Cuban Reflections

 

 

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Well it’s a funny sort of place, and in many ways the most different of all the Caribbean countries.  Firstly, you just can’tTime to clear the beach... get away from those revolutionaries; Marti, Che, Castro, and all their comrades. There are reminders aplenty in the form of posters, wall murals, statues, and memorials, pretty much in every place you may be and in any direction you may look. The celebrated revolutions are just that; celebrated.

Then there’s the way things work in Cuba; with state control of many activities; the limited availability of many things; the open and friendly people who are often ‘restricted’ by the potential interference of the police. There is the strange arrangement of two currencies, the ‘tourist’ convertible, and the Cuban peso. The first are used in dollar shops where one finds a sparse selection of food and household products at relatively high prices. The local peso is for purchase of fresh fruit, veg, bread and the like, at very low prices. As a visitor to the country it is tricky finding certain goods; bread, eggs, potatoes, and when they are found the transaction is a brisk, under the counter one with surreptitious glances over the shoulder.

The lack of certain things is striking….no mobile phones! And so none of the trappings surrounding cellular phones; shops; accessories; advertising. Perhaps the lack of mobiles is not such a bad thing….people still talk face to face. The internet and computer use is in its infancy and so for the average person in the street, contact with the outside world is limited. Already the new President (another ex revolutionary, of course) is freeing upRent Car's Plates were red restrictions on electronic communications, the changes won’t be rapid, but things will change.

Nonetheless, on our drives around the Cuban countryside we saw the amazing wealth of fresh produce; sugar cane, bananas, maize, rice, mangoes, citrus fruit and much more.

Driving around in Cuba is quite an experience; what with the atrocious road surfaces; stray goats; cyclists; oxen and pedestrians, you really have to have your wits about you. All of the above road users can be found on the main motorway (autopisto), usually heading the wrong way down the centre of the carriageway! We found ourselves lost on many occasions but that gave us a good look at many towns and villages and forced us to use our Spanish, if only to ask directions out of town. Much of Cuba is agricultural land and the farming looks hard work using very old, rusty tractors and often traditional ox pulled carts and ploughs.

We explored the mountainous region around the town of Trinidad in the South. Trinidad is a picturesque Spanish colonial town which retains architecture and atmosphere of an earlier time. It was here that our rental car finally broke down resulting in our seeking the mechanic services of some local men in a small backstreet workshop. In no time they had stripped the car down to the fuel tank, removed the offending blockage and we were on our way again. We were left feeling that dirty fuel and blocked fuel lines were a regular occurrence. On this journey we encountered the hazard of giant land crabs crossing the road; we imagined that they were off to breed, feed or what ever land crabs do. Unfortunately they don’t fair too well under car tyres and despite our avoidance chicane shenanigans we hit a few with an alarming CRUNCH and SPLAT.

Jed looking very intrepidSailing east from Cienfuegos we cruised for a week inside the reef of Jardin de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), a shallow sea dotted with hundreds of tiny, uninhabited, sandy or mangrove islands; some no more than a few metres across. Very sheltered, very beautiful, and lonely. We saw no more than a handful of local fishing boats, no other yachts, no other tourists. And with careful navigation through the shallows we anchored Double Waters in a few spots probably never settled by a cruising yacht. Plus the fishing was good and over a couple of days we caught dorado, tuna, and wahoo, so the larder was topped up and the BBQ busy.

We sailed east and away from the Cuba coast with thunder and lightning astern and set course for Jamaica. A 48 hour passage in good conditions and we made landfall early in the morning, the clear Blue mountains in the distance inland, you could almost smell the coffee, and certainly hear the echoes of reggae from the night before. Chillin’.

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