Wednesday, 6 April 2016


Entering Puerto De Vita.
Dawn broke as we furled sails and prepared to enter Puerto De Vita. The Marina / Guarda Fronteria, Coast Guard eventually responded on 16 and we then communicated on 14. The channel is deep and well marked for a daylight entry.
The similarity to eastern Indonesia, without the volcanoes, was remarkable. Dry fields, a few people fishing, a pony cart and scrub. The Marina's escort boat met us at the fork where the channel divided, to lead us into the anchorage just off the marina, where we awaited the arrival of Ronaldo, the Doctor who first clears crew preparatory to arrival in the Marina. Once the medical clearance was given we entered the dock area. It's a stern or bow too mooring system. No side dock. Marin's staff assisted with securing us to the dock and we were soon visited by several officials and a little spaniel. The inspection was cursory and polite. 
One of the fancy vehicles in the Tourist area.

Entry price has soared just this week. From 25CUC to 75CUC. (App.A$100) each. So that was a shock given the fact that we are on limited, cash only, reserves. The other fee is 55CUC  (app US$63) is the Cruising Permit for the boat. The Marina is CUC0.75. / foot per day and includes water and electricity.

Two other yachts arrived just behind us. One from US and Mithril from UK. Given that we all needed to change money we teamed up with Mithril and shared a taxi to Guardalavaca, a big tourist resort area, where we exchanged US$ for $CUC and then adjourned to the Bar to get acquainted and exchange info.
Cuba. Approximately 620nm long.

The resort area was also very Indonesian! Friendly but basic. Pretty beach and lots of fat sunburned tourists laying about getting skin cancer and soaking up the all inclusive alcohol. We decided not to stay long and after a simple pizza meal we headed back to the boats. Taxis are pretty expensive. $20CUP each way. App. 15km. It was an ancient Lada and the fit was cosy. Given that the average local wage is only $20 US per month, taxi drivers are doing very nicely.
We discovered that the sand flies (noseeums) are ferocious at the marina, so fully covered or bug sprayed is the dress code.
An average street scene. Hougin. There are not many cars.

Saturday after assembling cables for power to keep refrigeration happy in our absence, we took a taxi to Hoguin, 35 km, to stay the night and planed to ease ourselves into travel mode and progress from there to Trinadad for a few days.
Everyday transport is horse or people powered.

Hoguin is a large, by Cuba standards, provincial city. Our Casa Particular was a short walk to the city square. The room was small but adequate. It was clean but the water didn't work so well and was cold. Nothing unusual for Cuba. There are very few buildings with glazing. Timber louvers keep most of the rain out I presume. They don't have bug screens, so travel with spray. Especially in this time of Zika Virus. There are no public reports of the virus here in Cuba and they are taking the threat very seriously. Evidenced by the smell of chemicals used to fumigate the residential areas. Our Casa was $25CUC and included breakfast however our hostess was ill at breakfast so we didn't feel inclined to eat with her. 
Don Quixote sculpture in Hoguin

Food in Hoguin is of various quality and prices are affordable, $12CUC to $20CUC will purchase  food and drinks for 2. Good food was hard to find and the price for very ordinary food was not much less than decent food. We didn't find any great food, that's not to say it's not available, just that it's hard to find. Cuba is not noted as an epicurean destination so leave your special requirements and fancy appetite at home. It's hard enough to purchase the basics in Cuba without looking for specialties.
Trinidads cobbles and architecture.

We wandered around the streets of Hoguin for a day but there was little to see or do. The town square is the center of activity and people watching seems to be the preferred entertainment. Having decided by mid afternoon that we had "done" Hoguin, we booked tickets on the overnight bus for Trinidad. UNESCO Recognized as a significant site architecturally and historically. 

The 600km bus trip, $26CUC each, commenced at 11.30pm so we didn't see anything. The road was atrocious, so even though the bus seating was reasonably comfortable, nothing could disguise the road conditions. 7 1/2 hours later as the sun rose we descended from the highlands into Trinidad.
People watching in Trinidad.

Our pre-booked Casa Particular had sent a taxi bike to pick us up so we managed to avoid the scammers trying to drag us off to some favored establishment of their own choosing. Our Casa was decent enough with good aircon, reasonable beds and a functional ensuite. We negotiated breakfast and had a quick rest before setting out for the day to explore Trinidad's cobbled streets and old Spanish Architecture, dating back to the early 1500s.  The Architecture, I'm sure, is important historically but getting a glimpse inside is tricky. The streetscape is all pretty much the same. Unless you happen to be staying in one of the buildings, they are not open to the public. Once again we spent the day wandering around the streets, people watching in the square, queuing at the bus station and the bank for several hours and generally filling in time. We did find a very good Restruant called El Dorado in a street just a little way from the Viazul bus station. Tasty food, good service and a nice local music quartet housed in a lovely old restored building.
Scenes from the rural areas.

We returned to Hoguin on the Viazul bus from Trinidad, an 8 hour trip during daylight, so we're able to see the countryside from its high vantage. The taxi trip from Hougin back to Resort Taipan was hairy! It was pouring with rain, the first rain for 6 months. The ancient Lada was definitely not roadworthy by my standards. The driver drove it as hard as it would go, skirting, at speed, great pools of water, pot holes, carts, cars and bikes, to narrowly avoid on coming vehicles. His command of English did not include the phrase "slow down!!!" Something I need to learn in every language before we next use a driver. Shaking and relieved we disembarked that treacherous jalopy and staggered gratefully aboard. The next two days we decided to take advantage of the dock facility so David could finish building and install the new anchor reverse switch. It's a complicated board with solenoids, fat cables and a prayer at start up!
And thats just the switching.

It works! The job took a couple of days but now we can haul stubborn chain out of the locker when it gets snagged and tangled on passage, previously a 2 man job as our anchor chain is accessed from below deck. 

Departure was a painless affair except for the ferocious sand flies at 7 am Friday morning. Back came the little dog and a couple of officials. They checked the boat a little more thoroughly, probably for stowaways, and then clearance to sail was given. We  were outbound by 8 am and an uneventful passage to the Southside anchorage at Ragged Island had us anchored in the Bahamas again by nightfall.

I have hesitated to mention all the horses. Horses are at work in Cuba, filling the role of car and tractor. We saw a few dilapidated ancient Russian tractors and one newish Chinese tractor but most of the haulage is done with horse or bullock carts. There are hundreds of horses pulling people around the streets. It's a cheap form of taxi here. The horses are mostly dejected and skinny. Harness is ill fitting and cobbled together from scraps of leather and plastic or webbing. Some had bits but many had chain wrapped around their nose. To many had ugly scars, evidence of heavy handedness. Not once did we see a horse offered a drink during the hot days, nor did we see any evidence of any facility for horses to drink from.

Out in the country the horses were marginally better off. I even saw one or two quite fat shiny horses but they were very scarce. It is the end of the dry season and end of tourist season so hopefully most of them will get an opportunity to rest and fatten up before the next tourist season.

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Cuba was the horse riding. I didn't go because I could not bring myself to get on one of those horses. I did however speak to a couple from Scotland who did find a horseback riding tour in Veradero which was well run with fat happy horses.
There are slim pickings in the stores.

Of all the tourists we spoke with. None would return to Cuba and most said the tourist brochures were wild exaggerations.
The prices have soured making Cuba a fairly expensive destination. This is such a pity because the Cuban people are friendly, resourceful and helpful. The political system has destroyed people's motivation and incentive. Casa Particular tourist accommodation has enabled some home owners to benefit and some private restaurants are benefiting from a loosening of the communist grip. Anyone touring Cuba should use these facilities to get the dollars into the community and not into the Party pocket.

Several well educated Cuban people we spoke to said Cubans were generally depressed. One, a psychologist, said she was expected to see 25 patients per day in her job and she couldn't help them. She could earn the same money working in a tourist stall without any of the stress. Cuba needs the embargo lifted but they need some real international aid to get the country functioning again. There is no agricultural equipment. Everything is broken. The once vast cattle ranches and sugar plantations are just ruins with rough grass and regrowth dotted with a few cattle and goats.
The government provides free education and free health care. The hospitals are very basic and they are critically short of drugs and supplies. The education system is also very basic judging by the standard of schools and the alleged paucity of books and basic school equipment.
Would I go back? No.

Until the regime in Cuba changes and allows individuals to benefit from their efforts, and better their standard of living through their own endeavor and industry, Cuba will remain a failed communist experiment.