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Old 02-13-2008, 02:47 AM   #1
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CUBA by land

A crusing Canadian rag bagger buddy sent this.

<pre>Hi Everyone

We got tired of pushing east into the prevailing easterly winds so we left Paraquina at
the dock in Cayo Largo and flew to the Cuban mainland. We arrived in Havana in the
afternoon of Feb 5 and found a rental car. Not so easy in Cuba. We didn't want to spend
the night in the city so we headed out hoping to find something out in the country. Our
first challenge was to find our way out to the large national highway which runs the
length of the country. After several wrong turns we asked a man, who just happened to be
going to visit his brother near the highway, and he guided us thru residential areas. The
highway is about 4 lanes wide each way. There are no lane dividing lines. Cars, trucks
and busses weave around potholes and rough spots. The right hand lane sometimes had horse
drawn carts, bicycles, and people walking or hitchhiking. Once we left the city the
country was quite empty. There were no roadside motels that we have at home. It got
dark. We drove on and eventually turned off the main highway towards Cienfuegos. By now
it is really dark and raining and the road is narrow and winding. When large vehicles
approached I just pulled over and stopped. By 9:30PM we arrived in Cienfuegos and were
driving slowly down the main street when a man on a bike pulls along side and asks if we
would like a place to stay. He guides us to a Casa Particular.

Casa Particulars are a cottage industry in Cuba. Houses with up to 3 rooms to rent are
government licensed and regulated. Every one we stayed in was clean and air conditioned
and the hosts were friendly and helpful. For 20 to 30 CUC you can have a quiet stay,
enjoy meeting local people and sometimes buy gourmet meals.

We were surprised at the cleanliness and how well the buildings were maintained in
downtown Cienfuegos when compared to Havana. There is one street that was closed to
traffic for several blocks that was completely finished in terrazzo with designs in
several colors. Many old mansions have been turned into museums or galleries. In the old
exclusive area of Punta Gorda the Yacht Club and old mansions were huge and very ornate.
We spent the day just walking trying the restaurants and talking to people on the street.

The next morning we got an early 6:30AM start for the old city of Trinidad. We were
surprised to find the streets and roads busy with people, walking, biking, riding in horse
carts or just standing waiting for a ride. The cleaners were out making sure the streets
were tidy. In Cuba if you have a car you become a part of the transportation system. At
a rural intersection we were flagged by a man in yellow coveralls who indicated that we
had room for 2 people. He had a clip board on which he kept records of who had been
waiting longest. We took 2 men. One man rode all the way to Trinidad with us and was
very helpful with directions thru town and to a Casa Particular near the historic town
center. Here we had the entire top floor of the house with fridge stocked with beer, pop,
wine and water, table and chairs, front and rear balconies and outside entrance. We
walked 3 blocks to the historic town which wasn't a lot different than the rest of the
area except for the cobble streets. Trinidad was once the center of the sugar business
founded in the 1500's. The mansions and churches were impressive. All the streets are
narrow and cobbled with large stones and sloped to the center. Walking soon got tiring.
Even though the town is an historic site all of the residential houses are still occupied
while the mansions have been turned into museums, restaurants or galleries. After 3 hours
of walking we found a shady spot to have some beers and listen to music. Back at our room
after a shower and a rest we were served a huge gourmet meal which was brought up from the
first floor. Later we sat on the balcony overlooking the street and watched the local
scene. There was every means of transport chugging past. Horse drawn carts, old trucks
and cars, motorcycles and a 3 wheeled dump truck that brought a load of sand. After
dumping the load they parked with radio blaring and helped bucket the sand onto the roof
of a house using a rope and pulley. Meanwhile the kids are playing soccer and there is a
bible study going on a couple of houses away who were doing a fair job of singing louder
than the radio. Our rental car took up a third of the street but didn't receive a scratch
with all this going on around and under it.
After a huge breakfast of fruit eggs, juice and strong Cuban coffee we again got an
early start heading for Playa Largo in the Zapata National Park. Again we picked up 2 men
who I warned that we would be taking the slow road thru the mountains. They didn't mind
as they had been waiting several hours for a ride. This road, that travels to the highest
point in Cuba, is narrow, steep with hair pin turns and some very rough spots but the
scenery makes up for it. The hillsides were lush and the valleys misty with royal palms
showing thru. Our little VW rental car did well but spent most of the time in first or
second gear. Although traffic was light you still had to watch for the horse cart or old
truck that could be around any turn. Playa Largo is at the end of the notorious Bay of
Pigs which is formed by the huge, swampy Zapata Peninsula that sticks out like a shoe
(hence the name) into the Gulf of Batabano. The entire peninsula is a park. The tourism
here is diving and nature watching but the facilities are sparse. We found a guide for
bird watching at the park office who helped us find a place to stay right on the beach.
That night we were served crocodile (farmed), pork and various local vegetables that were
similar to potatoes and turnip. There was an embarrassing amount of food but we were glad
to find that after we left the family sat down and cleaned up the rest.

In the morning after an early breakfast we traveled about 15 KM with our guide into the
bush. We walked along the trails while he made bird calls and played them on his tape
recorder as well. We were lucky to see a tocoloral, the red, white, and blue national
bird of Cuba, a bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, a pigmy owl, a cuckoo and
several small colorful birds. Our guide said that the dry paths we were walking on would
be covered with a meter of water in the rainy season. We left the park about noon and
headed toward Mantanzas on the north side, Atlantic coast of Cuba. We drove thru miles of
citrus groves, sugar cane and other agriculture. The center of Cuba is very flat.
Mantanzas turned out to be a disappointment as it was quite industrial so we headed on
towards Havana along the coast. After several miles we saw a sign pointing towards the
ocean and a resort so we treated ourselves to a night in an all inclusive resort. It was
a change to talk to other Canadians and watch CNN in English. The American news is
depressing though.

The next day we drove to Havana in a torrential rain storm. We stopped in at the marina
and met with old friends. One took us to a town outside the city were we rented a one
room cottage built on a piece of corral stuck out into the water. With the storm waves
crashing all around it made for an interesting night. The TV only received 2 Cuban
channels and its easy to see why most people spend their evenings outside. One channel
had some really bad local singers and the other had committee reports.

Our last day in Havana we returned our car and found a nice old house nearby. In the
center of the city this house had palm trees out front and more growing in a center court
yard. It was 3 stories high and completely ceramic tiled on the floors. We had the top
suite with a sitting area, bedroom and bath with a balcony overlooking the court yard.
After dinner we made our hosts happy as they thoroughly beat us in dominoes. I never knew
there was so much skill and strategy in a simple game. Even though we had an early flight
we played till after 11PM.

We are now back on the boat and preparing to leave for Panama when the weather is right.


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Old 02-13-2008, 08:10 AM   #2
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RE: CUBA by land

FF:* Thanks for sharing this travelogue, it sure brought back memories as I spent a year and a half in Cuba (1960-62) and would love to go back. Cubans are a good looking bunch and I enjoyed them very much.


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Old 02-14-2008, 12:50 PM   #3
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RE: CUBA by land

Just wait until Obama get elected. He'll talk to Castro and we will be able to go.
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Old 02-17-2008, 06:42 PM   #4
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RE: CUBA by land

Actually I would love to cruise Cuba. I have heard they have some great dive sites.

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Old 02-28-2008, 04:20 AM   #5
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RE: CUBA by land

More from the source,

Hi Everyone

We are in Providencia Lat 13.22N Lon 081.22W, Providencia is a small Colombian island
about 130 miles east of Nicaragua and 250 miles north of Panama. It is 500 miles south of
Cayo Largo Cuba.

We left Cayo Largo Cuba on February 14 and sailed 135 miles south to Grand Cayman Island.
George Town in Grand Cayman is busy with up to nine cruise ships a day. There is lots of
tourist stuff and the high end jewelry shops. It was a treat to shop in a modern grocery
store with fully stocked shelves and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables after the sparse
stores in Cuba. There was lots of good snorkeling right from the boat in front of the
town. The whole area is a marine reserve and mooring balls are provided free so that
anchors do not harm the coral. There were lots of fish but we found the coral to be drab
color. We tried scuba diving and rented scooters to tour the island. Driving a scooter
on the busy narrow streets with the traffic on the wrong side of the road was a stressful
experience. We spent a week in Grand Cayman.

We left on February 23 for the 345 mile trip to Providencia. It took us almost 4 days as
the wind was light, our bottom is weedy and we couldn't run the engine much because of an
exhaust leak. We had been to Providencia in 2004 on our way north to Florida and the
agent here still remembered us - Paraquina is a unique name. This island was the last
strong hold for the pirate Capt. Morgan. Although his men dug a waterway to separate a
small portion of the island which they could fortify, he was captured here by the Spanish.
The island is almost completely surrounded by reefs with a marked entrance to a very
secure anchorage. There is very little tourism as there is no airport. Most of the
people travel by motor scooter. It is interesting to watch guys in bare feet, ladies in
high heels and mothers with 3 kids all skillfully biking around. The official language is
Spanish but most everyone speaks English as well a some local language that is neither
Spanish or English. We are told that a sister island San Andres 45 miles south is much
more touristy. We expect to spend a week here. Repairing the exhaust will take up a
couple of days and then there is hiking and snorkeling before we move south to Bocas del
Torro Panama and then on to Colon.

We intend to lift Paraquina in Colon and give her a major overhaul. Scraping and painting
the bottom, replacing all the thru hull fittings and hoses and rebuilding the engine. We
will leave Paraquina on land in the yard there for the summer. We are hoping to make
Panama a base and do short trips from there both by land and water.

Thats the news.
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Old 02-28-2008, 12:56 PM   #6
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RE: CUBA by land


Again....great read, very informative, not too long, etc. Keep it up, it's almost like being there!

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Old 03-16-2008, 11:29 AM   #7
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RE: CUBA by land

Moving again,
We are in Colon, Panama, at the Shelter Bay Marina.

We left Providencia on March 4 for an overnight sail 60 miles to San Andres Island. San Andres is also a Colombian Island but it is far different than Providencia. It has an international airport and seems like a Spanish version of Grand Cayman with large hotels and lots of tourists. We only stayed a couple of days before heading on to Bocas del Torro, Panama.

It took us one day and 2 nights to do the 195 miles to Bocas, getting there in the dark and making a cautious entrance. We wanted to visit Bocas to see some people who we had met several years before.

One was Enrique, an Ngobe Indian, who had a small acreage that he didnt have proper title to. We had helped him do a rough survey using a GPS and plotting his land on a chart and printing it out for him when we were there previously. Enrique was concerned that because of land development someone would question his right to the property. We anchored in a small deep lagoon almost completely surrounded with mangroves and took our dingy up the river to his dock. When we were there before the dock consisted of 2 planks on a stump and his boat was a leaky aluminum runabout. As we approached we noticed a new dock with 2 large fiberglass tourist type pangas tied up and we were sure that Enrique had been moved off. At the new larger house there were several children on the porch and the number soon swelled to over 10, two women also appeared. Enrique no aqui, was the answer we got when we asked. Just as we were about to leave an older woman, Enriques wife, appeared and told us that he was at the resort and would return about 6PM. It turned out that the kids and one boat belonged to his son. Later that evening Enrique and his wife came to our boat and we had a good visit. He speaks good English. The Government sent a survey team and recorded all the properties on the island. He has got a job driving the tourist boat for a local resort. Life is good for him. He wanted us to stay a few days so we could go fishing and he also would like to travel with us to Colon as he has never left the area he was born in. Unfortunately neither was an option.

The other people we wanted to visit were some teachers at the remote Indian village of Shark Hole. We anchored at the entrance to a shallow bay and were preparing to visit when we noticed two children, a girl and a boy in a dug out canoe watching us from the mangroves. We motioned them to come over and gave them some chocolates and Esther gave a comb set to the girl and a hat to the boy. Big mistake! They set off home beaming and before we could get ready to go we noticed another canoe heading our way. By this time we were in the dingy and heading into the village so we figured they would just go home. Esther had a bag with lots of school supplies and childrens clothing to take in. At the village we were surprised to find the same 3 young women still there as teachers. There was an additional English teacher also. All living in little rooms about 10 ft by 12 ft. Because of the English teacher we were able to communicate much better than we had on our previous visit. We found out that the teachers only got 2 holidays a year of 2 months at Christmas and a few weeks in the summer. They were all married and had children at home. They were not provided with any transportation away from the village other than those holidays and there was no mail delivery to the village. There was a central pay telephone. The teachers had to fend for themselves as far a food was concerned bringing staples with them and living off the land as the Indians did. It seems there is an abundant supply of teachers in Panama and they were forced to live here or be unemployed. They were not impressed with the life style of the natives but were forced to keep their opinions to themselves. We had them back to the boat for drinks and goodies and promised to visit again sometime with more school supplies. When we returned from the boat after taking the teachers home it was now about 6 PM and we noticed that the 2 kids in the canoe that we had ignored hours before were still waiting expectantly by the mangroves. We took pity on their patients and gave them a couple of chocolates and a couple more hats. Another big mistake! We found out that they had 10 siblings! Within a few minutes the mother and all 10 kids in 5 dugouts were hanging on the side of the boat all grinning with their hands out. We had emptied our supplies on the teachers and I told them I had nothing more to give but they still hung on. Finally I had to tell the mother forcefully to go home, which she did sadly.

The next morning we worked our way thru the islands and out into the open water for our trip to Colon. We arrived at the marina at noon the next day. Shelter Bay is a new marina where we intend to keep Paraquina for the summer. We will be busy for a month or so working on the boat. One of our cruising friends is working here and he, his wife and 2 daughters live on a 30 foot cat. The girls have been given charge of an orphaned two toed sloth and a baby toucan. The sloth is adorable, about 3 months old. They have ropes strung across their boat so that he can wander around in his normal up side down position. The toucan is gorgeous but he bites everyone but the mother who spends most of the time feeding him and cleaning the cage.

Thats our newsy letter

Neil & Esther

Paraquina, Colon, Panama
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Old 04-05-2008, 01:18 PM   #8
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RE: CUBA by land

We spent a month in Cuba on our 34' fast trawler with the kids in 2001.
Terrific boating, people, sightseeing.

Unfortunately the US govt has closed all means of doing this trip inthe present days.

Look forward to things opening up and then having a whole new cruising area to enjoy.

I have dibs on the Towboat US franchise
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Old 04-05-2008, 01:33 PM   #9
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RE: CUBA by land

FF: Please continue to post this tirp log as it is very informative and entertaining.
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Old 05-06-2008, 02:51 AM   #10
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RE: CUBA by land

Hi everyone

We are at Shelter Bay Marina which is on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal across the harbor from Colon. We have been here since March 13 and have been out of the water on the hard since March 19. Living on a boat in the yard is no fun. Everything is 10 ft down the ladder, it is hot, waste water must be carried away in a bucket to the toilets. Did I mention it is hot! Our refrigerator on the boat is water cooled so it wont work so we bought a small electric fridge the top of which is now our table. After a couple of weeks of heat I broke down and bought a small air conditioner and now it is comfortable inside the boat.

We have removed the engine for rebuilding, and changed all the thru hull fittings on the bottom of the boat. While the engine is out I had a chance to rearrange plumbing and wiring in the engine compartment. Getting parts and supplies here is difficult. There is nothing in Colon but there is a marine store in Panama City 3 hours away by bus. Engine parts and most supplies are brought in from the USA. It takes 2 weeks by boat for parts to get here from Florida. Smaller items can be Fedexed here for more $$$. Of course there is always the item which is forgotten or backordered that causes a holdup. Besides the engine and plumbing we had blisters on the hull at the waterline. We had the hull rebuilt when we bought the boat but since then we have added a lot of weight causing the boat to sink deeper and new blisters have formed above the old repair. I have removed 2 layers of fiberglass about 8 inches along each side of the boat that will have to be replaced once the new supplies arrive. We are hoping to have the engine back ready for install in a few days. Esther & I can lift the engine in place using lines and winches and I will do all the connecting. Hopefully everything will go back OK.

Shelter Bay is on the grounds of old Fort Sherman, the oldest US fort in Panama. The surrounding area now is a large national park. Because the military occupied this area for so long the jungle surrounding it, which is now a park, hasnt had much contact with humans. There is a 9 KM road that runs thru the park to the Chargres River and Fort Lorenzo which dates to the 1500s. Ft Lorenzo was built to protect the river and the gold transported on it from pirates. However, it was destroyed twice, once by Morgan and again by Vernon. We have biked to the fort and often walk 2 KM up the road in the mornings. The jungle canopy hangs over the road and it is cool. Several types of monkey feed in the trees overhead and there are lots of birds including parrots. Huge blue butterflies flop along. Standing quietly on the road the calls of the birds and the growl of the howler monkeys, which sound like lions, are impressive. The marina has nice showers and a restaurant with internet connections. A free bus runs to colon on weekday mornings. Most of the boaters here are either waiting to transit the canal or are preparing to leave there boat for the summer so there is a constant change of faces.

We have booked our flight to Vancouver for May 29. We hope to have everything finished but what is not will get done when we return next January.

Thats our news
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Old 05-06-2008, 08:29 AM   #11
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RE: CUBA by land

This is terrific stuff! I've been to Colon and these folks are roughing it!

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