La Aventura with Patti & James

06 July 2018 | Faial Island –Atlantic Portugal
24 June 2018 | National Holiday day in Faial
22 June 2018 | afternoon whale watching boat trip
20 June 2018 | an enjoyable day trip to another island.
19 June 2018 | Fabulous Faial. – Azorean Island
18 June 2018 | Faial Island – Horta Harbour - Mid Atlantic
29 May 2018 | Mid Atlantic - in the middle of nowhere
26 May 2018 | the cruising yachtsman’s haven
25 May 2018 | party day in Hamilton
10 May 2018 | Vero Beach/Ft Pierce –road trip to Jacksonville.
12 April 2018 | Vibeke onboard
17 March 2018 | lovely to return to Belize and Mexico and meet up with sailing friends along the way
24 January 2018 | I have become so interested in Guatemala textiles
17 January 2018 | So great to catchup with so many friends and our families
01 November 2017 | what a wonderful Guatemalan fiesta to experience
29 October 2017 | Volcanic crater
28 October 2017 | Antiqua - Guatemala

Cuba our final word - the island of revolution and rumba

18 June 2015 | 6 wonderful weeks in Cuba
Cuba is the most vivid example of how the mind is broadened by travelling and checking things out for oneself
IMAGE - The future of Cuba - beautiful, educated, healthy & happy!!

I had this picture in my mind that Cuba was going to be like the oppressive communist Russia and the eastern bloc dictatorships countries I had visited over 30 years ago - but with a Caribbean flair. But it was NOTHING like it. Western press, with an American bias would have us believe that Fidel Castro, and latterly brother Raul, have been dictators running a communistic government for over 50 years. What we have seen in Cuba however is NOT what it felt like.
It was NOT grey, with boring buildings full of downtrodden miserable people - Cubans are poor, happy vibrant people.

We visited a range of provincial towns, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Gerona Nevona. All these towns had government and private shops were locals could buy a range of electrical goods, a variety of clothing, basic goods and services were available. Yes - we did the tourist things, but also had to live too. We shopped in the locals markets and stores were the locals shopped for food, and used the same public transport. In the many local markets basic veg and limited varieties of fruit was always available. We used peso currency to enjoy icecream, pizza, and fresh bread along with the locals too.

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean -over 750 miles long and covering 44,200sq. miles. We sailed approx. 700 miles of the coastline - and yes it is a big country.
It is positioned only 90 miles from the Florida Keys. When we visited in June, it was not unbearably hot or wet, as it was between the dry and wet seasons. The backbone of the country has 3 major mountain systems, the other 60% of the land is lowland plains and foothills, spread with small rural village communities. Agriculture is still mainly sugarcane, coffee and rice - and specialist tobacco plantations for the famous Cuban cigars. The heyday of the 1920 sugar fortunes are well gone - the sugarcane fields today are essential for the other very important mainstay - Cuban Rum.
It was amazing in a country when on several occasions we could not find a shop that sold bread - there was ALWAYS a Rum and Cigar shop.

REVOLUTION - Cuba's history followed much the same path as the rest of the region with the Spanish, French, British and Americans squabbling over the territory. Internal coups, Independence Wars and leadership by various egotistic presidents continued into the 1950s. Havana was becoming a playground for American mobsters and gangsters with its casinos and dens of iniquity. President Batista cut a deal with the American mafia giving them carte blanche access to Havana in return for a percentage of their gambling profits going to him and his cronies and NOT to the people. The rest of the population were destitute and scratching a living off the land ... many starving to death. If you were in you drove a new Chevy, drank champagne and partied in some nice but very dodgy company - the majority of the population saw only poverty and little hope.
Meanwhile one Fidel Castro, together with his pal Argentine doctor Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos, and a motley crew of rebels were very busy hatching a plan and countrywide support for their 'Viva la Revolucion' !! Power to the People!! Led by Fidel, these rebels marched triumphantly on Havana and were welcomed by an ecstatic crowd. Fidel Castro seized control in 1959 and since then the Castros have run a pretty tight ship, - but these knowledgeable, educated men are not crazed power hungry rebel revolutionaries in funny green uniforms, cut from the same cloth as all the other Central and South American dictators.
Now what normally happens next is that these guys end up doing exactly what their predecessors did. Power corrupts etc ..... but NOT SO! Almost immediately, following Marxist-Leninist ideals Castro sets out to create a safety net for ALL society. He re-employed thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses and reopened hundreds of schools and hospitals. He nationalised all the industry and sets about centrally controlling and redistributing the country's wealth with the aim of providing every Cuban with a roof over their head, free education to University level and free health care as well as ration books to provide enough food for everyone. The vast majority of the population were dragged out of the gutter and given a minimum standard of living and maybe a little bit of hope.
Many pro-Batista Cubans fled, particularly the business owners who had been doing very nicely under Batista's reign. Overnight the US crippled the Cuban economy with a trade embargo which is STILL in place today.
TODAY the people seem to live in an orderly environment. There is a very low key police presence. The streets feel safe, there is a reasonable infrastructure, people in the main are well dressed and go about their day with a purpose. There seems to be very little theft and violence, in stark contrast to their neighbours throughout Central America and we saw none of the squalor in Cuba that we witnessed in parts of Panama. But there is a price to pay. The regime has kept an iron grip on things for decades although there are signs that the Castros maybe softening in their old age as once again the younger generations push for change. Clearly daily life has many boundaries, the people are denied many things, it's hard to get ahead and there is not much money about, but there is an impression of ~ once upon a time things were a whole lot worse. For the older generation the hopelessness of life pre Castro is still a raw memory, they experienced the alternative and recognize that for now they are sort of doing ok. Nearly all business is state owned and operated, however Government controls are weakening

Officially all income is fixed, and there is 100% employment. To the best of our knowledge everyone is paid the same monthly wage whatever their profession. We understand that salaries are low - equivalent of US$50 per monthly! , but nobody really wanted to discuss it. Salaries are low in comparison to many other western countries - but unlike America, and other much wealthier Latin American countries, social services provide the top-up. Housing, welfare, sickness benefits etc are available to EVERYONE. Most people we encountered were happy with their lot, and making the most of what was available to them. There are only state operated TV channels, very few people have mobile phones and certainly not smartphones, internet is quite restricted and available mainly to the tourist sector. Wifi was only available in a couple of 5 star hotels, internet cafes are very rare and are intended only for tourists.
All Cubans receive a weekly allowance vouchers of staples such as body washing and laundry soap, bread, rice, pasta, sugar, beans, eggs and toilet paper from the government. We saw many people at the government shops with their vouchers. On the days when particular food items were available - ie eggs, fresh meat there were long queues. When items are available they are sold out quickly.
The government hardware stores were also the same - on various days we saw many people taking home the same items - like rope or cable ducting.

Following the Castro revolution, there was major migration from the rural areas. The rural areas we visited were very self-reliant communities. 70% of the population is now urban, concentrated in the major towns across the country and in the provinces of Havana.

Education and Health are a major focus of the Castro government. In comparison to what we have seen and experienced in Latin America and the Caribbean, both are far better, in spite of chronic shortages affecting the country, and available to all. There are more doctors per capital in Cuba than any other country. I would say we have never seen any nation looking so fit and healthy. We personally experienced the dental services available to all Cuban nationals - the clinics we visited were very well manned, but facilities were rundown. It was obvious that they were professionally doing the best job possible with what was available. Despite being foreigners there was a genuine attempt to assist us - a true goodwill to all man attitude.

Education, is free at all levels from pre-school up to and including degree courses, and everyone is encouraged to study to the maximum of their ability. Physical culture and sport for all is also the norm. In Cienfuegos and Havana we were woken daily by the rowing clubs. We watched in amusement at the many Boxing clubs we saw setup after school under a shady tree, and baseball is a nationwide passion. Cuba is proud to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
We did not see any visible signs of any homeless and housing is provided to EVERYONE. It may be basic, but everyone has a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in. We understand that private home ownership is possible and is increasing.
We only saw "label stores" in Havana, selling items at prices you would pay anywhere else in the world. But outside the tourist areas there were very few shops, you don't - as a rule - see a street with what we might call regular shops - clothes, shoes, appliances, books, chemist, food etc. But as you walk down residential streets many houses have their front doors open and if you peer inside you might see a box of toothbrushes for sale in one, 6 pairs of shoes in another, some freshly baked cakes next door. All quite bizarre really but we had the overwhelming impression that everyone was doing ok, getting everything they needed and seemed happy enough with their lives.

All over the country religious houses of worship stand unoccupied. In spite of any official acknowledgement of religion, we saw many homes displaying Roman Catholic (Jesus on the cross) symbols. Fidel Castro is a product of a Catholic, Jesuit education. In the towns we visited and mainly in Havana we saw influences derived from African 'Santeria' cult - men, women and children dressed head to toe in white clothing and displaying large necklaces and bizarre adornments. This 'religion' hides African roots beneath a symbolic Catholic veneer. It has an impact on music, art, dance and it would appear that most followers are in the artistic communities. We had a walk-through a Santeria commune in Havana - all very occult indeed.
We saw no signs of any drug use or abuse, rum and beer are freely available and quite cheap but we saw no one drunk, we never felt unsafe yet saw very few police. Crime levels are said to be very low and possibly this stems from the fact that everyone has the same so there is nothing to be gained ~ interesting thought!

Like most things in Cuba (government, press, health, education, welfare, public amenities like water and power) there is no choice. There is only one government- the Communist Party which rigidly control all formal government institutions.
We came across a situation when we needed diesel in the remote western Cape - and 'the man from the government' needed to be contacted! The economy is centrally planned, and until the collapse of the former Communist Bloc was heavily subsidised by the former USSR.
The current and controversial US government economic embargo is responsible for extensive shortages within the country - not only effecting consumer goods. There are just SO many government and commercial building needing urgent repairs, due to no on-going maintenance to plant and machinery.
Within Cuba this action is referred to - mainly with a shrug or the shoulders - as 'Blockage'.
Several times we were informed that Hotel or Marina facilities were not available due to something like a pump not working... they just don't have the parts to do the maintenance or any repairs. Every government building - in fact most buildings needed a good coat of paint and glass replaced in the windows.
There is little to no future infrastructure development, which in turn is leading to increasing problems within the economy. We were told of a large port development on the north coast, not far from Havana, which had Brazilian investors - but these trading partners were being pressured to abandon due to pressure from the US government.
We saw many pictorial images of the now deceased President of Venezuela- Hugo Chavz with both the Castro brothers, indicating friendship and financial partnerships.... but Venezuela is now totally in a mess themselves so I don't know how much continued support there will be to Cuba when their own economy is now in ruins.

Some friends that have travelled there thought Cuba was a mess - the food rationing was inadequate, the inability to go and buy just what you want was suffocating, the state controlled enterprises in these times archaic, no freedom of press and controlled access to World News and no access to the internet appalling. We imagine many Haitians who live only miles away in famine and disease stricken neighbouring Haiti, might actually think Cuba was paradise. If they had a home with electricity and water, food, clothing, education and health care provided - would they be worried they couldn't check their emails, watch CNN news or that it was beans 'n rice for dinner again ??? Yes, if you compare all of this to the 1st World countries we are so lucky to have been born in then the Cubans have it tough. However if you look at what the Cubans have compared with what some of their Caribbean and Central American neighbours have then they are doing great.

Tourism is increasing.... and will rapidly expand to the American market in the near future. We really wanted to get there before this major influx effects the country and its people. Currently tourism is the major means for generation of foreign exchange. American dollars are welcome - but only at 'Blockade' exchange rate and additional 10% exchange fee.
As savvy tourists, we used the Cuban double monetary economy to our best advantage. CUC's (Cuban convertibles) and Cuban Pesos circulate simultaneously. In theory tourists are only supposed to use convertibles - but we were easily able to swap CUC's into Cuban Pesos at an official change office, and use these for all our 'local' purchases ie bread, fruit and veg market shopping, meals in Pesos establishments and some transport. 1 CUC is approx. US$1. With an exchange rate of 25 Pesos to 1 CUC, we were on a real winner. Our daily freshly made pizza lunch cost about 10US cents - local transport around the towns 1$US, and our market shopping was never more than $US5.
Cubans working in restaurants were keen to get any tips etc in CUC's rather than US$ so they too could swap these CUC for Pesos and made the most of the double economy. But as always there are always winners and losers - Cuban factory workers only earn Pesos - up to 800 per month ($32) and receive Pesos only vouchers - so they have to survive on a whole different economic scale.

Cuban women are beauties - with Latino good looks, grace and elegance. Wow can they dance and swing their hips. Music and dance are just so part of the Cuban culture. The sounds of music, from a lone rhumba drummer, salsa, and street musicians is everywhere - day and night.
Today, when the heat of the day is done - and you can't watch CNN on the TV or access the internet - instead families with their neighbours sit in the street and chat. The kids play safely in the neighbourhood streets - and the music starts....
So what does the FUTURE hold for Cuba. Fidel famously once said " history will absolve me"! The western press tells us all he is now a sick, old man - but still consider him a bit of a nutter, however history judges people differently once they are gone!!
Vessel Name: La Aventura
Crew: James & Patti

Who: James & Patti