March 10-16, 2018: Nassau to Meeks Patch, Eleuthera

We left Nassau at first light on March 10 during a short window before some bad weather forecast for March 12.  Our exit was a heck of a lot more pleasant than our entrance; we rode the ebb tide out of the harbor and then headed northeast.  The winds were in the mid-teens, which is usually great for us as Kestrel is a heavy boat that requires a bit of oomph to get going.  But the wave direction was killing us:  right on the nose.  We were close hauled and beating all day, which was unpleasant for the boat and for us.  But this is the nature of sailing; sometimes your travel day choices are between bad and not-so-bad, and we agreed that staying in Nassau for another week was too yucky to contemplate.

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Yup, all damn day.

The Captain had identified two anchorages that would give us the most protection from wind and waves when the front arrived.  The first one geographically was Royal Island Harbour, which wasn’t our best choice as it is reported to have debris on the bottom.  We could tell it was jam-packed as we approached, so we kept on going to an anchorage off of the west side of Meeks Patch, a small ladle-shaped island about a mile and a half southwest of Spanish Wells.  We anchored in 10.6 feet of beautifully clear water.  There were four other boats anchored there, but there was room for plenty more boats.  We barely bobbed all night.

 

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The west side of Meeks Patch with its coral shores and insanely gorgeous water.

The trip from Nassau to Meeks Patch was 44.0 nm and took 10 hours, 45 minutes.

On March 11, we moved to the east side of Meeks Patch in anticipation of the storm forecast to arrive the next day.  While the west side of Meeks Patch has forbidding coral shores, the east side has beaches and is much more “island-y”.  We ended up with 11 boats in the anchorage, but there was still plenty of room for everyone.

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The east side of Meeks Patch–much more inviting.

We dinghied to shore and spent a fun afternoon exploring.  The island is very narrow; it took about 5 minutes to walk across it.

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This is the northern tip of Meeks Patch.  It is narrowest up there, but you can see both sides of the island.

The “inland” strip between the sandy east side and coral west side is the typical mix of palm trees, pine trees, and scrubby undergrowth.

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There were coconuts everywhere, but we hadn’t brought the machete, so they lived to fight another day.

The west side clearly takes the brunt of the weather; the trees are twisted and gnarled, and the coral has been pocked with small tidal pools.  We found a set of steps that had been carved into the coral leading down to the water.

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A view of the east side of the island from “inland.”  You can see some of the boats in the anchorage.

There are a few structures that have been built using found materials, such as a small lean-to and what we called The Fort.

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The Fort, complete with bench seating, bar, swing seating, and even some nasty carpet.  Drink up!

We found a fishing float about the size of a soccer ball that was in a rope net, and we added it to The Fort’s décor.

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Kestrel leaves her mark in the form of “repurposed” trash.  In some souvenir shop, that trash float would have cost $50.

I looked for sea glass on the beach but didn’t find any.  Other cruisers had set up chairs on the beach to enjoy the day, and the kids off of one of catamarans were having a great time.

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Our faithful dinghy awaiting us on the beach with Kestrel in the background.

We stayed on the east side of Meeks Patch until we left on March 17.  Both the west and east sides had great holding, and the dinghy ride to Spanish Wells was short and easy from the east side.

Posted in Bahamas, Offshore

March 5-9, 2018: Nassau, New Providence

In this part of the world, cruisers behave like pack animals.  When a favorable weather window for travel opens up, bunches of us head out like flocks of birds.  The same was true of the Boot Key Harbor crew in Bimini; on March 5, we, s/v ‘Bout Time, s/v Empress, s/v Nellie Bly, and s/v Moonshadow all left bound for Nassau or the surrounding area.  We didn’t plan on leaving in a pack, but weather and trip time dictate departures.

We were a couple of hours into the trip when we received a text from our friends G & J aboard s/v Zen.  They were in Nassau and texted to warn us that due to huge swells, Nassau harbor was closed, with a tentative reopening time of the next morning.  Since that was when we were scheduled to arrive, this was a problem.  We soon lost cell signal and kept in contact with Zen over email and the occasional phone call on our Iridium GO.  The Captain kept checking Predict Wind forecasts as well.  We were the only ones with a satellite device, and it proved to be a lifesaver (more on that in a future post).  Some boats were ahead of us (‘Bout Time and Moonshadow) and some boats were behind us (Empress and Nellie Bly), and we kept the flow of information going between the BKH “fleet” all night.

Our tactic was to slow down drastically in order to let the swells in Nassau die a little and give Nassau Harbor Control time to reopen the harbor.  If the north/west entrance to Nassau remained closed or too dangerous to use, our plan was to circle the island and use the eastern entrance or to bypass Nassau entirely and head for Rose Island and anchor.  We spent many hours overnight going around 3 knots and checking email and weather analyses.

As we neared Nassau, the only word to describe the swells is massive.  They were easily 15-20 feet but had a long period, so we would surf down the swell and then claw our way back up.  When we went into a trough, we’d lose wind in the staysail, causing it to luff madly.  When the sailboats around us went into troughs, we would lose sight of them entirely—including their 50+ foot masts. This is what a blue water boat like Kestrel is made for, though, and she handled it like a champ.  We did, too; we’ve done a lot of offshore sailing in all different conditions at this point, each passage building our experience and confidence.  We knew we had the skill to control the boat and keep her on course in those kind of conditions.

Nassau Harbor had reopened at that point, although it was with an at-your-own-risk warning.  We made it through the entrance channel, the Captain helming as we surfed into the harbor.  One final wall of green water broke over land to port and gave us one last shove, but we were steady on course.  Once we were in the protected waters of the harbor, it was eerily calm.

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Paradise Island, which is connected to New Providence via bridge, was to our port as we entered Nassau Harbor.  The spa at Atlantis Resort was sounding pretty good right about then.

The trip from Bimini was 124.1 nm and took 29 hours (it should have taken about 24 hours at our normal average speed of 5 knots).

We took a slip at Nassau Yacht Haven, and unbeknownst to us, the rest of the BKH crew had planned on doing the same.

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Nassau Yacht Haven is quite large and had every kind of boat:  sailboats, trawlers, sport fishers, runabouts, dive boats, tour boats, and megayachts.  It even hosted the two Pilot boats used by Nassau Harbor.

We spent the next few days taking care of boat chores like getting fuel, changing the engine oil, dumping the composting head, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and route planning.  We interspersed our chores fun with our friends.  We all had a amazing  (and amazingly cheap) breakfast at a place called Caribe Café that S on Moonshadow found, and then we all wandered Potter’s Cay looking for the fresh produce market.  We found it, although at the moment it’s only three vendors.  One night we hosted a drinks-and-weather-strategizing party that ended up turning into an impromptu dinner (thank goodness for cooked pasta left over from our overnighter!).

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Some of the offerings at the vegetable vendors.  There were also homemade mixes like sea salt mixed with red pepper.  I keep seeing baggies of dried thyme in all of the small grocery stores in the Bahamas, so it must be a popular cooking herb here.

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Dried, flattened conch.  It felt like rawhide and had no odor.

Nassau was a utilitarian stop for us, and to be frank, wouldn’t be on my list of must-return places.  It was neat being there, as we have watched all seasons of the highly entertaining pirate series Black Sails, which is primarily set in Nassau. But in the current day, Nassau is too busy and noisy for my taste.  It was also weird being “buzzed in” to every business; when the Dairy Queen is locked 24 hours a day, you know that crime is rampant.

Nassau did give us access to some big city opportunities; I was able to find Stugeron, an anti-motion sickness drug that isn’t available in the US, and Solomon’s Fresh Market was like a Whole Foods magically transported to the island (along with their insane prices).

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Solomon’s Fresh Market has whatever you want, but buddy, you are going to pay.  The price in yellow includes the 7.5% VAT charged on pretty much everything here.

We ate wonderful Chinese food at Double Dragon and had soft serve ice cream at Dairy Queen.  But basically we were biding time until the next weather window to get on out of there.

From a cruiser’s perspective, this was a useful stop, and we liked Nassau Yacht Haven a lot.  The docks are in good shape (fixed wood with pilings), and the dockhands are outstanding.  The marina charges $2.15/foot including VAT per day.  Sailboats using electric are charged a flat fee of $10 + VAT per day, and all boats are charged $12 + VAT per day for water.  The water is not reverse osmosis, but it is city water and was reported as being safe to drink.  They don’t have fuel available, but across the street there is an Esso gas station that fills jerry jugs with either gas or diesel (bring a tip, as the pumps are full service with uniformed attendants).  The onsite laundry facility is clean, has numerous machines, and costs $2 per wash and $2 per dry (purchase tokens at the dock office).  The heads are clean and have two showers each with good pressure and lots of hot water.  There is 24 hour security, although the security personnel is not going to be hired by the Secret Service anytime soon.  There is an onsite restaurant that we didn’t try and a great onsite dive shop/souvenir shop.  All in all, the marina was worth the money in our opinion.

All good things come to an end, and after Nassau, the BKH crew scattered.  Empress and Nellie Bly went to the south side of New Providence, and Moonshadow stayed in Nassau awaiting a parts shipment.  We headed northeast to Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, for some peace and quiet at anchor.

 

Posted in Bahamas, Offshore

Feb. 26 – March 4, 2018: Beautiful Bimini

When we arrived at Bimini Blue Water Marina, we were flying our Q flag because we hadn’t checked in to the Bahamas yet.  Because we heard that most marinas no longer provide the necessary forms, we went to the Explorer Charts website, downloaded the Bahamas Customs Clearance forms, and filled them out when we were still in Marathon.  When we arrived at the marina, they provided us with the Immigration cards that are not available online.

Once we were tied up, the Captain walked about five minutes away to the Bahamian Customs office, which is located in Big Game Marina.  Once done with Customs, he walked another five minutes down to the Bimini Administrative Offices to go to Bahamian Immigration.  Filling out the paperwork ahead of time made all the difference, and the entire process was relatively quick and simple.  Our Certificate of Documentation lists our length as 35.3 feet, so we paid a $300 entry fee; we received a Temporary Cruising Permit and a fishing permit.  Once the Captain returned to Kestrel, we lowered the Q flag and hoisted our Bahamian courtesy flag.

We ended up staying in Bimini from February 26 through March 4, primarily due to weather.  We were glad to be stopped for a little while, as it feels like we’ve been going 1000 miles per hour lately.  Many people treat Bimini as an overnight stop before heading deeper into the Bahamas, but since I had never been to Bimini, I wanted to have the opportunity to actually see it.

Bimini is actually made up of two islands, North Bimini and South Bimini.  We were on North Bimini, which is where the largest town, Alice Town, is located.  The inhabited part of North Bimini is a long spit consisting of three towns:  Alice Town, Bailey Town, and Porgy Bay.  The towns all bleed together, and I wouldn’t have known which town I was in without the “Welcome To” signs.

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Conch shells are everywhere:  in piles, lining front gardens, atop fences, along the road.

There is one main road along the spit called Kings Highway.  It is a two lane road with narrow, sandy shoulders where people walk.

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The road that leads everywhere:  Kings Highway.  The shoulder is, if described generously, a person-and-a-half wide.

The buildings come right up to the shoulders, and it can be a claustrophobic experience walking down the road.  It’s also important to remember that they drive on the opposite side of the road than in the US.  Fortunately, at least half of the vehicles are either scooters or golf carts, so the odds of being flattened are somewhat reduced.

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When you turn right out of Bimini Blue Water Marina, you pass through a small commercial district.  Every building sells a little bit of something.  This gentleman sold cold drinks and trophies.  The building next door is a bar that might fit about six people if they all held their breaths.DSCF6326

 

The houses in Bimini are an eclectic mix.  I think the prevailing architectural style is “what we’ve got and what works,” which is a necessity on an island.

We walked all over the island, from the beginning of Kings Highway to the effective end.  The trees are an interesting mix of palm trees, deciduous tress, and pine trees (of all things!).

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When you are a tourist, it’s easy to forget that people live where you are vacationing.  This was a quiet and beautiful reminder that people spend their lives here, and their deaths.  This graveyard was at the tip of the island, away from the bustle of the shops and businesses.

The ground is marl (coral) covered with white sand, and you are almost always in view of water on one side or the other.  The weather was perfect, low to mid-80s with sunny skies and nice breezes.  All in all, it was a wonderful stop.

Some highlights were:

The water: The water, the water, the water.  The colors of the water are indescribable.  Aqua, turquoise, sea green, navy, indigo.  Depending on tide we had 6 ½ to 8 ½ foot depth in the marina, and it was absolutely clear to the bottom.  We watched a starfish make its way under our boat for days.  We saw Sergeant Majors, angelfish, small grunts, small wrasses, and tarpon swimming through the marina all the time.  The tarpon was at least five feet long and would lounge under the boats, taking advantage of the shade.  We even saw six to seven foot bull sharks swimming through on occasion, especially when the fisherman were cleaning their catches.  Seeing one of those will really get your attention.

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This is the bull shark that liked to hang around.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t close enough to any structure for me to capture scale.

People: We met so many wonderfully friendly people, and in general everyone greets you pleasantly.  Folks are quick to horse around and be playful (which is my default mode of communication), so I had a blast cutting up with people I didn’t even know.

Other cruisers: As I mentioned in the earlier post, there were quite a few cruisers from Boot Key Harbor in the same marina.  We had sundowners together and ended up helping each other out on many tasks.  It seems like something is always wonky on a boat, whether it’s full-on broken or just acting weird, and having a few heads and hands working on problems fixes them faster.  I pulled out my sewing machine and made some repairs to s/v Empress main sail, which had torn in two places on the crossing over from Marathon.  The Captain met with other captains and went over weather for a few days before departure, and we sat down with other people to go over charts of the Bahamas and US east coast to trade information.

Charlie’s Bread: All groceries arrive by boat, of course, and the bread is frozen (yuck).  However, Charlie’s Bread cranks out some of the best bread we’ve ever had, and the folks that work there are so fun and friendly.  We ended up buying white loaf bread, guava pastries, coconut twists, beef empanadas, lobster empanadas (the Captain cried a tear of joy when eating these), and a loaf of coconut bread.  WHERE HAS COCONUT BREAD BEEN ALL OF MY LIFE?  Imagine white loaf bread, sweet, with a strong aroma of coconut and tiny coconut flakes in the bread.  Then imagine toasting it and slathering on butter.  I could die happy with a slice of coconut bread in each hand.

Watching the mail boat come in: The mail boat (which is also the everything-else-shipped boat) came in while we watching, and it was a fascinating show.  Apparently someone shipped a boat trailer, and it was on the mail boat’s bow, sticking over on each side.  We got a kick out of the fact that about 80% of what was offloaded was beer and alcohol.  The crane kept lifting pallet after pallet out of the hold, and people from all over the island were loading things into pickup truck beds.

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Cargo won’t fit on deck? No worries, just hang it over the sides.  Surely it won’t fall off.

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Product delivery, island style.

The fish fry lady outside of Stuart’s Conch Stand: You didn’t think that we’d miss eating, did you? We heard from a man at Stuart’s (probably Stuart) that on Fridays, a lady sets up hot chafing dishes in a little shed in front of his restaurant.  She sells fried fish, cracked (fried) lobster, cracked (fried) conch, conch fritters, and macaroni and cheese.  We had the conch fritters (6 for $2) and the macaroni and cheese ($3 for a generous portion).  Holy cow, it was amazing.

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I can still smell food.  Is there ANYTHING that isn’t good fried?

Lunch at Tropics: If you like Jamaican jerked meat, this is the place.  It’s a bit of a walk from the marina but well worth it.  They offered plates of jerk chicken, jerk pork, BBQ ribs, or brown stew chicken with rice and beans and a pasta salad or coleslaw for $12.  We also got authentic Jamaican sodas (Bigga brand) that were a heart-racing mix of pure cane sugar, water, and some dye.  Heaven.  I ignored my screaming teeth as I downed my pineapple Bigga.

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The owner showing us the jerk chicken.  He had an ingenious smoker/BBQ made out of an oil drum, resting on two boards on a patio table.

Breakfast at Captain Bob’s: Okay, it’s getting embarrassing talking about so much eating, but oh well.  Captain Bob’s is right outside of the marina, and although it said it was open at 6:30 AM every day, we only saw it open for breakfast on Sunday.  We each had coconut bread French toast with scrambled eggs and bacon (I gave the Captain my bacon).  It was $12 per plate, and we more than got our money’s worth.  It was outstanding.

Things we noted:

Bikes aren’t necessary for getting around, but of course they make trips faster.  We don’t have any and didn’t notice the lack of them, but we’re pretty used to walking.

The two best-stocked grocery stores that we found were Roberts Grocery and King Brown Grocery.  They had fresh vegetables and extensive canned and packaged goods as well as frozen meat.

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This is NOT Robert’s Grocery.  This is what most “grocery stores” look like on Bimini:  a chaotic mix of canned goods, packaged goods, drinks, and snack foods all piled in towering stacks.  The chips stack was taller than me.

There is a coin laundry about a ten minute walk from the marina.  Washing machines range from $3.50 to $8.50 per load, depending on size, and the dryers are $4.50.  They offer same-day wash service for $3 over the price of the wash/dry.  There’s no name that I saw, just “Coin Laundry.”

Liquor is surprisingly inexpensive, particularly compared to US prices.

There is a Bank of the Bahamas right across from the marina, but it’s not open on the weekends.

There is a BTC office within walking distance of the marina for buying SIM cards ($16) or asking questions, and it seems like every store offers top up services for your BTC card.  The marina does as well, if you don’t feel like walking.

We would definitely go back to Bimini again, and if we did we’d stay at Bimini Blue Water Marina.  We really enjoyed our trip.

Posted in Bahamas

Off On Our Next Adventure: The Bahamas

We made an overnight offshore passage from Marina Hemingway, Cuba, to Marathon, FL, on February 16 and 17.  It ended up being 126.8 nm and took us 24 ½ hours.  It was a comfortable and fast trip, for which we were both grateful.

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The ship traffic between Cuba and Florida was nuts.  There were so many AIS targets on the chart plotter, and they were all huge ships or cruise ships.  We’re the little sailboat icon in the middle of the screen.

Checking back in to the United States was remarkably easy, mostly due to some prior planning.  Back when we were in Fort Pierce, FL, we had our interviews for the Small Vessel Reporting System and were assigned our identification numbers.  This is a program run by the US Customs and Border Patrol that allows registered boaters to take advantage of expedited checking in from foreign ports.  The greatest benefit is that you can simply call the CBP when you arrive rather than having to come in for an in-person inspection.

So when we arrived in Marathon, we anchored outside of the entrance channel.  Our Q (quarantine) flag was already flying.  I called the CBP and gave them our float plan number, and five minutes later we had cleared in.  It was the most anticlimactic end to our Cuba trip that I could imagine, and it was great.  Down came the Q flag.

We spent a week in Boot Key Harbor, where we were able to get a mooring again, much to my surprise.  We met up with friends and did some refueling, rewatering, and reprovisioning.

Then on February 25, we threw off our mooring lines and headed for Bimini, Bahamas.  We knew we wanted to arrive in Bimini in late afternoon to take advantage of high tide, so we left Marathon at about 3:00 PM.

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On our way out from Marathon, with Sombrero Reef Light in the distance.

Our plan was to edge out and pick up the Gulf Stream, riding it much like a conveyor belt.  Due to Marathon’s location, the winds were contrary to current in the initial part of the trip, so we were close-hauled for a while.  Because we weren’t in a hurry, we fell off the wind a little bit to increase our comfort level and to keep the sails from flogging.  As we progressed north and east, the winds became more favorable.  When we hit the Gulf Stream proper, we really flew, reaching 7+ knots speed over ground.  It was so neat flying along at night like that.

The night passed uneventfully, and the next afternoon we pulled up to our slip in Bimini Blue Water Marina.  This marina is very popular with cruisers for a number of reasons:  it’s only $1/foot, the dockhands are excellent, and the docks are in good condition.  As the day went on, slip after slip filled with boats from Boot Key Harbor.  The BKH Gang ended up being us, s/v ‘Bout Time (with whom we spent time in Cuba), s/v Nellie Bly, s/v Moonshadow, and s/v Empress.  s/v Zen and s/v Corporate Sailout, also BKH alumnus, had departed just before we all arrived.

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It is difficult to express how ridiculously beautiful the water is here.

Our trip to Bimini was 133.1 nm and took 24 hours.  We figured we’d be staying about a week due to weather and were ready to hit the town” and explore.

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Here we are, snug in our berth.  To my delight, we ended up with Dylan the Corgi to our left and Molly the labrador retriever to our right.  And THAT’S why I carry dog treats.

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The marina is about 50/50 sailboats and sport fishers/motor vessels.

Posted in Bahamas, Offshore

Old Havana, Complex and Enticing

We spent two very full days visiting Old Havana, and even after that, I’m not sure how I would describe it.  The areas we explored were full of opulent old buildings, dripping with complex and detailed architectural accents; those buildings were cheek-and-jowl with towering apartment buildings with balconies festooned with laundry, plants, and toys.  Add to that jostling crowds of tourists and locals, dogs and cats prowling the streets, and heavy traffic, and the closest analogy I can come up with is New York City.

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Imagine:

. . . narrow one-way streets thronged with horse-drawn carts, pedal taxis, motorbikes, scooters, cars, and pedestrians

. . . students and workers lined up at storefront snack shops buying little handheld pizzas to go

. . . old, skinny, multi-story apartment buildings lined with balconies rising up on both sides of the street

. . . public squares with women dressed in bright dresses and headscarves selling peanuts wrapped in paper cones and calling out, “Mani! Mani!” (peanuts, peanuts)

. . . vendors setting up their wares on the bottom steps and narrow entryways of apartment buildings

. . . impressive statues surrounded by multi-block, impeccably trimmed parks

. . . cool breezes blowing through grand hotels with open, spacious, tiled lobbies

. . . blue plastic cisterns for storing water on the roofs of even the most modern buildings

. . . the hot sun beating down but shade under huge palm trees and deciduous trees

. . . packs of school children in their uniforms, toting backpacks and shouting to one another in the universal way of children everywhere

. . . the scent of the sea and of hot asphalt, of diesel fumes and hibiscus flowers

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When we got hot and tired, we stopped in the Hotel Sevilla’s lobby cafe for drinks and people watching.

Old Havana is chock full of museums, and to visit them all would take weeks.  The crown jewel of museums is, of course, the Museo de la Revolución, which was the Presidential Palace before becoming the museum chronicling the events immediately before, during, and after the revolution.

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The Museo de la Revolución in all its glory.  It is truly a magnificent building.

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You know it’s a cool museum when there’s bullet holes in the wall.

One of our favorite places to walk was the Calle Mercaderes (Merchant’s Street), a cobbled street that has been restored by the City Historian’s Office to mimic its appearance in the 18th century.  The street is a pedestrian walkway and is lined with shops, museums, and restaurants.

DSCF5868We saw so many people selling small items and trinkets in the entry of apartment buildings.  Just another example of Cuban ingenuity.

One of my favorite shops was Habana 1791, which handcrafts perfumes from the twelve scents used in Colonial Cuba:  rose, tobacco, jasmine, orange blossom, sandalwood, citrus, vetivert, lilac, patchouli, lavender, violet, and ang-llang.  Most, if not all, of the flowers are harvested on the island and dried in-house.

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As lovely as Old Havana is, I felt a pervasive sense of decay, of grit and crumbling.  While many of the buildings are striking, in general they aren’t well-maintained.

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My impression is that is a result of lack of resources rather than a lack of ambition.  Cubans seem to be a hard-working people, and we did not see groups of able-bodied people just standing around, letting the day pass.  What we did see was people hustling with a sense of purpose, whether it was a uniformed government worker or a lady scrubbing the gutters with a bucket of water and a long-handled brush.

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Think your job is tough? Try mowing the grass with a machete.

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Ladies sewing shirts, factory-style.

Havana, in all of its contradictions, is a lovely city well worth visiting.  We can’t recommend it highly enough and can’t wait to go back.

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Our two short weeks in Cuba were over, so it was time to return to Marathon and get set for our trip to the Bahamas. We were so very glad that we seized the opportunity to visit such an exciting country.  Cuba has a lot going for it, first and foremost its people.  The Captain and I are well-traveled, and we both agree that we’ve never been to a place with people so genuinely friendly.  We absolutely plan to go back.

Posted in Cuba

Fun with Taxis in Cuba

There are tons of options for wheeled transportation-for-hire while in Cuba, whether it’s a horse drawn cart, a pedal cab, the bus, little yellow balls (you’ll understand when you see the picture), and, of course, antique cars.

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We took the double decker tourist bus in Varadero and found it clean, comfortable, and on time.  It was 5 CUC ($5.65 USD) per person and allowed for unlimited on/off all day.  Bus stops were frequent enough so that you didn’t have to walk miles between stops.

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Pedal cabs were very popular in Havana, especially on side streets.

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The yellow ball cabs were everywhere, too.  What’s funny is the driver wears a helmet, but not the passenger.  These remind me of those little football helmet cars, and I always got a laugh when I saw one.

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There is a taxi hierarchy for cars.  On the top are pristine American convertibles; they command higher prices and are frequently used for day-long tours.

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On the bottom of the taxi ladder are Soviet Ladas.  This taxi driver ran out of gas and was refilling in the middle of the road.

By far our favorite, of course, were the taxis.  We took taxis for our two trips to Havana from Marina Hemingway; the distance was about 10 or 11 miles.  Each leg of the trip ended up costing 20 CUC ($22.60 USD) after I negotiated down from the drivers’ inevitable opening offer of 25 CUC.  The first day we went to Havana, we shared the taxi with our friends J and J on s/v Aeeshah, so that made it ridiculously inexpensive.

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This driver was covering all his bases for luck–a Cuban flag, a Turkish evil eye, a small saint, and a bag of something-or-other.

Each time we took a taxi, we were in wonderful old 50’s era American cars.  The ingenuity of the drivers was amazing; the cars were generally modified in one way or another.  Some had Soviet diesel engines (or even tractor engines).  They were extremely proud of their cars, as they should have been.  Our last taxi even had a bolt-in air conditioner that made the ride a dream.

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Most of the taxis we took had the front seat braced with one of these airline cargo straps, bolted to the car’s frame.  And seatbelts? Hah.  Just hold on tight.

Our drivers were friendly and made an effort to show us interesting sights on the way.  Some played music, and some practiced their English while I practiced my Spanish.  All in all, it was a very fun experience and well worth the small price.

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David picked us up outside the Museo de la Revolución and excitedly told us about the filming of The Fast and the Furious along the Malecón.

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Posted in Cuba

Fusterlandia in Jaimanitas

Cuban artist José Fuster lived in Jaimanitas and transformed both his home, Taller-Estudio José Fuster, and the surrounding neighborhood with his art.  The project began about 20 years ago and continues today.  Houses, fences, and arches are covered in sculptures and mosaic tiles.  It’s absolutely dizzying.  These pictures don’t begin to do it justice, and it stretches for many blocks.  It’s a fascinating, living art exhibit.

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The exterior of Fuster’s compound contains, among a million other things, chess pieces.

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This is the entrance archway to Fuster’s house.

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The interior of Fuster’s “front yard” is full of sweeping curves that have been tiled to look like children, mermaids, chickens, and all kinds of other whimsical creatures.

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The interior walls are adorned with religious, political, and fantastical imagery.

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Many other buildings are similarly festooned with mosiacs and tiles.  This is the local doctor’s office.

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This house across from Fuster’s house has what looks like a memorial to Princess Diana.

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The walls, bus stops, and other public spaces are similarly decorated.

Posted in Cuba