14 January 2013 Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
I gave a printed list to the Dock master showing the places where we want to anchor on our way west of here. Later in the afternoon, he gave it back to me with the places that we are allowed to go to. Basically, we’re not allowed to stop on the North coast at all and our first stop has to be Cayo Levisa which is 65 miles away – another night passage…
We went to the Hotel Acuaria and used their internet connection at a reasonable cost of $6 for an hour. The speed of the connection wasn't bad compared to some of the rotten connections that we get on-board, so in 30 minutes, we were able to check our emails and transfer some more money into our bank account.
In the afternoon, Mario turned up and miraculously, he’d repaired the bearing in the alternator. Even better, it only cost us $30 – I couldn't get anyone to talk to me in the USA for $30 never mind repair anything. I fitted the alternator to the generator and it works fine. I'm so happy.
I put on my swimming shorts and had a look at the bottom of the boat – first time since we re-launched in August. The antifoul is holding out well – no barnacles and just a light slime on the hull. There were a few small barnacles on the propeller, but it didn't take long to scrape them off. I also had a look at the rudder bearing. It has been clunking when we are sailing – especially if we are running down wind. The bottom bearing has a few millimetres of movement, but I don’t think it’s an immediate problem. However, I’ll probably have to get it sorted out the next time that we haul out.
We had Pete and Raywin from “Saliander” over for a couple of beers; they’re from New Zealand and are heading down to Panama tomorrow.
15 January 2013 Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
We walked over to the Hotel Acuaria and booked a bus ride to Vinales tomorrow – we’re going to go for a couple of nights. The tour company can drop us off there and we’ll then have to sort out a Viazul bus ride back to Havana. The tour guide recommended a friend’s Casa Particular, so we got her to book it for us. We then walked into the nearby local bank to get some cash for our road trip.
In the afternoon, we went to get our visas extended by a month, which turned into a bit of a saga. First we had to buy ten, $5 stamps which are used on many official documents. We could have bought these from a bank for $5, but it was easier to get them from the marina office who charged an extra $1 per stamp.
A taxi picked us up and, after a few U-turns, eventually found the Immigration office. It didn't look good because there were lots of Cubans standing around obviously waiting for their turn. However, one of the officials spotted us and within minutes we were sat in front of an immigration officer. She went through the tedious process and was a little confused when we couldn't show her our airline tickets. I showed her the voluminous pieces of documentation that I’d received from the authorities and, after a few minutes of scowling, she seemed to accept those.
She then wanted us to show her proof that we have medical insurance, which was (of course) back on the boat. I managed to find an EU medical card in my wallet which she accepted (even though it is useless over here), but Glenys didn't have anything. We had to take the taxi and go back to the marina to pick up the correct medical insurance documents then return to immigration. After that it all seemed to go okay, so we now have a visa until the end of February.
We invited “Yindee Plus” for a drink – Chris and Sue are Brits and have been cruising with their two sons, Wilf and Sid for three years. It’s been a long time since we've talked to a sailing family and there was quite a bit of reminiscing back to our good old days on “Glencora”. Chris has played the guitar for decades, so I'm looking forward to seeing having a guitar session with him when we get back from Vinales.
16 January 2013 Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
We caught the tour bus to Vinales, which was very painless. When we arrived, there was a guy holding up a sign with my name on it, so we followed him. We walked about ½ kilometre to his casa, which is right on the edge of town. Our guide book warns that the houses in Vinales are concrete boxes and all the same, but this one still looked a bit primitive. The bedroom was OK and Toni & Onalis were friendly enough, so we said that it was fine.
Once we were in the room, I dug out the business card for the casa that the tour guide in the hotel had given us and, low and behold, it was a different address. I questioned Toni and he admitted that it was a different one to the one that we had booked. His uncle owned the other one and he was full - it’s weird how they take a booking knowing that they are full…
We went for a walk into town and had lunch at a small bar, then walked four kilometres along the road. The valley is surrounded by Mogotes, which are boulder-like hills made from limestone that thrust out of the ground. The area is supposed to have a good reputation for rock-climbing, but we didn’t see any climbing at all.
We walked between two hills called the Mogote Dos Hermanas (twin sisters) and came to the Mural de la Prehistoria. This is supposed to be one of the highlights of Vinales and was commissioned by Fidel Castro in the 1960’s. It’s a 120 metre by 180 metre painting in garish colours which desecrates the side of a Mogote – very bizarre. They wanted us to pay $3 each to get a bit closer, so we politely declined – we’d seen enough.
On way back, we saw that there were some casas with vacancy signs that looked a lot nicer than the one we were staying in, so we went into one and booked it for tomorrow night. We walked back and told Toni that we were only staying one night. Glenys told them that we like to stay in different places each night to meet more people – what a great face-saving reason to leave.
We had a nice meal and sat up until eleven o'clock drinking Mojitos and chatting to Toni and Odalis. Toni wanted to practise his English and we wanted to practise out Spanish. Odalis teaches Spanish to young children in the local school, so was constantly correcting our poor pronunciation.
17 January 2013 Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
We went horse riding. Toni arranged for one of his neighbours to guide us and walked us to where the horses were corralled. We had a great ride through very rich farm land with crops like Tobacco, maize, bananas, sweet potatoes, cabbages, etc. It’s a very beautiful landscape with the mogotes as a backdrop. To make it even better, there was only Glenys, me and the guide, so we were able to trot and canter as much as we wanted.
The guide took us to a few places including an organic farm, a small cave, and a couple of bars. At one bar on the top of a hill, we ordered a coconut water with honey and rum and then I noticed a couple in another small group. I’d seen her before, but where? Then it clicked, they live on a Swiss boat that I’d last seen in Marathon, when I said hello, they recognised me – their boat is at another port in the north east of Cuba. Small world…
On the way back to the stables, we stopped off at a small house, where we had a grapefruit drink made by cutting off the top of a grapefruit, squishing the fruit up in the middle and then adding honey and rum – fabulous. Drink in hand; we were then treated to a demonstration of hand-rolling a cigar. The dried leaves are fermented and quite flexible when being rolled, with different grades and types being blended to make the particular flavour. At the end of the demonstration, the guy wanted to sell us some cigars, but we told him, sorry, we didn't smoke…
We picked up our luggage and walked along to our new Casa Particular, which had a much more colonial feel to it – high ceilings and a huge garden filled with plants such as banana, plantain, coffee, cabbages, avocados, etc. The room was typically basic and some of the fittings had much to be desired. You have to admire the practical approach to life that the Cubans have. There was a chandelier in the bedroom that only had one of the four fittings working and looked as though it had seen much better days. The shower head was electrical and the wiring would have sent a British electrician into a fit. The toilet handle was broken and with the type of ingenuity that I've seen elsewhere - a piece of wood tied onto the end of a length of string was a workable solution.
We wandered into town, had lunch, then sat in square – I was falling asleep after all our exercise, so I went back to have a two hour siesta while Glenys wandered around the small town a little more. When she got back to the Casa, she found the gentlemen of the house rolling their own cigars and the lady picking through rice in a tray to remove the stones – it’s a different world.
In the evening, we had a great meal – Glenys had lobster and I had pork, both with the inevitable rice and beans. Interestingly, in Vinales, they serve the rice and beans separate, so you can mix them up yourself. After dinner, we went out to a bar, listened to a Salsa band and drank too many Cuba Libres.
18 January 2013 Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
Once again, we were running out of money, so we went to bank to get some money. Cubans have a very interesting way to queue. They don’t stand in a long line, but huddle together with their friends chatting in small groups. The trick is to ask who is the “Ultimo” as soon as you arrive at the door to the bank. The person who is the last in the “queue” will raise a finger or nod in your direction - it’s quite subtle, so you have to be quick. Once you have made eye contact with the last person, you are now the “Ultimo” and have to wait until the next person comes before you can relax. You then watch the person “in front” of you, who is watching the person “in front” of them…
Our bus didn't leave until two o'clock in the afternoon so we went for a long walk to the Cuevas del Indio. It’s six kilometres each way, so it was a good work out. The caves are interesting and stretch back a few hundred metres until the way is blocked by an underground river. At this point, you get onto a small boat and they take you for a small tour further into the cave and then drop you outside. Not bad, but a little expensive at $5 each.
Back at the Casa, we had a shower, said goodbye and went to a restaurant for lunch. The trip back on the bus was pleasant and we arrived back in Havana at half past five. We were inundated by taxi drivers all trying to get us into their cab. On telling them that we wanted to go to Marina Hemingway the starting price was either $20 or $25 dollars. After haggling with a few of them, I determined that the best price we could get was $10. There was a lot of shouting when I picked one of the more run down taxis rather than the newer state-run Cuba-Taxi. There’s obviously a bit of a cartel being run here.
19 January 2013 Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
I downloaded a weather forecast which showed that a weak cold front has just passed over the area. This will give light north east winds for the next few days, so we’ll probably leave tomorrow and head west.
We dropped off a bag of laundry and walked into the local town to get some food because we’ll be in isolated anchorages for the next couple of weeks and won’t be able to buy any food until we get to Mexico. Unfortunately, we were too late to get any eggs and bread, but Glenys managed to get a good selection of vegetables and bought a frozen chicken at the marina’s state-run supermarket, so we won’t starve to death.
The afternoon was a lazy affair, reading and chilling out with a small excursion to the marina supermarket to buy enough beer and rum to last us for the next couple of weeks.
In the evening, we had Mojitos on “Yindee Plus” and then went out to a local café with Jeff, Yuda and their two kids from “Xanadu” where we had a huge meal of pork and rice with a big salad for $1.25 each.
20 January 2013 Marina Hemingway to Cayo Levisa, Cuba (Day 1)
The weather forecast is still for settled weather for the next few days, so I told the marina office that we were leaving at five o'clock We’re not allowed to stop anywhere along the northern coast until Cayo Levisa, which is an awkward 65 miles away. We’ll not be able to get there in one day, so we’re going to have to do leave late afternoon and sail slowly overnight to arrive mid-morning; another day of hanging about waiting to leave.
We walked into town to see if we could find any eggs or bread, but had no success – we should have bought two dozen eggs when we found some the other day. There was some kind of car rally going on at the marina and hundreds of cars kept parading up and down the road playing loud music. We had a wander around and looked at the cars – some of the classic cars were in beautiful condition.
Chris from “Yindee Plus” came over in the afternoon with his guitar for an hour. He’s been playing for over 40 years and showed me a few things to try. It’s very embarrassing when I meet other guitarists because they always want to get together and I can’t play anything – I must learn to play some songs instead of just playing technical exercises. On the plus side, Chris says that my technique is good.
I was a little annoyed when I paid the marina - they charged us an extra day because we’d stayed after noon. On the positive side, I looked so annoyed that they didn't dare ask me for a “tip” – another boat that left today was hit for a 10% tip. We had to go along to the clearance dock on the way out where we were visited by the Immigration, Customs and Guarda Fonteras. They filled in numerous forms and stamped our “despacho” and, as expected, they would only give us permission to go to Cayo Levisa.
When we finally exited the channel, we had a nice 20 knot wind from the north with settled, three foot seas, so we put the main up and set off on a reach into the setting sun.