Cuba: February-March 2013

After spending two months in Marathon, it was time to get out of the US and see some new sights. We left Boot Key Harbour in the late afternoon, unusual for us in that we normally head out in the late morning.  We were planning on a mid-afternoon arrival in Varadero, to coincide with some gentle south winds which would provide safe passage up the Paso Malo canal and into Marina Darsena.

The trip was uneventful, although we did get pushed further east than in past years due to the Gulf Stream current and the southerly winds. Next time we will wait for light easterlies!




Judy cleans the salt off our bikes at Marina Darsensa in preparation for our first trip into town



We arrived on Valentines Day – a very big event in Cuba.  On the first Sunday we headed off to the BIG weekly market where we sneaked some pictures of our Cuban friends as they hawked their fruitIMGP4518_thumb and vegetables to the locals. 


Garlic anyone?




It was good to see Ramon, Dolores and Raul once again.  IMGP4511_thumbDolores parks cars outside the market, Raul has a bicycle parking area that he supervises and Ramon is our favourite market vendor.


Our good friend Ramon always has a crowd around his vegetable and fruit stand


The market sights are fascinating. The butchers, selling fresh and smoked pork, are lined up along one side.  They display their cuts well but the flies are a littleIMGP4521_thumb disconcerting…..


Pork anyone?



As the vendors get to know us they joke around (in Spanish) and try to attract our attention.  Being tourists in a Cuban market, we stand out IMGP4524_thumblike sore thumbs – but it is still fun and no one takes advantage of us.



Is he waving at us or trying to sell us oranges?








The wheelbarrow method of product display is popular when you have only one product (lettuce) and it goes quickly




Outside the market there are many vendors in their horse drawn IMGP4526_thumbcarts. A few years back this practice was forbidden, now there are almost as many vendors in the street as there are in the market.


Hey mister – how about my onions – good price!







New meaning to the rhyme “This little piggy went to market”



Although cars have become more numerous in the past few years, they are mostly used as taxis. When the government took a large majority of the people off their payroll, many families that owned cars turned them into taxis, called “maquinas”.  Alternatively, the horse drawn carriage or bench style cartIMGP4532_thumb could be used as a taxi or bus in order to bring home some money. 



Common bus/taxi system in every Cuban town


Some Cubans have become very creative and have constructed and IMGP4536_thumbdecorated bicycle taxis that get you there, but not quickly!




Highly decorated bicycle taxis are becoming very popular


As is our usual practice, we stopped by Rafael’s “store” to get our IMG_0582rsbarbecue lighters fixed at a cost of 8 to 10 cents.



Rafael always has time to refill our lighters






A good bottle of Cuban rum is stowed aboard Pioneer to be consumed over our time there



The previous year in Cuba, we had met a young couple, Juan Carlos and Yanni.  After we landed at IMG_0577rs_thumbVaradero, we called them up and told them we were in town. 


Juan Carlos visits us on his “Naranja Rapida”!


They had moved to a nearby town, Cardenas, so we set up a day when we would go to their house and visit with them and their brand new baby.  IMG_0595_resize_thumb We took a maquina – old car like a taxi -  to go the 18 km. at a cost of 5 tourist pesos (about $5). 


Our maquina – good on the outside, primitive on the inside and sounded like it was ready to go to the junkyard – but – it got us there!



Juan Carlos said we should only have paid the equivalent of IMG_0591rs_thumb75 cents which was the going per customer rate.  However, we were the only customers and the taxi would normally have 5 paying customers so we thought it was a good deal. 


 Juan Carlos, Yanni and Yan Carlos






Ron and Juan Carlos – the cool cats!






Clowning around in the kitchen – boys will be boys!




We had a great visit and the baby was a big, strong boy.  After dinner we walked the streets of Cardenas and then took a horse drawn carriage to the water and back.IMG_0623rs_thumb



The street outside Juan Carlos and Yanni’s house









The neighbours across the street…..






A stroll down the street of Cardenas




IMG_0661rs_thumbFor our trip back, Juan Carlos made sure that we got a cheap transport – an intercity bus – at the cost of the equivalent of 75 cents.  It was a very nice bus, too!


Our carriage!  Lucky for us  we got back to town before the rear axle broke!





We also were invited to Jorge’s house for dinner one night.  Jorge is a local fisherman from whom we buy our lobster, shrimp and fish.  He fillets them for us right on theIMG_0478rs_thumb sidewalk in front of his house. 


Ron and Jorge at the sidewalk fish-fileting shop


That evening, we met an elderly neighbour who was at their house for dinner.  The younger Cubans are assigned elderly Cubans to care for IMG_0486rsand feed so that no one suffers without adequate food. 




Jorge and his elderly neighbour enjoy a hug






Jorge’s daughter in her favourite chair



Jorge served us fish cooked in his special batter – yummy!  Since he has the local distributorship on bulk ice cream, we had some delicious ice cream for dessert. 





Jorge dips the fish in his special batter – it was sooooo good!



After the meal we cycled home to Pioneer in the dark through the dump with only our headlamps to light the way.


Our one road trip was to Cienfuegos on the south coast.  It was a town we had never visited before and it said in the Lonely Planet that you could see all you needed to in a day and a half – we did it in aIMG_0506rs day.  It had its nice areas like the malecon ( road by the water) and the punta (point of land out into the Bay of Cienfuegos).  We stayed in a lovely casa particular (bed and breakfast) out on the punta for 25 tourist pesos (about $25).

Judy on the front porch of our casa particular, Casita de Oshun






This Casa was one of the prettiest on the street – so we stayed there!





Ron discovered this sculpture just outside the nearby marina – very nautical???









In keeping with many casa particulares a gnome can usually be found hiding in the bushes – is it the Travelocity gnome??






Sunset overlooking the Bay of Cienfuegos







Cuban fisherman out on the Bay at dusk


Luxurious two person BiCi Taxi in Cienfuegos







Typical gathering of Cuban bus transport, waiting for workers to finish for the day



Just before we hoped to catch a good weather window out of Cuba, we had help cleaning the bottom of our boat.  A Cuban research vessel was docked at the marina and there were several divers aboard.  For the equivalentIMGP4590 of $20, we had our hull cleaned and ready for our imminent departure.


Proyecto – the Cuban research vessel that enabled us to clean Pioneer’s hull before we set out for North Carolina




On March 16th, we cast off at 0730 after a speedy checkout by the coastguard and immigration.  IMGP4605Our last sight of Varadero was the entrance to the Paso Malo just as the sun was rising.



The Paso Malo light at sunrise

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