Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sailing Cuba

Marina Hemingway, Havana, Cuba
After more then two years in the Island Yacht Club Marina in Clearwater Beach, Florida, Earthling casted off the dock lines and sailed away to the Caribbean again. Aboard are the crew, Jim, Johnny, and the captain, George. The 190nm passage from Clearwater to the Dry Tortugas was smooth, with calm seas, and moderate winds. Tortugas is such a unique island, there is a hexagon shape fort build in the 1800’s on this little land. If you ever find yourself in Key West, then it’s worth a visit to take the ferry or the seaplane to Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas.
The Sea plane landing next to Earthling
Fort Jefferson
From Dry Tortugas to Havana is around 100nm, but you have to cross the Gulf Stream and it’s important to watch the weather. Large confused waves were encountered but for most of the part, that passage went fine as well. One over-night and in the morning we saw the buildings in Havana. It feels good to see Havana after so many years that Earthling have been wanting to sail here. Marina Hemingway is the first port of call. It is located 9km west of Havana. The Marina is fairly large and most of it seems like it’s not being used.  It’s a good place to land for sailors, since you get to meet many other cruisers from around the world. Earthling became good boat buddies with the Brazilian family aboard “Coragem” and the Hawaiian family aboard “Lōkahi”, among others!   

Marina Hemingway

When you step foot in Cuba, it feels like the country was frozen 50 years ago, from the cars to the buildings. I’ve never seen so many beautiful worn down buildings in one place. These houses have well architecture but most have not been restored since long time ago. The houses that are renovated are usually with the financial support of family members in the U.S. Most fascinating which put you back in time are the cars, all these American cars from the 50's and a the Russian Ladas. Cars are very expensive. Even the old beaten down cars are worth thousands. Majority of newer cars are company owned and most companies are controlled by the government! People take public transportation, walk, or bike. Biking is the way to go here and this foldable bicycle aboard Earthling took the Captain all the way to Havana and back with some sighting around the city in one day!    

A house in Havana
Every old car works as taxi
Cubans like many other Latinas are happy, friendly, and upbeat. They like their music, they like to dance, and party. In general, they are all educated, but less people speak English and adventures travelers to Cuba should know at least some basic Spanish. It is very strict here and you are being watched even if you think you are alone in the middle of nowhere! Along the coasts, there are watchtowers that monitors who is navigating the Cuban Waters. Most Cubans fear their government and follow the law and talk very quietly about politics! Still to this day, Internet and phone services are very underdeveloped. You will be able to find Internet hotspots in hotels and parks, but talking over Internet is almost impossible, a VPN service might be a good solution! Morover, you have to purchase "etesca" one hour internet cards in order to access the WWW. It happened several times where we asked for wifi, and yes there is wifi, but it’s not connected to Internet, or it's the weekend and the internet is off! It’s also possible to get a local mobile sim card, but be aware that it cost $2-3 a min to call that number from outside Cuba. 
Johnny is mingling with the locals
When in Cuba, you must more or less negotiate everything. Salaries are very low and Cubans look at tourist as a way of making money. A doctor in Cuba makes around US$40 a month, which is a high salary. Although, education and medical are free for everyone, but a dollar a day is not much! A can of soda or beer is $1. One CUC is equal to $1 but if you are exchanging the U.S dollar bills in Cuba, you get only 90CUC for $100. You get more value for your money if you carry other currency such as Euro! There is also a second currency, the Pesos ($1=25pesos), which is used mostly for basic food, public bus, etc. Visitors usually don't deal with the second currency! Remember that many things cost more for tourist than for Cuban’s. The first taxi ride in the old Plymouth from the Marina to Havana cost us $15 and the last taxi ride cost $8. For example if you want to buy 30 eggs in the Marina, it might cost you as much as $30, but if you go to the market with a local person, it will be around $3. We were fortunate to be introduced to a local person here; Armando was kind to help the crew with groceries and other chores that would have been very difficult otherwise. You can always taste and feel the country and the culture much better, whenever you are with locals. We were invited to a few Cuban homes and experienced a wonderful time. Unfortunately, Armando was not allowed to come aboard Earthling. It’s strictly forbidden for Cubans to come aboard foreign vessels, since that’s a common way of escaping the country.

Armando and George
Furthermore, keep calm when almost everyone you are confronting in the Havana area is expecting and asking you for something, a drink, food, your hat, etc! One day the security guys asked for something to eat with their rice, so they got some ham from Earthling. They walked by “Lōkahi” and asked if they could have something to eat with the ham, so they got some bread. The best approach is to respectfully refuse, otherwise you might give your boat away!
Moreover, it’s very safe in Cuba and crime is low, the punishment for stealing could result years in the prison! And apparently it’s very easy to go to Jail!

It’s wise to be well provisioned when you are cruising these waters because not everything is available in Cuba. There are more empty shelves than full ones in most convenience stores or the pharmacy! Cuba is the biggest Island in the Caribbean and by distance very close to the U.S. But it seems too far away since it's so different. This country has great potential for more tourism and finance. It is changing, but very slowly!  

Where can you find an old classic convertible as a Taxi
Flower Cart in the streets of Havana
Houses in Old Town Havana
A military funeral in Vedado
Square in Old Town Havana

Streets in Havana
1956 Chevy at the Marina
The Contrast of Mega yachts and old cars
Gold is a big show here (Local Pool Party)

Little hotel and restaurant in Havana
Got Taxi
Old cars broken down on the side of the road is a common scene!

Biking by different neighborhoods around Havana

There are not much traffic in Havana
Jim is leaving in the taxi to the airport

To see more pictures, visit the full album on the facebook page, Click here!

Thanks for reading
Love and peace from Havana, Cuba

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