Leaving Cuba 19:39:286N 77:47:424W
We are leaving Cuba for Jamaica. We were in Cuba for a month. Our plan now is to go to Guatemala and Honduras. We figure that the best way, taking into consideration the wind and the current direction, would be to go via Montego Bay, Jamaica. To get to Jamaica from Cienfuegos we need to go east a few hundred miles while there is no wind for then turn SE to take advantage of the forecasted NW winds. That time is here and now. Tacking to Jamaica hang on.
Cuba is a great country with very friendly people. Watch out for the cunning ones. They various ways to ensnare tourists into giving up their money in one way or another. We had one young guy sit with us on the park bench he spoke very good English, an English teacher, he was very informative about the way of life in Cuba, concentrating on the low wages they get and the rationing of food and cooking gas. They have a voucher system for such things. He explained that these items are available on the black market but only with CUC’s which is the currency used by foreigners’ The locals use peso’s. There are 25 pesos to one CUC. So his tack was to get us to buy him some cooking gas.
We did have some of these peso’s and used them at the fruit and vegetable market. This is where the locals shop, they seldom see foreigners here. Although they asked for CUC’s I insisted that I pay in Pesos. We got a whole pumpkin for 8 pesos, a dozen tomatoes for 10 pesos, and so on. One CUC is about one US$.
We did get trapped by one of these shysters in the bus on the way to Vinales. He told us that he was a chef and we could stay in his ‘Casa’ (a family home set up for accommodating tourists usually including breakfast and dinner. They are monitored by the government.) 25 CUC’s a night. I negotiated that on condition that we would get lobster for dinner and cold beer at one CUC each and that Joelle would drive us around the next day to see the sights for 20 CUC’s. The deal was agreed to. We were happy that we would not need to worry about finding accommodation when we arrived. He had a twenty eight year old woman with him introduced to us as Roseanna.
When the bus stopped at Vinales there were scores of people from Casa’s attempting to get people to stay in their casa. The going price…20 CUC.
We were bundled into a taxi and arrived a few minutes later at the Casa. In fact there were two Casa’s, one for us and one over the road for Jim. The woman Roseanna was staying over the road as well. We suggested that Jim could stay in our room as there were two double beds. No they wanted Jim to stay across the road.
We then were given about a dozen beers to put in our fridge. We sat on the porch drinking the beer. The Casa owner went into town on his motorbike to get more beer as the evening went on. Joelle was helping himself to the beer. We thought nothing if it assumed that we would just have pay for what we were drinking. Wrong.. We had to pay for his consumption and the price was 1.50 CUC not the agreed to one CUC.
The dinner was served.. Jim had to go across the road to have his meal as did Roseanna. We sat at the dining table and so did Joelle. The three of us tucked into Pumpkin soup, Lobster. Salad and fried bananas. Manalito and Wimian owned the casa we stayed in they had two boys aged ten and fourteen years. Wimian was a good cook.
The next day Joelle organized a car ( a 1957 Fairlane convertible) and a driver to take us around to see the sights Joelle and Roseanna came too.
We did the touristy bit. The car was a pleasure to drive in except for the cramped conditions with 6 of us, and the earsplitting music that the Cuban’s love to have.
Time to pay the driver.. We went to give him 20 CUC and Joelle got angry and told us that he would pay him. We then walked to the car hire place as we were considering hiring a car to get back to Cienfuegos as Joelle insisted that it would be impossible to get a taxi or private car to take us. He wanted us to go to the beach so we would stay one more night at the casa. As we approached the hire car office we were accosted by a fella asking if we wanted a taxi. We were talking to him and Joelle got angry once again and told the man to go away. It seems that Joel wanted to get a commission from the hire car company.
We then went to a café and Joelle and Rosanna sat with us even though we told them that we wanted to be alone and that we would make our own way back to the Casa. We then insisted that we pay the driver of the Fairlane so he could go home.. 30 CUC was the demanded price. Why 30 when we agreed to 20. Because there were five passengers was the answer.. So we paid for these two shysters as well. They hung around waiting and expecting that we would buy them lunch until we insisted that we were now going to a restaurant and that we wanted to go alone and that we would find our own way back.
Jim as it turns out had to pay for Roseanna to eat at the Casa. He paid 48 CUC for each of the two nights.. He thought at the time that the price included the beer he consumed when in fact we paid for the beer at the other Casa..
Another incident was the dock-master at the marina in Cienfuegos, he charged us 110 CUC for the entry fee (customs, immigration etc) I had only euro’s so he said that will be 100 euro’s. The going rate is 1.30 euro’s to the CUC. Then another boat came in and he charged that boat only 105 CUC. We had some laundry done there for 15 CUC by a lady at the marina. Then when we had more to do the dock master took it charged 25 CUC and asked if we had laundry powder. We reckon that he took it home and had his missus do it. A New Zealand couple was invited by the dock-master to a friend’s home for a meal. They were then asked to pay for it. They said it was very expensive and after you have been cruising you do not eat as much so they could not eat a big meal.
I know that these people are not by any means wealthy and that they need to get by, by doing whatever.. So good luck to them I suppose but tourist beware…
Jim left us at 0800 hrs on the 24th of Febuary and we had to check out of Cuba as our visas had run its 30 day limit. I went to see the Immigration officer.
“What time do you want to leave” “1400 hrs”. “Be in my office at 1300 hrs”. “Give me your passports and come back at 1500 hrs” “But I intend leaving at 1400 hrs” “OK come back at 1430 hrs I have to go and eat now” and without any more eye contact he locks the office door and off he goes. I am back at 1430 he beckons me in and to be seated and he gets on with the form filling.. Forms in Cuba are an important part of officialdom. They use carbon paper to get at least three copies. Which by the way it is always the unreadable bottom one that they give to us. The form filling took much longer than normal as all the while he is either making a phone call or receiving calls..Eventually he hands back the passports and tells me to wait outside. Out I go. 20 minutes later I put my head in the door and I am told to wait more. After about an hour another person arrived and now I am told that I am to take him and the immigration officer in the dingy to the boat which is anchored out. “But I have the dingy full of jerry jugs with fuel and water, there is no room for anyone” “Ok take it back to the boat and come back to get us” … Did that and I came back to get them. On filling up with diesel I spilt some and it was sloshing around on the floor of the dingy. The immigration officer was polite enough to take his shoes off when boarding but the other guy left his on and made diesel foot prints all over the boat. The second guy spent the time snooping in all the cupboards and pulling out my tools having a look at them. We normally have searches entering a country not leaving. Ten minutes of snooping and lots of signatures and stamping on all the forms we were officially out of the country. We eventually got away at about 1730hrs. Sunset and a beautiful tall ship was sailing out ahead of us.
So on getting out of Cienfuegos Harbor we made a left turn and travelled all night to arrive at Cayo Alcatraz at 1440 hrs. As usual we were all alone. A very peaceful time until a fishing boat arrived. “You want Lobster” they shouted. “Yes” “How many you want” “Quatro” “ok you wait one moment” and off they went. We watched them go around in the surrounding area in waters of about 4 meters deep. They have on the sea bed platforms made of timber logs with a metal sheet about 20cm thick on top. The sheet is about two meters square and it sits about 80cm off the sand. The lobsters are under this raft like structure and the men throw out some sort of burly go around then dive down and grab the lobster by hand come up and chuck it into the dingy that is being towed behind the boat. They got four and came back to us. To show our gratitude we gave them some sheets, towels, tubes of toothpaste, cakes of soap .They seemed pleased with this bag of stuff that we did not want any more . They anchored for the night right next to us.
Just as we were about to sit down to eat our freshly caught lobby five of the men came over to ask if they could come on board. We said no as we were just about to eat and it is illegal to take a Cuban on board. We had to sign a paper when we arrived that we agree to that. We were very tired from the previous voyage we were going straight to bed. Now that we ourselves were not legally in the country having checked out the day before. They would have locked us up and thrown out the key. “You want fish” “Yes please”. The next day just as we were about to leave at about 1500 hrs they came steaming up to us holding up a 60cm Grey Snapper. The smile on his face just as big. We gave them another big bag of stuff and some groceries that we had bought in Jamaica. They asked if we wanted to come with them to catch lobster. We explained that we were just about to leave. They took off only to come back in about 15 minutes with two very big lobsters. They asked for salt which we happened to have lots of. The fish was very tasty.