Wednesday, 13 March 2013

No 10/13 Havana Cuba

Hi from Clare,                                Monday 11th March 2013

When last I wrote we were anchored off the marina in Cienfuegos hoping to get a pen in the marina so we could go to Havana. Fortunately we spoke to an Italian couple who were leaving for a week and they offered us their pen. They also very kindly organised an English speaking taxi driver who took us to Havana, found us accommodation (with some English) and then picked us up a few days later. The driver, aged seventy four, had served in four wars and was an ex Brigadier General in the Cuban army. He was an interesting companion; a big bear of a man and larger than life.
It probably didn't help that our accommodation was in Old Havana in a street that was being dug up. It was hot and dusty and we had to manoeuvre around a concrete mixer and a back hoe working by the front door. The street was cluttered with pedestrians and Cuban workmen. However once inside the outer door we entered a cool and breezy internal courtyard which accessed a number of private homes. Our very comfortable accommodation was 30 CUC a night (average Havana rate) and I don't think I have ever seen a cleaner or more immaculate house; and plenty of hot water for showers.

Old Havana is the premier tourist area and if you wanted to be negative you could describe it as dirty, polluted, with smelly drains, crumbling buildings and broken streets. The touts are annoying and the food is very average. However once you get past that, there is much to see and appreciate.

Old Havana started in the early 1500s and in 1982 UNESCO included it in the list of World Heritage Site. It has a system of Squares, Cathedral Square, Old Square, San Francisco Square, Main Square and Square of the Christ. The Squares are surrounded by restored palaces, large homes, Cathedrals, churches and public buildings. One such square would be a city's pride and joy but Old Havana has five of them.

Cathedral Square & Old Square

San Francisco Sq & Main Sq.

In the New City we visited the Museum of the Revolution which is housed in the former Presidential Palace of the Cuban Republic. Just outside the Palace is a preserved part of the City Wall which was torn down in the 1800s and also SAU-100 self-propelled gun fired by Fidel Castro during the US invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
The Museum exhibits the most important facts and historical events surrounding the Revolution. We saw photos from the Bay of Pigs incident of Fidel instructing his men. We couldn't help but notice that in many photos Fidel was leaning forward and was right in their face; suffice to say there wouldn't have been any doubt in their minds as to what Fidel wanted. No coming back later and saying "I didn't hear what you said."

Museum of the Revolution/Presidential Palace

Capitol Building & Grand Theatre

We also saw the Cuban Capitol (built in 1929), with a striking similarity to the one in Washington and the beautiful Grand Theatre of Havana (built in 1837), the seat of Cuban's National Ballet. Just around the corner we took photos of the pretty pastel coloured houses and then the older and far from pretty run down homes with fuel drums and junk cluttering their small verandas. The air pollution in this part of the city was unbelievable with numerous old cars belching out thick clouds of black smoke. We wanted to sit and people watch but we had to get away from the traffic.

City accommodation

Interior Courtyards
We went across the bay to Casablanca to visit the Morro-Cabana Historical Park and the San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress (built 1763-1744). The fort is high on the hill overlooking the harbour entrance and the city of Havana. We could have taken a taxi via the Havana Tunnel but decided to be adventurous and travel with the locals on the ferry for 5 cents. We caught the wrong ferry and ended up in the small town of Regla where very little English is spoken. We pulled out our map and asked for directions to Casablanca. The young ferry attendant couldn't speak English but performed a wonderful charade of getting back on the ferry, returning to where we came from, not getting off when the ferry stopped, then travelling to Casablanca on the same ferry. His actions were walking, sitting, waiting and then walking. All this was done by pointing to the various destinations on the map and speaking to us in rapid Spanish. He was very animated which amused both us and his workmates. However he did get the message across and we understand, but not contented with that, he sat us on a seat until he found a passenger who could speak both Spanish and English. We were then entrusted into his care to ensure that these silly tourists ended up in the right place. It will be one of our memorable experiences of people going out of their way to help us.

San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress

We left Havana and returned to the boat late Thursday. Friday was spent doing chores and preparing to move on. We did an overnight sail on Saturday night to Cayo Rosario on the south west coast of Cuba. The wind was behind us and with a 2 metre swell on our hind quarter we rolled all the way.
We had arranged to meet up with Kiwi couple David and Brenda on 'Bandit'. We last saw them in Barbados in January 2012. We have spent two days together going between boats for chats, morning tea and evening drinks. The local fishermen came around yesterday supplying us both with Lobster and so we have been invited for dinner on 'Bandit' tonight - guess what's on the menu.

Tomorrow 'Bandit' will move east to Cienfuegos. We will stay here in Cayo Rosario waiting for the right opportunity to head south to Grand Cayman. Tomorrow there is no wind then a cold front is coming through bringing strong northerly winds. We will head south on the back of that front.
When in Havana we uploaded photos to newsletters Nos 6, 7 and 8. When we get to Grand Cayman we will upload photos to newsletters Nos 9 and 10. Please look back at the photos.

Love Candy xx

At 11:57 AM11/03/2013 (utc) our position was 21°37.15'N 081°56.41'W

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