The Large Island to the South
09 December 2012
Adventures on the S/V Oz
All adventures are preceded by a hopeful waiting period where you make the plans and then you think them, dream them, manipulate them into what you hope your time will be. I have hoped to be able to sail with OZ since we first met them in Fernandina, Florida in late 2009. My friend Peaches and I were there with our own cruising boat (and first adventure) somewhat dispirited and definitely not far up the cruising learning curve after making it through the Erie Canal from Buffalo, down the Hudson past NY City, and down the Chesapeake and then the Intracoastal Waterway (please see www.sailblogs.com/member/star or the book 6 Knots).
But, I am digressing already. Our boat, Star of the Sea, sold in Charleston after we had two excellent seasons of cruising in the Bahamas. We returned home to retirement, after being "retired" for over two years. We unpacked, saw friends and families and sold off most of the suddenly unneeded sailing equipment through eBay. After getting the house in good shape after it was a well-maintained vacation place for Peaches' niece and family in our absence, we sat down and said, "What next???" We didn't have an answer.
So it got to be the end of the summer and it felt like we should be getting the boat ready to go, but......no boat. We talked to Ken and Connie from OZ and came down to Florida to help them get OZ prepped and ready to sail off.......without us. Peaches had a hip replaced in June when we returned, and planned to have the other done in January....both of which went very well, but wouldn't allow her to join OZ somewhere along their journey this season. But my hips and knees and heart were fine, and so we made plans for me to join them in George Town, south central Bahamas sometime in March. Yahoo, that's when my dreams and hopes started soaring.
The reality of the trip went something like this. I went on Kayak sometime in November and booked a trip from Buffalo to Philadelphia and from there to Nassau, Bahamas, and from there to George Town. Simple, like picking raspberries in a pit of vipers is simple. The morning I checked my bag in at the Buffalo Airport was almost the end of the journey. "Show me your return ticket, please", the ticket agent said, smiling at that point. I explained at length that I didn't have one, not knowing when we might return to Florida on the boat, still smiling myself. "Can you prove you're going to be on that yacht and will return to the US on that yacht?" he said emphasizing the word yacht like it belonged to Donald Trump himself. I showed him emails I'd printed out from Connie finalizing our plans and deciding what I should bring to supplement their dwindling supplies on the boat. I also had some emails from a friend in Long Island Bahamas trying to set up a meeting there.
I was not pretending to smile any longer, after looking up into his non-smiling face and his official hands on hips stance. "I will issue you a provisional pass to go through customs and then go directly to the gate. They will give you further instructions. Your bag will be GREEN TAGGED" he said with his most official voice. Tail between my legs, I went through the long check in line, where everything I wore, carried or even thought was tested for explosives, drugs, and who knows what else. I felt like a freak of nature compared with all the other passengers, staring at me from behind their paperwork.
They were paging overhead frantically as I walked up to the gate. "I'm terribly sorry but you will have to book a ticket right now or not be allowed to board the plane." the new, smiling man behind the desk said.
"Can you do this for me" I said, digging out my credit card. I knew the answer as I raised my head and he turned to announce the boarding for the plane. I whipped out my iPad and paid for Internet, then went on USAir.com and booked a flight on a random day but I bogged down on the seating page. The agent called for all to board and turned to me and said, "I see no flight for you that day", and then turned and closed the gate doorway with final slam.
Returning his attention to me, smiling still, I said "just a minute" and booked another flight without looking at where or when and it went through. He printed it up ushered me down the gangplank, opened the closed plane door, patted me on the shoulder and I walked down the aisle of the plane like I always came in last. Whew!
So, on the trip down, my hopes, wishes, plans and excitement returned in full force. I just hoped my very heavy suitcase followed me down to George Town too. I arrived in Nassau and left a couple of hours later in a puddle jumper plane to OZ, anchored in Elizabeth Harbor. Exiting the plane, I found my red bag, full of food and equipment waiting for me, along with Clifford and Taxi #16 . His black SUV, vibrating with Bahamian Rake and Scrape music, took me along the island and to the Government Dock, where Elvis, the combination Harbormaster and Water Taxi Entrepreneur awaited to ferry me across the rough, wind-swept harbor to OZ.
After a quick hug from Ken, we got in his dinghy, Toto, and sped to St Francis Resort where Connie was in a hot and heavy Texas Hold-Um Poker Tournament game with 90 other cruisers. After a hug from her between deals, and dinner with a non-playing Ken, I took my first full breath. Home at last!
Settling in was fun, along with catching up with their time in George Town. It was still Regatta Week, with volleyball tournaments, trivia tournaments, poker, sailing races and many other competitions finishing up. We went to volleyball beach to watch Ken play volleyball (voted most improved player this regatta) and see the awards given for the in-harbor race as well as the around the Island race. Connie was on the winning "Fun" volleyball team contest and had her flag and rum bottle to prove it. We saw the finals of the Regulation volleyball players and it was fast and furious play....of course it was sun, no shirts for the guys and often bathing suits for the women, and barefoot on sand courts. Everything in the Islands is either sand or rock. the sand sculpture competition on the beach was great too.
Connie set up a reunion of the "crew" of Star of the Sea's Around the Island Race from last Year's Regatta. We all (Reto and Sally from LaDanza, Doreen and Rick from Breathless, us minus Peaches (who is holding down the fort in Chautauqua)......and late comers Ten Years After, fresh from Cuba, Dave and Pat) contributed hearty appetizers to OZ. The fun, the conversation, the rum, and the joy of being together went on for a long long time.
Ken wanted to keep up his daily runs to town for water and fuel in the morning, so his afternoon was saved for volleyball. Connie and I dropped him off on the beach and took the dinghy over to a cut through to the sea side of Stocking Island for a long walk. Off we went at a great pace, walking and talking all the way along the way, ending up back on the harbor side at Sand Dollar Beach after a winding rocky path through the low brush. We ignored the building clouds, we wouldn't melt if it rained. We doubled our speed on the way back, getting a nice fresh water shower along the way.
After breakfast one day, Connie sat me down to learn the fine art of Texas Hold-Um poker. It seemed okay, even a lot of fun, but the bidding and some of the do-this-but-not-that with the dealers had me frightened about going to play at St, Francis. Luckily, we were invited to the catamaran Riff Raff to play poker. It was not too frightening, and everyone made me feel welcome. So far, so good but this still wasn't the big time at St Francis.
Tuesday night, with a glass of precious bourbon for fortification, bought in town while supplying the boat for our journey south, we took off in the dinghy to play. Ken brought his DVD player and some old but good NCIS programs to while away the hours until we were done playing.
I apparently made quite a hit that first night. The bidding was the most confusing to me, but Ollie, the dealer, made me feel braver. I started out with four nines, two In my hand and two on the table. Well, when it came to me to bet or check, I raised a thousand, and it went around, then I checked. The cards went down and I won.... Ollie throwing the cards down, saying why did you check that, four of a kind hardly ever comes up?
The laughter died down finally and another hand went by. The next cards came out and I thought my ace and queen looked okay, so stayed in while all the cards went down. I thought I had a flush, so checked and when I laid my cards down, dear Ollie shouted "you just checked a royal flush.......what were you thinking? Why didn't you bid it to the sky." Well the others started shouting that that hand only comes up one time in 65,000 hands. I answered, when they finally let me, that Connie forgot to give me the cheat sheet of what hand beats what. I will never be Chris at poker games, I am the one who didn't bid when she had the moon in her hand. This was followed by a couple hands with straights and a big pile of chips in front of me on the table. Oh, it only cost $5 for $9,500 in chips to start, I could never do this for real! Near the end of the night, George, the owner of St Francis told me I would piss these chips away fast.........and I did just that the first night.
Wednesday dawned windy but sunny. When I woke up in the V- berth of OZ, the sun shone in the side port and I noticed that my skin's already as tan as Connie's (almost). I always feel most like me when I am tan and happy, which I was. Today we went to town again, then I cooked Cuban Pot Roast in the pressure cooker, Connie did a Key Lime pie, and Rick and Doreen from Breathless came in for dinner. Her peas and spicy rice made the dinner complete. There is nothing better than catching up with old friends on a boat at sunset, our stomachs full of good food and wine and our faces aching from smiling so much! Peaches and I returned from the Bahamas and all the way up the Florida ICW with Breathless our first season and have a special place in our hearts for them, for sure. The point of this story is friendship but also that you can cook your heart out on a boat, the same as at home. Cruising women are creative substituting Bahamian foods for those readily available at our huge grocery stores in the US, and still coming up with a gourmet meal in the middle of paradise.
Thursday we did some more supplying, Ken going for two trips into town for water to fill the tanks and also leave some on deck in sturdy jugs. Ken also bought diesel to refill his tank in the boat. Where we are going, the almost uninhabited Ragged Islands, there is none available. We got things organized on the boat, converting it from a floating home to a functional cruising boat where objects won't become flying missiles.
We went back for another try at St Francis and the last Texas Hold-Um game. It (I) wasn't quite as remarkable as the first time, but I did play well and didn't make anyone throw their cards down, laughing until their eyes squirted tears. Whew!
Friday, our last in the harbor, was busy. On the morning Cruisers' net the announcements were starting to grate on Ken and Connie's nerves......even mine after a week. Some people call George Town adult daycare in paradise, or basket weaving 101. You can be be overwhelmed just by the sheer number of events, a lot of Hubba Hubba. Tomorrow we leave with about 30-40 boats in a "rally race" to Long Island, southeast of George Town, about 40 miles. Unfortunately, all the packed activity and event people have organized this event so George Town is moving south to Long Island for a week. The saving grace is that, weather permitting, we leave for the Ragged Islands in the morning and skip all "the fun".
Weather controls everything in Paradise. After two years on our boat with few episodes of serious cold fronts and almost no rain, my short experience this trip has included a lot of short but heavy downpours, called squalls. It is wonderful, if you are not caught in them while going from shore to your boat in a dinghy, because the salt gets washed off your deck and all the equipment (fresh water is too valuable to use to clean your boat). So our journey south through the bottom of the Bahamas is based on the hope for calm seas with enough wind to sail.
Sunday dawned sunny and bright. Ken's anchor didn't resist being pulled up despite it's long time buried in one place. This will be my first time underway on OZ so my excitement level is high. Off we go through the southern entrance to the harbor, lots of sails out in front of us and several behind. Ken is at the wheel. Because of all the coral heads and reefs on the shallow Bahama banks, you transit from established and charted waypoint to waypoint. The rally takes place in a timed race from one waypoint partway to Long Island to another outside Thompson Bay and across the finish line inside the harbor. We did well, lots of wind, gusting to 20-25 knots, and a good point of sail. Our complication was that the shaft kept turning after turning off the engine, without the old brake on the new dripless bearing. So, we had to run the engine in neutral so the shaft wasn't damaged, not a good thing in a sailing race. We finished after a couple of tacks just behind the boat No Justice, both under full sail with the rails down!
A quiet night was had, going to sleep knowing we were going to trust the two day old weather forecast and go south through the Comer Channel (not like going through the Donner Pass in the Rocky Mountains), actually quite the opposite. It is waypoints through a long very shallow area, best done at high tide. It did give us shallow water but still enough under the keel to transit. We had amazing squalls, one filling the deck so fast it couldn't drain. I got good pictures of the rain squalls...you could track them coming and going miles and miles away.
We did a 55 nautical mile day in 4-6 foot swells and 25 knot winds. Oz is such a big, well built vessel that she carried us safely. Connie was even able to defrost the freezer aboard while we rocked and rolled through the waves, a true cruiser through and through!
Flamingo Cay is a shallow indentation in an uninhabited Cay where we anchored with one lonely catamaran, a large beat-up fishing boat with about five small outboard motor boats attached to it by lines (like a mama duck with her babies strung out behind her) and a 15 foot boat with some lobster traps on the roof. We saw several of the small outboards with two men each out in the big swells, miles and miles from the mother ship.....getting fish and lobster. The official season for lobster ends at the end of the month.
When we anchored, we found we were awfully close on the starboard side to a coral head. Almost before we got the anchor down Doug from the catamaran was in his dinghy, giving us the lay of the land. He came around to try and judge the depth of the coral head. We got our depth sounder out but it only gave us the water temp, not the depth. We ended up staying where we anchored but regretted it the next morning when we were bleary eyed and tired worrying all night about skidding around onto the coral. It didn't happen mostly because we all were semi-awake and wishing it to not be so. The redeeming thing about this anchorage is that Connie cooked the corned beef from the freezer and we had a belated St. Patrick's day celebration of corned beef with cabbage and carrots and some good coleslaw!
Getting underway, our mouths were watering for lobster. Reports are that in Hog Cay a fellow called the Monkey Man delivers to the boat......4 small tails and 2 large tails for $20 one cruiser reported.Thinking of this, dreaming of Caesar salad with grilled lobster, we took off on Monday morning on the 40 nm trip to Hog Cay.
We made good progress, but during each gap in the numerous cays and jutting small rock islands, the ocean swells were as high as 10 feet with the waves of 2 feet adding to the confused waters. The winds remained at 20 plus knots, whitecaps most of the time. Again, OZ powered through the waves and we arrived in Hog Cay unscathed and looking forward to a quiet anchorage and some sleep......AND A SHOWER!
Anchored in Hog Cay were a couple of boats OZ knew, Suncast who just returned from Cuba at midnight last night and Passages. Here in the middle of nowhere, friends meet again. We anchored easily and the rocking and rolling stopped. There are lots of beaches and trails on the island and after talking to their friends, we found that there are lots of barracuda and sharks, even a Maco shark was reported, so no swimming off the boat. There is lots of conch to get and lobsters, but the shark population is daunting, even to divers like Ken and Connie. Sharks have even been seen quite close to the beaches! Note to self..........no swimming.
We will be here until the weekend, waiting for the seas to settle and the winds to come down a bit. We will get a window to make the 12 hour 65 nm trip southwest to the next island on Saturday or Sunday. Until then we will explore, rest, and look for the Monkey Man. Ken is working hard to get a couple of emails out through the Win-Link system on the SSB radio...our only wi-fi source available.
Tuesday we got off the boat at last and in to shore to discover the complex of bamboo and driftwood huts built by the cruisers. Woven reed mats and poles made up the roof and debris from the sea beaches (floats, buoys, old netting, etc) were the decorations. Many tables and benches were set up. The piece de resistance was a glass float hung in the center, a foot in diameter, held by a macramé sling. Everyone who enters this place secretly and oftentimes not so secretly covets this float. Floats and netting make up most of the hanging decorations. A wind chime hangs, making the sound of dried bones, made from sea beans and shells.
We went along a goat path up the "hill" and through the rough brush to the sea beach, about a 25 minute walk on stones and sand with lots of stumps to trip over. The view from the top was spectacular. I was in the lead and got a huge adrenaline surge when two goats crashed away from me in the brush. The island has a large population (> 200) of multicolored goats and kids (goats, not feral children!).
The sea beach when we arrived had angry surf pounding and lots and lots of debris, everything plastic off of boats and passing ships and anything of wood or brush from Africa I suppose. We were on the lookout for sea beans which are said to be so numerous that you trip over them. In George Town on the Exuma Sound side beaches they are rare. On these beaches, much less frequented and with direct fetch from Africa a much richer source is provided.
Almost immediately Ken found one just sitting out on the sand. We all got sticks to turn over the dried seaweed patches (the approved bean gathering protocol) and started finding them along the high tide line every 20 feet or so. Magic! I filled a bag with beans, some shells and some small brain coral for friends back home. Connie filled the top of her suit with beans too.
We met Bill from Suncast walking there. His information and stories from the Island to the South were exciting for us as we stage here to go south. As we went along the tide line, picking up beans just sitting on the sand, I had the fleeting thought that the Duncan Town chamber of commerce placed these each night for us to find in the morning. Bill said that we must not have been on the long dinghy ride to town yet.....not so much infrastructure I guess.
Last night, with the sun setting in the west and the planets and stars already showing, we went by dinghy to the beach with drinks in hand (Ken with rum and Connie and I with Margaritas.....yep we ran the inverter to use the blender...yay!). No appetizers here, just a great guy, John, from Free Bird, with his guitar and his wife Joanne who tended the bonfire. Almost everyone else was there (Passages, Suncast, Free Bird, Trumpeter, and OZ), drinks and boat cards in hand. The conversation stopped suddenly as the sun hit the horizon and I saw my first ever green flash. Even Barb and Bill from Suncast had only seen four. The stars were everywhere, denser than I've ever seen, peeking through the roof poles. As we sang familiar songs from the days of folk and early rock and the Beatles, and told jokes, shooting stars came and went. The moon was absent, but the planets were so bright that they made a path of light along the water! As I have said before, Walt Disney couldn't have made this scene any more perfect. I woke up this morning still calmed and centered by last evening on the beach.
Big winds and white caps even on this side of the island this morning along with more rainbows and intermittent rains. Feels like a boat day, reading and relaxing. Well, Ken and I got itchy feet so after timing the squalls, we left to take a memory stick and one of my autographed books to Bill and Barb. He has approximately 8 gigs of kindle books burning a hole in their computer and are willing to share. I'd be a fool to turn this barter system down?
We took the burnable trash into the beach to get rid of it. After playing pyromaniacs for half an hour, Ken and I walked the long path to the sea side of the island and turned left on a seldom used path to another beach, a path less traveled and a beach less picked over. We had to scramble backwards down a rock cliff to get to the beach, covered with an unbelievable amount of plastic nets, shoes, floats, combs and brushes, plastic bottles, all the plastic parts of a boat you can imagine, and........hundreds of sea beans, mostly heart beans, right out in the open to pick up. Ken pointed out a hamburger bean for me, much more rare....looks like a Big Mac without the lettuce but with the sesame seeds on the bun! We worked hard in 25 knot winds with the sand abrading our skin and making it hard to talk. But we are professional beach combers, so took the conditions in stride. We soon grew tired of bending and picking up sea beans and quit for the day, leaving many for the new arrivals to get. We returned tired at the beach, three hours later, to load the dinghy and return heroic to OZ and Connie, who hopefully will have rested and appreciate our bounty! She did.
Thursday, two weeks here but it feels like one. The winds continue to blow, the sun is out and the waters are green/ blue. Beautiful but not as amazingly turquoise as up in the Exumas. We all read our books this morning, following Chris Parker on the single side band radio for the weather and the cruisers net where everyone underway checks in with their location and their destinations. Connie uses it to find their friends and make contact over the radio. A breakfast of Scotch Eggs done by Connie were amazing. We kept reading until about one when we took the dinghy over two bays to the north to check for shells, and to see if there are any Helmut Conch to be seen. This might be too much information but these conch are really huge snails who eat sand dollars. They crawl up over them, secrete a green goop that dissolves them and then sucks it up.....ugh!!!
We walked the one beach, our foot prints the first ones today and when tired of that, followed the path through the underbrush to see where it went. It was marked like the other two we took over the "hill" to the sea beaches. This one was rocky to start, but with the walking sticks we picked up at the entry point, we managed okay. There was no hill to go up and down, but we went a mile for every quarter of a mile progress to the beach. The trails are all marked with plastic debris from the beaches, flip flops, buckets, floats, pieces of netting among other things like conch shells. The beach when we arrived was even more polluted with plastic debris than the others. We hoped for the mother load of sea beans. It was a disappointment overall, but I got several more heart beans and one more elusive hamburger bean. After the long walk back, we found several baby conch shells that were empty and some sand dollars (no green slime damage). We came home sand blasted and tired but very happy.
After cleaning up we had Bill and Barb over for drinks and got a lot of information and good stories about the Island to the South of us. A lot of mutual cruising friends were talked about and caught up with, like all cruisers do. This was another wonderful day in Paradise. I am tired, sun blasted and with new treasures in my take home bag.....perfection. A bit of music from my iPad finished us off, Leonard Cohan for our memories and a bit of Johnny Reed for a sample of a great Scottish Canadian country singer.
Morning brought another early shower, but it cleared as we listened to the weather reports. It looks good to head south about 4 am Monday morning with winds going light and variable and clocking around through the north and west. The trip should be about 12 hours in duration and we seem to be the only boat heading south, as the rest of the boats will clear out in the morning tomorrow. It is easy to be swayed by the behavior of the boats around you, as they all are seasoned sailors (they all got to the deserted and rugged bottom of the Bahamas after all). They all told us such great stories and experiences about the Island to the South that we are eager to get started South, not North with the others.
Looking back on today, we accomplished a lot, but we started slowly by reading long hours after Chef Ken's gourmet pineapple/ coconut pancakes. We finally got in our beach combing attire and set off for Duncan Town, a long dinghy ride around the point and across a cut between the islands where the sea pounds through in whitecaps.
We got that far and decided that the three of us didn't want to get that wet. As Ken made the quick turn between waves, we all got soaked from the waist down and felt lucky that half wet was all we got. We stopped at the only beach we hadn't explored and came up empty as far as shells or beans so we donned our sandals and followed yet another path through the trees and brush. This led us to another interior beach, not and ocean one, but one where we saw coconut palms, prickly pear cactus and little bananaquit birds. We found a couple of beans, a couple of small brilliantly colored conch shells (unoccupied) and a defiant crab, trapped by us away from its hole in the beach.
Back on the boat we sprayed down with fresh water to wash off the salt and Ken fixed us a couple of spicy Bloody Mary tall drinks and we called it lunch.......Connie also called it a nap! We read our books until we heard the motor of a non-cruising motor boat. Soon, our excitement was at a high pitch as the Monkey Man was in the anchorage.
We watched him going from boat to boat, hoping he wouldn't run out of lobster before he came to us. He was waving and shouting to us as he came alongside OZ, his metal lobster traps stacked helter-skelter. He was talking fast and climbing over his boat like a .......monkey. Ken started negotiations for the four live lobsters left, They are different from Maine lobsters with long antennas and no claws. There we're two large and two small lobsters crawling around under the traps and among the flopping fish. he said $25 for all four. One of them was a three pound tail at least. There was a handshake and Evan (alias Monkey Man) said he would kill them and we would take the tails and he would keep the heads for his supper (two of them were female with eggs so he was extolling the delicacy he was going to enjoy.....we were glad to pass on them as the heads were still moving spastically without their tails on.
The cleaning was done with much chatter from him about the price of gas in the US (he said $5 a gallon) and of gas in Nassau ($6). He said he was off to Nassau, a ten hour run in his open skiff, tomorrow and it would take 40 gallons. We couldn't imagine what was in Nassau that would make that trip worth while, but we are in a very sturdy and comfortable 44 foot boat and we are none of us in our 30s any longer, like the Man. Dinner was already made so tomorrow, our last night in Hog Cay, is lobster-fest! We watched a couple episodes of NCIS, a favorite series of Ken's and now all of us. Off to bed at cruisers midnight, about 9:30.
Another early morning listen to Chris Parker and the weather to finalize our departure from this now three boat anchorage. The winds are moderating and the seas have another day to settle down. We have some last minute chores to do, like burning the papers, getting the diesel in the big tank polished to remove any yuck in the tank and then adding the fuel from the deck, and making our floating home back into a sailing vessel.
We might make one more trip across to one of the sea beaches ONLY FOR HAMBURGER BEANS, as we are full of heart and purse beans, small conch shells and sand dollars. We have been collecting dirty clothes since my arrival, and Connie from longer than that due to all their company. Rather than feeling pressured to use water to do wash as we create it, we know that at the marina in the Island to the South there is a woman who washes, dries and folds clothes for a couple of CUCs (a tourist peso = $1 American). Good for her and great for us! Suncast, Bill and Barb, who left heading North this morning had a great experience with her and her extended family, who we are eager to meet and give some gifts after our arrival sometime on Monday.
Sunday dawned sunny and bright. We went slow, making some coleslaw and planning the rest of the meals for the day, and for the travel day tomorrow. Connie filled out the forms for the Gardia in the Island to the South. I hope our entry is easy and without problem. After lunch we decided to go to the beach to burn some trash and take one more trip to the the sea beach for Pat on Ten Years After for sea beans for Island Girl who needed sea beans for the kids to do projects with.
We went in and Connie and I played two hot games of Sand Bocce while Ken burned the trash. We then tracked the goat path to the sea beach, looking for sea beans and returned with only pieces of brain coral and a couple more heart beans for the collections. Out to the boat and cocktails as the sun set, no green flash. We are 2 for 2 on green flashes for the time at Hog Cay, so not so bad so far. Connie made Pene with Vodka Sauce with bacon pieces for dinner. We groaned and felt sufficiently serensified with this repast. A little more Leonard Cohan and KD Lang did us in prior to our departure from Hog Cay in the morning. There was some muffled thunder from the North of our anchorage, but we chose not to acknowledge it.
Four AM came quickly, but we rallied around the flag and got underway by 4:20 or so. It was dark as a moonless night could be, and the exit from the anchorage (just the French boat and us) was a little daunting, but doable. We soldiered on until the sun came up, and at that point came off the Bahamas Banks and entered the ocean, over 4000 meters deeps and filled with rollers about 6 feet high and waves about 4 feet, making for a rollicking ride, the wind on our starboard quarter and the speed over ground about 7.8 knots per hour. We were heeled over at about 40 degrees, but making good time in daylight just as we exited the shallow Bahamas Banks, 7.8 Knots per hour.
The day progressed with the rotation of Ken, Connie, and I at the wheel, monitoring our progress along our route and minimizing our cross-track error to 0 to keep course. We all got time to sleep and time at the wheel. Banana bread from the strangely green and short bananas we bought at a stand in George Town, that took two weeks to ripen, was our breakfast. At ten we had apples, cheese and nuts for energy and at about 2:00 we had wraps of a salmon salad and the end of the lettuce that were awesome.
The closer we got to the Island to the South, the more excited we got. We could see the cloud bank over the island and as we got closer, we saw the mountains and the islands sticking out from the shore (all under a mist). We were heeled over at about 40 degrees (think about your living room canted about 45 degrees and doing your everyday normal things and that was our next 10 hours or so). Connie and I thought that the worst thing was using the head and then with the boat rolling and pitching, letting go of anything solid and trying to pull up your underpants and your shorts.....enough said.
We got within about 15 miles of the Island to the South and and with the AIS portion of the radar, we found many boats transiting the shipping channel near the Island. With the help of the AIS, we knew the length of the boat, the name, and the destination of the vessel. We managed to thread our way through about six of them and make our mark close to the shore. We all saw the light house for Puerto de Vita and at the same time. one of the catamarans run out of the marina to take tourists from the big hotels out along the coast to swim with the dolphins for the day was entering the harbor entrance in front of us. We followed this cat to the point where the coast guard or the Gardia called us on the VHF radio asking if we were sick, were we on a private vessel, and did we have Visas or just Passports?
We entered the long river and followed the markers (as our friends on Suncast and Talissa wrote down for us) to the point where we anchored. After a long interaction with the Garda on the VHF, we learned that the DOCTOR would come out to the anchored boat to inspect us for sickness. Tomorrow, we would come into the dock and the drug sniffing Cocker Spaniel and the rest of the officials would do the paper work.
We had a nice time with the doctor, learning that there are nurse practitioners in The Island to the South now and that the first graduate of medicine (a fellow from Bolivia) had just completed his studies here rather than abroad, the first in a long line of medical graduates. The doctor who came onto the boat filled out many forms and asked us few questions.......we're we sick.......did our refrigerator work well? He is a professor of family medicine at the university, does the tourist interviews and has no private practice of his own. He seemed happy to be doing this work but his clothes and particularly shoes show that his income is not equivalent or our own doctors, and particularly our professors of medicine at university.
SO, we wait here, anchored off the marina until tomorrow when we will be allowed to dock, stern first, and roam about the country like the other tourists. We have all had either two drinks, two bourbon drinks in my case, and two rum drinks in Ken's case. We are proud of our trip today, and look forward to more tomorrow. Connie has just produced a great dinner out of nothing, and wine is being poured. WE HAVE ARRIVED! I just hope that we can figure out how to dock the boat Mediterranean style stern first to the dock tomorrow morning and not make a mess of it. Ken and I take this to bed with us mulling it over until we fall asleep.
Morning came and Connie and I both woke up around three o'clock because it was so quiet and the boat wasn't moving at all. We are so used to the gentle and sometimes not so gentle rock of the boat at night, so when it is gone, something terrible must be happening. Ken was to call the marina about 8:30 to make plans to go into the dock for the officials to board our boat. We got no response for quite awhile because they were tied up boarding all the hotel tourists onto the 70 foot catamarans and loading other tourists into the two-man outboard motor boats. We pulled anchor and started into to the Marina Vita but were told to wait until the officials arrived. We went back out and were joined in the anchor area by the sailing vessel from South Africa who had been hard aground in the outer channel. They worked themselves loose by pushing with their dinghy while someone rode the boom extended over the starboard side to cantilever it off the sand bank. We had breakfast, cleaned the boat for the officials and put some cokes into the refrigerator for the company.
We read our books and were just dishing up leftovers for lunch when we were told to come into the dock now! Apparently the dock master was also the guy in the lead boat with all the tourists in their mini-motor boats following him around the river. We were part off the local color, with all the boats taking picture of the two sailing yachts. We practiced the Queen's wave to appear quite above the commoners in the rented boats. So when Alex was done with the tourists, we were up to bat.
In fear and trembling, we pulled anchor again and started into the marina. Ken was at the wheel, Connie on the bow and I was at the stern. We went slowly, but the winds had been building and we couldn't imagine how we were going to back into the dock. We managed......I am supposed to say, but it wasn't the prettiest docking any of us had ever participated in. If any of the staff had been there we would have been rock solid, but the only person to help us was on the catamaran from the British Virgin Islands, although he had quite a German accent, he spoke English well. He kept us from any damage or embarrassment. A security guard helped too, although he had no idea what to do with the line. Finally the marina fellow came in his motor launch to help us get the bow tied to two buoys. He took the lines from me, smiling up at me on the bow and asking where my husband was. I made the gesture that he was long gone. His reply was that he would help me find a new Island husband. Our banter was stopped when the Official on the dock waiting on the boat said for Romeo to sit down and get the yacht tied up. We'll leave the story there and the pictures will show it all. Then we were hosts to the officials.
A group of four men, two in uniform came onto the boat, crawling under the solar panel over the railing at the stern.....no complaints, They wanted to be in the salon so Connie and Ken opened up their table, offered Cokes, and we all sweltered together (it is way hotter in Int Island than in the Bahamas) following the dance needed to complete all the forms.
Connie used a lot of her newly learned Spanish and they all thought she was the cat's ass. It went so slowly, but when they passed around our passports the harbor master, who was nearest to me looked at my horrible picture, then at me, and then back to the picture. I said it was horrible and blocked it out with my hand. He laughed, then said I was very pretty and squeezed my arm. I stood back and let the officials continue the papers, Ken signing most of them as captain. The harbor master kept smiling at me as I stood trapped back by the door of the V-berth. I asked if I could take their picture, and they joked that it would be a horrible picture and no thank you. Then when the papers were done, the veterinarian and one of he others searched the kitchen cupboards and then refrigerator and freezer for contraband. They were particularly interested in the ziplock bag parsley from the fridge.They passed it back and forth, sniffing it and looking at it. While all this was going on the Harbormaster smiled and beckoned me over, asking about New York and how was our trip, all the time pinching my arm and then my derrière. I smiled and backed into my corner, waiting for all the official stuff to stop. Did I tell you that I found the place where all used carbon paper goes? It is to this Island. You could see through the carbon paper the officials used.
Finally, they were finished and then the two uniformed men came on the boat with a black cocker spaniel, the drug sniffing dog..........a cocker? It sniffed when told, wagging its tail the whole time. The dog was up on all the couches and throughout the boat, with nothing found. They left and one more rotund fellow in a tan uniform looked through a few of the cupboards and all the floor boards. After a long hour of sweating down below in the salon, packed with 8 people at one time, we were issued visas to place in our passports. Done! We waved to them all and decided we needed something to drink for a job well done!
We figured out how to get on and off the boat, crawling under the solar panel, set the lines so that we wouldn't hang up on the dock at low tide, and went up the dozens of cement stairs to see Janet who runs the marina office. She was bubbly and nice, dressed in black pants and a black and white shirt as were all of the employes. We entered her office that was very air conditioned and cold after being on the boat with all the officials. A few minutes later, a lady came in with three drinks on a tray and a bottle of rum in her other hand. She served us as Janet started to get our marina contract started. She is the knows everything, can get it for you person here, with very good English, even slang words liberally scattered throughout her talk. Her carbon paper was at least a little bit blue, used in her dot matrix printer
Ken and I drifted over to the trade a book spot, checking for more Lee Child novels, but soon sat back down as we talked of tours and other things we could do. She will get us a cab tomorrow so we can go to the next town and change our Canadian money for CUCs, tourist pesos worth $1 American. We hope to get to the hotel there to get money changed, set up the three day tour for the weekend and maybe go to the market.....all a 10 CUC cab drive away.
We left her and walked down the equivalent of a 5 story building's worth of stairs to the boat and stored the bottle of rum we got from her store and the dozen eggs we purchased from her desk (15 cents each). Then, equipped with a business card with a map on the back, we went in search of the laundry lady. We walked a bit along the highway, by the small houses with yards wild with cactus and fruit trees and.......chickens, hundreds of them.
As soon as we left the guard gate at the marina, we were smelling wonder food smells, and saw carts pulled by mules and small horses, passed narrowly by big old trucks rumbling down the road to the commercial port landing. Most people we passed said hola and so did we. After a while, we found the little winding street down toward the water where Juneysi (Jun-ay-see) lives with her son, her father and mother and her extended family all around her. Her business cards with a map on the back so people can find her were done by one of the cruisers.
When we mentioned Bill and Barb's names we were hugged, kissed on each cheek, and brought into the home, seated in chairs and shown wonderful hospitality. The home was clean, had louver windows, old carved chairs with cloth and lace covers, pictures on the walls and two bedrooms each with a bed, an armoire and pictures on the walls off of the main room. We could see through to the kitchen and out the back door, where water and small brightly painted wooden fishing boats moved with the tides.
I was taken by her sister in law a few houses down to see her home, just a bed in one room, open to the air, with a one burner cooking plate out on the open porch, not nearly as well kept, but lots of laundry hanging on the lines. She tried to get me to use her for our laundry as she needed the money more, asked if I had any used clothes to give or particularly shoes.....same size as me. Feeling a bit used by her, I returned to the other house where Connie was being shown the small washing machine and the rest of the house and family pictures.
We were given sea shells, just the ladies, not Ken. Lots of hugging and double cheek kissing later, we were free to go back to the boat.....to bring our bulky laundry back in the morning. It will be clean and folded for us later tomorrow, one day service.
We started going through the gifts in the Cuba box to bring to the extended family tomorrow. Ken has some tools, nails, and tennis balls and Connie has clothes, toiletries and much more for them. Ken also went through his fishing box for stuff for her father. While having a drink on the boat, Ken asked the young guard on the dock if he had children. He did, so some tennis balls and a hat went out of the boat for the kids. The people are all so grateful, so nice. Connie made a wonderful pizza with the ends of the refrigerator and cupboards. Tomorrow we might eat at the marina open air restaurant. What a busy first day in the Island to the South!
This morning, Wednesday, is bright but with big fluffy cumulus clouds. After coffee and weather, we make a list of what we hope for the day: take the laundry to the town, fix the windlass (the deck button was stepped on during the fire- drill docking yesterday and the chain is so-o-o tight, fix the bolt through the boom that loosened on the crossing, drop the zinc into the water to prevent stray electric currents in the water from attacking the through hull fixtures, and take a cab to nearby resort (10 kilometers away) to exchange our money, book our tour and use their Internet briefly. We did it all before noon!
The cab ride was nice, a relatively new Pugeot with Celine Dion playing on the radio (very popular in the Island). Much of the grasslands are yellow with lack of water, but there were many fields plowed. Lots of people were walking along the highway, occasionally getting on a local bus that's stops whenever hailed. There were donkey carts, a very few bicycles, and lots of cars from the 50s running along. We drove quickly, the driver carrying on a rapid conversation. We entered a resort area, where there was some green grass and some brightly colored donkey carts were parked, the donkeys grazing until they are called into service.
We entered to find that Janet from the Marina Vita had called the tour contact, Mary, who hailed us as we walked by to the small bank booth where a line of hotel tourists were waiting. Our cab driver, Gilbert, will wait one hour for us to change our money and pay him. We made arrangements for him to take us to Gardalavaca tomorrow morning. We discovered that Island time had yet to change for daylight savings time. We have been an hour ahead of everyone right along.
The hotel is an all inclusive one, with lots of side trips available for more money. The catamaran trips to swim with the dolphins and the little motor boats or fishing tours out of the Marina are some of the most popular. Our problem was that the luncheon smelled wonderful but we couldn't eat there (outsiders.....boat people).
We got 30 minutes of Internet on their computers only for 3 CUCs, slow but it worked well enough. We booked a three day tour; Holguin to start with a cigar factory tour, then to the airport to fly to Baracoa on the western coast. After a night and morning there we take a bus to Santiago, where the Pope has been this week. Hopefully he will be back home when we get there, as the town was at a complete standstill, the roads as well as the harbor shut down. This will all be for the amount you usually spend on one night at a hotel.
We got a cab back to the Marina and paid our entry fees into the country at the office. We ate a good lunch at the restaurant then got back on the boat. We changed our clothes for bathing suits and washed the boat down. Everything was salt crystals, the canvas, the life lines, the mast, the sides of the boat. It was a giving back to the boat for carrying us safely wherever we point her bow. Connie said this was the boat's first fresh water shower since December! We spoke with cruisers from South Africa, England, Holland and even saw the good doctor again.
Tonight, Connie is producing a gourmet delight.....lobster pizza. It doesn't get any better than this. If you ever cruise, do it with her, on OZ, the food and the ambiance is unmatched! (Oh, lobster marinated in a lemon vinaigrette, olive oil, capers, onions, Old Bay and a home made crust, unbelievable).
This morning we met our cab about 10:00 and took off for Gardalavaca, fascinated by the scenery as we went. He called the two wheeled donkey carts, sometimes pulled by oxen, sometimes quite small horses, local Taxis. Along the berm, horses were staked out eating. There is not much rain in this part of the Island, so everything is quite burned off in the pastures (rainy season in June through August only). There were more trucks on the roads today, everyone going fast around the donkey carts. We came into town where there was a bank, another large hotel, and a very large craft market, open tents and stands adjacent to a beach.
Our plan was to walk the market area, maybe eat at one of the bars at the beach, and pick up our supply of rum to take home (and for the captain's daily rations). It all worked out well, got lots of pictures of people and cars and had shrimp on the beach with live music, complete with dancers. We met Gilbert and he showed us to the liquor store, but he thought a bar in his home town might have a better price. We left and enjoyed his travelogue as we drove through the streets of his town and by a very large sugar cane plant that closed 10 years ago. We met his wife briefly and saw the schools, the parks and the two open bars, under tents. They had the right rum, but in small bottles only. It wouldn't work so our rum provisioning will be on Monday when we return from the tour.
On our return, we rested a bit then carried the empty diesel cans up to the office where Janet will have them filled for us when we return, $1.25 per liter (20 liters in 5 gallons). We were quite hot all day, burning sun without much wind even by the water so had a cold beer called Mayabe at the bar. Connie and I walked back into the small dusty town to get the rest of the laundry before dinner. The family must have known we were there, as they all were at the house waiting for us. This is the first time Connie and I walked through town without Ken. We were stopped by a guard before we even got to the guard gate, checking to make sure we were on a boat and what were we going to do. Lots of guarding to keep the Island people out of the Marina and lots of checks to make sure the tourists are safe.
After much kissing and hugging, all of the family one at a time, we got the laundry packed up and it took another half hour to work our way out of the house. This family is quite nicely off compared with their very close neighbors. Their house is neat, the cement floor polished, everything well ventilated, separate bedrooms for everyone, furniture, and as I mentioned before, a small washing machine and an electric iron. (she irons everything as she folds and also mends any rips or tears). So, she has elevated her whole family by her contact with the tourists.
We treated ourselves with showers, fresh clean sheets, and lobster and salmon cakes for dinner. We are so ready for the tour. We had a Norwegian family who came in from Luperon early this morning stop by tonight. They want to go from here up through Florida and the east coast of the US. Then they need to take the northern passage across the Atlantic, making it home by September to Norway....quite a schedule. We talked to them about going up through the Bahamas and are lending them the Bahamas charts to photograph and use. They are such interesting people, their trip, starting in the Mediterranean last September, is amazing. One of them hopes that he will be in NYC for his 50th birthday, then back home to work by September. We watched some NCIS on DVD and headed off to bed.
Wow, where do I start. It is about 10 PM on Friday and I am in my room at the Hotel Porto Santo in Baracoa on the Island. Our tour started this morning with a cab picking us up at the marina about 7:45, taking us to the Barco Resort to catch our bus portion of the tour. There are only 14 of us with a nice, gentle-spoken guide. Our first trip was to Hoguin, the third largest city. The farmland we went through got greener and more completely planted than near Puerto da Vita. We saw every type and size of animals, chickens, goats, pigs, oxen, horses, donkeys alongside the road and within cactus fences. The closer to Hoguin we came, the more sugar cane we saw as well as fruit stands. The city itself seemed crowded and initially seemed quite run down, with the apartments built by the Soviets all almost 50 years old or more. Most everything is built of concrete or concrete blocks, with a few exceptions.
We first got out at a cigar factory, one of many in Hoguin. It was large, covered in Communist Victory slogans and pictures. We weren't allowed to bring anything but money, no purses or bags and definitely no cameras. It was fascinating and the smell of the tobacco was almost intoxicating.
The people we watched we're spare in their movements and produced a quality product....first the inner cigar with the binder, placed in plastic and wooden molds to firm them up, about 45 minutes. Then they are removed and the final wrapper is placed....looks seamless. The finished product is taken to the banding room where faulty ones are removed (and the roller docked pay if it is over a certain percentage of their product). The others are banded and sent for color sorting. There, the colors and size are matched for each box, or they are sometimes arranged in the box from left to right, dark to light. This is where the room smelled the best, not like someone smoking a cigar in a closed car, but just the rich smell of the tobacco.
All the shreds and discarded cigars are recycled into cigarettes at another factory. The workers may not smoke on the premiss for fear of fire. There was a radio on in the factory but not the guy reading the newspaper or a book to the workers like I expected. Ken and I bought some Romeo and Juliet's at the store, and some rum to stuff in our bags with the clothes, too good a price to walk away from.
In the central square of Hoguin, where we got out to walk for a bit, was every 1950's car ever made, most with cobbled engines from Russia or black market from South America. They are flashy, brightly painted and highly prized. Most people in Cuba don't own cars and must either walk or ride a bus or take a horse drawn taxi.
The average monthly income of an Island resident is approximately 400 pesos or roughly $17 US. They have ration books for basic foods and propane to cook with and I believe gasoline. The ones who have bought an old car usually hire out to the government for a Taxi license so they get gas ration cards. It has been a hard time for them since the Russians left when the USSR dissolved in 1995 . Since then the Venezuelans have traded with the Island for some or most of their daily needs. So recently a little bit of free enterprise by the Islands has been allowed. This has eased the hardships of most people at least a bit, while the tourist industry has offered jobs and access to tourist tips for some of the more lucky.
After walking in the square we boarded the large Chinese made air conditioned bus and rode out to the airport, a few miles from town. It seemed deserted, few cars and no planes visible out on the runway or near the terminal. We got our tickets to Baracoa, went upstairs to the X-ray machine, walked through the archway and reclaimed our carry on bags. After sitting for almost an hour watching an empty runway, a twin prop airplane came in and attendants, ground crew and many other whose job it was to watch over the others came out of the woodwork. We got into lines again to have our ticket checked, our carry on bags physically searched this time, and finally out and down on the runway. I had one scare during the time watching the plane being serviced, when the baggage cart came careening out onto the runway, depositing my bag onto the ground. Maybe this happens a lot at home, but this was bad as we had poked two bottles of good rum between my clothes and I pictured washing everything out, picking shards of glass out of the fibers all night to be able to continue. The rum survived.
The plane trip was bouncy, but the view was great. In between the towering cumulus clouds, we saw the land grow greener, the farms larger and more productive, the dirt go from dusty brown to deep brown, and finally, the green hills turn into mountains with large rivers and lakes. All too soon, we saw the sea breaking on the shore, and landed in Baracoa, the first capital of the Island and the place where Christopher Columbus landed. We later saw a 500 year old cross, made from cypress, he may have left here. The city was founded in 1511, after his landing in 1492 .
We rode through the town to a restaurant on the shore inside an old fortress. We were starving by that time so the chicken and rice was good, the white wine even better, and the salad of tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers wonderful. We have had no real vegetables or fruits for the past week or more, so are easily amazed and amused by the simplest things. Driving back into town, we saw another fort, walked through town to see the people and finally sat at a outdoor bar and had a real Mojito......enough mint to make a batch of mint jam in each little glass....and the rum was strong.
The whole table got happier and louder as time went on, and with that and the late hour, the tour guide decided we should go down the street to hear the traditional music and skip the castle we were to do before we check into the hotel back up the mountain. With a cheer, we moved down the street, took a chair out on the street under a tent and started moving with the music,
More mojitos were had, cigars were passed around and we had more fun people watching, especially the wrinkled old men leaning against the wall, eyes twinkling and moving slightly with the music. The first song was one from the Buena Vista Social Club CD I have in my car.....it's like I came home again. It just got better, the music getting louder and more dancers getting up, several couples made up of older women and very handsome and attentive young Island men caused some speculation.. We bought a CD by the group, signed by them all. The bus driver drove up the hill, while we all had the rhythms of the music in our heads.
We checked in, got our rooms and went over for dinner about 8:30. We were joined by the others, three couples from Holland, two German speaking couples and two girls traveling together from Holland. Everyone's English was good, but our Dutch is taking a while to master. A dinner was served with very flat, tough steak and more rice, but with a killer salad of beets, tomatoes and cucumbers completing our long first day. During dinner we cemented our friendship with many of the others. Off to sleep and start again tomorrow: here through lunch then a 6-7 hour drive to Santiago.
Saturday morning and we are off on a mission to avoid the unwanted attention of the fellow who brought our bags to the rooms last night. Ken and Connie tipped him for themselves and for me, although my room was far, far from theirs. He made change for a $5 CUC and then took it all, not what Connie had in mind. At 0700 when I came to their room, he was outside waiting for us to go back up to the hotel with our bags. We went out the patio door and made a clean escape!
After a nice breakfast, with good coffee but totally uncooked bacon, We got back on the bus, not sure where we were going, but a farm up the mountain from the hotel turned out to be interesting. The Island government owns and runs these attractions for the tourist industry, and this one was great. All the fruit trees like guava and papaya, pineapple, banana, coconut and others were there, along the path. Royal palms were there, used for lots of purposes, the small pea sized nuts on the bark and the inner skin of the bark for pharmaceuticals ands cosmetics. Coconut palms were alongside the Royals.
Cocoa trees were there, three different colors of pods, red, yellow and a red and yellow blend. When cut into and peeled back, they all reveal white sticky large beans that we tried, despite their mucous-like coating. It tasted like citrus fruit, not chocolate. We went over to where they ferment in stages and then dry in the sun. They then press out the oil, and roll the remainder into a ball. This is grated and made into candy bars, chocolate baking squares and into a wonderful hot chocolate coconut drink served in expresso cups. It was so hard not to take seconds when they were offered. Baracoa is the center of chocolate making, so we bought bars of dark chocolate to bring home (if they even get home). A note about the dog, a large brown lean friendly dog who followed the machete carrying gentleman who made lewd jokes about the size and shape of the fruits he revealed after cutting them open. The dog's name was Gaspacho, a good name.
The bus pulled out of the farm and we kept meandering around looking for the biggest river in The Eastern Island the Rio Toa. We entered another government site where we got to take wooden row boat rides on the river and then have lunch. The dock was rickety, but the river was very large and very deep. The young guy who rowed us was affable, not particularly good with English, but in the end, we saw some egrets and three little green heron who were hunting, The rest if the time, although it was nice, I felt trapped. I just got off a boat to go on a tour, not to get into a boat. When we were done, we bought rum drinks in cups made from fresh grapefruit skins, very refreshing.
After standing around listening to Louis, the guide, we were introduced to a young man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. His job; climb the high coconut palm tree and drop a coconut down to us. We followed him out, got out from under the tree, set our cameras and after a lengthy stretching session, he jumped up about 5 feet and then hauled himself up his body length, feet (with all toes working) on either side of the trunk and his large hands pulling him up. It looked like terribly hard work, the sun beating down on him and no leaning angle on the trunk. He pulled off a coconut, dropped it then just dragged his chest and belly along the trunk as he walked his feet down the side, a really good feat (feet!).
We were seated at a long table and served a vegetable soup in half a section of bamboo, about a foot long for bowls. They worked well, Then the chef brought the suckling pig in off the spit and hacked it to serving sized pieces. I can't say he carved it, not with the machete he used, A plate of fruit, coconut fresh out of the shell, plantains, and a salad were served. Nice time.
Louis ran us back down into Baracoa, to catch the Castle we missed yesterday when we stayed for the music and kept staying long after we were due there. The bus pulled into a narrow street, a huge hill at the end, a million concrete steps up, and, yes, we were to go up the steps and the bus would meet us later. The castle is now a hotel, but the view out over Baracoa and clear across to the large table mountain, El Younque, shrouded in a mist was outstanding. It looked just like pictures of the table mountain off the southern tip of South Africa.
When all the camera angles were used, we walked down a winding small car road to the town level, across a freshly dug ditch, over piles of rubble, and finally down a side street to the bus. All of us thought it might have been okay to skip the stairs, but felt pretty proud just making it up the stairs at all.
As it turned out, the long twisting "new" road toward Guantanamo, the twisting 40 kilometer road up the mountains and down had about 50 or more hairpin turns. The scenery was beautiful but the ride was bone-jarring, un-sleepable and much too long. We stopped a couple of times to get out to use the restroom or get something to drink.
After some interesting scenery and about 7 hours on the bus, we got to Santiago and to the Revolution Square where the Pope just held and open air mass last week, just below the huge Statue of the Revolution, representing General Maceo on horseback, surrounded by large machete blades at all different angles, one standing tall and straight representing the Cuban people resisting Spain. The rest of the large square is empty and vast, reminding me of Tieneman Square in Beijing China. Although we could barely walk from the jarring trip, with the light behind it and the rider and horse as well as the machete blades showing in silhouette, it was moving.
A high rise, beautiful hotel was our final stop, so we went into the lounge for our complimentary drink while we were checked in by Louis. It is supposedly a five star hotel owned by a Spanish company and it looks like it. We were bedraggled, but nothing that a hot shower couldn't fix. This morning in Baracoa, the shower had plenty of water, all of it cold. I wanted a shower badly enough to tough it out, but a real shower will be perfect, and it was. The dining room was a massive buffet of anything you could think of, sea food,Pialla, a bread table to drool over, appetizers, a chef for seafood, a chef for meats, rabbit and mutton as well as fish dishes o