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.
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.
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.
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:
When arriving Havana around six in the evening I had spent a full day traveling and was ready to just check into my hotel, Sevilla, and go to bed, but with the time difference making it hard to fall asleep I started getting hungry and decided to head out for dinner.
Along the streets everyone were calling me amigo and wanted to help me find the things I wanted, obviously they all want to get something in return so I just continued walking and eventually found a restaurant that looked cheap and okay. As quickly as I had sat down and opened a menu a girl came to sit down next to me and started stroking my thigh. I took away her hand and said NO, then I dropped down the menu and stormed out. I was tired, hungry and started getting a bit fed up and when a 38 year old black man approachrd me to ask if I wanted a good restaurant. He spoke no English, which I took as a really good sign as most of the tourist leeches* do. So I went with him and 15 minutes of walking later we were at La Familia, a tourist trap restaurant in the old city.
I am One hundred percent sure that he got commission for bringing me to the restaurant which was fine as I was happy with both the food and the prices. Cubans do receive a monthly wage of around 15CUC/USD so If he got a couple of bucks by helping me out I was okay with that.
I also knew that he wanted me buy him food but explained that I could give him a beer and nothing more, a fair exchange for some company where I got to practise my Spanish and get some city advise from a local. Two hours later he had followed me back to my hotel and started explaining that he wanted money to buy more shirts and pants to wear at his university and milk for his family. Classic tourist leech strategy to do it at the end where I almost thought we were friends, but clearly we were not as the big man suddenly started getting angry at me for not giving him money. I am a small man with limited Spanish vocabulary and local knowledge so I was happy that I was already home at my hotel when he got aggressive so that I could just say good night and walk up to my room.
My first impressions about Havana is that it sure is lively enough and has beautiful people, buildings and a rich history, but to be honest I found it really tiring walking around by myself at night. Hopefully it will be better exploring it tomorrow with the rest of the group and then heading out to more quiet places. According to my new Cuban “friend”, Pablo, it is also supposed to be a lot cheaper once you get it of the capital which I also look forward to as prices here are quite a bit higher than I would have thought.
*tourist leeches (also known as beach boys in beach towns), are people who insist on following tourists around and want to help them in all kinds of ways. You find them everywhere where there are lots of tourists. Don’t be surprised if they know some words in Swedish and other European languages. Believing that they are your friends will most likely lead to an empty wallet.