Sailing and travel tales

Cuba: Pelican

leave a comment »

Written by teoranga

January 10, 2012 at 2:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba – One half Guards the other half

leave a comment »

There are so many strange things, contradictions.

Nice people controlled by hordes of security systems which come

in a confusing array of forms.

As a sailor, I have not yet worked out which form over rules which.

Around the marinas are security men – the normal kind – but oversupplied.

Four men guard a line of about 20- 30 boats. We are guarded 24 hrs a day.

It’s difficult to know who is being guarded, us or Cuba – no Cuban

is allowed to board the overseas boats.

Of course it means that crime is not a problem on a marina

and you can safely leave the boat for days if need be.

There is The Homeland Security. The men in green that pop out

from just about every sea corner one pulls over into.

They always come in twos – usually one older one younger.

They come on board check the passports and the cruising permit,

fill in a form or two, sometimes check the boat for hiding Cubans

then ask where we have come from and where we are going.

They look satisfied/relieved when we say we are going to a designated Clearing In marina.

Designated In Marinas are often sited on isolated penninsulars or islands and there are only about 7 or 8 of them around the huge perimeter of Cuba.

We can,t do the distance between the tourist clearing in ports in a day

and an early start is almost impossible because first the green guards

have to clear us out –  more paper work.

We just go as far as we can then pull over and anchor in a sheltered spot overnight

because we are not ready to do overnight travel along the coast, nor wish to, because we are here to see the country.


We pulled overnight into a little fishing village called Les Esperanza; put the anchor down

and slept overnight unmolested by any form of security. Got up, had breakfast and decided to put the dingy in the water and go ashore.

The dingy touching the water alerted a local guard twosome and in no time at all they came rowing in the usual delapidated Cuban fibre glassed over wood dinghy (nowhere do you see outboards).This time it was a woman with a young male assistant.

He rowed, she filled in the forms.

We indicated we would like to see the beautiful countryside

– and it was amazing to look at from the sea.

Strange, steep sided, high mounded mountains, maybe volcanic cones.

There were limestone caves in the area, it was a rich farming area and it was a tourist area –

She smiled when we called her countryside beautiful but when

I pointed out our tourist visas she looked steadily at them then still said no.

I have been told since that if we had pushed it the local guards could not have

actually stopped us from coming ashore because the tourist visa must override their authority.

We just haven’t felt like pushing it yet!

There is also a Cuban Coast Guard, which we have yet to come across and

there were police cars and police on motorbikes around Havanna

or maybe they were just traffic police.

Then there were people in different uniforms at stop points along the motorways

One half of the population is guarding the other half in Cuba.

Written by teoranga

January 10, 2012 at 2:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba: A bike ride to see the farmers

leave a comment »

This morning was windless and we woke early so jumped on the bikes and headed directly inland to see the farmers, mapless. Maps are as scarce as hen’s teeth so we looked on the boat’s chart plotter but it did not give us too much information either. We just decided we would head inland. The coastline is an indefinite ribbon of urban sprawl but this is only on average about a kilometre wide.

The road we chose to take us inland quickly narrowed down to a farm dirt track, eroded with storm water courses and rocks, but quite navigable on our cheap Chinese made USA bikes.( so glad we did not buy those silly foldable expensive boat bikes) We were lucky it was not too dry today and not wet either . Any NZ farmer would have been delighted to have such nice near flat volcanic land to begin his farming venture with water in abundance, but the land appeared mainly unfarmed. Tall rank coarse grasses, scattered through with something that could have been straggly young acacias. It obviously has a match set to it periodically to clear it off. Along the way we found a small maybe newer enterprise with goats and funny looking brown sheep. They were housed in open sided sheds and as we were passing 3 or 4 men were cleaning out the shit. Adjacent were raised garden beds in which I guess the shit went and it looked like they were growing vegetables in them. It looked hopeful and I think was one of the “sustainable” projects that I had heard were being evolved in Cuba.

I read that any land holdings under 67 acres were not taken by the communist government so it may have been a private enterprise. As we biked on through this unkempt farmland we passed small unkempt cottages with bare soil yards, home not just to people, nice people, but a few chickens, pigs and a dog or two. But how they stay alive I do not know.

As our road diminished in size we found truckloads of rubbish dumped either side of the road. Not the kind of rubbish mix you might expect from a New Zealand dump full of what these people would only see as treasure , more earth, broken concrete – construction rubbish with many plastic bags through it making it visually very untidy. We were getting a bit worried about where this was leading and came upon what could only be described as a small slum area. I can’t quite understand why there is a slum area in communistic Cuba, but there is.

The vision that still haunts me from this place, is of an old man with great lumps all over his face and I am wondering if I was looking at leprosy.


Still no gardening was going on here. Our rubbished lined road meandered up, down and around and became bumpier than ever then suddenly hello this looks like something like farmed land. Two big black Brahman styled bulls in a rough paddock with a small banana plantation behind them. It improved from then on , these  had to be government farms – still under-farmed by our standards, native grasses, burning off and no real fencing, but farmed on a large scale and looking a bit more orderly.

The road improved, less bumps , no rubbish dumped, level red volcanic dirt and then we found ourselves biking between tall grass field boundaries and I said to Andreas this reminds me of the little roads between the paddocks in Switzerland, and really it was. Then we reached a tar sealed road.

We had cut across country !

A diary farm with jersey cows, large low sheds, an ancient tractor following us, then next a 6 lane motorway. The main artery of Cuba which runs centrally the entire length of Cuba. The tractor, which we had stopped to let pass us, climbed up onto it – there was no entry suitable for a car to enter or exit it – we climbed up onto it too and along the 6 lane motorway we went. Waverley’s main road would have been busier. There were cars, of all vintages beginning with the old American giants , the Ladas, an occasional modern Asian and French cars and old trucks through to the newer big Macs. There were motorbikes of a smaller kind – not Harleys – and many very old motor bikes, again from the 50,s with side cars piled up, with men usually. There were cyclists like us, but Cubans and even a horse and cart. Everything and anything can use this motorway.


We travelled the motorway about 5 kilometres then dropped off onto a road that would return us along the coast to the marina – Strong whiffs of pig farms and chicken farms hurried us along in places. but not whiffs of people – the sewerage systems are in place over most of Cuba. Along this road we found a one and only private roadside stall selling pineapples, tomatoes, breadfruit, limes, green peppers, and oranges. We bought very cheaply and slugged out the last few kilometres from Santa Fe to the marina knowing we had bitten off a little bit more in distance than we could comfortably manage this time – especially the bums on bike seats that were not quite made to fit.

Written by teoranga

January 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba – making do, somehow

leave a comment »


We have not worked out how the food gets transported into central Havanna.

There is a distinct lack of freight trucks about but could be because there is a distinct lack of food stores and if you find one there is only basic stuff in it. This means the roads are relatively quiet and peaceful. There are many 1950,s cars in operation still. The big old American cars. They are an icon of Cuba right now. Mechanics work daily on the street sides maintaining these old cars ingeniously to run yet another day. We stopped and talked to some. Perkins diesil engines have replaced most of the petrol engines in these old cars.There are also old  Russian cars still in use too and there are some new cars on the streets as well –  not many.


There is a terrible lack of buses for the general population but the tourist ones we used are new and were free for us to travel the half hour to and from our marina to Havanna.The local people are not allowed to use them.

Today we were accosted beside our boat by an older Cuban on a bicycle. Please could he have one of the tyres off our bikes which were parked nearby. He showed us a gaping tear in his bike’s tyre. Of course we could not oblige because as Andreas pointed out we would only have three left and we need four for both our bikes to go !

There are no spare bicycle tires to replace damaged ones in Cuba. There is no money to fix anything in Cuba it seems. There is just no money and there is no motivation or inclination in the people to get on with restoring what they have. Nobody takes responsibility for anything and nobody seems to takes pride in a job well done.

The communistic zeal of the revolutionary generation has evaporated. The following generations have been adequately feed, educated and maintained healthwise – on the state –  but the real cost seems to be that many have failed to learn the fundamental that when you grow up, you work, like all free animals do, to put food in your mouth. The Cuban society we saw seems largely unmotivated and unwilling to do more than what is barely needed. It does feel like they are “unravelling” they are “waiting”. We were told that the government is starting to address the situation – rations and cash weekly payments are being reduced for those not working.

But what you do not see is that there is a sound education system in place, everyone until the age of 17 gets free education. There is a good health system in place. Doctors and nurses are in abundance here not lawyers! There are good sanitation systems installed. The main roads are good. There was a good train system but it, like the fishing fleet, also is in need of a lot of maintenance now. So much is good here. Much of the land is good soil. The climate is good for growing. There seems to be plenty of water. There are minerals ores, nickel currently the most mined but copper, manganese , lead, zinc , chromate, cobalt, iron and gold reserves are substantial but in early stages of extraction. Why the Americans swapped Florida for Cuba with the Spanish in earlier times I cannot imagine.

Tourists are hoping that when the time comes that the Cubans will be able to emulate places like The Czech and intelligently change without more revolution and war.

Written by teoranga

January 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba – Havana, a grand city crumbling

leave a comment »

We went to Havanna on the second day. Again shocking decay. No maintenance
undertaken for years and years and years. Probably not since 1959 and before. There
are many narrow streets in the old part that the Cubans walk down the centre of
to avoid falling masonry – we did too !
The size of Havanna is astounding.
It has a population similar to Auckland but the old part is huge, not only the
buildings are huge but the area the old part spreads over is huge. The old part
has many beautiful old buildings and some wide wide streets running inland from
the sea side with wide tiled pedestrians avenues between the two traffic ways.
UNESCO is assisting in the restoration of some of the monumental buildings near
the sea because of their attraction to tourists.The tourist area is a warren of
small shops  tucked inside dilapidated doorways with crumbling overhanging
balconies and ledges. Often doubling up as accommodation somewhere in the dark
crumbling interior behind.An artists and craftsman quarter. A cigar shop, very
few clothes and shoe shops all intended for the tourists not the locals; but the
streets team with idle Cubans of all shapes colours and sizes who can barely
afford food let alone anything else.They are not an unhappy lot but I cannot
relate the need for work all around them and so many people on the streets with
clearly “nothing to do.”
Dogs of all shapes and sizes happily – tails always up –  and freely roam
the streets of central Havanna,belonging to no one but everyone. I questioned a
waitress in a restaurant about the dogs. It seems they are independently working
rat catchers ! I guess that is a change from the pampered ship dogs of Marathon
who would not know what to do with a rat and would not be allowed to move if he
did know what to do !

Written by teoranga

October 4, 2011 at 7:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba – The Marina in disrepair

leave a comment »

The Hemmingway marina is a specially designed and designated tourists
marina complete with two quite large hotels. It is against the sea, it is
expansive, it was beautifully planned. Everything you need in a marina is here –
water and power at each dock, spacious lusciously tiled on shore showers,
toilets and laundry service, a dock side shop, restaurant and bar separate from
the hotels ones, marina administrative offices centrally sited.   I guess it
must have been built in the late 1950,s but no body has done any maintenance to
it since. It is so sad to see. There is an abundance of people working on the
marina, maybe six grounds men who scoot about picking up the odd palm frond that
has fallen and pick up bags of rubbish with an old tractor and a big trailer and
mow the grass sometimes. With six grounds men in a place like this in New
Zealand or Switzerland there would be no cracked and crumbling concrete dockside
walkway, or potholes here and there, some deep enough to break a leg if you
walked into it the dark, and usually rubbish has gathered in it. The grass would
be manicured  back off the concrete pathways and roads. The power cables
congregated at each dock site would be safely covered from the weather and
customers with a lid and water would not be leaking out of hose connections
etc… A lady stands on duty at the toilet/ shower block. She has few customers
! She could be gainfully employed doing something else as well as standing duty
. There are about 3 security guards wandering about at any one time – guarding
us from Cubans who are not allowed to board the boats – including the security
guards themselves
Last night after getting a little bit sick of being
constantly peered at through our windows by a young negro security guard Andreas
went out to see what he wanted. It was a bit difficult to work out. He could not
speak English. Maybe he wanted a tip to stop peering at us , not sure maybe he
just wanted to talk to someone to pass the time. He did indicate that it was
cold and it was quite cold.   Andreas did not tip him and came back inside and
still he stood out and watched us as we started to eat. In the end I said to
Andreas “Do you think he is hungry ? “ Andreas went out and offered him some
food.He gladly accepted a bowl of stew and potatoes and disappeared somewhere to
eat it returning a cleaned bowl and spoon a little later on.
I guess we can expect a “guest “ for dinner most nights now!

Written by teoranga

October 2, 2011 at 1:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba ….. Hemingway Marina

leave a comment »

15 January 2011

And guess what ? Today , two days later, a 37 – 40 ‘ yacht tied up next
to us. A Kiwi man with a Swissy wife from Whangarei on a boat called Barnstorm.
They too had been out there in the rough weather but ended up choosing not to
come through the Hemingway Marina entrance and went further west to another
easier looking harbour entrance. They were put under guard and were sent on back
here as soon as the weather settled a bit. There are only a handful of harbours
foreign pleasure boats can come into in Cuba!



We tied up for officialdom – 1st an old white man, a doctor who declared
us fit and our boat uncontaminated. Then MAF equivalents, a fifty plus paunchy
negro man and a skinny similarly aged negro woman. They did not look for much, filled
in forms then surreptitiously asked us for a tip. I think instead of a thorough
inspection but I am not sure about that. We were a bit taken aback because I
had read that there is no tipping in Cuba. However as it was all very convivial
and we were just so glad to be tied up Andreas tipped them ( overtipped them
because he got five thank yous out of them !) – all of course out of sight of
the harbour managers who were waiting to be next to come in.

Two very young good looking male harbour masters then boarded, while,
from a small office adjacent and on shore, a fat bulldog looking immigration
lady ( she looked like she had been exported directly from Russia for the job )
was firing questions down on us. The young men spoke good English and we dealt
with the business of how long we were staying, any guns on board and “we hold
your flares until you leave” etc as well as what were our next plans. Then one
left with our flares in a plastic bag and a very young, attractive,
immaculately presented – painted fingernails in uniform and not a hair out of
place, negro woman took her turn with us . Customs officer. She spoke very good
English and after another round of form filling and signing, sealed up our
GPS,s and our satellite phone but left them with us. We were not allowed to use
them while in Cuba. A Spanish looking man and a cocker spaniel arrived next to
sniff out all the cocaine on board and because he was disappointed not to
quickly find it asked for a tip – asked of course when we were down in the bottom
of the boat so the other officials would not see. Finally we were issued with a
docking site and once there were assisted by a small rabble of men and a woman
or two… all it turned out hoping to get some boat cleaning , laundry or
whatever work off us.

Finally we got settled in, “our helpers” dispersed and we went off to
sleep. It was lunchtime.

Written by teoranga

September 29, 2011 at 9:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized