It’s now been just over week since we arrived to Mexico and I can finally say I’m back to my old self. Humm, I suppose that’s not quite right… I’ve gotten into a groove that is a new self, a self that wears bikinis in the sun working on my office tan followed by snorkeling trips to the various spots nearby the boat where I’ve befriended many species of colorful fish, coral and vegetation. Our days are spent waking up at leisure, drinking coffee while reading or browsing the internet then perhaps making lunch or going to shore to eat somewhere cheap. Our anchorage is free, the wifi is free and we found a free water source close by. We are also surrounded by cruisers who love to get together and chat or go out for a beer. Instant friends…One can never be lonely out here. Sounds dreamy doesn’t it?
Dani drinking margaritas in Isla Mujeres

This is the life…the life we have been planning for, finally it is here and we are enjoying every minute of it. How easily a week slips by. This sort of bliss is such a contrast from our Gulf Stream crossing on the way here. So many emotions and shifts in just 3 1/2 days and then just like that it was over and we were anchored in a calm spot with clear water and a steady breeze, always on the bow. More on the joys of Isla Mujeres later. What I really wanted to impart here are my closing thoughts on Cuba. All this relaxation has given me a long time to think about just what to say, because Something needs to be said about a place as unique and charming as Cuba.

Many people have asked us why we didn’t we sail the south coast of Cuba as planned and instead made a b-line to Mexico? I guess the simplest reasons are money and time, in that order. Cuba is an expensive place to visit by boat.

All of the following are in CUC: exchange rate $1USD=$0.87CUC.

We had to pay $16CUC a day for the boat slip ($500CUC/month) and were supposed to pay health insurance $2CUC/day/pp ($124CUC/month but somehow we slipped through the cracks on this one). Plus about $105CUC in other entrance and exit fees and on top of that is another roughly $25-$50CUC in tipping. So just slip and others fees amounted to $779CUC=$847USD. That is more than HALF of our monthly budget of $1,500USD.

But with $5 rum and $1 meals in town couldn’t you just live forever like that? I mean yeah we could…but we aren’t cruising to just sit around the boat and drink rum while eating the same food everyday (seriously it’s pretty much the same food all over the country). We want to explore and adventure which we did when we went to Havana and Vinales, but these trips weren’t cheap either. I suppose relatively they are but to our budget they are pricey. The Vinales trip alone costed $350 so you could see how venturing out away from our pricey marina can break the budget fairly easily.

(An aside: I’ve been tracking our monthly spending closely with categories and plan to disclose the first 6 months of cruising costs when we get to that point.)

So the other big reason was time. During our 3 weeks in Cuba we spoke to many people who had traveled all around the island (usually by car but some by boat) and we didn’t hear of a place that grabbed ours hearts enough to motivate us to sail the HUNDREDS and hundreds of miles along the coast line to get to them. Many of them were described with the same communist feel as all the other places we had been. Little or no stores for food, private kitchens offering the same meal plans as allowed by the government (rice, beans, cabbage, fruit, eggs, chicken thigh or pork, some root like a potato and helado (similar to sorbert) and worn facilities albeit with extremely happy and accommodating people and beautiful undeveloped beaches.

To travel around the coast of Cuba also meant we had to tell the Port Captain where we intended to go and then sail to another marina (with similar fees), meet the next Port Captain and also the long line of people wanting to check our paper work as well as ask for “presents”.

Since our plans had firmly shifted to go to Central America spending all the time and money to cruise the rest of Cuba just didn’t make sense anymore. After all we had seen the Jewel, Vinales and the old city of Havana…If we are to actually make it around the world we have to be discerning about where we stop and how we spend our money. It would be impossible to see every cool place all over the earth.

So then right to it.

The Highlights of Cuba (for me):

  1. The people. 99% of everyone we met was welcoming and nice. Many had a stern exterior (so do I actually, I think this is called “resting bitch face”) but lit up like a Christmas tree when you said Hola or showed some other kindness. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been in a place with so many jolly folks. The country’s political atmosphere might not be the best but the residents seem by and large happy and also in shape. There is such a gumbo pot of races here yet everyone acts the same. There is African, Dutch, German, English, Russian, Norwegian, Spanish and many other descents here so you have brown and black people alongside white haired and paled skinned Sweden folks. It’s very interesting but everyone gets along and as far as we could tell treats each other as equal. We also felt very safe here.
  2. The sights. Obviously Havana and Pinar del Rio are like nowhere else on earth. These as well as other sites around the country are worth a visit. We met more than 4 couples/families from Europe who all rented a car and were traveling around the country and staying at Casa de Particulars. This would be a GREAT place to travel by car if you had a week or two. On land things are mostly inexpensive and you can drive around the whole island in days.
  3. The weather. Just perfect temperatures in the mid 80’s most of the year with a nice breeze and very little in the way of bugs (that we could find).
  4. The language. If you want to learn or practice Spanish Cuba seemed like a good place to check out. Sure the dialect is pretty different and people tended to have a lazy speech but most people outside the touristy areas speak NO English so you are forced to speak in Spanish but they seemed LIMITLESS in their effort to help you learn it. I have learned so much just from being here and I’ve really enjoyed it.

What you can bring to Cuba for gifts if you travel here:

There were a few things that seemed in high demand and would be extremely appreciated if brought in as gifts for the Cuban locals. Some of these are easy to bring, others not so much but I wanted to include them all as I saw everything on this list being brought to the country.

  1. Rigging Knives or pocket tools– incredibly appreciated by fishermen and mariners
  2. Bic or torch lighters– they are better quality then the ones sold there
  3. Thumb drives– any capacity usb thumb drives to use with computers
  4. Old cellphones– any brand really but it would help if you had the charger as well. We saw Iphones and old flip phones.
  5. DVDs and music– American movies of any kind and CD’s, tapes or MP3s on thumbdrives
  6. Smell good anything– Colognes and perfumes are all regulated and minimal here, even in hair and body products. The Cubans really like things that have a good scent so if you want to make friends with a local Cuban bring him something that smells good for his wife, sister or mother. This is in really high demand.
  7. Stuffed Animals and toys for kids– Stuffed animals are nearly non-existent here and toys like dolls and action figures would be great for kids.
  8. Coffee– The coffee grown in Cuba is too expensive for the locals to buy so we’ve heard of cruisers brining in coffee to give or trade with the locals. This is super awesome for them.
  9. English for Spanish speaking people language books– The country is just shifting to teach English instead of Russian as a second language but these books are virtually NON-existent here. Pocket sized ones would be great to give out.
  10. Bicycles– Many times people will break down and ship in luggage a bike from the States or Canada, ride it while they are here and then give it to a local. This is a really great gift.
  11. Rock Climbing gear– For areas like Pinar Del Rio where many foreigners come to climb steep limestone rocks. There is no gear like this to buy in the country so in “climbing circles” it is often encouraged to bring your gear and when done give it to the locals so they can also enjoy climbing in their home country.

I look back now and I miss Cuba. There’s not another place like it on earth and slowly it’s going to change into something more like the rest of the world. I’m happy we saw it when we did and to forever remember this visit of a lifetime Tate has put together a nice video of different clips he took during our time there and he used the live music from Whico and Javier that we spoke about before (with their permission). It’s a bit longer than our typical videos but throughout there are many highlights so I hope you give it a view in your spare time. I can only hope what lies ahead will be just as enriching.

(Click on the picture below for the video)