot and humid. These was three pin pine, in Maine we saw 5 pin pines, and in Sweden we have pins two and two.
It was a long, hot and dry walk for ca 15 km, at the end of the valley they had this very large painting on the massive Wall. Do not know the historia behind it, but impressive.
Luckily we found a horse taxi who took us the last few km back to the village
The captain at the “helm” I do better helming the boat.
It was a very long but very rewarding day, I felt a bit warm probably due to too much air-conditioning on the Bus and in our room. In the evening I did not felt very well at all, and in the morning, I had a bad cool with fever and a dropping nose. We relaxed during the day waiting for the 4-hour bus ride to Havana. The trip to Havana was not to bad, but in Havana our problems started, the evening bus back to Hulgin was full, if one is lucky one can wait and see if there is anyone not showing up as one must check in similar as on an airport. We were number 9 and 10 on the waiting list and of course there was not space enough for us, only three persons from the waiting list came with the bus. What to do, the morning bus was also full so not sure if we would get place on that either. We took the 5 minutes’ walk to the Casa we had stayed at to see if he had room for us, or if he had a friend who could drive us all the way back to Puerto de Vita. But he was not home. Back to the bus station, last option there was a bus leaving at 10 pm heading for Santiago de Cuba. The bus stop in Las Tunas, “only” 135 km from Puerto de Vita where we have Kerpa. The problem was that, that bus also was fully booked and we were now 7 persons queuing for tickets, luckily, we all got tickets on the bus. By now my fewer is close to 40 centigrade or close to 104 F, my nose is dripping badly. The air-conditioning is on full blast on the bus, experienced travelers have sweaters and hats on, we were not prepared only short trousers and short slew shirt, luckily Kerstin brought our rain Poncho, so we put them on and just endured this very demanding bus trip, and by now also Kerstin became ill.
The bus made a few pit stop during the night, and in the morning we had a short stop if someone wanted to buy a coffee or a sandwich, as an old man one has to visit the toilet now and then, and I can say the Cuban one do not belong to the best!
Especially not this one, just some concrete construction, I’m happy that I had no need for number two.
After about 14 hours bus ride we came to Las Tunas “only” about 135 km left until we are at Kerpa, there is a 1 CUP bus to Hulgin that would probably take another 5 hours or so and we would still have maybe 60 km to go, so we opted for a taxi. Our stance was not very firm, but we manage to negotiate a reasonable deal 65 CUC or 60 Euro to take us to the Marina. Finally we arrived to Kerpa. We just had a cup of tea and went to bed.
The next day I felt just a bit better, but at least strong enough to go up to the marina and tell them that we were back on the boat. Janet the care taker asked politely “how are you?”, and I replied (stupidly) politely not so good I have a bit fewer and Kerstin too, but we are much better now. Well I better call the doctor she said, that is not necessary I said, but she insisted and as the Doctor are on the marina, why not. The doctor came and token our temp and blood pressure, asked a lot of questions and finally he said, you need to go to the hospital, The ambulance will arrive in half an hour!!!!!, By the way you better pack some clothe as you will have to stray for a few nights!!!!, Wow what is this???, his English was not so good, so I said lets go and talk to Janet. She confirms this is standard procedure when one has fewer, normally one stay up to 5 days in a hospital when having fewer. I said I refuse, I do not think they are used to people refusing things on Cuba. Well to make long story short after a while the Marina manager came back and said if I refuse I have to go on anchor and are not allowed to go ashore, Are you kidding me? But not. By now I was full of adrenaline and did not felt my fewer very much, so I then said then you have to clear us out we will leave. They argued against it, but I insisted. The customs came and cleared us out and I had to write and sign a paper that I left on free will and was not forced. I had no problem with that, so I wrote and signed such paper. He then asked me when are you leaving? by 7 pm, then you need to be on anchor until then he said. Not possible I need to go ashore and check the weather on Internet, He first refused but I insisted and it was agreed that we could stay until 6 pm and that we were only allowed to go ashore for internet. We had planned to stay a few more days in the marina and had local CUC money for that. Luckily the marina had a very small shop with the necessities for a sailor, so I ended up with three cases of beer and 10 bottles of Rhum, guess we are stoked up until we reach Lagos Portugal.
We were watched by the marina manager and he was not pleased as he had to stay until we left, we pushed our luck and stayed until 7 pm mainly because we had forgotten that Cuba is one hour ahead of Caribbean time and we had not adjust the clock in our GPS plotter and it was on that I checked the time, hence we left 7 pm with a rather sour Marina manager at the dock.
After a few hours out on the sea the adrenaline level went down to normal and we both felt that our cold and fewer was back to more or less where what it was yesterday +39 centigrade, Alvedone makes wonder for your temp and the weather was “relatively” gentle to us, only some confused sea but not too much wind. When arriving Georgetown Bahamas after ca 230 nm trip we were again ready for a long rest in the bunk, to recover from what was a really bad cold.