Clearing Customs into Cuba

Lynn & Mike ..around the world
Mike Drinkrow & Lynn v/d Hoven
Fri 22 Apr 2011 19:02
23:05.24N 082:29.98W - Clearing Customs into Cuba
We arrived in Cuba to the port of Marina Hemingway (9miles south of Havana) at about 3.30pm yesterday afternoon. We were directed to the customs dock, so that we could start the check-in procedure.... and this is how it went:
1. The doctor arrived - a lovely old gentleman who asked questions related to our health and hygiene. This included inspecting the bathrooms, our medical kit, asking about our water and our general health. He was quite interested in Mike's hypertension medication - as he suffered from the same. After writing copious notes and filling in a number of forms, he gave us the all clear and permission to take down our quarantine flag.
2. Next was a very chatty man from the Department of Agriculture. He told us about all the rules of food - i.e. you cannot bring in any vegetables, fruits, nuts or meats - and he had Mike sign a declaration that he understood all of this. He then asked to look in our refrigerator and inspected other foods on board . He looked closely at them, made lots of notes and then said that everything was fine! ??  It would seem that as the food was from the U.S.A. it was deemed to be 'safe'. Nothing was confiscated or sealed. He then had a cooldrink, completed his documentation and gave us an "agricultural clearance". He then asked for a small present ($10), and went on his way.
3. The port captain (Guardia) & his entourage arrive.. a more macho looking group.. But the captain relaxed in one of our lounge chairs- and chatted on his cell-phone most of the time. His assistant asked most of the questions and then another guy, in a different uniform did all the writing/ filling in of forms. Lots of paper, lots of carbon paper and lots of signatures. At one point we had a problem, they needed to take our flares and secure them until we leave (for safety) - but when Mike showed them our other bucket of flares ...lots of them... all expired!..  there was a lot of rapid Spanish exchanged. Mike was getting irritated, but in the end, they decided that they didn't want the potential dangerous expired flares in their office and best Mike puts them right back into the lazarette. They took the new flares and gave us a receipt for collection when we leave.
4. At the same time as the group above another elderly gentleman from Customs was on board - but he seemed to be more interested in my guidebook on Cuba than anything else. Later on he asked for information on all our GPS's, Sat phones, Cell Phones, Computers, VHF Radios and SSB Radio. He filed in a form detailing everything, Mike signed it and that was the end of that!  Nothing sealed or removed.
5. The port captain now fetched a guy in a cover-all who was there to search the boat. Mike took him around, he opened hatches, lifted floorboards etc - seemed to be quite knowledgeable about the storage zones in boats. Although it would have taken him hours to find ALL the lockers on Time 2. We were expecting a dog - for the drug/ guns search - but no mention was made of this. He was happy with what he didn't find.
We were then allowed to proceed down into the marina - please have a look at it on Google Earth - it is quite a massive structure - with 3 canals, each about 800m long, with tie-ups on either side. We were directed to a prime spot outside the marina office. The marina manager then came on board for a few more forms, a cold beer and to share some local info.
This lengthy procedure must have taken about 3 hours - but funnily enough was not too painful at all. Most of the people who came on board spoke fairly good English and they were all friendly, making sure to welcome us to the marina. They also have not really been restrictive at all. But YIKES, there was a lot of paperwork!. Of course they gave us copies of everything and our Cuba file is now quite thick. A few asked for "a small present" - and so we gave them small tips. These people are obviously very poor and a little hard currency goes a long way. I was also pleased to see that the money was asked for at the end of the job - after the paperwork was handed over  i.e. there was no hint of a bribe.
We were exhausted and had an early night, after enjoying the delicious dorado that was caught on the way over.
This morning I had to cycle down to the Cambio to get some local currency to pay the customs for our clearance. The currency for foreigners & all imported items  is called the CUC and is worth about $1.15. There is also a local Peso, used only for markets, buses etc, and is officially only for  the Cubans. But I changed 10CUC and got 240 local Pesos! Apparently you cant buy much but when you do, the money goes a long way.
Back to the "paperwork cha-cha".  At 10am the two officials (a man & lady, in full uniform) arrived by pedal boat!! - unfortunately I did not get a picture. We handed over 20CUC's and got another receipt.  Then about 2 hours later a motorcycle arrived with two men and a dog .... the drug search was now here!  They apologised profusely for not coming earlier, but they were out of town. The cute spaniel (Coco) did a quick search, got a cuddle from Mike and after another form was filled in, they left. We think we now have every form in place for our clearance into Cuba!  
We plan to be here for a few days and look forward to exploring Havana.
Coco and the guys from drug enforcement