Saturday, 22 May 2010, Isla Mujeres
I'm not sure there is a physical limit to the number of passengers that can be accommodated in a 10 passenger Toyota van. Maybe in Guatemala physics takes a much needed break. At one point when we were coming into Morales from Frontera, I counted 25 people on board, and they were still looking for more bodies to cram in.
We had a chance to see the Rio Dulce, where we will be spending hurricane season, last week. A neighbor here in Isla needed some help getting his boat south. Doug has been sailing around the Caribbean for the last seven years or so in a 38' ketch, but he's not real interested in single-handing any more so we loaded up some provisions and headed down with him. Easy sail, beam reaching in 25 to 30 knots most of the way. The river entrance is breathtakingly beautiful with cliffs hundreds of feet high on either side, choked in luxuriant jungle and echoing to the sound of cicadas. The Marina Tortugal is just upriver from the town of Fronteras, clean water and a delicious afternoon breeze that fills in at noon. We walked into town one day, about a mile, through mangrove swamps and teak orchards. Fronteras is bustling, heady with commerce, as were Morales and Puerto Barrios.
We took colectivos from Fronteras to Puerto Barrios and then caught a lancha across the Bay of Honduras to Punta Gorda, Belize. We spent the next several days on buses with one night in Belize City in a little hostel after a delicious venison stew and the next night in a hotel in Tulum. Hell of a lot more fun than an airplane through Miami.
Tomorrow I wash another boat, the last one here that needs done. The work isn't bad but it isn't all that much fun. Not much of an intellectual challenge in scrubbing powerboats. I hope to find some work with a little more zest to it when we get south. Washing boats pays the bills though and I'm glad to be doing anything really. Annie has been sewing slipcovers for the Villas here, the ones I tiled the stairs in a couple weeks ago, so that should cover our slip fees.
We visited a floating island constructed with empty plastic bottles this afternoon. The builder was away but a friend showed us around. He laid plywood over the bags of bottles, poured sand on top and brought in dirt on which grow mangroves and other salt tolerant plants which surround the two story house and outdoor living spaces. The carpentry is not all that impressive, but the follow through is truly stunning. What an amazing feat to conceive of such a bizarre home, let alone construct one. Actually it's his second floating bottle island. The last one was destroyed in a hurricane and I'd hate so see what will happen when this one takes a direct hit.
Isla Mujeres has been a truly fabulous place to stay. We've met some really great people like Doug, who we crewed for last week and Dave who sailed down to Guatemala and is also staying in Tortugal along with us and Doug and another couple, Greg and Marisol, both in the Merchant Marines but headed back down when their 3 month tours are over. Tom and Elly, the owners of Marina Paraiso are great, Kevin is an excellent seaman and naturally lots of fun to drink with as is JB, an Aussie who got here a few weeks ago and if he can find a sailboat to trade his powerboat for, we are going to crew for him over to Australia. Looks like next week has some pretty solid decent weather. Maybe a little wet from time to time, but east winds 15-25 knots heading north late in the week, so we'll fill up the wine locker and cast off the lines in a couple days. I'll miss this place, but the ocean calls...
Posted by Annie.
I came 'home' - back to my hometown, that is, for a visit. Ten days to be with my mom & dad during mom's 3rd chemo treatment (she's doing fantastic!) and to visit my brothers & sisters, my son & his wife (who's expecting in November!) and my precious grandkids and my friends. It's lovely, it doesn't seem like enough time, only ten days, but I sorely miss home - Tom and our small ship EMMA, currently in Mexico - and ten days seems much too long to be away.
While I'm here I am acquiring several things that we need (want), filling up an old suitcase I bought at Goodwill just so I can check a bag on the flight home. Things like a charcoal filter for filling our water tank, basting tape & Velcro for my canvaswork, zippers for Grace's dodger (a job I've already got lined up in Guatemala), parts to fix the compass light which we can barely read at night, a chimney for our kerosene lamp, a fan for our aft cabin, a knife to replace the one that the sea took from Tom, jeans for both of us, a camera to replace the one stolen in Cuba but this one much nicer (is that wise?), weather seal to fix our dripping portlights, rechargeable batteries, blank CDs for sharing our music and photos. And I'm trying to get our tiny printer fixed while I'm here but it looks like it will not be possible in ten days, I will be sending it off to HP under warranty.
Some people ask: 'Have you completed your sail around the world yet?' I laugh and try to explain: We are sailing around. The world. Not necessarily 'around the world.' We're just sailing from here to there, deciding where we want to go along the way. Tom jokes that if it looks like we are getting close to doing a circumnavigation then we will turn back and go the other way, just so we don't. Our journey so far: from Annapolis, MD down the U.S. east coast to Miami, across to the Bahamas and south down the chain of islands, through the Windward Passage to Cuba and west along the south coast, across the Yucatan Strait to Mexico.
After I return home next week we will sail south to Guatemala to hunker down inland on the Rio Dulce during hurricane season (roughly June through November). We'll haul EMMA out to clean the fuzz & barnacles off her keel and rudder. And we hope to find work, we are both ready to work again, to exercise our minds and our bodies and to add funds to the sailing kitty.
Note the two backdated blog posts about our Cuba adventures:
Farmer's market (Saturday, 20 March 2010)
One week in Cuba (Wednesday, 10 March 2010)
(photo is Yuri & the Lada)
Friday, 02 April 2010, Cienfuegos
I just can't bring myself to spend more time fucking around with the officials of this country. The immigration officer at the marina here decided that he didn't want to extend my visa after all and we need to go to the office in town at 29-31 46. Are those directions to some place? and you want more money? but the only other place that we are likely to get ashore is the tourist resort island of Cayo Largo, no cubans allowed unless they work there. Hanging out on a beach with a pile of fat white people never really did much for me so we'll take off for Isla Mujeres on Monday, the day our visas expire. What an amazing time, an amazing country. My thoughts are still scattered by the intensity of the last month, might be slightly drunk still from Cuba libres last night too. They sell you the whole bottle at the bar, 5 bucks. More and hopefully more coherent commentary to follow.
Monday, 29 March 2010, Marina Marlin Trinidad
We've been in Cuba three weeks now, sailing west along the south coast. Have had some very light winds so had the opportunity to fly the kite a couple of times and some spells of no winds so had to use the iron jib (the engine) - sigh. The sailing is beautiful, though, the pristine waters of Cuba amazing, the fish delicious. We haven't done any fishing ourselves but we've bought fish from the local fishermen who are very generous. Arrived at the marina near Casilda two days ago. We got our bikes out yesterday and rode to Casilda, Trinidad, and La Boca - a great ride even in the stifling heat. Met a local Cubano who spent eight years in prison for trying to leave the country -- una loco sistema!!!! (a crazy system!) Another crazy thing about this country, cruising sailors cannot go ashore except where there is a government run marina. And the paperwork! They love the paperwork. Tom keeps the paperwork quite organized and he stamps everything with our ship's stamp -- the officials love that! Seems so, well, official. Tomorrow we head to Cienfuegos. So much more to share about Cuba but internet is quite expensive (not to mention quite slow!). More later. Chao!
Saturday, 20 March 2010, Manzanillo, Cuba
It felt good to be on shore again. The crazy fucked up government here hasn't let us off our boat since we left the marina in Santiago. They say it's for our safety, or security or because the jefe said so or some other bullshit. They'd just rather not have these independent minded people floating around the country anywhere, anytime... it's too damn scary, foreign, not like people who look a little different and have different clothes and music, I mean like alien, from fucking outer space, these cruisers. I'm not actually used to people telling me where I can go and when... not used to listening to them when they do.
Toby and Helena on MARE sailed into Cabo Cruz the other day. What a delicious sight, a 28' sailboat. They had come straight down from Santiago. We sail at the same rate, being of similar length, and drink a pretty similar amount and enjoy each others company a lot. Congenial. That's the word. So we made our way to Manzanillo sharing an anchorage in Niquero where the Guarda came out and told us we had to anchor right off the town (so they could keep an eye on us) and the next night about 3 miles off the ciudad de Manzanillo in a sheltered bay in an uninhabited cay where the Guarda came out in an official Guarda boat, first one I've seen here, and anchored about a ½ mile away and watched us all night.
So word was that Manzanillo, being a port of entry, would have sufficient paper pushers to allow us to go ashore, we were short of rum (oh shit) and MARE needed a new part made for their primary fuel filter. We anchored just off a fishing dinghy anchorage close to where we thought the appropriate authorities could be found. No one came out, no sign that they noticed. The guarda have come out to our boat on every occasion that we have ever dropped the hook in this country or at least come out and watched us, so it was a little strange to be ignored. We asked around and found the Capitan de Puerto in the Guarda headquarters just around the corner from the dinghy landing and he took us to a white shirted Guarda (more important and usually not a teenager like the green shirts) who told us the same old tired bullshit story. No va a la tierra aqui, no tengo Marina. I told him we needed to come ashore, we need rum and Toby needs a filter part. We don't need a Marina, we're happy on the hook. No, es impossible. He says they have no water in Manzanillo and the imbecility of the statement causes me to laugh in his face. No problemo, no necissitamos agua, no necissitamos Aduana, which they also didn't have. He said the boats were our responsibility, no shit, soy el capitano, of course it's my responsibility. The port captain came out in the dinghy with us, cleared us in, took the despachos, said he'd come back Sunday morning to clear us out, and please wait an hour or so before we go on shore so he doesn't get in trouble. So that is how we came to be celebrating Emma's 1 year anniversary of floating in the Bay, drinking Cuban rum at a little beach bar in Manzanillo. They don't sell drinks, just entire bottles and mixers, most of the customers don't bother with mixers.
We went in to a restaurant with Toby and Helena in the evening. There was some question as to whether or not we could come ashore, so as one guy was helping us to pull the dinghys up far enough that the Guarda wouldn't see them when they went by, another guy, also Guarda is telling Annie, es impossible, no va a la tierra aqui. He asks where she's from, Los Estados Unidos, oh, no problemo. Huh?
As the morning sun clears the trees over our rolly and exposed anchorage, the music starts up. It's 0700 on a Saturday and the music was pumping out of town until late last night too. Reggaeton, rap, pop, Cuban music pounding out of a loudspeaker on the Malecon, half an hour later, another PA system starts a couple blocks down, the Malecon is packed with people, just standing around, walking, riding bikes, a couple horse drawn cabs, crumbling concrete apartments and unpainted wooden clapboard shacks, walls covered in beautiful murals, a water truck with potable water that people pour into 55 gallon drums. What farmer's market would be complete without thumping music after all. Meat and vegetables, guayaba jelly, restaurants spring up out of the sidewalks, people crowd around the horse drawn beer wagon with old 2 liter bottles and gallon jugs in hand. I'm as far from understanding this country and the generous and friendly people we meet as I was the day we sailed past Guantanamo Bay, hoping the Coast Guard wouldn't see us. My ignorance is probably only surpassed by the complete incomprehension of the people, and especially the authorities, when they see us sail in to town
Saturday, 20 March 2010, Manzillo
We celebrated the first anniversay of EMMA's launch yesterday. Details to follow.
Sunday, 14 March 2010, Navigamos
Very light winds today. Anchored next to Austrians in lovely Cabo Cruz.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010, Chizirico
Five days in Santiago de Cuba, in the nearby barrio (village) of mella. Where to begin to share our impressions; our observations? It would take pages and pages...so very briefly (we don't have live internet today, anyway):
Cuba is incredibly rich and at the same time, unbelievably poor. The Cubanas are rich in music, dance and art; rich in the style and manner in which they present themselves and their humble homes; rich in health and education; rich in the peace and love in their hearts; free in spirit and in the way they express themselves; rich in the intermixing of race and ethic groups; rich in their relationships with family and friends; rich in their kindness and generosity amid such poverty!
The poverty is evident in the vistas of crumbling houses, there are no materials to patch them; the crumbling roads, there is no concrete to patch them; indoor plumbing runs to the kitchen, but the water is not potable; outhouses are common; working the fields and hauling the harvest with horses and oxen. Perhaps worst of all, the Cubanas are poor in their ability to change their situation. They can not organize dissent without fear of being thrown in jail, and they can not freely leave the island.
Today we are in an anchorage near Chizirico, but we are not allowed to go ashore because there is no state-run marina to keep a watch on us. Despite our camera being lifted, we managed to get a few photos on our Mac laptop, but only out of site of the Guarda and any members of the Cartivo (sp?).
Posted from our SAT phone.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010, Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba
Riding home after a night out. The Lada struggles up the hills on the 15 kilometer ride back to our Marina from downtown Santiago. The headlights are both broken, and as we drive out of the ciudad, the streetlights become less frequent until they end altogether and the Lada lurches over gullies in the highway, between demolished guardrails. We had Mojitos at the Hotel Casa Grande, then some more at Taberna Dolores on the Plaza Dolores. That's where we met Yuri who took us to the night clubs, friends houses, and finally the barrio in Mella to eat puerco asado with his family and friends. Club 300, early evening. They close at 2000 and open again to live music at 2200. The early crowd grinds to the tunes that the DJ pumps out, the girls dressed to kill, sex oozing out of the speakers, the couples. A man takes the stage and starts to rap, another joins him, both are smooth and skillful. They pull some girls out of the crowd to get them to dance on stage, blushing, they move their hips in erotic frenzy to the song that the dj sings. The club spills out into the street at closing time, still high on testosterone and estrogen they shout and mill about while cars and motos try vainly to slip by. Yuri took us to dinner (er, actually we took him) in a rooftop restaurant, no sign out front, up two flights of stains, a little illegal restaurant with half a dozen tables. The puerco assado is divine, Annie and Yuri have pescado and Yuri takes care of leftovers. The Casa Tradiciones is a few blocks down and the Salsa pumps out the open door. Two trumpets, drums, bell, guitar, bass in the corner of the living room, chairs and tables spread around the three front rooms and a little bar in back, rum for 2 CUC, touristas dance with the local men, all of whom can Salsa with grace.
Yuri has a degree in economics, he spends 2 days a week doing his practicum, the rest of the time he hustles. It's the national pastime. He went to school to avoid ending up on the collective farm with a hoe and machete. If he gets a job, he'll make 10 CUC a month. Pretty much the same as everyone else here. If he meets some adventurous touristas, he can make 10 CUC in an evening. The illegal restaurant stays busy serving food to touristas because guys like Yuri bring them there, and usually get a cut of the bill. Yuri claims he didn't take a cut of the food, but I'm pretty sure he got some of the cab fare. Mostly, he got to go out, drink rum, eat delicious food and dance all night for free. He's a sweet kid, 24, we adopted him, our illegal tour guide, even though we refused to meet him at the Morro where he wanted to swim out and catch a ride off this island.
Sunday morning we met Yuri again and grabbed a couple bottles of rum and went to Adriano's house. Actually his brothers temporary apartment, for his birthday celebration. His brother lives in Martinique and is here in Santiago through June, exhibiting his amazing artwork. Adriano has dreads down to the floor, his son has them to his shoulders, his father has none but stopped by for a few minutes and slipped a CD into the player and sang traditional Cuban songs of love. Dios mio what an amazing voice. Adriano makes gourd drinking cups and writes poetry of Jah and Rastafariah on his bedroom walls, he walks the streets of this barrio, a mystic, brother to all, peace and love. So much artistic skill and so many people willing to share their talents and gifts, it's a generosity the likes of which I've never seen, a wealth transcending the lack of plumbing, the crumbling concrete walls, leaky roofs, and ruined streets. The people here are not only buried in poverty, many people around this ocean are, they are stifled by a government that cannot handle dissent, won't allow people to travel, even in their own land, and tries to control every aspect of life on this island. The reaction of these people is to create beauty, to sing and dance, eat when they can, to give generously anything they have to give, to welcome strangers, foreigners, us, the enemy, with open arms, open doors, open hearts, and often times open hands.
We ate dinner and bought some cigars from Pacho. His heart has withered, his generosity is forced, his needs are evident and poverty has stolen his self-esteem. Thanks a lot Castro, you fuck. The tortuga and pulpo were truly amazing. He brought us vegetables, huge quantities of them, then begged for more money, our last encounter when I gave him and his sobrino 5 lbs of puerco asado I'd as soon forget.
Yuri offered to take us to his family's home in Mella, in the barrio. His father lives in one half of the house, his brother and wife and baby in the other half, cousins and aunts and sisters all live nearby. I bought the pig from his brother, 40 CUC, which was used to feed his own family. A transaction that still mystifies me. Yuri had said before that it would be 30 CUC but his brother, a grade A asshole said it weighed so much that he had to have more money to kill it and feed his own damn family with it. And he truly would have let them all eat beans and rice yet again if I hadn't coughed up mas dinero. His home has no doors. Three beds for the children, two chairs, a wardrobe divides the room where a rickety table with a scrap metal top stands next to the kitchen. The kitchen sink drains out through a pipe through the wall, the water comes straight out of the river. The neighbors have a shower house out back, scrap sheet metal and scraps of wood. Same with the outhouse. The cab of an old trackhoe sits incongruously in the midst of the scratched dirt of the back yard. An old truck axle for a sledge hammer, an old hammer with pipe welded on the head, a three wheeled cart with rubber bolted to the rims made from misc. scrap iron. Yuri's padre, (not a talker, at least not with us) pulled out a huge old cast iron pot, put it over the fire on a steel frame and filled it from the hose that feeds his Lettuce irrigation system. The pig got a knife in the heart, they have no guns here, it's companion crying and bouncing around the scrap iron enclosure, alone for the first time after all their lives together. We drank rum and turned the pig on his 15' pole over a fire of home-made charcoal. Damn, that was some tasty chicharrones.
My thoughts wander through all we've seen in the past 5 days, so much in so little time, it's difficult to process the inundation of experiences. The Aduana pulling the boat apart looking for drugs, not understanding what we were doing here, but pretty suspicious that it wasn't anything good. La doctora, barefoot on board, kind and respectful, patiently communicating with us. Santiago on a Saturday afternoon, people all over the streets, packed into the backs of hundreds of ancient American trucks, belching black smoke as they wound through the maze of little streets in el centro. A detour on the way to Mella, one policia blocking the road for the construction crews, no sign to indicate an alternate route to get the last mile to the highway, Freddie asking for directions from the crowds of people in the street and we end up driving down the side of a hill, a semi trying without any luck to get up, and down a cart track through fields of plantain and cane, cultivated by hand by men with hoes.
On the hook, on our little boat, Chivirrico, in the middle of a tranquil lagoon, the sounds of chickens and trucks, horse-drawn taxis and children, but we can't go ashore here, in fact we can only get off the boat at 4 different places on the south coast, I have no idea why. It's as incomprehensible to me as the language, more so actually, no idea what is legal, illegal, tolerated or prosecuted.