Diving in Cayo Largo, Cuba

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At the end of a trip discovering the Cuban islands, it was also time to see if it was just as beautiful under water as it was above. At first I had been a bit concerned, as Cuba has a trade blockade with the US that even include the recognition of the American PADI standards. Luckily the Australian equivalent Scuba Schools International (SSI) was not. Cuba Diving Avalon was a Cubans SSI certified dive center, but for them to look up my friends license (as she had forgotten it at home) took forever and a half as Cubas dial up internet is the Worlds slowest. Luckily the dive center was right at the harbour so that we could relax on deck of our sailboat in the meantime.

Our instructor, Pablo, did not speak any English which was fine as most of us knew enough Spanish, but others who did not had missed his reminded of the five meter safety stop and shot to the surface without it. Luckily both our dives near Cayo Siguia had a max depth of around 12-14 meters so it was not as bad as it could have been, especially since we had been promised to start with a deep dive of 30 meters plus. I don’t know why we went just shallow and did not bother asking.

I had earlier been impressed with the huge tarpons living in the shallow water around the docks, and had hoped to see some schools of those, but dissapointingly enough all the fish we saw were small.

The water was quite clear and we swam through some impressively coral, but the underwater life was not as good as I had hoped for. Except for a turtle, some lionfish and a huge lobster we did not see much. The snorkeling around Cayo Largo has revealed more interesting places that we visited on our two scubadiving dives.

Cayo Largo and Cayo Rico

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6am I woke up by myself, having slept almost twelve hours. I got the sunrise all to myself since most of the others did not wake up before breakfast an hour later.

The plan of the day was to start off with a bit of snorkeling around a shipwreck just a few minutes away from where we had been anchoring. Just like yesterday we saw quite a lot of fish and a few turtles and stingrays, but the best thing about Cayo Rico was the sandy bottom making the sea turquoise blue.

We then had to sail quite a bit to get to Cayo Rico Beach, a place where huatis and iguanas where walking around hoping to get some fruit from the tourists sipping pina coladas at the beach bar. Most of the group went ashore with the dinghy boat, while the captain took the rest for some wake boarding as the waters were calm as a millpond. Afterwards I swam the 6-700 meters to the shore to also get to experience the island. We also sailed over to the neighbor island to relax at the natural pools, formed by moving sand banks.

The rest of the evening was spent consuming big amounts of rum and cigars aboard the sailboat before heading ashore to an outdoor party happening every Wednesday as the shift workers from the resorts celebrate that they get to go home after their week shifts. The party was good fun, and for most of the group it was good to have a day to stay up late and sleep in late in the morning. For me I had to get up as early as always as I would spend the free day in Cayo Largo going diving and visit a turtle hatchery.

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Cayo Cantiles, the Big but Deserted Island

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At sunrise around 6.30 am the boat started moving so that everyone was up for a breakfast while sailing.

On the program today was visiting Cayo Cantiles, a pretty big island where there were 4 locals living together with wild monkeys, flamingos and “hutias” which was a huge rat like animal that the locals ate, saying that it tasted like pork. The locals had been without power for over two months (their solar panel had broken during hurricane season) and they had had constant rain for three days straight, so when we and the sun came to their island they were happy to to show us around to look for animals and teach us how to open coconuts with machetes. They had also caught around ten lobsters the same morning and when we offered to trade them for some food and rum they seemed to more than happily to do so. The lobsters was put to use by our French cook to make lobster carpaccio and lobster schnitzels, just like all the other food we managed to get a hold of. There is usually very little selection of food in Cuba, so some creativity is very useful to vary the meals when the ingredients are more or less the same.

We also dropped off our kayaks to explore the mangroves that seemed to go on forever. The mangroves were also supposed to be a home to crocodiles, but all we saw when paddling around where stingrays and a big barracuda. The kayak trip was beautiful and together with some more sailing and a snorkeling trip where we saw turtles, flying fish and some more barracudas we had used up all our energy and took an early night already at seven in the evening.

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Cayo Sal, a Tiny Island in the Canarreo Archipelago

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We had reached Cayo Largo at 2am in the morning where everyone had woken up by the anchor being dropped, but had gone to sleep again until breakfast at 7am. That repeated itself throughout the journey, where people went early to bed and woke up right after sunrise between six and seven Being fully rested from the night. The waves made the boat like a cradle so even though small sounds woke us up several times at night it was never a problem getting to sleep again.

Cayo Largo was the largest island among the Canarreos Archipelago and the immigration office there had to be visited to be allowed out to the smaller cayos that we were gonna visit, like Cayo Sol which was our main destination for the day.

The small island did not have anyone living on it except some hermit crabs and one single tree sticking up by itself from the flat island. The reason we got off the boat was to see the blowhole shooting seawater high up in the air every time the waves hit the shore. Other than that there was also a sailboat that was stranden there, supposedly because of some drunk Russian sailors that had not seen the island while sailing at night. We did some hermit crab racing and some snorkelling off the small beach before setting off to Cayo Estopa where we would anchor for the night.

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Cienfuegos, and the Beginning of our Sailing Trip

After a four hour drive from Havana we reached Cienfuegos, a small harbour city in the South of Central Cuba. We got to do a stroll around in the city center, which was a UNESCO World Heritage Site well worth its status. We also stocked up on run and cigarette before heading to the marina where our boat would depart from.

When first getting on the boat we were all surprised to see how big and fancy it was. The 85 foot (24m) boat had 12 double rooms with their own bathrooms and showers and all kinds of equipment such as espresso machine, plasma tv and fishing rods were on board.

There was just nine of us travelers and as much as six crew on the boat: Captains Serje, the skipper Manu, carlos the Cuban helper, two french cooks and our tour guide Zsara from Hungary.

We also had some locals come aboard to play us some folk music while drinking our welcome Mojitos. We also got to try to play the extra instruments that they had brought with them and the ones wanting a dance got up to try some salsa moves.

After cleaning through immigration and having our briefings we set off to Cayo Largo, a night sail away where we would be closer to the other “cayos” (Limestone, reef islands) that we were going to visit on our six day sailing trip at the Canarreos Archipelago.

 

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La Habana, Cuba

Having spent a full day in Havana with other like minded travelers I have gotten a much better impression of the city than the one I had yesterday.

Breakfast at my hotel Mercure Sevilla was superb, not because of the food istself (as they seem to lack Ingredients Neccessary to make most kind of meals here), but because of the whole athmosphere where a full band was playing for us in the beautiful colonial style room and they refused me to pour my own coffee, as they had plenty of waitors ensuring that everything was well for their guests.

After breakfast I header to my new hotel, Ambos Mundos, where I was served a welcome drink at 9am consisting of what looked like some red sirup with lots of whater, but when asking they just said that there was no water, just rum. A lot of things like internet and electronics are very hard to come by and super expensive, while other things like rum and cigars are quite the oposite. Having some rum in the morning was a good way to start the day in a country where everyone is relaxed and all things go slow.

Havana and the rest of Cuba can be said to be very unique in many ways, being one of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere, and quite wealthy due to the shipments of treasures coming through Havana from South and Central America and over to Europe, so it was quite popular among pirates. The Spanish colonists were not that popular though so they got kicked out by the Americans who freed the slaves and made it open for trade with all nations. After a while the Cubans got fed up with the American mafia as well and in 1953 Fidel Castro and Che Guevara fought the Americans off and introduced the communist system that they still have today. The country has also still kept the best of all their eras with the lively black slave music, the beautiful colonial style buildings and all the old cars from the pre-revolution time.

In the evening after walking hours and hours through the streets of Havana, we asked some locals with a beautiful old Buick to take us to Casa de la Musica (the house of music) in Miramar, a salsa club 15-20 minutes drive away from Old Havana which proved to be a much better way of experiencing Havana at night than walking By myself up and down through the city center like I did the night before.

Here are some photos that I took from my city walking safari in Havana:

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