04/05/2013, 23 31.5'N:75 45.4'E, 04/12/2013
Today was our last day aboard for this season. Taiga has been put to bed on a mooring in Hole 3, Stocking Island, Elizabeth Harbor, Georgetown, Bahamas. We had a wonderful season. Unfortunately, Sherri was not able to be aboard for the trip through the Jumentos, Ragged Islands and Cuba, because of her mother's illness. We cut our trip today also, and it was a good thing we did, because Sherri's mom, Doris only lasted another week after Katie and I got to Phoenix. We were grateful we were in time to say goodbye while she was still conscious. We'll be back to Taiga in November. The photo above is Doris and Jerry, Sherri's parents, in happier times.
04/05/2013, 22 53'N:75 52.1'E, 04/08/2013
Monday, April 8, 2013
We sailed up here yesterday from Raccoon Cay where we spent the last couple of days, waiting out a cold front. On Friday night at Raccoon Cay we were treated to the most spectacular lightning display I've ever seen. Fortunately all the action was happening in the distance, but we saw a lot of cloud-to-cloud lightning in chains, streaks, zig-zags, forks, circles, vertical and horizontal. Some streaked to the surface, lighting up our bay like daylight for an instant and temporarily blinding us. The thunder was magnificent: booming, rolling, crashing. Tremendous bass notes that vibrated our chests. It was alternately exhilarating and terrifying, and lasted all night and into the morning, most of it off to the west and south of us.
On Saturday we snorkled the reefs inside Man O' War cove, and they were lovely. Among other things we saw the largest spotted moray eel we've seen yet, and a couple of very large barracuda that followed us a short way. We were joined by Liz and John from Jalan Jalan, a boat out of Scotland on their third year in the Caribbean. In the evening we all had a bonfire on the beach and John supplied a lovely single malt true whiskey.
04/05/2013, N N'N:W E'E, 04/02-03/2013
Today we got the boat prepared to leave Cuba. First we moved Taiga to the fuel dock, then back to our slip. Then Cory and I drove out to the countryside to a couple of roadside vegetable stands and stocked up on tomatoes, pineapples, cucumbers, cabbage, plantains and bananas. We also picked up a couple of cases of beer, which costs about 1/3 of that in the Bahamas. We returned the car, and they delivered us the 15 miles back to the marina. Katie had stayed the day at the boat because she was still suffering the stomach ailment that we all had been having off and on for several days. It's no wonder, because we noticed that even in some of the towns, people are drawing water from shallow wells, usually next to the pig pen, and we surmise that the septic systems are rudimentary. Ugh. While we were in Santiago our host, Rodolfo, had told us, don't drink the water here, Cubans can handle it, but foreigners can't resist the bugs: like Mexico. Too late, though, because we all had se ssions of stomach cramps, etc. I treated mine by not eating for 36 hours and seem to have gotten it flushed out by drinking lots of bottled water and having drinks with no ice.
At the marina, we let the them know we'd like to check out very early so we could make a daylight arrival in the Bahamas tomorrow, and they said we could count on leaving by 8am.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Well, we didn't miss by much. We were out the channel into the open ocean by 9am. We passed Glide as we were going out. They had missed a channel turn coming in and were aground just outside the marina. Later they called us and said they were afloat and entering the marina.
We had perfect sailing conditions, with wind of 13 to 16 knots directly abeam and seas of about 4 feet. Taiga loves these conditions and our average speed of 8 knots on the entire crossing brought the apparent wind to about 045 to 055 degrees all day. We arrived at the southernmost of the Bahamas islands, Ragged Island at 6pm the boat heavily salted from all the spray.
Katie made us a fabulous lobster and fish gumbo, then followed that up with chocolate chip cookies.
04/05/2013, N N'N:W E'E, 04/01/2013
Monday, April 1
After breakfast we headed north along the coast toward Moa for our return to Taiga at Puerto Vita. We had been warned that the first part of the road to Moa was rough, and it was, but easily negotiated. It had been paved at some time in the past, but now had long rocky stretches or very potholed remnant pavement. We were paralleling the coast, but the road was a ways inland, passing through thick jungle that was sparsely inhabited, the homes of the usual wood or concrete, most with thatched roofs, some with metal roofs. They were very basic and looked like subsistence farms with some of the various fruit trees and small gardens, some chickens, pigs and goats, sometimes a horse or cow. We were told the government owns all the cows and it is a federal offense to kill a cow. The small roadside restaurants usually offer one plate, either some kind of pork or fried chicken, both delicious, with rice and beans and tomatoes and cucumbers for salad, not dressed.
As we drove, the countryside gradually became drier and the vegetation changed to reflect that. Approaching Moa the road began swinging northwest and improved somewhat, and we began to see more people again. The soil had gradually turned deep red, staining the highway where vehicles had come off the unpaved side roads. Then we topped out a hill and saw the beginning of an industrial and environmental wasteland.
First we saw the tops of numerous very tall brick exhaust stacks. I estimated them at least 500 feet tall. All of them were pouring out smoke, but one was blasting out a huge cloud of red. It literally looked like Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movie. Looking up into the hills, they had been stripped bare for as far as you could see, exposing the bright red soil with huge erosion canyons. The road passed the entrance to the plant, which covered several hundred acres, and there was a big sign, this was a cobalt and nickel mine and plant. All the buildings were coated in red dust, as was everything in sight, including the workers we saw leaving the gates. We crossed a bridge over what was once a good sized river that was silted up over the limbs of the trees in bright red mud coming off the stripped mountains. As far as we could see upstream and down was bank to bank red mud, oozing down into the bay. We later heard from another cruising boat that the sea is red for miles offs hore. Spreading overhead as the road swung west was this enormous red doomsday plume that smelled like sulphuric acid and probably was. The easterly tradewinds were carrying it west over the countryside. We could see it and smell it for the next 30 miles, and everything was coated with the red dust fallout. Across the highway from the plant were the tailing piles that stretched for miles along the highway, the bright red muck slumping down and filling the ditches right to the edge of the pavement. The town of Moa was filthy as it is downwind of the plant. We passed the road to the port and could see a ship at the dock. We figured this was probably an important export for Cuba, but my God, at what cost? This place was a nightmare. We wondered about the life expentancy and health of residents of this town and workers in the plant. I struggle to find words to express the horror of this place.
We were now on good paved road again and the countryside changed from mountainous to rolling hills, nearly all in pasture or under cultivation. We got lost in the next little town, because the streets are narrow, and there are few road signs to direct you through the many turns on crowded one-way streets until you emerge on the other side. I made several wrong turns, but eventually got it right after asking directions at each corner. Sometimes we didn't even have to ask directions, because being very white and driving a new car, people would just wave their arms and point out the correct street. In fact, we got a little tired of sticking out like we did and having people staring at us whether we were walking or driving.
Thirty miles on we were watching for a turn on a side road that would take us directly back to Guardalavaca so we wouldn't have to go all the way around on the main road through Holguin. We found it and made the turn, but wondered for many miles if this was a good choice, because the road was so bad we could make only about 15 kilometers/hour. It was beautiful countryside, though, quite open with very large grazing fields, one with a single cowboy on horseback herding around a thousand cattle into the next field. There were also big banana and sugar cane fields that stretched for many miles, and few people along the road. We passed a couple of cars, and several horse carts and people on horseback. We eventually came to an intersection and asked directions of one of the guys waiting for a ride, because as usual there were no signs. In another few miles we hit the highway we had driven our first day here when we drove to Banes. It was getting on to afternoon, and we hadn't eate n since breakfast, other than stopping to buy some homemade coconut and sugarcane candy, so we stopped at a small restaurant, and had our usual fried chicken dinner with rice and beans and cucumber/tomato/cabbage salad and a beer. By the way, the several brands of Cuban beer are good, our favorite being Bucanero Fuerte. Hard to beat a strong buccaneer. Driving on, we made it to the marina and Taiga just before dark. It was a relief to sleep in our own beds after a week on the road.
04/05/2013, N N'N:W E'E, 03/31/2013
Easter Sunday It was a rainy, windy night after we went to bed, but that didn't seem to dampen the ancient carnival rides just down the street from our casa along the malecon. Waves were slopping up over the sea wall and salty spray periodically drifted across the revelers, but the music blasting from the loudspeakers seemed to last all night.
After a breakfast of omelette, fresh fruit, fresh juice and coffee, Natacha brought us out a pitcher of hot chocolate made from locally processed cacao. Wow! This was not Swiss Miss. We asked Natacha whether we might find a tour of a cacao plantation and she recommended we drive north toward Moa a ways to Rancho Toa located on the bank of the Toa River.
Driving out of town was the usual hair raising experience of dodging pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, horse carts truck/busses and cars. The countryside is lush, with all kinds of tropical trees growing under the open canopy of the gigantic royal palms. We could recognize mango, banana, breadfruit, grapefruit, lime, orange and papaya trees, and soon realized many of the smaller trees had these enormous cacao pods growing on them. The pods are shaped like a pleated football and are six to eight inches long. They grow directly from the trunk and limbs of the trees, which mainly seem to be not more than 15 feet tall. Cut open, the pods have a thick, gummy white lining with about a dozen cacao seeds inside, each about an inch across. We did stop at the Jardin (Garden) de Toa, and walked in under the arch. There were two thatched roof dining areas capable of seating maybe 30, a small bar and kitchen, and the orchard, consisting of the tall royal palms, smaller coconut palms and cocao trees. Each of these had about a dozen or so pods on them. There were other fruit trees, but the overall effect was more like a barely cultivated jungle. There were lots of chickens and several pigs foraging and a friendly dog wandered around with us. We asked the bartender about a tour, and he said the guide had just taken a boat on the river tour, but would be back in 45 minutes, and we were free to look around.
By the time the guide got back we were about ready to leave. We thought about the river tour, but the boats were heavy wooden rowboats capable of seating 4 people and the guide, who rows. The wind was quite strong and the tide was pushing the river upstream, so we figured the rowing might only go a half mile or so, so we decided to leave. We drove another half hour and came to a smaller river with nice gravel banks, so we parked and took a couple of hours to walk the trail in the jungle alongside the river and return along the open gravel bar. While we got our water bottles out of the car and rested on the bank a family came down to the river with their pig on a leash and washed it in the river, which the pig seemed to enjoy. The kids stripped off their shorts and t-shirts and mom washed them on the rocks while the boys frolicked in the water. Then a horse taxi drove into the river and the driver got out and washed his buggy while his buddies lounged on the bar and exchanged comments. When the family came back past us the boys and women stopped to play with Toby and visit with us for a bit, but the dad kept going as the pig pulled him past.
Everywhere you go in this country you see pigs, sheep, horses and cattle tied alongside the road, grazing. Even though most of it is fenced it is also open range, so there are lots of goats and cattle to watch out for. Very often you see the horse or ox carts stopped along the roadside while the animals graze for a bit. Cheap refueling. When the horse carts are moving, they are usually trotting unless they are in heavy town traffic. The horses are about 2/3 to 1/2 the size of an American quarterhorse, and they seem to be tough.
Returning to our casa we had a fine dinner of fish in coconut milk, rice, fried plantains, cucumber/tomato salad. Cory wasn't feeling too well, so Katie and I went for a walk downtown and listened briefly outside the only restaurant that seemed to have music. The crowds were gone as tomorrow is a work day, and many had filled up with people from the outlying districts.
04/05/2013, N N'N:W E'E, 03/30/2013
Yesterday we spent much of the morning at a hotel in Santiago that had wifi so we could catch up on emails. Then we headed east for Baracoa. The drive took us through dry mountains out of Santiago to a very big valley with varied cultivation from sugar cane fields to grazing lands. On one stretch of road, maybe 20 miles, we passed a string of ox carts, each with two men aboard, loaded with freshly cut sugar cane, apparently headed for the mill. The carts were spaced about 1/4 mile apart, likely the spacing to load each by hand, each drawn by two oxen, yoked across the horns. The oxen appear to be related to Brahmas, with the skin wattles under the neck, but none had the distinctive hump, although we saw many of those huge bulls in the pastures.
We skirted the town of Guantanamo to the north side, and passed several military patrols and were stopped at two checkpoints, at both we were waved through once they determined we were American tourists. The Cuban cars and trucks appeared to be thoroughly searched.
Leaving the valley, we drove into dry rocky mountainous terrain that alternately dropped to a very rocky seaside for miles at a time, or followed a valley around a steep headland, then returned to the beach. This is the Caribbean side of the island. It appeared hurricane Sandy had done some damage here too, because stretches of the road along the rock beach were newly paved, the old pavement having been dozed to the side, probably after being torn up by the storm waves. The road passed through many small pueblos in the valleys where water was evident, sometimes with a river from the mountains. These pueblos were thickly vegetated with bananas, mangos, corn etc. We passed a lot of people at the side of the road holding out bunches of bananas and other produce for sale. We stopped a bought a bunch of nice, ripe bananas. The small sweet ones that don't travel well, so you never get them in a store. We pretty much wiped out the bananas within a few minutes. Later, when we were cr ossing the big mountains we stopped again and bargained for a bag of ripe mangoes. MMMMM! We also bought two paper wrapped cones of hard sweetened coconut.
As we climbed into the real mountains the road became quite steep with one switchback after another and a continuous guardrail of concrete. We climbed into the clouds, and soon into rain. Even so, there were people standing in the rain in the wider switchbacks, holding out various produce or crafts in one hand and waving the other for us to pull over. Now the vegetation was very dense; mango trees, papaya trees, hardwood trees, pines, giant palms, wild coffee plants, huge breadfruit trees, bamboo groves, flowers, vines. The road went up, up, up, then would dip and go up some more, until finally we came to the actual pass in the clouds and light rain. We knew this was the pass because there was huge "Bienvenidos a Baracoa" sign and the road tipped over and down. All along this road there were the usual concrete houses, some with thatched roofs, but many with corrugated metal. As the road dropped, the population increased until we were back to driving down the middle of the roa d to avoid the bicycles, horse carts, ox carts and pedestrians. All the motor vehicles drive this way until they meet, when the crowds magically move to the side to let them pass, then they slide back into the lanes.
This area is decidedly on the rainy end of the island, being on the receiving end of the moisture laden tradewinds, and the steep mountains condense the clouds. We were passing coffee and cocao plantations on each side. This being Holy Week, there were crowds of people off work and traveling. As we entered the outskirts of the town of Baracoa the crowds in and along the road increased, as did the bicycles, three-wheeled two-passenger bicycle taxis, horse taxis, old car taxis, trucks-converted-to-bus taxis, motorcycle taxis, many with sidecars, actual busses new and old and people afoot and horseback. Driving here is more art than science, and not for the faint of heart. We see quite a few police men and women, sometimes afoot but more usually driving ancient Russian Lada sedans about the size of a modern compact car. Like most of the other vehicles here, they would be long past their useful life almost anywhere else. Oh, another vehicle we have sometimes seen here is a long b us trailer drawn by a ten-wheel truck tractor.
When we got near the city center we spotted a man on a bicycle holding out a sign: YAK HAYDEN, pointing at us and waving. This was the man Rodolfo had called from Santiago to reserve a room for us. We followed him to his home, with two beautifully finished rooms with private baths, a block from the malecon along the seaside. The whole house has been recently remodeled, with stunning tile floors, natural local wood wainscoting, new bathrooms with hot showers. The showers are interesting, in that the shower head has a 120V wire to it, and the shower head itself is the heater with three settings on a switch, activated with water flow. This shower head is about the size of an acorn squash.
The family is very happy to have us, and very friendly, like all the Cubans we have encountered. We asked for dinner at 7, and Natasha gave us a choice of main course. We decided on pulpo, octopus, then left for a walk along the seaside malecon. The sea was pretty rough, as Baracoa is located inside a big, shallow indentation in the coast facing the prevailing trade winds, so there is lots of wave reflection in the bay. We followed the malecon around to the entrance to a small barely protected inner harbor that has lots of wave wrap coming in. There is a small fishing fleet moored way inside, with lines fore and aft to hold the boats into the incoming waves and across the wind direction. There was one sailboat inside at anchor. It was rolling wildly because it didn't have a stern anchor out to hold it into the swell. Looked extremely uncomfortable.
On a back street we encountered a man sitting by a big pot over an open fire with banana leaves for a lid. Turns out he was a German who comes here every year for two months. He offered us a taste of his pork stew which was good. He wanted to sell us each a bowl, which we turned down with our dinner waiting. Our walk brought us back through the main part of town which has many lovely restaurants, each with a couple of people standing outside, menu in hand, inviting us in. Several had live music playing, and we stopped along with the sidewalk crowds to listen. You almost never see glass windows here, just adjustable louvered ventanas. It never gets cold enough to close up the building, you just close the louvers for privacy, and so the restaurants are open to the sidewalk and everyone outside can enjoy seeing and hearing the bands.
We returned to an incredible dinner of plates piled high (no exaggeration) with chopped octopus steamed in a pressure cooker with spices and onions; cabbage, tomato, cucumber salad; mashed taro; string beans lightly steamed with onion rings; bread; and another steamed tuber which we can't remember the name of. It was at least twice what we could have eaten if we had worked in the fields all day. And delicious. After dinner, strong local coffee of a different flavor than we've ever had. Also just great. The thing that has surprised us is that Cuban food is not at all spicy, in fact every meal we had was quite bland.
We rested a bit from the exertion of the big dinner, then went out, leaving Toby in the care of the home's ten-year-old son, Raul, who loves Toby. We showed him Toby's favorite game of hide the ball, then left in search of more music. Two blocks up is the big church in the best shape of any we've seen, except the cathedral in El Cobre, which sits at the end of a pedestrian street lined with the lovely restaurants and shops. Because of the fiesta of holy week, the streets were crowded and there were many sidewalk vendors of local wood carvings and jewelry. We picked a bar with a band setting up and each had a drink and stayed for about two hours, during which time Katie was taught the basics of the Cuban Rumba by a very handsome black man. The band was very good with a world class clarinet player. It turns out Baracoa is a popular tourist destination with Europeans and Canadians, hence the unusual concentration of nicely fixed up buildings with restaurants and shops and the re cently converted street to a walking only street.