Cuba (2)

Blue Sky's Voyage
George & Michael
Sun 26 Apr 2009 17:34
Hello Friends                    "21:37.4N 81:56.2W"
We arrived in the amazing natural harbour which is the Bahia de Cienfuegos (check your GoogleEarth images) and the Guarda post at the entrance says it all...
The arrivals procedure here in Cuba is now much simpler than our Cruising Guide would have you believe - you just motor up to the dock, the marina staff take your lines and in a few minutes, the necessary officials visit to clear you in. Much more complex than anywhere else but not too much of a burden and no need to radio ahead when you arrive in territorial waters, as used to be the case.
Cienfuegos is a much more appealing town than Santiago and appears more prosperous: maybe it's just had more central government funding. There is a fine four lane highway from town to the Punta Gorda tourist area where there is a large hotel, the marina and other tourist facilities. Being Cuba, the highway is a somewhat extravagant piece of infrastructure for the traffic it carries, such as the pony carts which are a convenient way to get into town if you can't be bothered to walk in the sun.
I guess that if you're fed up with traffic congestion in the first world then you'd like Cuba. Then again the pony carts have their own special 'pollution' too - but the sack around the rear of the pony is intended to deal with that. You just hope that there is a following wind when you're riding in the cart! The pony carts themselves are clearly fashioned from flattened out oil drums and reinforcing bars and anything else the builder could lay his hands on.
Tourism is an important foreign currency earner for Cuba and they take some trouble to look after you and make sure you pay full price for anything you want. So it is apparently illegal for the (cheap) pony carts to give rides to tourists, which is daft as this is just the sort of local colour (if not odour) that tourists are looking for. This also explains why the carts suddenly turn off on some side street and you wonder where you're headed to. It just means that the driver has seen a cop up ahead and is making a small detour to avoid the fine.
The alternative transport are the human powered tricycles which we used a couple of times. We got a lift into town with one guy who really worked at his job, especially on the slight incline as you get into town. But he was so pleased to have the fare that he must have been following us around town, as he appeared from nowhere after we'd finished shopping and offered to take us back to the marina.
As you can see from the photo above, there are plenty of remnants of the pre-revolutionary architecture and the irony is that the tourist attractions - interesting colonial architecture and 50's american cars etc - all pre-date the present regime. An example is the Teatro Tomas Terry, pretty much the most famous building in Cienfuegos, which was built by the sons of a Venezuelan industrialist in the late 19th century. It's carefully restored to be a tourist attraction, CUC 1 just to take a look, but you wonder at the relevance of the spending to your average Cuban peasant.
I don't know how well you'll see the inside shot, but those seats are apparently carved from Cuban hardwoods. Emphasis on 'hard' by the look of it.
Another example of tourist priority is the Coppelia ice cream emporium which is a Cienfuegos institution. This place is hugely popular with the locals who queue up for their bowl of ice cream for just 1 local peso - think one penny/cent, whatever. But if a tourist wanders by they are scooped (sic) up to jump the queue, but you pay about $3 for the same ice cream. We didn't really like the idea of queue jumping (we're Brits !) so we missed out as yet.
The front door is centre of photo, but the queue is kept back 50 metres on the left so as not to block the door for the tourists. Just inside the door there is a large menu board advertising the flavours available. Slightly wishful thinking as there is only ever one flavour a day, usually banana (very good we are told).
The photo above shows the 4 lane highway again and I didn't have to wait for a gap in the traffic to take the photo... but for car nuts (are there any car nuts reading the Blue Sky blog?) here are a couple of classics:
We are now cruising the islands to the south west of Cienfuegos, between Cay Largo and Isla Juventud and it's really very quiet indeed, though we have seen a handful of other yachts. The winds have resumed to what we guess is normal service: light and gently veering winds in the afternoon and early evening, then very suddenly at about 2200 it picks up real quick and blows strongly all night until late the following morning. At least it means you can plan your sailing and not burn too much diesel.
Our current anchorage is Cayo Rosario which is apparently a nature reserve with many iguanas etc. We'll be exploring later when the wind settles down. The bay here is reputed to be full of lobsters and as most of the water is only just deep enough to float Blue Sky, it should be easy to snorkel for our supper.
We're due back in Cienfuegos in early May to meet up with our next Cabin Boy who will be the 21st in a long and distinguished line. So another blog in mid May all being well.
Best Wishes
George & Michael