Want to see an incredible neighborhood covered in art? This is Fusterlandia. A Cuban artist, Jose Fuster, turned his home and eventually most of the neighborhood into an art gallery of sculptures, paintings and ceramic tile.
There are a number of artists in this area and they sort of work as a coop. Although, Fuster wasn’t present the day we went his art gallery was open. We fell in love with some paintings and other art. It’s easy to tell that his work is in demand by the prices. I would go again with deeper pockets.
After looking at so much art, one gets a little peckish. We asked and found a delicious seafood restaurant down the street. It wasn’t easy to find and we’re thankful to the locals along the way who helped us find our lunch.
The restaurant was named “Santí”.
Viñales is a beautiful small town in the Pinar del Rio province which is about 2.5 hours from Havana. It’s agricultural based with “mountains” and valleys, tobacco fields and botanical gardens. We saw cycling, hiking and horseback riding. There were lots of tourists and it was simply a really neat area. We first stopped at a cave system where the slaves used to hide from the Spaniards.
The government buys 80% of the tobacco leaves from the farm. The farm can do what they want with their 20%. So, they roll them into cigars and sell them to tourists like us. The government will put an official cigar band on the cigars they roll from the same leaves – in this case, the Montecristo #4.
We haven’t smoked ours yet but have every intention of doing so. In fact, we have never smoked a cigar ever – so when we do it will be a momentous occasion. We did learn the proper way to enjoy a Cuban cigar. It involves coffee and rum to fully experience the flavor of a good cigar.
Before leaving Cuba we did also buy some Cohiba cigars. Supposedly, they were Castro’s favorite and are considered some of the best in the world. The ones we bought were the Cohiba Robustos. We plan to enjoy these soon. Stay tuned for our full report.
Our lunch was absolutely delicious – multiple courses – so much food we couldn’t eat it all. There were appetizers, soup, chicken, pork, and fish. Dessert was flan. Miriam, who is not a flan lover, said it was the best flan she’s ever had.
I don’t quite understand the popularity of the Mural de la Prehistoria. But here it is.
We enjoyed our day trip to Viñales! We do have some video from our time there and will put together another short video of the sights and sounds we experienced.
For now – adios!
While taking a break from curating our images we’d like to talk about Cuba. We’ve been asked if we would go back to Cuba and the answer is yes. We wouldn’t go back to Havana, rather, we’d go to the southern and eastern parts of the country. We would want to get away from the the tourist areas in order to really get to know the country and its people.
Cuba has a huge infrastructure problem. Although most of the roads we traveled were okay they were the main ones. I suspect as you get further away from Havana into the countryside the roads will fair even worse. Getting Cubans to and from destinations seems to be a large problem. We noticed public transport crammed full. As we traveled around and, particularly, on the outskirts of Havana we saw many, many people on the side of the roads trying to get rides or waiting for the next bus. We’re talking lots of people. Nothing like what we see in the States.
There are all manner of conveyances on the streets and highways – cars, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, horse and buggy, etc. All seem to work well together – never saw an accident. Did see a number of broken down cars, though.
Yes, the old cars are around. Some in better condition than others. Never rode in a car with a seatbelt. Shock absorbers must also be difficult to come by. Most classic cars are cobbled together from whatever parts are available. Many now have diesel engines. The really beautiful classic top down cars are typically used for touring. You pay $50 CUC for an hour, $100 CUC for two hours, etc. and they’ll take you on a tour.
Infrastructure issues include waterworks. When using a toilet there will ALWAYS be a waste basket beside the commode. If you were smart enough to bring toilet or tissue paper with you then you discard it in the can – not the toilet. Occasionally, there will be a female there to tear you off some toilet paper. Feel free to leave her a peso on the plate. And some toilets might actually have seats.
Dark rum and cola do not mix. Cubans consider it a sacrilege to mix the two. Clear rum is the choice for making a rum and coke. We saw no Coca Cola while we were there. But we did see a number of similar products. Nestlé is big in Cuba so we saw a lot of the same products we see in the States. There were a lot of overweight Cubans. Cheap food is probably the culprit much like in the States.
I was buying some dark rum and tuKola one day and the checkout lady tried to tell me that I was buying the wrong rum to mix with the cola. We did do a test taste one evening. We blind tasted a rum and coke made with clear and dark rum. The clear rum won overwhelmingly and henceforth, I will not mix dark rum with coke again. These are the important things you do and learn while in Cuba.
Cuba really is a tourist destination. We saw French, Canadian, Russian, Japanese, UK, and other tourists everywhere. Our guides were telling us that tourism is their economy now. I am concerned that their infrastructure is just not up to the task, however. It needs some huge investment. We’ll see what the future holds.
And yes, you will need to ask different Cubans several times before finding what you’re looking for. I was reading a guide book and it estimated five questions to five different people – and I would say our experience was close to that. We did have an advantage – one of us was fluent in Spanish so we could sometimes reach our goal after only asking three people.
We met some nice people. For me, the nicest were actually women – and women of about our age. Miriam was able to have some conversations with an artist in Fusterlandia and the woman who did our laundry at the marina. And, then as we were leaving and buying our last bottles of rum, coffee and cigars the woman who assisted us was also very kind. We could sense some relief and relaxation when they realized that Miriam spoke their language.
Just wanted to put some musings here.
Most of the boats in our rally group participated in a “Parade of Vessels” along the Malecon and El Morro Castle led by none other than Commodore Escrich of the famed Hemingway Yacht Club!
Your truly and Miriam assisted Captain Tomas by taking the helm.
We traveled east toward Havana Harbor.
We entered the harbor and traveled a short distance before turning around. As we turned around, El Morro, came into view.
After the parade, we were treated to a party of music, food and cocktails. This was a great way to meet many of the other sailors taking part.
Below is some video taken during the day.
All in all, it was a good day!
After a restful night, we were ready to embark upon our first of two tours. There were more available but we wanted to be able to spend some unscripted time while in Cuba.
Johanna was our guide to Habana Vieja.
Along the way, we encountered the Giganterìa – street performers on stilts.
Although Cuba is a socialist country, the government has been encouraging some capitalism at the small business level. One example of this is a paladar or paladares (plural). It is an independent private or family run restaurant. We ate at many and they were very good.
We asked our guide, Johanna, for a recommendation while in Old Havana and she suggested “La Moneda Cubana”.
Cuba is an international city – lots of tourists everywhere. The menu reflects such.
TC’s bucket list included enjoying an authentic Cuban churro. Even Miriam concluded this was the best churro she had ever eaten. I had to agree. It was awesome. Who knew churros could be so good?
Here is a short little video with the sights and sounds of the city.
We drove down to Key West on a Wednesday and spent the night on the boat. On Thursday, we picked up final provisions in preparation for a sail time of 3:00pm. It was estimated that this sail would take approximately 20 hours. The boats were released in three different waves.
The boat was very comfortable with two staterooms (and two heads). The two heads would come in handy as the evening wore on.
Although, we all took some kind of anti-nausea drug – half our crew (2 mates) became incapacitated as the sun went down and night fell upon us. Thankfully, the Captain was ship shape as was yours truly. The ride was a bit bumpy but not crazy. The winds were S-SE at about 23 knots. The seas were about 6ft. So, we had the wind at our back and that was a good thing. Unfortunately, at about 10pm Thursday evening we lost the autopilot. It seems the stern got pushed around a bit with the mizzen up and put enough strain on auto that an aluminum plate that the gears were attached to broke at the solder lines and fell into the bilge. So, that meant manual sailing the rest of the way. Later that night or early morning the console GPS went kaput. Then the handheld GPS battery died. We did have other backups but since there were so many boats going our way we just followed the stern lights of another boat until dawn. Captain Tom handled most of the steerage duty – but did hand-off to yours truly for an occasional break.
With two mates out of commission our two-hour watches fell to the wayside. Did I tell you it was a long, long night?
There was nothing quite like seeing Cuba on the horizon. From this point it would still take about 3 hours to get to the marina harbor. What a sight, though.
There are communication protocols that you follow when requesting entry to the marina. The Cuban authorities had small spotter boats out to liaison with customs and the sailboats so we would know when we could enter the marina. Our first stop was the customs dock where a number of authorities would come aboard to check our passports, inspect the boat, take our temperatures, ask questions, etc. Once that process was complete, we were assigned our spot in one of the marina canals.
We had finally arrived! I think we all slept pretty well that night.
On January 5, 2017:
The mad scramble began! First of all, we had to check with pet sitter – if pet sitter was not available then all was kaput. Pet sitter responded immediately – yes, available! Next, work time off. Lisa had been on the job less than a year but boss said that if you’ve got the time then you can take it. She had the time accrued! Passports! Got passports through UF passport office – highly recommend them – use them instead of Post Office. Paid extra to get them expedited. DHS was on top of things – got them quickly.
This was actually a Rally Cruise put on by Cruising World and Harmony Yacht Vacations:
Experience CUBA both from land and sea! Be part of history when 50+ vessels sail to the amazing Cuban port of Marina Hemingway. The experience just gets started with unique people-to-people tours and projects to give you the opportunity to experience the famed city of Havana and the amazing countryside with optional tours to Vinales to see an actual working tobacco farm! Also included is a “Parade of Vessels” along the Malecon and El Morro Castle led by none other than Commodore Escrich of the famed Hemingway Yacht Club!
We knew it to be the chance of a lifetime and could not pass it up!
Stay tuned for more about our trip!
Our trip to Cuba was amazing and incredible. Wow! We’ll be blogging about it soon.