Saturday, 16 May 2015

Wyuna's Cuban land travels cross country and seas April 2015

Baracoa  Cuba

Ola  (Hello)

At 4.15pm, 30 March on the VHF radio ,“Sailing vessel Wyuna come in the entrance of the lighthouse keeping the green markers to port (yes the marks are reverse over here) and proceed 1 mile to the harbour- call on channel if you have any questions”. Porta De Vita.

Cuba’s a 70 mile sail hop from Ragged Island to Porta de Vita- Gaviota marina, on the NE coast. We arrived at the entrance in calm seas, motored & anchored ready for customs- with a Frank Virgintino Cruising Guide, Lonely Planet(LP), US $’s, soaps, casa & restaurant cards, no satellite radio or data and with writing & toilet paper on hand for our travels.  

This blog is a longer story for other cruisers keen to go there and those who gave us useful tips and facts.

Horse drawn taxis

Our month of April land adventure began in rural Holguin with our sail mates on No Rehearsal (Daryl, Annie & Jay)… our intro to the island life of Cuban villages, was driving alongside horse & cart buggies… later we traveled thru Spanish colonial towns on bici-taxis and heaps more!  

Viazul, Tourist bus
Our plan was to leave our 47 ft. catamaran in the marina for $35cuc (US$40) a night and go independently; by plane, Viazul tourist buses, except Habana, where we jumped in Old 50’s collective taxis.

After a car rental with NR on day 1 going to Santa Lucia , a tiny country town for spaghetti lunch, then Holguin main town– the ignition key broke, a flat tire, no night driving nor drinking - we decided, "let bus drivers take us"; in towns you don’t need one.
Lunch stop Annie& Jay

We were always in the hands of helpful local people (we don’t speak Spanish)- taxi drivers, casa owners, tellers, market sellers, troubadours and museo guides. Having a route plan & time to; detour & stay out late, go on tours, walk hours in the streets- did let us explore Cuba’s rich life and sleep well!
Tourist info

Where we traveled

As self-guided tourists with LP we visited to Infotour & Cubatur offices, forever asking... 'how can we, where is, can we stay X nights?' using only 50 words of Spanish, silly hand signs & maps, - was heaps of fun.

Holguin- Santa Lucia, Gimbara.

We started with a few days in Holguin 30km drive with NR,.  Yani in the marina office helped book us a Casa Particular (family house with a room for 2/ bathroom for 2 nights at 25cuc) and delicious fresh fruit, juice, tortilla and cafe breakfasts to start (5cuc).

We headed to centro Parque Garcia bustling with old baroque walkways to shade you and shops/bars.
After exchanging at the Banco US $ to Cuc 0.96 and $100cuc to local paseo (rate of 1: 25) for stall buys,  Only 1 of our MasterCard’s worked over the teller counter draw cash but NOT in any ATMs in Cuba.  Visa is used in ATMS.

Daryl led us to our first stop for Mojito’s at upmarket Salon 1720, with tattooed heavyweights, then we booked to fly to Habana for 100cuc in 2 days.

Keen to see more we went to Museo de Historica of indigenous, socialist, decorative and arts all in one building – full of authentic stories and artifact's of Holguin- including a Taino Indian skeleton and dress & weapons of the 50's uprisings.    
Historica Museo Holguin

We felt excited sitting in the parque lined with 18c colonial buildings and when asked - Ola, Ola taxi, taxi senor? by well-dressed drivers across the street we replied No gracias senor.  

On our first & last night we went out at sunset to try Restaurant 1910 Cuban food, of chicken soup, criolle lamb and Spanish flan- with Chile vino. Deliciously cooked with friendly waiters who spoke English.
Flambe 1910 Restaurante Holguin

Habana – Verdado, Centro Habana, Vieja

Holguin airport
The afternoon flight to Habana was a 2 hrs smooth ride, (beats a 12 hr bus trip), then a fast taxi trip to Centro where Yani had booked a Casa. It was booked out so Esther the owner drove us to her sisters in Verdado for our stay in a stylish Art Deco apartment with her family.

Our room was very comfy, our host sang songs while whipping eggs at breakfast & coached us in Spanish words and places to go!

Gina & Danae
Over 7 days we explored by foot famous sights - eager to see firsthand and learn of the leadership struggles, creative talents, foreign relations and contradictions (of urban/rural, justice/ imperialism, afro roots/colonialism) and typical things Cuban do .
Everywhere you see colonial architecture of ruins and restorations- where the hard working Cubans live & work.
Centro Habana

Verdado home

Landmark sites are close by, like the Necropolis, the LP 2 hr  historic walk of Centro Habana Architecture, the Malecon waterfront of 15C – 1950’s high-rises, where teenagers flirt on the seawall and Plaza de Revolucion a huge historic monument and museum of the revolution.
Plaza de Revolucion Habana
Dodgy Bruce, Daryl & Annie

We enjoyed the Museo de Bella Artes contemporary gallery installations & watching a 1 hr video of the political struggles with the US, celebrating the release of 5 prisoners that week. Early footage of the mafia, in cahoots with corrupt leaders explains the grandeur of Habana’s mansions and many ruins.

Buena Vista Social Club

AT night we went to a fabulous Buena Vista live show to hear close up a fastbeat Cuban son & salsa band with dancers in suits,hats and fishnet stockings. Oolala.

One night we got lost so took a taxi to the Casa de Amsitad, Verdado and sat outside all evening watching cuban musicians perform, afro folkloric, rumba and romantic popular songs.   

Military HQ & Che's home 1960s Habana . 

We caught a local ferry across the harbour
to walk the hill to Che Guevara's Military HQ displaying
his rooms and roles as leader in the battles &
til his death in Bolivia & return of his ashes to Habana.


At lively Plaza de Armas we found old Cuban books, collector art posters and were entertained by troubadours in the afternoon.

The Vieja district of narrow lanes, and sculptures outdoor eateries is quieter and close to the water too!

We really liked Habana's buzz,. After a week, at 8am we took a 6 hrs Viazul coach for 25cuc along the caree terre highway, stopping for lunch at a rancho style restaurant for a pan sandwich and guava juice.

On route farmers were ploughing the fields with oxen, we passed Russian trucks; buses for locals, and bill board signs of Fidel& Che with slogans of victory & socialism gains for all. It was an easy trip (if prepared with toilet paper, some don’t flush, have no seat and 1 cuc to use).

Sancta Spiritus- Trinidad

Casa Trinida

Our last casa host kindly booked a Casa by phone for us. We were met at Trinidad station by a man holding a handwritten sign Gena & Bruz who grabbed our bags in his tri wheeler bici- (cycle) taxi peddling us up cobblestone streets in the rain to our door.

Mercedes greeted us warmly, gave us café, showed us thru a leafy courtyard to a separate room with views from a rooftop over this UNESCO Spanish colonial town- OMG, as we signed the booking form- Cuban live music sounds were the only noise!


Afro cuban rumba

Instantly we felt at home! All the town is restored. It’s renowned for its CASA de la Trova music hall, open every day & night, to enter its 1 cuc..We sipped Cuba libres and watched fabulous salsa dancers & bands. One day in the cultural municipal gallery the curator invited us to a 4pm exhibit & awards opening of local artists.

On the hottest day we took the hop on bus from Cubatur 15 k’s to Playa Ancon beach to cool off. Most days were hot, humid, 30+c til after sunset.
Plaza Mayor Trinidad

To learn more about human rights and slavery of Cubans we took a half day tour by Cubatur to old sugarcane sites of the 17c where the guide explained the migrations from Haiti of French and West Africa and Spain.

Horrendous historical facts & records of slaves treated as animals by plantations owners were clearly exhibited.

In Trinidad traditions of colonial life are still practised like fine embroidered cotton made by craftswomen and childrens marching bands.

Seriously, the whole town of museos & houses are original and Plaza Mayor is a tribute to the local leaders who won UNESCO status to restore the Centro in traditional materials & artifacts of the early settlers.

We liked how all old casa’s have a wrought iron window for fresh air so residents can watch the street.  In the afternoon people catch up, Horses trot by and kids play marbles on stone streets.

It’s a town full of stories, like the Museo Bandidios proud history of students training in the mountains to join the struggle in Fidel’s army in the 50’s rebellion- all told in pics & artifacts.
Museo Historica de Bandidos Trinidad

A week’s stay also gave us time to climb the back streets, visit the Santeria African temple practised by many Cubans, the fabulous Museo Romantico spanish casa and the sth coast Gaviota Marina in a safe mangrove harbor. Then we rode 4 hrs on the Viazul to our next destination, thru sugarcane fields past clapboard farm houses, snacking on peanut brittle we bought from a street seller.


A short 3 night stay in the old Centro of town was a contrast, of malls, ice cream parlors, tapas bars located between neoclassical grand theaters, a 1 km walk from our Casa.  We easily found the Plaza Maceo, paid tribute to the only saint of Cuba at an elderly citizens home, but got lost in the labyrinth street layout trying to find the studios of Cuban painter Joel Jover and small collectives. 
Plaza Camaguey

Each day we joined locals sitting on parque seats to chat & take a break.

An endearing bronze statue of the Father of independence-Jose Marti and child stands in the Parque Marti to admire. Dressed in his notorious dinner suit and large moustache- the Cubans adore him and his writings.

Coming here was a change to urban life – our casa was new, with a pair songbirds to wake us, perfectly balanced rocking chairs and flamingo garden statues in the patio where we are breakfast in the cool.


3 days later we took another a Viazul 4 hrs, 15 cuc returning to Holguin, then taxi to Wyuna for 2 nights to run the engines and check the stern tie up to the wharf. All was safe, but it was too hot and noseems biting.

We left by taxi for Holguin to catch the Viazul 4 hrs sth after Yani booked us another Casa.
Typical farm casa

Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo,

“Its hotter in Santiago” so by the time we arrived it was siesta, Georgina our casa host put the aircon on, later our taxi driver took us out of Centro to a local restaurant treat with a swing, frappe daiquiris and grilled lobster!

Walk we did, all day til 3pm siesta, taking in the Bacardi grand mansion, a visit for 15c to the oldest grand cuban house of de Diego Valazquez a Spanish conquistador with original furnishings.

Santiago is  a mad, hectic, buzzing place with motor cycles overrunning people, parques full of young people, cake shops and an early Haitian settlement near the water.

A quiet place was the 17 C Morro spanish fort overlooking the harbor and Caribbean sea and used as a prison for independence leaders.

We also wanted to understand the history of the Revolucion fought here.The best museo was Moncada Baracks with bullet holes on the walls.  
Note the bullet holes

Our Guide gave a passionate oral history in english of 2 battles of independence fought here with photos of  Fidel, Raul 21yrs old & 116 revolutionaries - most of whom were caught, imprisoned & tortured in the barracks.


After 3 days we took the Viazul west to Baracoa in Guantanamo province, and were met by a frenzy of casa owners in town- our bici taxi guy was glad to see us- he took us to Evelyn’s Casa right in Centro town 1 street from the parque and main st.

Main calle Baracoa

Here a green, mountainous, tropical forest of hills covers the western province to the Atlantic sea. In an old Pontiac taxi off we went along the coast road with a guide to the river walk and boat trip to see the canyons and cocoa garden and eat fresh octopus lunch with a family.

Baracoa is small, friendly and full of walks- we did the 90dg. walk to the ancient Taino Indian burial caves with an enthusiastic Archaeologist guide telling us of the chief’s skeleton, 450yr old ceramics and hammock invention was for real!  (Columbus has a lot to answer for killing 100,000 people.)

We talked with young artists at the collective close by, saw the old fort at sunset overlooking the harbor, and bought roasted peanuts in paper tubes to have with Cristal Cuban beers after it cooled at 6pm.

Instead of retracing our route, the local hotel told us “if 10 people register you can take the Transtur mini bus for 30 cuc along the nth coast bumpy road to Holguin, to see the mountains & sea taking 5 hrs”.

We saw the landscape on the road til we got to a huge nickel mining area then headed inland to dryer farm lands.

  Last stop

After landing in Holguin on Saturday our Casa host did a brilliant job of convincing us in Spanish, to come to the Holendaras street fiesta. We walked 2km at 7pm following others- first we saw the orchestra playing, then rows of colored restaurant tables, pigs roasting on spits and families walking dressed to enjoy.

A unique performance was men playing Cuban traditional songs on an antique wooden pianola organ on the footpath while a band played slow salsa and couples danced arm in arm- a delight. We stayed late and strolled home chatting abut the spirit of cubans who love to party.

At the heart of Cuban typical life it seems to us stands a proud, agile, social salsa dancer of all ages reveling in the beat and sensuality of rolling hips in symmetrical rhythms- we watched street dancers each night. Now we have CDs of Cuban music.if we ever try salsa?

Adios Amigos, we thanked, hugged & waved Yani goodbye sorry to leave here and our fondness for Cubans and their island behind.

Casa owners greeting us at the Viazul station  in Baracoa

Within 24 hrs of returning to Porta de Vita the no seeums were biting , we cleared customs at 6am, left gifts & motor sailed out to the calm seas, sog 5knts, til 7pm pm arriving back in the Jumento islands at  Hog Island Bahamas to drop anchor.

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