Tuesday, February 26, 2013


 Another tempestuous crossing from Mexico, across the Yucatan Channel, racing against the coming coldfront, and we finally doused our sails in Hemingway Marina, Cuba. The 'Old Man of the Sea' wrote several novels here in the 1930's, including Islands in the Stream, about his beloved Cuba. With our old friend Turlough aboard as crew, we set off to explore this baffling land of contradictions.

Fifty years of Socialism under Fidel, and the U.S. embargo, has created an isolated island nation stuck in a 1950's time warp. The once elegant streets of Havana are fringed with stately, pastel-coloured manor houses, slowly mouldering away, and concrete tenament housing for the masses. Salsa and Jazz music drift into the cobblestone streets late into the night. Old mid-century American cars (Macinas); Chevy Impala's and Buick's, repainted in graphic colours, line the roadways.
  Our first stop is La Floridita Bar, where Papa Hemingway's bronze statue still holds a sacred spot. With the double currencies of the Cuban Peso, generally for the locals, and the C.U.C. or Convertible Dollar, mainly set up for the tourist trade and luxury items (like say, toothpaste or moisturizer), it is difficult to get a handle on how this complex economy actually works. The Cubans also get ration coupons from the government to buy basic necessities. This tends to mean standing in long lineups for chicken or a tin of peanut butter in shops that have mostly empty shelves. But the people are patient and cheerful and spend their time chatting in the queue or arranging their next crafty business deal. 

       Another Cuban anachronism is the ongoing fascination with revered son of La Revolucion, Che Guevara. The face of the ruggedly handsome guerrillero adorns building facades, museums and T-shirt shops throughout the island. The legend of Che and Fidel's dramatic siege on Batista's cruel regime has won the hearts and minds of this most patriotic of peoples.

       But Cuba quickly seeps under your skin. We took an inland trip through the rural campos (countryside) and toured the dusty, French-provincial, mausoleum-like towns of Cienfuegos, and Santa Clara shrine to the ubiquitous Che'. It was like a step back in time to watch the horse and buggies quietly clomping along the cobblestone avenues.
       Trinidad, the gem of the island, is a perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial settlement where the clocks stopped ticking in 1850. Built on the wealth of the sugarcane plantations and the grim slave trade, the town is laden with fine carved furniture, cut glass, and candelabras of times past.
We hooked up with two lovely Aussie's and rode our bikes to the beautiful beaches of Playa Ancon on the coast.
Our Aussie travelling friends, Carolina and Cam 

       On our trip home we are amazed to find the six lane highway, built by the Russians during the Cold War, virtually empty of traffic except for a few trucks and tour buses, and the odd horse and carriage ambling along. A vision of an L.A. freeway flits across my mind, and I wonder once again if perhaps there is another, simpler world out there? Time to stop and smell the coffee.    

Playa Ancon
Our charming host at Casa Ramon

Upon our return to Havana we received an invitation to attend a local Salsa dance with Turlough's good friends Tom and Elisa and girlfriend Coo-kie. A good time was had by all and we would have to agree, Cuban Rum really is the best!

Elisa, Coo-kie and Cathy at Salsa Night

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

     A rather turbulent double-overnighter brought us up the Yucatan Channel, skirting the glitzy megalopolis of Cancun, and into the tranquility of beautiful Isla Mujeres. The Spanish descended on this uninhabited isle in 1517, and found a Mayan temple laden with statues of the goddess Ixchel and her maidens, hence the name "Island of Women'. This is one of those good Karma places that makes one contemplate signing off on the American Dream and heading south.While the island is mainly based on tourism, sailors from all over the world converge here at this strategic spot in the Caribbean.
      It was Carnaval when we arrived and the days were filled with parades and festivals marking the beginning of Lent. The locals; children, adults, grandmas and even month old babies were out until the wee hours, dressed in all their feathers and finery, singing, dancing and enjoying the spectacle. Calypso music fills the air and life is sweet! 

      We finally caught up with our very good cruising buddies starting from way back in El Salvador, Rick and Rosanna on SV Tension Reliever, looking notably stress free after a month on Isla (as the cruisers call it). We spent a day together, taking the ferry over to nearby Cancun, comparing notes and sharing tales of our travels up the Caribbean coastline. 
Mariachi players


   As we prepare to set off for Cuba, our old pal Turlough will join us for the typically blustery crossing. It will be difficult to leave this island paradise so soon. It appears to have it all: clear aqua-marine waters, warm winds, delicious food, and happy, smiling families. Of course, it is after all the Island of Women.  We regret that we must be off, but Fidel is waiting!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chillin' at Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker, Belize

The tiny, scenic village of Caye Caulker is actually two islands since Hurricane Hattie split the island in two a few years back. It has only three main streets; Front St., Middle St. and Back St., all lined with Creole restaurants, bars and dive shops for the tourists. Everyone just chillin' on the beach to the Rasta beat. English is the Belize official language so we enjoyed being able to communicate and get to know the locals better.

 At the cafe our server/chef offers us, of all things, a Guinness. Apparently Belize has a Guinness factory that rivals the original back in Ireland. After the first sip, we had to agree! Conch and Lobster appear to be the main fishery here, served in any number of ways.Yum!  We spend our time exploring the island while we wait for a weather window to sail our way to Mexico.
Local Lingo

 During the night the winds pipe up even more to a choppy 20 knots plus and the next thing you know we are dragging our Rocna anchor across the grassy bottomed bay, out to sea! Daragh quickly deploys a second Danforth anchor, which also drags, but eventually stops skimming over the sea grass and takes hold in the sand. Whew! Another close call narrowly averted. After a sleepless night on anchor watch the wind drops and all is peaceful on Chantey  once again.
I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and sky
and all I ask is a tall ship,
and a star to steer her by,

I must go down to the sea again,
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call,
that may not be denied.

John Masefield