NOTE– Though this post is from Tate´s account, this is Dani´s writing.

Overload. This is a word I’d like to use to describe my experiences thus far after departing the US (Los Etados Unidos). We have been doing and seeing so much nearly every day that I have a very hard time figuring out how I ever had the time or by god the energy to work a 40 hour a week job while also refitting a boat. It seems so far away and unthinkable at this point. The language barrier, local foods, different customs, weather and even the money thing (which I should be good at) has been a sensory overload to both Tate and myself. Wild. This place is wild. Along with processing the newness of being in a foreign country (and I mean foreign…You’d never know Key West was only 90 miles away if it weren’t for the fishing boats that show up) I have been processing how to transition from a refit blog to a travel blog.

Leaving the refit behind was the easy part. You couldn’t PAY me to write a single more thing about boat problems. If you are itching for that kind of thing we have over 300 posts on those topics alone, LOL. Now I have a whole new world to share but how to filter out all of the details? Do I pass the overload onto you or only show bits and pieces? I learned in the early days that perhaps the world didn’t need to see Tate turn every screw so I cut back on the photos of such things. But there aren’t screws out here, there are beautiful, interesting and vastly different sights captured on the end of my camera. For now since I’m not a seasoned travel writer I’ll post everything I want, please let me know if it’s too much or if you have suggestions for how to make these better. The last thing we want is our blog to read like 90’s home videos.

Tate touched lightly on the language barrier but I want to emphasis this. If you don’t speak relatively good Spanish you will have a hard time getting anything done outside of the marina walls. The officials and locals Cubans who frequent the marina tend to speak O.K. English…enough for the normal “You need this?” or “What can I get or do for you?” but once you venture outside the walls, say to the left “just over the bridge” into the town of Jaimanitas you will find yourself alone in the Cuban Spanish dialect world.

I was actually very surprised at this seeing just how close Cuba is to the United States and also how many Europeans who speak English travel here frequently. A local explained to me in Spanish/English (He knew a little Ingles and I knew a little Espanol) that there were no Spanish-English Translations guides anywhere in Cuba since for a long time the government didn’t want people speaking English. We looked in Havana for one but to no avail. All the books we saw were the same “regulated” looking books as ever other store. Cubans also aren’t allowed to travel beyond their city limits without the “permit” to do so being a job or a relative etc though I have been told that most Cubans don’t work since there aren’t a lot of jobs. (The government supports the people with food and healthcare etc so there really is no NEED to work) The lack of access to language resources coupled with the restriction on travel may be a reason why so many of the local residents do not speak any English at all, or very little.

I have been able to bridge the gap somewhat using our little Lonely Planet “Latin American Spanish” translation guide as well as pulling from my two years of Spanish in college…10 years ago. We can make our way around without too much trouble and let me tell you I have learned more Espanol in the week and a half I’ve been here than ever before. I am LOVING learning another, useful, language.

So back to Jaimanitas. Naturally pushed away from the marina walls by $14 “Hawaiian Pizza” (hate to say it but it was the worst pizza I’ve ever had) and the even worse all you can eat buffet for $16 a person that was fully stocked with shredded cabbage, radish, lots of rice, corn and every salted meat you can imagine we ventured outside the walls to the left, just over that bridge into a quaint little town we’ve grown to love called Jaimanitas (“Hama-nitas”)
River by Jaimanitas
Welcome to Jaimanitas Sign

We were tipped by our exploring American friends that there are little places to eat down alleyways that charge roughly $1 for a full plate including a meat or eggs, rice, beans, cabbage, a potato like thing and tomatoes. If you are really feeling frisky you can order a $1 Cervesa (beer) and total your meal for two with a $1 tip for $5. And really the $1 tip is extravagant but it’s hard to leave less.
Cheap food for 5 dollars two people

We were told these little restaurants were the first step for Cubans to own private businesses (this is a communist country if you didn’t know, google it) and we have enjoyed these $5 meals immensely taking the 10 minute walk from our boat and eating like kings while also supporting the local business. The food at these places is regulated and owners are only allowed to serve the same basic stuff. Food in general in Cuba is interesting…It’s very hard to find anything like we have in the States and let’s just say this IS NOT THE PLACE TO PROVISION. I cannot stress that enough. The local “store” on the marina grounds has rum, soda, cheese puffs, dried beans, strange canned things (not chicken), minimal toiletries and that’s about it. No fresh anything except apples, some salted meat like bologna and on occasion $8/kg for beef. We plan to walk 20 minutes to the nearest Supermercado (Supermarket) next week sometime to see if the selection is better. I’m low on bread flour.

Another thriving local business is the farmers market from 8-12 on Saturday mornings. We came a little late so missed out on the pineapples but they had plenty of onions and other vegetables. I’ve never seen anything like it. The people were so proud of their crops that they brought in from who knows where, some on horse and carriage to sell to other locals. We were the ONLY white folks in the area. Some of the crops were ok while some were molding and rotting. None of the things sold look like anything sold in the US. But it what they have here and we thoroughly enjoyed.
Onions at the local market

We did visit the meat side of the market where slabs of meat hung on hooks in the open air or were laid across a large wooden stump used as a cutting block. We purchased 6, fresh never frozen, chops for $4. These were later used in a gravy roux Tate made and were DELISH.
Buying meat at the local market

After spending a little time in town you can’t help but notice all this funny tile work.
Jaimanitas tiled bus stop

Like the yellow brick road you can’t help but follow this colorful mosaic artwork and it just gets grander and grander.
Incredible Fusters wall in the neighborhood
Incredible Fusters wall in the neighborhood

There’s nothing unusual about a Crab Wall.
Crab wall in the neighborhood

Or Japanese Ju Jitsu down a random Cuban street.
Jujitsu wall

Everybody needs a family doctor at some point.
Family doctor with large mosaic heart

Nothing wrong with a little admiration
Patriotic Tile
Fidel's return in mosiac

Then all signs point to here, the meca of all mosaic mecas. We had found the Doctor Sues de Cuba.
Entrace to Fusters house

The artist name is Fuster, and this is his HOUSE.
Walking into Fusters house
Mosaic Hands and a man
Large mosaic heart

From the history we were told by his childhood friend Fuster (last name) grew up as a poor Cuban boy in the nearby town of Santa Fe. He always dreamed of a mosaic town and told his friend one day he would accomplish it. But with no money or means he poured his soul into his paintings until one day about 20 years ago he had made enough money to buy his own house, which is what you see in the pictures. He slowly started his mosaic work in the 1990’s on his outer wall when a neighbor bet him he’d never start his life’s dream. The rest is history. He has opened his house up to tourist and works with many of the local schools on neighborhood beautification projects. This was quite the spectacle with brightly colored mosaic walls, people and animals all over the complex.
Large Mosaic of mother Mary and Jesus
On the second story of Fusters place
A mosaic giraffe
A mosaic alligator

Most interesting to me was the way he cemented and tiled the rooftops. We were told this started as a favor for a neighbor with a leaking roof.
Fuster tiled roof
Fuster roof fish
Fuster roof fish

The entire complex is 3 stories high with various curly connectors and roofs about. This 3rd story view gives you a nice look at the nearby ocean, The one we sailed across just over a week ago, who knows maybe we could have been seen from way up here.
The entire Fuster complex from the 3rd story
Viva Cuba as seen on the 3rd floor

The people of Jaimanitas have been super welcoming and we’ll always remember this place as our first “trip” outside the US.
Jaimanitas houses and shed
Typical Jaimanitas housing

Not too much farther down the road from our $1 plate meals resides a place that is starkly different and with a $10/person entrance ONLY fee we had no idea what to expect. The place was Club Habana, that’s “UH-bana” for you gringos.
Club Habana sign and old car
Club Habana from the front a grand view

I think this was an old country club that has been converted into a hotel for tourists to come visit. Seeing how the average monthly salary of a Cuban is $15/month the entrance fee alone shows you this isn’t a place for locals.
Biltmore Yacht Club sign
Habana Club Stairs

Our entrance fee gave us access to the bars, the pool and the BEACH. We stopped at the bar first for a mojito and a “Cuba Libre” (rum, coke, lime: Free Cuba)
Bar in Habana

Then we made our way outside for the first white sandy beach I’ve seen since last year’s family beach trip to Alabama. The architecture was super grand and the scenery serene. That’s Havana in the background.
Club Habana in the back
Dani outside on the beach

It’s still pretty cold for swimming but just sitting outside in the sun beams listening to the rustling palm trees was perfect enough. Some people did get in the water though…wearing speedos. They are probably from a town whose river is currently frozen, far north in Europe or Russia.
Tate outside near the palm trees

We have ventured further and further outside our comfort zone and into the interior of Cuba. Tate will write about our visit to Havana and we are going to try to taxi a ride 200km away to Vinales, Pinar Del Rio which is the land of world’s best cigar tobacco and amazing limestone formations. We hope to rent a room for a couple of nights ($25) and hike the country side, possible also on horseback. I can’t wait. Google this place if you want to see more.

Two days ago on Valentine’s Day Tate hired Wicho and Javier. Wicho plays the guitar and sings while Javier plays the violin (one of the best I’ve ever heard and he’s only 22, playing for 14 years). They are quite the pair and played beautiful music for 2 hours during a little get together with friends on our side of the marina.
Wicho and Javier playing music

The rate was VERY reasonable so if you are coming to Marina Hemingway I highly recommend you look these guys up and hire them if you want live Cuban music. You can contact them via phone or just ask around:
Wicho 52463327
Javier 52717980

The internet here is slow and regulated to one working computer in a hotel that you buy time for. Posting blogs can be difficult which is why I have combined so much in this one and ask you to google things instead of posting links. Until next time.