Santiago – 11th of April, 2018

“The goal is to die with memories not dreams”

We arrived at the harbour entrance at about 9 am and was greeted by the sight of the Castillo del Morro sitting as a sentinel high on the hill.  As we made our way to the dock for check in we also passed the Cayo Granma, a little island with brightly coloured houses. It was a very quick check in process, only Andrew went ashore and nobody boarded to inspect our boat.  The whole process probably took less than an hour.  We departed from the jetty and anchored nearby. 

We decided to go and explore Santiago, Max had a headache and didn’t want to go, so Ava stayed with him, while Andrew, Tristan and I went with Noel our English speaking, with a slightly Russian accent, Cuban taxi driver.

We needed Cuban cash and all the banks were closed with a fumigation sign, turns out there was power outage.  Andrew ended up getting a small amount of cash from an ATM, our ordinary Citibank card (an American subsidiary) won’t work in Cuba.  We wandered the streets, up and down hills and admired the Spanish churches and buildings and enjoyed the juxtaposition of the mix of modern and old Russian cars from the 60s, while hunger set in.  We eventually found a restaurant selling local food and for about $7 AUD each, we had a good lunch.  We slowly wandered back to meet Noel, who was waiting for us, turns out there is a time difference in Cuba and we were an hour late, oops.

Noel took us to another part of town where there was an exchange open so we could change some American dollars and pay our entrance fees into Cuba.  We wound down the windows of Noel’s 1960s blue car and enjoyed watching the scenery and old cars pass us by. By the time we got back to the boat we were all a little tired from walking and the overnight passage the previous night.

Noel told us that his Dad bought the blue car for $4000 of local currency and then passed it down to Noel, it is now worth about $15 000.  Owning a car means you can use it as a taxi and potentially make a lot of money.

Written by Karen

Cayo Anclitas – 15 – 16th April

There are three words to sum up the cayos on the way to Cienfuegos: fish, fish, fish! Most were barracuda on the line, but some mackerel struck too, including one unlucky fish who got a little mauled by reef sharks before we could get him in.

Coral trouts hid under many of the ledges, and I got a few lucky shots with the speargun.

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Written by Tristan

Cayo Machos de Fuera – 20th April

I lost several lures to big fish just waiting to spool me, and eventually Dad and I had to improvise our own lure out of a broomstick handle and whatever was laying around in the tacklebox. “Killer Queen” is ready to catch us some more fish soon. The fishing gradually worsened as we got closer and closer to Cienfuegos, but there is still plenty of fish in the freezer for the next big sail.

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My Lure called Killer Queen

written by Tristan

Cienfuegos

21st of April, 2018

As we approached the marina in Cienfuegos, Andrew called to let them know we were arriving and although they didn’t answer another Australian boat, Crystal Blues who we haven’t seen in over 2 years did.  They gave us the instructions to come in and met us on the dock.

After checking in we went with Lay and Neil to a local restaurant Dona Nora which they had been to before for dinner.  The food was fantastic and Tristan even tried the rabbit.  After dinner we continued down town to one of the community centres to listen to the live band.  We were definitely the youngest in the audience but it was really good to see all the couples get up and dance the various dances including the salsa, dressed in their finest, shoes polished and having a great time.  Max actually asked me to dance, which I did and Ava danced with Neil and Tristan and Andrew with Lay.  We wandered around the main plaza before walking about 40 minutes to the marina.

23rd of April, 2018

Andrew and I took one of the bike cabs into town to go to the markets, it turns out they are not open on a Monday, oh well.  We wandered around for a while before returning to the boat to collect the kids and go out for lunch. We caught bicycle taxis into town, hard work for the driver in the Cuban heat.

We went to a burger place recommended by Crystal blues for a cheap lunch.  Andrew and Tristan went off for haircuts while Max, Ava and I walked down to the plaza to look at all the beautiful pastel buildings that we had seen on Saturday night.  

Buildings around the plaza

The Terri Theatre with beautiful facades and sculptures

We also enjoyed wandering the boulevards and looking at the local arts and crafts. 

The pedestrian boulevards near the plaza

We all met up for ice-cream at the Coppelia which is a government run, subsidised ice-cream parlour.  At about 60 cents for 5 servings, we all had different flavoured ice-cream sundaes.  Not gelati, but we haven’t had ice-cream in a long time.What value!

A few more photos of the surrounding streets in Ceinfuegos. Castro’s presence can be seen in paintings on walls on the street and market place.

Near the marina is a hotel that has a rather beautiful mansion, built in the early 1900s by a rich Cuban and is now a bar and restaurant.

Beautiful mansion nearby the marina, with a hotel on its grounds

written by Karen

Palacio De Valle

We had heard about this palace from the boat, Crystal Blues and Ava needed to photograph a place for visual arts so we went for a visit. The architectural style of the building is Spanish-Moorish but also has infuences of Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque and it actually very beautiful with lots of intricate details. Don Celestino Caces a merchant began the construction in 1913, but it did not have the architectural stye he expected so it was uncompleted and sold to Alegandro Suero Balbin for his daughter, who completed the construction in 1917. Today it is an upscale hotel and restaurant, where Castro frequented when in Cienfuegos.

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Have a look at some of the details of the building, the interior is even more exquisite but we didn’t take any photos inside.

Photos taken by Ava

Trinidad

While in Cienfuegos we wanted to take a trip to Trinidad, about 100 km away.  We tried to hire a car but in Cuba it is expensive, by the time you add in insurance etc you are looking at close to $200 AUD a day.  Add to all this the kids have a lot of school work to get through so that they don’t fall behind, when we start our 27 day passage in the near future.  So we decided we would hire a scooter and just Andrew and I would go.  It seemed like a great idea, by the time we had ridden 40 km and stopped so that we could regain feeling in our butts, we realised that perhaps a car would have been better.  We decided to continue on and finally made it to Trinidad at about 11.30, with Cuba’s April sun beating down on us.

The tourist part of town is referred to as the Old Town and was first settled 500 years ago with its houses, buildings and uneven cobbled streets the whole town is like a museum.  Most of the buildings around the central plaza, called the Mayor Plaza, have been restored according to strict Cuban preservation laws and now house either museums, restaurants or accommodation.

From the central plaza run many crooked streets in all different directions and you seem to find yourself walking in circles at times.  Apparently the city was designed to confuse and disorientate pirates who regularly tried to invade the town in the 17th century.

We parked the scooter and headed towards the plaza, passing the Church and convent of Saint Francis or Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco.  I had seen photos of the church before and heard it described as a bright lemon coloured, with a lime trim.  I actually thought I was looking at the wrong church as the paintwork was so faded.  The Franciscans built it in 1813 as a convent, before it became the Parish church in the mid-1800s and later a jail.  By the 1920s most of the building, except the bell tower was torn down.  You can climb the bell tower and it is supposed to have great views over the town.  Unfortunately Andrew’s foot was aching from days of walking all around Cienfuegos, so we skipped the climb.

The cobbled street leading up to the Church and convent of Saint Francis or Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. Cowboys standing on the corner near the church offering horseback rides.

We reached the plaza and after Andrew had hobbled there we sat in the shade and admired the plaza and watched the people passing by.  We continued on to the sun faded Church of the Holy Trinity or Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad.  The church itself is not particularly spectacular, even though it’s the largest in Cuba, but the story of the much worshipped statue that it houses makes it interesting. The 18th century statue referred to as Christ of the True Cross or Senor de la Vera Cruz left Spain and was bound for Mexico but due to strong winds it landed in nearby Casilda, the Captain decided to leave it behind and it ended up where it is.

Clockwise from top left: No its not a statue just someone dressed as one. The famous statue known as Christ of the True Cross or Senor de la Vera Cruz, interior of the church and Church of the Holy Trinity or Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad

The Mayor Plaza with some of the beautiful Spanish buildings.  An elderly Cuban man relaxing in the shade.

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One of the many streets lined with locally made tourist souvenirs

We admired the buildings from afar, but did not venture into any of the museums.   We did wander through the less touristy streets surrounding Mayor Plaza, before venturing to the New Town to eat like the locals.  After driving in circles for a long time and finding very few options, we ended up at a restaurant that had a spare table, its only remaining dish was roast goat with red beans and rice. A tasty, simple lunch. 

Some of the cobbled streets surrounding Mayor Plaza, less touristy and just as interesting.  Love the cars.

We started the long trip home, passing cowboys, cows, goats and farms.  We stopped half way so we could regain feeling in our butts and waited as two cowboys passed us by.

Some of the many cowboys we passed on the road between Cienfuegos and Trinidad

written by Karen

 

Havana – 15/5/2018

Fundamental to the Cuban way of life is music and art.  Steve our Australian driver and guide, took us to what is unofficially known as Fusterlandia.  Fusterlandia is the brain child of a street artist named Jose Fuster, who 20 years ago set about transforming his neighbourhood using a kaleidoscope of coloured mosaic tiles, bottles and statues to decorate fences, bus stops, walls, roofs and his own workshop. His work seems to have drawn on ideas from other artists like Picasso, Salvador Dahli and Gaudi.  There is just so much to see wandering the streets looking at each piece, I was really awestruck at how ‘cool’ the neighbourhood looked.  Jose’s workshop was not open the day we went, it is however open Wednesday – Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm if you ever find yourself in Havana.

The photo on the left is of Castro brothers and other key party members on the boat they took from Mexico to Cuba to start the revolution.  The two photos on the right are of Jose Fuster’s art workshop which he has fusterised.

More of the homes that Fuster has fustified in his neighbourhood

Our next stop, which was not on my list of places to visit, was the Havana Forest that could easily be a set of some big box office movie.  The forest, which although is quite small is set on some hills and slopes down to a small river.  The trees in the forest are encompassed by large vines.  It was drizzling with rain when we visited which gave it an almost misty look, only further adding to its movie set appeal.  Only Tristan, Ava and I went for a quick look around and snapped a few photos.

Another place that was not on my list to see but Steve took us to, unfortunately I can’t remember the name and have tried googling unsuccessfully to find out what its called.  The park in a suburban area in Havana is filled with sculptures one particularly weird one has a hypodermic needle going through a tree.

We continued for a drive around Old Havana’s narrow streets before visiting El Cristo de La Habana. It is a 20 meter tall (66 feet), marble sculpture of Jesus, perched on a hilltop park. In 1957 the wife of the then president, Batista, having just survived an assassination attempt at the Presidential Palace in March 1957, wanted to have a statue of Jesus built for him.  The statue was created by Jilma Madera in 1958, after his design one the competition. 

Jilma spent two years in Italy supervising the parts of his plaster model as it was transformed into Carrara marble.  The 67 pieces were blessed by Pope Pius XII before it was transported back to Cuba and assembled by 17 men.  That statue was unveiled on Christmas Day 1958, one day prior to the dictator, Batista, fleeing the country. During the statues time it has been hit by lightning some 4 times.  During our visit there was a film crew set up and nobody could walk around the statue, so I went down the hill a little ways to see it.  The hill where the statue is perched has a wonderful view over the city of Havana, I imagine from the base of the statue itself it would be even better. There is no charge to visit the statue.

Photo on the left: the view of Havana from the base of the El Cristo de La Habana statue and Photo on the right of the El Cristo de la Hab

We continued on to Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, locally known as El Morro.  El Morro is located across the harbour from Havana, at the entrance to the Bay. The construction of El Morro began in 1590 and was completed in 1630, having been designed by Italian, Giovanni Battista Antonelli and built by slaves.  The fort is composed of two bastions, Tejada and Austria and a semibastion called the 12 apostles.  On the North West corner of the fort is a lighthouse, which was built in the 19th century and can be climbed for an additional 2CUC.  We did not visit the lighthouse but it is supposed to have great views of both Havana and the ocean.

El Morro Castle

On the opposite shore to El Morro is La Punta castle.  At one point in time these two castles were linked by iron chain, that if enemy ships (pirates were spotted was pulled tight to prevent them entering.  El Morro first saw action in 1762, when the British invaded Havana.  Rather than attack from the ocean/bay the British sieged the fortress by coming from the hills in the rear of the castle.   Cuba was eventually returned to Spain later in the 18th century and the Spanish quickly built another fortress called San Carlos de La Cabana Castle in the hills to prevent another siege like the one in 1762.

Clockwise from top left: El Morro, car park with the rainbow coloured assortment of vintage cars, Ava at the castle, cannons.

  • Open 10 am – 6 pm
  • Basic admission is 6 CUC.
  • A visit to the top of the lighthouse costs an additional 2 CUC.

We returned to the old city for lunch, which was amazing pizza, best I’ve had in a long time, before wandering around in Old Havana.  This was the view from where we ate lunch, amazing buildings everywhere.

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The view looking up the street from the restaurant we ate lunch at

Steve dropped us off at the El Capitolio so we could have a look, it has been under renovations for a few years now but is expected to be reopened sometime in 2018.  The large domed building, which although similar to America’s Capitol building in Washington DC, was actually modelled after the Pantheon in Paris. Construction began in 1926 and took around 5 000 workers over 3 years to construct and cost about $17 million US, funded by sugar money.  The building has served many purposes over the years from the seat of Cuban congress, to the Cuban Academy of Science and National Library of Science and Technology and when it reopens it will house Cuba’s National Assembly.

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El Capitolio Building

Just down the road from El Capitolio is the Gran Teatro de La Habana.  The building has had a face-lift and is truly beautiful, ornately designed building.  You can actually do tours of the building in English and Spanish or see one of the music, dance or ballet performances there.

Gran Teatro de La Habana where you can see dance, music and ballet performances in this ornate building

Steve picked us up and we parked over near the Plaza de la Catedral, which is home to the beautiful Catedral de San Cristobal which dates back to the 1700s.  The building has an ornate, baroque façade and its interior is lit with Chandeliers that draw your eyes to the cupola. 

Cathedral de san Cristobal, beautiful both inside and out

Just nearby the plaza is a bar, La Bodeguita del Medio, which was frequented by Fidel Castro, Nat King Cole and Ernest Hemmingway and where the mojito originated from.  An Ernest Hemmingway quote, “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” and signature takes centre stage at the bar, which frequently has bands playing.  The bar itself is very small and the walls are covered with signatures from those who have visited, apparently the walls are repainted every 6 months of so.  A mojito will set you back about 7 CUC. 

The bar where the mojito originated in and where Ernest Hemmingway and Fidelo Castro frequented

Also off the plaza is an artist’s workshop, called ‘Taller Experimental de Grafica’ which specialises in lithograph prints.  I asked one of the artists who was working if I could photograph him which he was happy for me to do and then the artist across from him lifted up his work so I could photograph his as well.  There is artwork for sale and the artists are very friendly and happy to converse about their work.

Some of the artists at work at the Taller Experimental de Grafica Workshop where they make prints

Plaza Vieja one of the oldest and most popular plazas, although was mostly empty when we visited, is surrounded by beautiful pastel buildings and one odd, but apparently famous sculpture of a naked lady holding a fork on a chicken.  The bronze sculpture by Roberto Fabelo is the 2004 National Arts Award Winner, the meaning of it can only be speculated by the viewer.  

Plaza Vieja with its unusual chicken sculpture

As we wandered between plazas we had this very cool view of the Capitola building between the streets.  My favourite photo.

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View of one the Capitolio building from  one of the side streets

Plaza de san Francisco houses the restored 16th century Basilica Menor y Convento de San Francisco de Asisi which is used as a concert hall and the stock exchange building, although not currently used as one. In the square is the sculpture ‘The Conversation’, which Tristan really liked.

The Basilica Menor y Convento de San Francisco de Asisi and the sculpture, ‘The Conversation’

Leaving behind the Old Havana we drove to Revolution square which is a symbolic place in Cuba and one of the largest squares in Cuba and named after the armed Cuban people triumphed in 1959.  Since the revolution the square has been used by Fidel Castro to deliver important speeches.  Central to the square is the pyramidal tower with a statue of Jose Marti, who is considered a national hero and poet, seated below it. Opposite the tower are two government buildings one with a relief of Che Guevara with the phrase ‘Hasta la Victoria Siempre’ and another with Camilo Cienfuegos with the phrase ‘Vas bie Fidel’

Photo on the left of Che Guevara, Middle tower with the statue Jose Marti and on the right Camilo Cienfuegos.

Our last stop a very brief one was on the side of a street outside an apartment complex where Steve showed us his favourite sculpture which apparently was created by a man in a wheelchair.

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Fellow Australian, Steve our guide and driver who showed us around.

There is so much to see in Havana and not just the tourist sites, Havana is filled with bars, music venues, art workshops and restaurants, you definitely need a few days but we did manage to see a lot during our day there.  If you have time here are a few other ideas of what you could do:

  • La Cabaña Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña or also known as  La Cabana, is a ten minute walk from the El Morro castle. The impregnable fortress was built between 1763 and 1774 and has an interesting history, it now houses restaurants and museums.  Each evening there is a nightly medieval re-enactment of the closing of the city gates and harbor, along with the firing of a cannon at exactly 9PM.

Open 10 am – 10 pm

Price is 6 CUC before 6 pm/ 8 CUC after 6 pm

  • The Christopher Columbus Cemetery – The entrance is a triple arched portal that is Romanesque inspired and made of Carrara marble.  Its considered to be one of the greatest historical cemeteries in the world and the resting place of many famous Cubans.

Entrance for locals is free, but for foreigners there is a 5 CUC admittance charge

       Open 8 am – 5 pm

Map can be bought at the entrance for $1 CUC

Castillo de la Real Fuerza – Built between 1558 and 1577 and complete with a moat.  We did not visit the Castillo itself but it is now home to a museum that houses the history of the fort and town as well as shipwreck artefacts.

Open 9 am – 5 pm

Admission price – 3 CUC

Written by Karen