And so, we bid adieu to Port Antonio, Jamaica… Goodbye to the goat studying us with amusement as we sweated our way up Naylor Hill just to see what we could see. Goodbye to the Musgrave Market ladies and their Siren song: “What can I show you today, girlfriend?” Goodbye to the man I fantasized was Errol Flynn’s ghost. He sat outside the EF Marina bathhouse, his cigarette’s noiresque smoke glowed, lit by the moon. Did he really say (with that iconic, clipped suggestiveness) “Thank you. As a matter of fact, I’m afraid it is me. Nobody seems to pay much attention to me anymore.”?* Goodbye to the lovely teenaged schoolgirl who, with sincere curiosity, grabbed my arm and asked “Who are you and where do you come from?” as we walked together along the waterfront promenade.
Ah, Port Antonio…you fascinated us, but it was time to move on.
Our next port? Santiago de Cuba! One overnight. One hundred and twenty-four nautical miles. Straight shot. Our weather forecaster recommended this day as a good-weather window. But, I think that “good-weather window” label is pretty subjective. And so, when seas started building and it really began to blow during my watch, I hunkered into the corner of the cockpit and focused on the book Françoise (of S/V Helios) passed along. I was surprised that she read this book. It was a soap opera. Françoise is a no-nonsense kind of woman. But then, I understood. The main character’s travails, her romantic angst..that stuff distracted me. My transit angst was swept away by the story’s foolishness. The weather window became a good one after all.
Visiting Cuba on your own boat is complicated. Although some of the U.S. requirements have eased a bit, we are still limited to a 14-day visit, a reason to be there and submission of a special form to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Money is especially problematic. There is no infrastructure to handle U.S. credit or debit cards. You need to bring enough money, but how much? Cruiser blogs are full of recommendations for what national currency (U.S., Canadian, Euros, Mexican Pesos, etc.) to bring. There’s also Cuba’s currency conversion requirements to deal with. I worried about all this stuff…a lot.
You know though, there’s a lot of fussing with details that end up being just that…details. Our Cuba check-in was actually kind of fun. The Guarda Frontera (border guys) brought two sweet cocker spaniels (definitely not hounds of the Baskervilles) aboard to smell for drugs. Somewhat dismayed by our companionway ladder, the Spaniels had to be carried below. When they smelled something, these fluffy, sad pups simply sat down. The rest of the check-in process (Health Department, Customs, Immigration, Dockmaster) was handled with sensitivity and respect. Perfecto y tranquilo. ¡No problemas!
We came to Cuba to learn, and then assemble that learning into a journalistic presentation. And you know what the first big learning was? The Cuban people and their history, cultural mix, music, sense of humor and genuine warmth…all that…it is Completely, Totally Irresistible!
I have to learn how to Rumba!
From our first forays into Santiago’s Parque Céspedes to looking for tallers de coches (repair shops for cars), the pieces came together and we found answers to questions we’d originally had; solutions to problems we had not expected.
We wanted to know how those cars, you know, those really old American and Russian cars, were kept alive, running…just like you’d expect of new cars. Despite the U.S. embargo, despite the end of the Soviet Union, despite Cuba’s financial and political calamities…how did the Cubans keep those old Chevys, Fords, Plymouths, Willys, etc., AND the slightly younger Moskvitches and Ladas, running?
We engaged the best resources for finding answers when you know nothing about a new place–taxi drivers–to help us locate tallers whose mechanics fixed these aging vehicles. How did Cubans get the parts to make the repairs? The answers we found were surprising. And, until we have all the facts together, this blog entry ends with a short photo essay …
Thank you…¡Gracias! Santiago de Cuba for welcoming us, and sharing your special courage and grace with us during our way-too-short time in your country. We hope so very much to return some day.
*Quote from ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ filmed in 1957
**Photo credit: Ron Odenheimer