January 2013 - Cuba - Page 2

7 January 2013   Varadero, Cuba
Glenys used Debbie’s washing machine while I tried to catch up on six days’ worth of my diary and editing the 140 photographs that we took in Trinidad.  Digital cameras are great because I can take multiple pictures of one subject, but I end up with too many and then have to spend ages sifting through the photos and editing them. 

We walked into Santa Marta to buy some food – the cupboards are bare of fresh food now.  Unfortunately, the market is closed on Mondays, but Glenys was able to buy some vegetables and a loaf of bread.  We’ll have to try to get some eggs and meat tomorrow morning.  We had lunch out which was great for only $3.50 for a full meal.

In the afternoon, I ran the generator and, after half an hour, I noticed that one of the diesel fuel filters was leaking, so I bit the bullet and changed the fuel filters for both the generator and the engine.  I've been putting it off for over six weeks now because it’s such a messy job, but it all went smoothly and I was able to start the engine and generator – it’s always a hassle bleeding the fuel lines to get rid of the air after changing the filters.

Buying meat in the market, Santa Marta, Cuba

When I started the generator, there was a lot of smoke and I found that the alternator is extremely hot.  I gave up investigating when I burnt my finger, but I think that the alternator has seized and the smoke is from the fan belt.  I’ll have another look in the morning when it’s cooled down.

8 January 2013   Varadero, Cuba
It was very windy this morning.  I downloaded a grib file using our satellite phone and it looks like the wind is going to be easterly at around 20 knots for the next five days, but looks to be stronger tomorrow night, so we’re planning to leave the day after tomorrow.

We walked into Santa Marta to buy some meat and eggs.  We were successful with the meat and Glenys bought some smoked pork chops, a pound of pork and half a pound of spicy pork minced meat.   There’s only pork available –thank God that I'm not Jewish.  I spotted a lady walking with two trays containing 25 eggs, so I headed in the direction that she had come from, but I was too late, the lady in front of me cleaned the guy out.  Manyana…

I love the way that the Cubans re-use everything.  There’s a small stall on the street with a man who repairs and refills disposable cigarette lighters – you wouldn't see that anywhere else.  Glenys went into the bank to get some cash and (again) the bank only had $3 bank notes, so she only got $200 worth.

After lunch, I took the alternator off the generator and, as I suspected, the bearing has disintegrated and it’s seized up.  I've decided that I’ll wait until we get to Havana and get it sorted out there – it might take a few days and we don’t want to be hanging around in Varadero for very much longer.  

We had the smoked pork chops with rice and beans for dinner and they were superb.

9 January 2013   Varadero, Cuba
Glenys walked into Santa Marta to try to get some eggs and bread, but nothing was available, so she bought some more of those wonderful chops. 

Meanwhile, I downloaded another weather forecast and the wind is still predicted to be around 20 knots from the east for the next week.   It’s an awkward distance of 70 miles to Havana, so we’re going to have to leave in the late afternoon and sail overnight.  The wind will be behind us, but it may be over 25 knots tomorrow, so we decided to leave it another day – we don’t want to have another horrible night like between Charleston and Savannah. 

Repairing & filling disposable cigarette lighters, Santa Marta, Cuba

We chilled out for the rest of the day, went for a walk and actually sat on the beach for fifteen minutes before the strong wind and blasting sand drove us away.

In the evening, we went for a meal at a local restaurant with “La Vida Dulce”, “Whisper” and “Saltwhistle”.  We had a pleasant evening, but I've decide that the food in Cuba is very bland – I was expecting it to be more Mexican and spicy.

10 January 2013   Varadero, Cuba
It was another very windy day.  I downloaded a GRIB file and it looks like the wind is going to drop down to 15-20 knots tomorrow.  Let’s hope so because it’s starting to get a bit wearing now – we know that it’s windy when the front toilet door rattles…

I told Salsito in the marina office that we are planning to leave tomorrow - they like to have 24 hours’ notice for some reason.  I gave him a list of the ports and anchorages that we want to stop on the way to Cabo San Antonio, from where we will depart to go to Mexico.  I’m hoping to get a cruising permit (“despacho”) for the whole route.  I also tried to ask Salsito, in my pigeon Spanish, to organise an extension to our visa for another month.  For some reason, the immigration would only give us one month when we checked in, but they give all Canadians three months – what’s that about?

I did a couple of jobs in the morning - recharged the fridge again (I MUST find the damn leak) and then spent two hours making a couple of brackets to hold the engine control panel in place – it’s made of some kind of plastic and after fourteen years at sea, it’s had enough and is cracking up.

The afternoon was a very quiet affair, reading, napping and playing the guitar.  Glenys bought a huge bag of tomatoes the other day for $1.00 and has been drying some of them in the sun because there are too many to eat now – very tasty.

We went to the usual happy hour.  It’s become a habit - definitely time to go now.  Glenys listened to the howling wind just before we went to bed and said that she didn't care how windy it is tomorrow, we have to go…

11 January 2013   Varadero to Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba (Day 1)
I can’t believe that we've been here for two weeks.  The wind finally dropped a little bit overnight, so we tidied up and got ready to leave in the afternoon.  Glenys filled up the water tanks with the expensive marina water ($0.10/gallon) – it’s a bummer that we can’t run the water maker because the generator is out of action until I get the alternator fixed.

Havana at Dawn, Cuba

We hung around all day, waiting to leave in the afternoon.  Salsito turned up with an invoice for $345 dollars, which was for 15 days plus some charges for documentation.   We seem to have been on a mooring ball or in a marina for the past couple of months for various reasons and I was hoping that once we left the USA, we’d be spending a lot less money, but we’re going through cash here in Cuba at an alarming rate.

The Customs, Coast Guard and Guarda Fonteras strolled up at quarter past four and went through a load of paperwork.  They issued us with a “despacho” which is our cruising permit and has to be stamped every time that we enter or leave a port. We finally managed to get off the dock just before five o'clock.

It was still pretty windy – blowing 20-25 knots from the east, so there were six to eight foot seas when we cleared the harbour entrance.  We headed out on a broad reach with just the genoa out.  It was a very uncomfortable motion with the constant threat of a large breaking wave slopping into the cockpit, but we were able to turn west after three hours, so the motion got a little better.  There was no moon, so it was a dark ride all night.

12 January 2013   Varadero to Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba (Day 2)
We didn't get much sleep during the night because of the constant rolling.  Also we've been very slack at storing things, so my spare parts and tools were banging around in the cupboards as well as loads of stuff in the galley.

Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba

At the start of the trip, we had a one knot current with us, so we were a little worried that we were going to arrive before dawn, so we only had a scrap for genoa out for most of the night.  We set a course that kept us 2-4 miles off the coast and for the second half of the journey, we had a 1-2 knot current against us, which slowed us down nicely.  We arrived at the outer buoy at Marina Hemingway at eight o'clock which was perfect. 

The entrance was very straightforward and we were told to tie up on a dock just inside the harbour, so that we could go through the check in procedure. We were visited by the usual suspects - Customs, Guarda Fonteras, Veterinarian and Immigration who all filled in another set of forms.  They also took our flares away from us, which we’ll get back when we leave (they’re classed as weapons for some reason).  The Immigration guy asked for a little “gift”, I told him that I didn't understand and walked out.  It’s the first time that we've been asked for a bribe by an official.

The Dock Master gave us a berth right opposite a hotel swimming pool that was blasting out music, so after walking along the docks for a while I asked them to move us to a berth upwind of the hotel.  I talked to some other cruisers that have been here for a week, and they told me that the music gets louder at night and sometimes goes on into the early hours.  Typical – we have to pay $21 per night to have sleepless nights.  I'm sick of being in marinas and can’t wait to get out to a nice quiet, isolated anchorage off a small cay.

We walked to the small marina boatyard and, with a mixture of Spanish and English, showed the boss (Mario) the broken bearing and asked if he could repair it.  He said that he might be able to exchange it (“cambio”) so we left the alternator with him.  Mario’s going to take it somewhere on Monday and says that he’ll come around to our boat on Monday afternoon.  I don’t hold up much hope.

While we were out, we went for a walk around the local area and found a couple of places where there were small shops selling food including eggs and bread, which we snapped up.  The area looks a little more affluent when compared to Santa Marta and we didn't see many horses.

Street life, Havana, Cuba

Back on the boat, we had egg sandwiches for lunch and tried to catch up on some sleep.  We had a quiet night in.

13 January 2013   Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
We sneaked our way onto a coach, which takes guests from the nearby hotel into Havana and had a free ride – I felt a little bit guilty, but soon got over it.  

We spent all day wandering around the old part of Havana - it’s a very interesting place.  There are a vast variety of buildings from the sumptuous presidential palace of the 1960’s dictator Batista (now a museum) to the run down, yet elegant four and five story buildings that house most of the city’s population.  Walking along the normal tourist streets, we were accosted by jineteros wanting to take us to a restaurant or on a tour, but just a couple of streets away, we could walk among the locals hurrying about their business without being bothered.

It was Sunday, so there were lots of locals wandering about, especially around Obispo which is one of the main shopping streets in the area.  We stopped off at a nice old bar on Obispo and had a couple of beers and lunch.  It was a bit expensive ($6 each) and poor quality, but they had a good salsa band playing which made up for it.

After lunch, we walked miles looking at the various squares and historic buildings.  There were a large number of beautifully preserved classic cars at the Capitol building, which were all waiting to drive tourists around on tours.  Everywhere we looked there were iconic images of locals playing baseball in the streets, people chatting on balconies and washing hanging down the sides of once-splendid buildings. 

We ended up on the sea wall on the Malecon, which runs along the shoreline.  We were only there for two minutes before we were “befriended” by a small group of three people.  They started chatting us up by asking where we were from and talked for a couple of minutes before the guitar and maracas appeared.  The guitar player was amusing and sang a little song which had Glenys’s name in it.  They played a couple of songs for us and were very friendly until we only gave them $20 Moneda Nacional as a “tip”, which is about 80 cents - I never asked them to come up and chat to us and I'm sick of being seen as “Dollars on Legs”.