We’ve been enjoying the resort atmosphere here at Marina Gaviota. In this part of Cuba, the government requires that you stay in a marina (where they can undoubtedly keep a close eye on you). We won’t be able to start anchoring offshore until we’re well west of Havana and in an unpopulated area of the country, probably late next week (and even then we won’t be allowed to dinghy ashore). I must say that if you have to stay in a marina, this is a pretty darn fine one to be in. Our marina fee of $39 CUC per day (about $45 USD, including moorage, power and water) includes access to many of the amenities at the neighboring Club Melia Resort, an all-inclusive vacation destination that borders the marina. Wandering around the property, you hear German, French, Dutch, Chinese, Russian and even some English (those Canadian guests) being spoken. It’s a very international feel.
Among other things, we’ve been able to crash the free evening shows that are presented on the patio in front of the resort. There aren’t enough of us Yatistas here for them to have figured out how to manage us. We act like we belong there, and they bring us free Mojitos during the show, because it is an all-inclusive resort, so you’re not expected to pay for drinks. It’s comfortably cool in the evenings, enough so that we can wear light sweaters, and therefore the staff can’t see that we’re not wearing the appropriate “I get all I want for free” yellow wristbands. They don’t ask. We don’t tell. Life is good.
But after a couple of days, we were all rested and recovered from our passage, and it was time to escape the reservation. We left Eagle Too secure at the dock.
Passports and Visas in hand, we hopped over a short wall at the back corner of the complex (our new English friends on the boat across the pier told us where) and crossed the street to the bus shelter, where we caught the double-decker shuttle into town. We’re not captives here; we could have left via the front gate. But it was a long walk to the gate and then back to the bus stop, and a significant shortcut to just jump the wall when no one was looking. And it’s easier to say “Lo sciento” than to ask permission, after all.
Varadero was much nicer than some places we’ve been to in Mexico or the Caribbean. It’s very much a tourist town, but it’s more a local’s destination than the all-inclusive resorts out on the peninsula where we are staying. The beach was beautiful, the streets were pretty clean, and most of the buildings, while older, appeared to be reasonably maintained.
After hopping off the bus, we wandered through a market, where we picked up the perfect souvenir for the boat.
We where then approached by a horsecart driver who wanted to give us a tour of the town. We really had no idea where we were or where we were going, so $15 CUC for an afternoon buggy ride (less than $20 USD) sounded about right to us.
We learned that when you see the upside-down anchor symbol on a house or building, it represents a Casa Paticulares, or basically a privately run bed & breakfast, one of the few independent enterprises Cubans are allowed to operate. A blue background indicates it is for tourists, and a red background shows that it is for locals.
It could be because Varadero is a tourist town, but we lost count of the number we saw, as they were quite common. From what we’ve read, a stay is approximately $20 to $35 CUC a night, and usually includes a welcome drink and a meal.
The local traffic was a mixture of everything from busses to tractors, scooters to bicycles (ridden by two or even three people at once).
And then there were the classic cars. My God some of them are beautiful! From what we could tell, they’re not private transportation, and aren’t used by Cubans as their daily rides. They’re all used as Taxis for the tourists. Sort of a natural resource that they exploit, if you will. Many emit a cloud of black smoke, which tells me that while they may look like a 1955 Chevy from the outside, there is a Russian diesel tractor engine residing under the hood. But never mind, just look!
Our cart driver Eduardo was delighted to hear that we were American. He said he had never had Americans in his cart before, and was happy to have us. We told him there would probably be many more in our wake. But for now, we’re somewhat of an oddity. A few vendors asked if we were Canadian, and were quite pleased when we told them we were from Florida.
Eduardo took us by Al Capone’s house, who was apparently one of Varadero’s more famous past residents, and then in response to our request for a good local restaurant (i.e. not a tourist place), he dropped us off at El Galeon, where we had a delightful afternoon.
What began as lunch turned into an early dinner, as we arrived around 2PM and didn’t receive our order until 3:30. Apparently the meal I ordered needed to be baked in the oven, which decided to quit working at that particular moment. It took the chef a while to get it re-wired to finish cooking lunch. Seriously, that’s what we were told by our server, Ray. But no matter. We weren’t in a hurry, and Ray provided us with several helpings of amazing Cuban bread accompanied by an exquisite egg and cream sauce, and then two bowls of Cuban brown beans, and then a mouthwatering daiquiri, none of which appeared on our bill when we ultimately received it.
Ray’s English was very good, and while waiting for our meals we had a fascinating discussion about life in Cuba and Ray’s hopes and dreams, which deserves a post all its own at some point.
The extremely short version is that life in Cuba is not as officially described (if you want quality, then the free health care isn’t really free, nor is the free education) and he would leave tomorrow if he were able in order to provide a future for his children. He hopes to one day own his own gym, but realizes it will never happen unless things change dramatically. But he obviously loved his country and his home in Matanzas, so I wished for him that those changes would soon come so that he could pursue his dreams in his own country rather than long for escape to another.
Our stomachs full and the day growing late, we hopped back on the bus for the 45 minute ride back out to that part of Cuba that people like Ray can never experience, the part reserved for foreign tourists. Cuba is a country where people earn $15 to $20 CUC a month, and a single can of Coke costs $1 CUC, or more than a day’s wages. Spending a day at an all-inclusive resort? It could never happen. Perhaps soon, I’ll have time to expand a bit on some of the things we’ve experienced that illustrate that what you see on the surface is not a true reflection of what Cuba really is today.
With the wind now shifting to the east, our time here in Varadero is growing short. Our plans are to head west to Marina Hemingway, outside Havana, late Sunday afternoon. It’s a trip of approximately 90 miles, which will require us to sail through the night. A dinnertime departure should put us off the entrance marker to Marina Hemingway at about 0800. As has been the case for all our nighttime passages so far, it will be another moonless night. Funny how it keeps timing out that way. We don’t really enjoy the utter darkness, but we’ve grown resigned to it. Say what you may about how beautiful the stars are on a moonless night-we’d rather be able to see the ocean around us than just feel and hear it as it moves and rocks the boat. We’d really prefer to make the trip as two shorter legs that we could sail during daylight hours, with a night at anchor in route, but the authorities here have told us no, we have to go directly from here to there, with no stopping allowed. Such is the way of things here in Cuba.
One final note, before signing off – it can be extremely hard to get online here, and the clock is ticking the entire time. For those of you who have commented, we appreciate that you follow along with our adventure, but I’m afraid there just isn’t time for individual replys. Perhaps when we make it to Mexico and we have a bit more time…