Since she set up totallyfloats.com back in May '05 my input has been background, taking lots of photos, making creative & editing suggestions. reviewing & enjoying her ongoing journal of our life & adventure. Always I wanted to make a contribution, in my personal way, adding some extraneous material, things I view from another perspective.
Today, Thursday, December 21, 2006, Varadero, Cuba, I finally take time to begin the expression of these ideas.
So I'll start with silliness that goes back to our first weeks out on the water & the Sam Twins, Flot & Jet. I kept hearing & reading about them - but couldn't find them. I guess we're lucky.
Then there's Mr. That, first name, Roger. Gosh! Sometimes on the radio a conversation was punctuated constantly with references to that man. We'd say a few words: the response, "Roger That!" Sometimes they were quite informal & just said "Roger!"
But who is this guy? We finally decided that he's the patron saint of cruising & we should be fortunate that he's so often referenced in our radio chatter.
Back in my youth I heard the additional lines of these poems but didn't retain them, regretfully, but some day maybe I'll encounter another old salt, probably a Scotsman like David, who recites the same opening words - along with the conclusion.
So much water has passed under the bridge! And under our keel! Here I sit on Pioneer in Varadero, Cuba, five days since arriving from Florida, enjoying the remoteness & difference of this country that is such a change from our Canadian & U.S. lives & cruising. Bahamas last year, although so refreshing, didn't have the vitality of this place, & we've only started, only seen one port & a few miles of bicycling through the mostly touristy sections. Cubans, we've heard, & now experience, are so friendly, accommodating, easy to be around.
Christmas in a few days - & not many signs here. We noticed one church today, in miles of city streets. Where have they all gone? New Years is the big event. We look forward to celebrating it with other Canadians & some Cubans.
CAN'T BELIEVE IT! Today is Monday, February 5, 2007, Marina Hemingway, just outside of Havana, & I'm finally getting back to RR. How time flies when you're having fun. Highlights for me since arriving in Cuba are the market trips into Santa Marta by bicycle every few days. Judy's journal for December & January show many photos of the market & streets, the vendors who became friends, the changing array of wonderful fresh produce that means fruit salad every breakfast, mixed salad every lunch, & vegetable stir fry for dinner along with fresh fish, shrimp, or lobster, or often two, maybe all three, of these sea delights at one meal. I regret not getting photos of my culinary creations, both in progress & the final result. My galley work isn't! It's fun, an enjoyable part of most every day (we rarely eat a meal off the boat, though since arriving here on Thursday, 2/2, we've been out to dinner twice right here in the marina complex). The usual routine is Judy preparing the fruit breakfast, then each of us make lunch for ourselves (different tastes & ingredients), then I do supper. With all the shrimp & lobster on hand, so much that we must freeze the extra, Judy does the shelling before I do the cooking.
And that brings up the outing last evening. With s/v Balladin, Marc & Carole from Montreal, we walked over to Chan Chan, an open air bar-restaurant featuring a local stage band with a 1960-70s American & British pop music repertoire. At 1730 Sunday evening it was crowded - just getting going, & we were graciously accommodated with a fill-in, edge-of-the-dance-floor table, squeezed between others who had arrived early for choice seating. The volume was cranked; it wasn't long before the floor was packed! And line dancing Cuban-style to very good renditions of The Rolling Stones & other major hits. What a hoot! We were four of maybe six foreigners in a crowd of 200 locals, & as the rum & beer flowed the friendliness grew & we were into many conversations & sign/body language, not only with the Spanish-speakers but amongst ourselves because the music was LOUD! And I got asked to dance by a Cuban - guy!
The 70-mile overnight passage from Varadero leaving Thursday, 2/1 at 1830 was smooth & pleasant, moon & starlit all the way, up to 20-knot east winds carrying us west with the mainsail double-reefed. We'd have done well with only one reef, even none, but better to reef down early than to be struggling with the main in an increasing blow or deteriorating weather.
Two Years: You know that expression: Time flies when you're having fun? It does, & we have been & are! And it's been two years since I began R'sRs. Now, with many boat things & much boat learning behind us, most on-land arrangements worked out so we can live on-water, & a lot of reflection & refraction on my sixty-five years & their remaining remnants, there is abundant material recovered & uncovered, & time to work with it & get it down! As well, of course, I'll add here with my own slant to the chronicling of our cruising adventures as Judy's covers so well in the timeline sections of TF.
Definitions: MP = My Precious. (Judy.) TF = totallyfloats (www.totallyfloats.com)
"Plans": In November 2008 our cruising intentions were clear, though flexible, as always. Just how loose became apparent in January 2009 when realizing that Varadero & presumably all of Cuba had undergone some changes since our 2006-2007 visit, but not too many & not too severe nor negative, we asked ourselves, Why leave? Cuba is still safe, healthy, cheap, friendly & mostly predictable. Judy & I have both traveled enough in our lives to appreciate unpredictables, & in Cuba they are generally not threatening, they do make things interesting though sometimes frustrating, & they actually often provide lively entertainment. Also, with the current political situations in both Cuba & U.S.A. being ones of transition apparently toward better international communication & relations, Cubaís attraction & access to American visitors could increase, & changes could mean different restrictions & increasing costs. The results overall could be good, but then, what we enjoy this year is hard to complain about.
Stay in Cuba: So, rather than spend the last of December & a few weeks of January in Varadero & then make our way westwards as intended to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala & Honduras before returning to the U.S. in April/May, we observed, discussed & planned our way in January to the decision to see much more of Cuba over the four-plus months of our winter cruise. Researching the nautical option (taking Pioneer south-eastwards along the north coast of Cuba & perhaps around to the south-east coast) was MPís project, one at which she excels. She used our charts & various contacts with locals & cruisers who knew the waters. Reviewing our land (as opposed to cruising) guidebooks & selecting some destinations & details was my assignment. The end result is that we kept Pioneer comfortably secure at the Darsena dock for four months, enjoyed the local scene & came to know it much better - & took three separate bus trips (along with our bikes as extra baggage) to destinations that seemed most promising.
Bicycles: Contrasted with our visit here two years ago, this time we came prepared! It started with our realization last summer that around Minnesott we could use some wheels that didnít require license plates & driving permits. MP happened by a yard sale one Saturday & came back to Pioneer with a $10, very old but quite usable Raleigh manís road racer, for her beloved. Then on a trip back to Lethbridge we looked up our old address, & Phyllis gave us back, at no cost, the bike that she bought along with the house & many other fixtures & furnishings. So Judyís Ontario bike now made a return trip eastwards but more southerly & joined the Raleigh at Minnesott. We each did maintenance on the bikes, bought various replacement parts, & MP partly-disassembled them to lash to the lifelines & push-pit on our poop-deck for our ocean passages. This advance planning enabled us to be independent cyclists as soon as we docked in Varadero. This trip there was to be no borrowing of othersí bicycles nor worry about their damage or loss. We joined the cycling Cubans & fit right in locally, as well as made our bus trips much more independent, relating to life at street level.
Cash: Our other major omission in í06-07 was not knowing well in advance that Cuba likes Canadian cash. Real money is much handier & more economical than using credit cards or debit cards to get Cuban cash. U.S. greenbacks are not the currency to bring to Cuba for maximum advantage. Two years ago we came loaded with U.S. cash, simply assuming that we could buy & exchange our way anywhere. U.S. cash is usable in Cuba, but there is a ten-percent commission deducted before the fixed .8935 conversion. So the end result is that buying convertible Cuban pesos with U.S. cash costs twenty percent. This isnít impossible, & weíve done it this trip because we also brought along U.S. for use in the other foreign destinations we thought weíd visit; itís just that itís a pricey alternative in Cuba. With the Canadian dollar taking a beating this winter, however, we were paying forty-four percent at worst & about thirty-seven at best. If you hold both currencies anyway back at your home banks as we do, bringing both is wise. If you must buy U.S. with Canadian in advance, fluctuating money markets simply treat you well, or not, but short-term maneuvering is almost impossible once you are here in Cuba. The current international exchange rates are not easy to obtain, & communications with your Canadian bank can be problematic. Summing up, as Canadian, bringing Canadian cash to Cuba is advisable. Bringing U.S. works too, though not so economical. Euros are good.; Sterling too. The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) has no market outside of Cuba. Donít buy more than you need.
Marina Darsena: Much of our local entertainment revolves around the ever-constant/ever-changing cast of characters at Darsena. There is local flavor, true, but most colorful are the foreign outcasts & outlaws, many holding passports with dark blue covers & hailing often from the Republic of Alberta & the eastern collection agency, Ontario. Some of these individuals are represented in digital-photo form in various sections of TF, but to reveal more, to supply any clues as to their scandalous histories, quirks, episodes of undoing here on foreign shores Ė would be detracting from the mystery as well as breaking intimacies of the brother/sister-hood. It is fully-sufficient to say here in writing for all the world to read that Judy & I, two people who have been around the block more than once, have been regularly challenged here at Darsena & neighborhood to fathom some of the backgrounds, actions, reactions, inactions, over-reactions, motives, rationales & consequences of various players. But we wouldnít trade the experience! No doubt some of you reading this will be able to take advantage of our verbal elaborations when we see you & if you care.
Socializing: Perhaps this seems an odd sub-title to follow the above - & contrast with it. When it comes to having fun, we arenít so very particular of the company as long as people are reasonable & respectful. (There has been one recent & unfortunate exception to our criteria [in that we unwillingly lowered our standards & got caught off-guard, an exception somewhat out of our control] that we are trying to forget. That forgetting will become easier one day. Elaboration could take place as mentioned in the above paragraph, but here I will offer only this: Some people simply have no business out on the street much less visiting foreign countries, certainly not loose beyond the confines of their physical quarters & their constricted minds. TF purports to be upbeat without exception, but I must be allowed this one slip simply to record the disgust Judy & I feel when recently witnessing a well-meaning social turned bizarre by inexcusable, (yet not unexpected), almost guaranteed, bad behavior by foreigners. Though reluctantly & rather passively in attendance, we are nevertheless embarrassed & sincerely apologetic to our host Cubans.) Now, about this socializing section! Judy & I have been entertained so generously & respectfully by many Cubans. We have had awesome times, often in the company of fellow-Canadians & other foreign guests, who are often the reason we are included in the parties. So we thank you - all of you. MP has provided in her own creations on TF, photo & word proof of the fun we have had. I neednít repeat any of that, nor can portray it better. I will add though that the socializing this winter with the locals has made us appreciate so deeply the Cuban culture & psyche. We miss of course the beach parties & cockpit happy hours with fellow cruisers at anchor in The Bahamas, but this Cuban experience has enriched our travel & our recent lives significantly.
Land Trips: Here again, MP, with some assistance from me, has depicted in other TF locations our three adventures beyond Varadero: late January to Santa Clara & Trinidad; early March to La Habana; late March to Santiago de Cuba & Baracoa. Two big contrasts to point out: the relatively low-lying & sometimes rolling terrain of the first two trips versus the mountain vistas of the last leg of the third trip; & the busyness & old-world magnificence of Havana compared to the laid-back frontier atmosphere of Baracoa. And a similarity, of age: San Cristobal de la Habana was founded on Cubaís south coast in 1514, moved twice in the following five years, & finally established at its present site in 1519; Baracoa is the site of a Columbus landing in 1492. It warms my heart to visit these 500-year-old cities remembering our 2005 yard sales at our Lethbridge house & Judyís antiques being sold to collectors who thought depression glass is old & Alberta at 100 years plus has been around for a long time. And then I think of some other great cities of the world that I have visited, & they make Havana seem adolescent.
Leaving: Judy & I had some serious conversation in March about our timing to return to NC, & careful consideration determined that 4/20 was the date to start the concerted search for a weather opportunity long enough to have us reach Charleston, SC. If accomplished, it would be our longest passage of record, & if we could go further, all the way to Beaufort, SC, all the better, & all the longer. At Beaufort we would go inshore & enter the ICW, only hours away from Minnesott.
THE ABOVE PUBLISHED ON JULY 2, 2009, LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA
MUCH MORE TO FOLLOW VERY SOON!
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