The Real Cuba II
Contrary to widely held belief, Cuba welcomes ALL foreign visitors warmly and they are free to travel wherever they wish. Travel to Cuba by those subject to U.S. law is not prohibited, however “trading” with Cuba is forbiden. This includes spending any money in that country. The U.S. does prosecute violators of this proscription, so U.S. tourists are non existent there.
Leonidas notified the Cuban port authority via side band radio from the Dry Tortugas of an e.t.a. of 72 hrs. for 1 U.S. and 1 Canadian sail boat and was instructed to enter at Marina Hemmingway 7 nautical miles west of Havana. Upon arrival, the harbor entrance was in the opinion of the two sailboat skippers unsafe due to adverse weather conditions and so advised the Cuban coast guard. A motor launch was sent out and led the two North American vessels safely inside where they tied up to the customs dock and cleared in the country. The officials were courteous but spoke no English. After completing the paper work the boats were led to a dock in the mostly empty marina. Our companion boat was Canadian and from this time forward we were officially “guests “ of the Canadian couple on that boat.
The marina management brought welcoming gifts of Cuban rum and baskets of fruit for both vessels and insisted over our protests that we enjoy the free telephone service offered by the marina. During our stay we always placed the telephone on the dock when we wished to converse privately. This was especially true when we entertained the U.S. interests officer and his wife for dinner aboard. An interesting social event indeed.
The trip to Havana was a 30 minute bus ride from the stop in front of the Communist Party high school across from the marina. The Buses were usually crowded with people getting on and off mostly not depositing any fare in the crude wooden box provided. We had no Cuban coins but gave them 5 swedish kroners.
Havana is a charming city which has seen no paint on its buildings since 1960. We were warned to not expect to be able to obtain food in Havana and thus brought snacks from the boat. We attempted to hail several taxis but as we were obviously foreigners they were not allowed to pick us up. Only special tourist taxis authorized to transport those with hard currency are allowed to pick up foreigners. The few cafes that were open had long lines waiting to be served. The menus, though having several options listed, invariably offered only one item. Most of the locals recognizing us as foreigners were surprised to learn Leonidas spoke Spanish instead of Russian. This resulted in lots of smiles and good cheer.
A shop at the marina selling items such as imported beer and canned goods to foreigners for hard currency had some lettuce which they refused to sell us saying that the scale to weigh it was broken. I estimated that the weight was 1 kilo and offered to buy it for the price of 2 kilos and this was refused. We returned on each of the next 2 days to buy the lettuce which was beginning to wilt. On the 3rd day with the scale still not repaired I asked to negotiate with the manager. Two phone calls were made to Havana and the merchant finally got permission to sell the head of lettuce for the 2 kilo price. No tomatoes were available in spite of viewing fields of ripe tomatoes on the TV. I asked why, and was advised that the tomatoes were rotting in the fields as the Russians had failed to send the wood necessary to make shipping crates. An apparently insoluable problem to the party leaders. When I advised that I had seen tomatoes transported in California in dump trucks and other tublike containers the informant looked at me as if I were insane.
We remained at Marina Hemmingway for 7 days and obtained a “despacho” (permission) to continue cruising eastward to the resort of Varadero.
Continued in The Real Cuba III