Exploring Eastern Cuba by Car

Even though it is hard thinking positive of Cuba at the moment when we are stuck at anchor, not allowed to go ashore, I will try to think back of our experiences from the little drive we did in the eastern part of Cuba. Cuba is a fantastic country in many ways, indeed! The people are very friendly and mostly smiling and so far we have seen stunning nature and architecture. Music and Salsa on the streets? Yes, it does exist and I have had a couple of dances with better and worse gentlemen something I have longed for before coming here! But oh my, I repeat, oh my… This country really is something different, something you can't imagine until you have experienced it yourself. Time has basically stood still here since the Revolution 1959. The big question is how long will it last? When will the Cubans regain their freedom and further the possibility of fulfilling dreams?


When Martin and Mirjam the Swiss couple from Ranja, the second smallest yacht in the ARC, Ranja only larger than Ron's Zahara, but with a killing parasail, dropped us off in Santiago the Cuba we were on our own again. The best way to explore the country if you don't feel like hitchhiking without guarantee of getting somewhere or crowd in an overfull bus like cattle on their way to slaughter, is renting a car. We ended up in a brand new automatic Hyundai Accent and since I was the only one who luckily had brought my driver's license I ended up driving. I have so longed to drive, I have really missed it a lot and in those other car rental situations I have been in during this trip there have been gentlemen involved who have been more than willing to drive and I must admit that there is one advantage of being a passenger, you can have a beer at every stop. I didn't expect my first drive after 9 months would be in a big city with an automatic brand new car though. But everything went smooth, the Hyundai was fun to drive and my two backseat drivers were very calm and so was I thinking of the fact that we are fully covered by the insurance company Europeiska. Three foreign girls in a rental car in Cuba aren't that common and among the horse drawn vehicles we sort of stood out from the rest.


Our car trip started in Santiago de Cuba and then we went east along the south coast towards a little town called Baconao. Maria had read about a crocodile farm situated there and ever since she had been dreaming about patting the baby crocodiles. On our way there we passed Acuario Baconao an aquarium with hundreds of fishes, dolphins and sea lions. We decided to come back for the dolphin show after visiting the crocodiles. Finding the crocodiles was harder than expected and at one point we ended up in the jungle, but with a strong Hyundai that was no problem. After a delicious lunch consisting of barbecued fish you eat with your hands (we got two fishes each since they had no potatoes or other side dishes), we eventually found the crocodile farm. I wouldn't call it a farm though, it consisted of three different corrals with water and each consisted of a crocodile. The first crocodile we saw was about 2 m long and in his 20-ties. The brave or shall I say foolish crocodile keeper jumped into the corral and tried to get the crocodile's attention by annoying him with a stick. It was effective and the crocodile angrily showed his teeth and started biting after the keeper who continued irritating the crocodile by dragging him in the tail. Cruelty to animals or what? No wonder the crocodile keeper recently had spent three months in bed after being bit by the crocodile. Crocodile number two was an oldie in his 50-ties around 3m long, and didn't pay much attention to the crocodile keeper's attempt to get his attention. The third crocodile, the cutest, was the three month old little baby crocodile, around half a meter long. It was very fun petting the sweet little crocodile and we also got to hold it, with its mouth secured so it wouldn't bite us. Maria was satisfied; she had finally met a baby crocodile.


We left the crocodiles just in time to get to the show at the aquarium. We seemed to be the only tourists in the whole area so after a private crocodile show we ended up on a private dolphin and sea lion show on the aquarium. It was fascinating seeing the well trained animals doing marvelous tricks. After some negotiating Maria and I got a very good price on a dolphin swim, something that is on my must-to-do-list. What amazing animals! We got to swim with two male dolphins (of course) and in the water you really experience how huge they are. They were so well trained and I couldn't help but get totally overwhelmed by their tricks they did with us. The best part was the foot ride I got, haha, the dolphins lifted me up with their noses on my souls and I got a ride throughout the pool causing me almost loosing my bikini due to the speed. We have lots of movies from the dolphin swim (not from the exact bikini loss though, I'm sorry) and loads of other movies and pictures from our Cuba experiences. Next time we will find internet we will share them with you, however you will have to be patient, I don't think we will find proper internet until we reach Europe (the Azores).


We were planning on taking a shortcut to Guantánamo from Baconao, unfortunately the road was damaged so we had to take the long way there and go back to Santiago the Cuba first. But with lots of fuel needed to be used and funny hitchhikers it was just an amusing drive. We offered the dolphin trainer and a girl from the restaurant at the aquarium a ride back to Santiago the Cuba, who where very happy. You see vehicles in Cuba are very rare, people simply have no cars, they can't afford it and instead they have to spend so much of their time walking/bicycling/hitchhiking to get to work or wherever they are going. And very often their destination is it not situated around the corner, rather far far away. Along the roads there are innumerable people waiting and hoping to get a ride. We were more than happy to offer the two remaining seats in our fancy car to needy and I can't count the number of hitchhikers we picked up along the road. Don't worry Eva and Helena (our mothers); we focused on picking up women and mothers with children that looked very innocent. Even though we often couldn't communicate very much due to the language problem they could show us the right way and we saved them some hours of waiting. Speaking of waiting, Cuba is a country of waiting and standing in line. You have to stand in line for everything; at one place I even saw two different lines, one for women, and one for men. Cubans queue for the fruit market, they queue in front of the restaurants, they queue for the doctor, and they queue to get a ride on an overfull bus. The list of things the Cubans are standing in line for is endless. 


It was a very beautiful drive to Guantánamo, but the radio wasn't cooperating, no good music just a lot of Spanish bla bla bla and I can't count the number of time I changed frequency. But suddenly, around 20km from Guantánamo, we got an American radio program broadcasted from New York, hit music only, no talking and in the Huyndai the party begun. Must be the Guantánamo Bay US Naval Base sending out the program. The main reason for going to Guantánamo was the Guantánamo Bay. There used to be a view point from which you could overlook the Bay and watch the American and Cuban soldiers. Unfortunately, the view point was closed but apparently with a certain permission (from immigration) you could go to the boarder but that we didn't know when we arrived in Guantánamo in the sunset. (Lack of information is another thing you need to deal with in this country). We found the road leading to the bay, but of course, we were soon stopped by a road block and the military guard had no sense of humor and would not let himself be talked into letting three innocent Swedish girls pass no matter how hard I tried, "just to have a look" wasn't an option. Our friends on Escape had faced the same road block and were as disappointed as us and Tom's intense argumentation hadn't taken them any further either. As for the rest Guantánamo is nothing else than a sadly poor city with rural almost not drivable dirt roads and houses that look like tin sheds, our rental car did so not fit in and either did we! However, it was a very interesting experience and nowadays we belong to the few who can say they have had a hotdog in Guantánamo.


Yes, as I initially mentioned we are still stuck at anchor waiting for the wind to calm so we sail to the marina. Hopefully it will be calm enough tomorrow morning but one never know, unfortunately we haven't figured out how to influence the weather yet, our charm doesn't seem to be good enough, strange! But as soon as the boat is safely moored in the marina and we are ashore we are off to La Habana! /First Mate


PS. 1. Since we are lacking internet we cannot see any comments here on the page nor do any comments ourselves at the moment. But we are really looking forward to reading them once we find some net and until then I hope you all know that you can send text messages to our satellite phone for free!


PS. 2. To sam@fortescu.... Could you please send us another text with your email address included since we cannot see your whole address and then we will come back to you as soon as we can! But yes, in Carribean our watermaker has been very useful!   

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