Thursday, April 06, 2017

Another Cuban adventure

Cuba is a BIG island. This was our 6th visit (including our month long stay in 2000) when we cruised with our sailboat) and we pick a new region every time we visit. The red dots show our previous visits...with a big arrow to the Playa Santa Lucia.

Camaguey is the third largest city of Cuba..but we just landed there. The city was 1.5 hours away from our accommodation on Playa Santa Lucia..a strip of land surrounded by water: the Atlantic on one side and a lagoon on the other La laguna el real.  The reef on the Atlantic side is extensive, the laguna a favorite site for hundreds of flamingos.

Our hotel was very pretty: the green spaces were numerous and  the gardens lovingly maintained, around the bar, the pool and the small café. Not too manicured but decorated with tinajones, large clay pots typical for the area of Camaguey, and other small and large clay sculptures. 

Our preferred spot was the "library"! Indeed, designated as a reading area, it was the quietest place on the resort: we went there every afternoon with a glass of rum and our newly acquired cigars!
It is always quite an endeavour to find those local cigars ...they come in a white paper roll, 25 of them. Cubans pay 24 Cuban pesos for them. We used the bicycles of the resort to explore the surroundings and asked people where we could buy such cigars. The problem was that Marleyne (who has not reviewed her Spanish lessons) could not grasp the directions (she is challenged anyway when it comes to directions!!!)....

We understood something about Centro comercial...ok! we know where this one is! A man chatting with a shop owner tells me that he can sell me one pack for ..10 CUC! Ah ahahah...I am no Yuma (nickname given to dumb tourists). I turn around and say adios.  Not 1 minute later, the man calls me : ok, 5 CUC.  I play the submissive wife and claims that I have to talk to my husband. We decide not to buy them from him. Later that week, we come across El Trayler, a small snack bar in a trailer (!), operated by Daniel. Upon my inquiry, he tells me to wait and disappears in the back, chatting with somebody (Heiner waits with the 2 bikes on the road). He says that he has to get them...and starts walking! I offer him my bike instead! He loves it. He gets us 2 packs at 1 CUC each (!!!) ...and we reward his efforts with a nice tip. Everybody is happy. 

Another striking thing about Club Amigo Mayanabo was the friendliness of staff ..all of them were truly nice.  Cleaning staff, sailing instructors, bar employees! everybody.  Here at the beach bar is Orlando. 

 Orlando himself built this beach bar and is very proud of it. He works 3 weeks at the time and does not like to leave it in the hands of other staff members ! He makes each drink with care and pride..and god knows, he makes hundred of drinks a day!

We sailed the small catamaran with 3 different instructors, sailing in zigzag to and back from the reef. The winds were between 13 and 18 knots...delightful!

We also rented a scooter for 24 hours. We were told that the best scooters were to be found at the Tararaco hotel: Alberto was the man in charge.

While it is quite simple to rent a scooter, it is more challenging in Cuba.  When we inquired a day earlier, Alberto omitted to tell us about a deposit of 80 CUC when renting a scooter. We did not have such cash money with us so, after a bit of discussion, he told us to forget about the deposit...

The rental fee for 24 hours was 30 CUC.  Alberto emphasized that we should put gasolina especial (1,20 CUC per liter) in our Suzuki 125cc. So, hop we go to the gas station. Nothing is going on, the 2 attendants sit and chat. Asked Ché passa???? one of them tells me that there is no gasolina especial..and something more that Marleyne doesn't quite get (if she were a better student....she would have!). So, we drive back to Alberto and tell him that there is no gasolina especial.  Oh, no problemo...just take regular! Yes,, no, no problemo, take regular. OK! back to the gas station. This time, it is more puzzling: no regular, no especial, no fuel! the pumps do not work: Se rompio!!! (It is broken) a commonly used expression in Cuba. Ok, back to Alberto: in the mean time, there is really very little gas left in the scooter.

While we were thinking of cancelling the contract and give up, Alberto and his colleague were not at all on that wave length: in Cuba, there is a solution to everything! Has to be!
Alberto, not deterred, disappears in the backroom and comes out with a 10 liter gas empty one, mind you. He gets a rubber hose out and proceeds to suck the remaining gasoline from every one bike (5) available. Unfortunately, the bikes have very little gas left in their tank (he siphons it back!!!)...but the last one has a full tank! yeah! Here we go with a full tank!

We used our scooter very well; not sure if it was appropriate for Marleyne' s hip (in fact, she had to use her cane on the following days!!!) but it was so much fun to be "motorized".

Our first excursion was to visit the playa Los Cocos and the Boca at the western end of Playa Santa Lucia. Transat was selling excursions to these places emphasizing that these were some of the most wonderful beaches in Cuba. Only a portion of the road going there was asphalted; the remainder was crushed stone and red earth...the landscape was semi deserted. We hoped that the scooter would not die on us!

After some swimming, we went to La Boca where casa particulares (B&B) and paladars (restaurants operated by Cubans in their houses) abund! We could have had lobster meals for 10-15 CUC. No idea how much the accommodation cost.The neighbourhood was so so...

On our way back, we took more time to explore the marshes inhabited by flamingos. They were quite numerous but quite far away and difficult to photograph.

The marshes were shallow and their beaches covered with white foam due to high salt density.

As we had the scooter for 24 hours, we drove around, explorer as much as we is a sample of houses and small communities along the way.

Those apartment buildings looked really is rough for many Cubans.

Back to our resort, we spent the rest of the days sailing and walking...enjoying the view from our room!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Best wishes for 2017 from Florida

It had been a while that we had not traveled by car to Florida...and not in the week between Christmas and New Year.  Well, we were surprised by the amount of traffic...from Harrisburg to Florida, lots of standing traffic, accidents, and it was difficult to find accommodations for the night.

We made a stop in beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina: it is such a nice place that no matter how often you visit, you have the need to take photos! Irish moss give such a romantic touch to buildings and streets!

Slowly driving south, we made a stop at St Augustine. and had lunch at the brewery close to the water. In 1992, this establishment existed already and we had their pancake breakfast there with a fellow cruiser ...great memories. St Augustine feels like home!

Because we miscalculated our travel days (one too much) we had a spare night before meeting our friends in Fort Myers.

We spent the night at the very comfortable Courtyard Marriott in Stuart, Florida...also on memory lane! Last time we anchored there was to celebrate the year 2000 with many other boaters! There are now mooring balls in the anchorage and so many boats!!!

We arrived in Fort Myers after crossing Florida and going around the Okeechobee Lake.  The Big "O" is the largest freshwater lake in Florida! And it is big with its 1,900 km2! Unfortunately, the intense agriculture in this part of Florida (sugar cane among other) is polluting its waters (phosphorus). It is a poor part of Florida as its inhabitants are mostly agricultural workers.

It was great to see our friends Lindsay and Karen upon arrival in fort Myers. It was the last day of the year and they had planned a nice evening with two other friends! It was great not to drive anymore and to just relax with a drink on their deck upon arrival as well as every morning before breakfast.

We had fun times with them, and enjoyed visiting Matlacha, a small community on Pine Island. It is a very colourful "Old Florida" village, home to traditional Floridian cottages, art galleries (see photos of artist gallery Leoma Lovegrove), boutiques, and seafood restaurants! 

  We had a great seafood lunch at Bert's Bar and Grill( was delicious!!!

And as time passed, we got merrier and merrier!!!!!

 We also had a great time visiting the SIX MILE CYPRESS SLOUGH PRESERVE close by to their home.

We were lucky that day and saw quite a bit of wildlife! Anhinga, sometimes called snake birds abound in this area!

  As well as great egrets and blue herons!

And quite a few alligators! Not only did we see their long "foot prints" in the muddy forest but we could observe them silently skimming the waters from the safety of the board walk!

And snakes!! Cottonmouths snakes (vipers)...not the friendly type!

 After our stay in Fort Myers we began our camping adventure! Heiner had carefully studied the available sites...we were very lucky to find 3 nights available at the wonderful De Soto park in St Petersburg! A real gem!

It was a short stay, but under ideal conditions!!!! Warm days, warm nights, not one bug, and the only wildlife was raccoons, squirrels and feral cats!!! Better than gators or vipers if you are tent camping!!!!

There was so much to see and do in that park! We rode our bicycles on the great biking paths, walk on the beach, ate ice cream, and spent quiet evenings at the tent, feasting on sea food, or chicken. Unfortunately, this blissful stay came to an end with the arrival of the cold front... which brought temperature to less than 10 C for a couple of days. And so, we moved to an hotel in Sarasota. From there, we used the one rainy day to visit the Dali Museum in St Petersburg (only one hour away of Sarasota). 

We had seen some works of Dali while in Spain and were curious to visit the collection of the St Petersburg museum, the largest outside of Spain! What a treat! Very surrealist architecture!

As a bonus, we got to revisit the works of Frida Kahlo ; we had already seen some at Toronto's AGO but we enjoyed the small exhibition anyway. The curator had done a nice job of presenting her in a Mexican decor...with flowers, and ceramic pots such as the ones in her beloved Garden of Mexico city.


Downtown Sarasota has some interesting buildings and a sculpture...Heiner was just curious!

 We decided to head north after Sarasota ...and booked a B & B in Savannah. We had never really spent much time in that town and so were looking forward to discover its historic district. Trees were green and gave all the parks such a "southern" flair..

We lodged in the Confederate House near Forsythe Park, at the south border of the historic district. The weather was slowly warming up and remained sunny.


 Beside the exploration of all the squares of Savannah's historic district, we sampled good food and enjoyed once more fried oysters and calamaris, cozy coffee houses (we liked the Gallery Espresso café best) and enjoyed the happy hour and excellent pizzas of the Mellow Mushroom!

We took a ferry boat to the island in front of Savannah..just for the pleasure of crossing the Savannah river!

We liked the little boat..and its spacious interior:we decided it would be a good live abord boat!

Here a view of the River walk park...

And some pretty sights of the historic district such as the Seamen's House

Forsythe Park

And other beautiful propertes lining up the squares.

 And of course the legendary diner where Forest Gump ate in order to meet with his beloved Jenny!

 And one old cimetery where Confederate soldiers are resting

And a police car honour of MY birth!!!!

So long Georgia, we will be back!!!