24 May, 2013

Santiago de Cuba

Malua is at 19:59.15N 75:52.18W on 4/4/2013 at Santiago de Cuba
After leaving Ille a Vache Hati I sailed towards Cuba - a major destination of this trip. I was off the south west coast of Hati at about 20 nm from the coast when I encountered a shallow shoal with depths of about 20 mn. I also noticed many floats attached to fish traps. A squall was approaching from the NW and I was preparing to drop the sail as I motored in a little wind. Suddenly there was a bang and the engine made a loud noise. I was at the wheel in a second and put it into neutral. Malua had come to a stop. I was attached to a fish trap round the propeller and streaming out the stern. I had prepared for such a situation so knew just what to do. Drop the sails and kill the engine. I then put on my safety harness and strop attached to the stern. On went the face mask and fins. My sharpest knife in my hand I went over the side. Attached to the propeller was a number of plastic bottles used as floats in this area. One slash of the knife Malua was free of the fish trap and the second cut freed the propeller of the floats. I was back on board in less than a minute and into a warm shower.
The storm did not eventuate and Malua was back on course with no ill effect however if the sea state had been any worse it could have been quite exciting. Visualising prior to the event what had to be done sure helped in executing the task.
As I approached Cuba I could see Guantanamo Bay on the potter. It seemed strange to me that this part of the USA is right in the middle of Cuba. It all happened when America had a great influence in Cuba and annexed via an indefinite lease of the major nine harbours of Cuba. After the Castro revolution the harbours were taken back but America kept Guantanamo Bay. It has been a bone of contention between the two nations for many years with no resolution in sight.
I arrived outside this major port founded in 1514 by Diego de Velazquez late in the afternoon. Cortes was the first governor. A large Spanish fort Castillo del Morro dominates the entrance as one motors up the inlet towards the so called Marina. A blue building on the starboard side of the waterway. I was told to come alongside for the authorities to come aboard. I had prepared for this encounter by hiding all my wine and spirits under the bed or in boxes at the back of the cupboard.
First to arrive was the doctor and the pest inspection. They asked all the usual question about pests and general health then with a help of a very ineffectual touch started to look for pests and things of value. They found nothing gave me a wad of paper and said the next set of officials would arrive, and they did. The Customs and Immigration. The former with three officials each taking a section of the boat to open and close draws and cupboards. The young fellow started in the aft cabin and unrolled all the shade covers then roll them up in any sort of mess. He looked in cupboards and all the grocery bags. He finally found my French side bag which he produced and asked me to open it. He thought he had found my stash of drugs. To his disappointment all he found was a role of toilet paper, a pencil and paper and a map of St Thomas. They soon left after their superficial search to be followed by the Port Control who wanted to know all the port I would visit. I had listed them on a sheet of paper which they took and subsequently issued me with a Cuban cruising permit. You are allowed to stop at any minor island but only the named port and only at the designated "Marinas" where you have to check in again.
After the officials left I left the dock and anchored off the jetty besides an Australian Ketch Listowel Lady. I fell into bed for a good long sleep.
The following day I was introduced to a Cuban family who assists cruisers with repairs and getting around. They are an extended family with mother who does the cruisers washing, father who helps organise anything, the son who will get a cruiser to pay for anything and everything, two delightful young daughters and the mother's elderly parents who also live in their three room house. No running water, gas to cook but free electricity. The house was provided when they decided to move out of the city. I and Listowel Lady took one of the private taxi - those individual who are licenced to transport people in their cars to the airport to draw money on my credit card. For about 1000 Aus dollars I received just over 1100 CUC ( Convertible Units of Currency) the currency used by the tourists and those who wish to purchase imported good. The local currency is the peso - there are 24/25 to the CUC. The average wage is about 300 to 400 per month, so anyone dealing in CUC scores big time. A dollar tip is a days work.
While imported goods are relatively cheap 1 litre diesel is 1 CUC = $1 in the local markets which only use peso they are dirt cheap. A pound of tomatoes is 5 peso. A family gets a ration book and draws basic food stuff on this: rice, chicken, sweat potatoes, milk, oil, bread and some other things. It is very difficult to live on these rations alone. Those in the country grow their own fruit and vegetables. They are allowed to sell 20% of this production in the many local markets at the peso price.
The way to get rich is to get involved with the tourist industry where you interface with the foreigners who deal in CUC who are more than willing to give tips for services just like they do back in their home country or to sell products or craft, painting or other goods which can be sold in the tourist markets.
Don’t think this communist/socialist state has no capitalist transactions because that is the dominate form of economy and the people are smart and clever business people. Bargaining is acceptable and in most cases they will refuse a very low price because they know they can sell it tomorrow to the next foreigner. I purchased a number of paintings, - acrylics and some very lovely paper mashe fish in a form of a mobile for less than $5 a piece - a real bargain.
More about the Cuban people and economy in a later post.
One night I went with the son into Santiago to listen to the local music. Santiago is said to be the heart and sole of the Cuban music scene. It seems to be everywhere especially the restaurants and bars. The major venues are overrun by tourist but they also have the big names and the best bands. I visited a few but soon left for the smaller places. That evening we ended up at a major Disco at a beach front hotel. I had to produce my id to get in as did everybody. Our party, two blokes and myself sat in a good table surrounded by other parties all drinking having purchased their grog in CUCs. The music was a local style plus Cuban salsa, all sung in Spanish with very sophisticated video clips. A good time was had by all. We now had to get back to the Marina so the son negotiated a price for a ride back via the city where we stopped to get some cheap food and Harry like always before paid.
The following day I was up early because the father was taking me into see the real Santiago. Again we took a local taxi and went strainght on the double highway right into the centre of town. There are few cars on the rural roads but a number in the city. We went to a local market to buy me provisions from a list we had drawn up. The total cost was less than $15. Fruit, veg, cheese and pork. Then onto the down town area to collect a prescription for his wife. There was a line at the pharmacy so we had to wait. I stopped into the barbers shop. The traditional 1950's set-up with chairs, mirrors, scissors and non safety razors. It was an experience and all for less than $3. The father returned and also had a hair cut plus a shave.... Harry again paid.
We stopped at the street market for some food. Some grilled pork, chips and a beer. Again Harry paid. You will have got the theme of this. The locals like tourists because for simply showing them the sights and restaurants, the tourist pays. Not much but it all adds up over a three day period. The Cubans are very welcoming. The hand of friendship soon turns palm up and they want something. While I did not feel totally ripped off I did feel that they took advantage of my money and generosity without asking or even giving a thanks. Watch out when you meet the locals they are educated, smart, not well informed but well versed in how to make a buck and how to get it from the tourist.
It was time to move on anti clockwise round Cuba. I had to check out with the authorities and the Marina manager. They all tried the same ploy. Do you have anything that you don’t want because we cant get things and you can give it to ME. Not a bribe nor is it a threat it is just a constant upward hand waiting for a hand out.
I left Santiago in the morning to do an overnighter sailing westwards to the SW tip of the eastern cape Cabo Cruz.
A magical Moment on Malua.

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