Grand Cayman Island

Our passage from Cienfuegos, Cuba to Georgetown, Grand Cayman was uneventful. We traveled for 45 hours in very light, east winds. Clearing customs was a breeze. We hailed Port Security on VHF 16 when we were approximately five miles from Georgetown. We provided information pertaining to our vessel; name, length, draft, beam, number of persons aboard, previous port, and estimated time of arrival. Grand Cayman’s hotel lined Seven Mile Beach was a stark contrast to Cuba’s untouched mountainous landscape. We hailed Port Security a second time upon approaching the Government Dock and the very helpful officer directed us to the Customs Dock. It took us longer to dock Rode Trip against the stone wall than to clear customs. Brian and I each completed a form, we provided our passports, and Brian surrendered his Hawaiian Sling. Then we left the dock and secured Rode Trip to a free mooring ball just off Georgetown’s shoreline.

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Grand Cayman is the largest of three sister islands (Little Cayman and Cayman Broc) which are situated in the northwestern Carribean Sea. The islands are a British Overseas Territory and are known for their banking industry and tourism. Grand Cayman is a popular diving location; the clear and well protected waters are home to an abundance of coral and fish. When Columbus found the islands he had named them La Tortugas because at that time there was an abundance of sea turtles here. During the 1600’s and 1700’s the Cayman Islands became a provisioning stop for vessels in the Carribean because the conveniently situated islands provided turtles and also fresh water wells. Sailing vessels could stock their food stores with fresh meat, turtles which they often kept alive on board, and fresh water from limestone wells. Turtle is still eaten in the Caymans and the turtle population has been maintained through farming. Brian and I planned to reprovision at Grand Cayman prior to our passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately we won’t be catching any sea turtles to keep on board but we should find everything we need. This is quite possibly the most expensive location we could have chosen since each $1.00USD equals $ .80CID. There were so many sights to see…not to mention making all the necessary stops for provisioning.

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First on our agenda was connecting with Mike at Compass Marine to arrange the replacement of a piece of our rigging. During a rigging inspection back at Jamaica, Brian found a kink on one of the inner stays. A kink is not a good sign because it means that the stay is weakened. Since the stay holds up our mast it needed to be replaced. Brian took down the stay and we were able to arrange for Mike to pick it up at the dinghy dock. Mike’s assessment was that the kink resulted from improper tightening. Fortunately Compass Marine had 9/32 stainless in stock but had to order swaged fittings in order to make our new stay. It was Wednesday and Mike thought the project would be done by Monday the following week. Brian and I were thrilled with Compass Marine; Mike was prompt and straightforward and the new stay was made right.

Rigging in progress, now we had several days to one month’s worth of food stores and replace yet another vital piece of our boat…the vent fan for the composting toilet.

A tale of two pesos

One of the interesting challenges of international travel is acquiring local money. In some locations it is really easy, or even unnecessary. In the bahamas the bahamian dollar is tied to the US dollar and everyone accepts US or Bahamian currency. There is no separation in the cash drawers and change is likely to come in a combination of currencies with colorful bahamian dollars mixed in with US greenbacks. Usually an ATM will dispense local currency at the daily rate of exchange. However because we bank at US banks our ATM card will not work in Cuba.

In order to complete customs and immigration you need to arrive in the country with Cuban currency in hand, not an easy feat to accomplish. If you don’t have them already the harbormaster will help you by exchanging the money you need for a 20% fee. Once again our slow speed helped us out and Luki from Skebenga came over to say hello as we pulled in and handed us enough cash to get through the check in process. The harbormaster seemed a little surprised when we indicated that we had the currency necessary to complete our clearing in.

Welcome to Cuba, here the local currency is…the Peso. But hold on a second there are two types of pesos. The tourist currency or the “Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)” and the local currency the “Peso National”. The nominal exchange rates are

1 CUC = 1 USD
24 Peso Nat = 1 CUC

However in practice since Cubans can’t spend USD easily due to the embargo the best exchange rate we could find was at the hotel where
1 USD = 0.87 CUC

Our next step was to acquire the money we needed for our stay here. We didn’t quite know how much to change but had been told that costs were quite low. Since there isn’t a fee for the exchange at the hotel we decided to change $100 to start. We walked in, spoke to an english speaking woman at the front desk and walked out with 87 CUC’s. We had been told that for some purchases, namely pizza and ice cream, the local currency would be better to use. Matt and Jess took us to where they had exchanged money the day before. We handed the cashier 10 CUC’s and received a fistful of Peso Nationals. We now just had to figure out where to spend each type of currency. Some of the places would indicate what currency was expected. All of the tourist shops specified that their menu’s were in CUC’s. The street vendors were usually pretty easy as well, for example soft serve ice cream at 5.00 was clearly in Nationals. I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream at $0.20 USD. Others got a little more tricky, cold drinks in the store were usually 1.00, which was in CUC’s. However on the street the orange drinks with ice from the back of a street cart were 2.00, in Nationals ( $0.08USD). Produce was also in Nationals! So the most delicious mango’s imaginable as big as your head cost 2.00 to 5.00 (0.08-0.20 USD). This made for a wonderful market experience that you will hear about soon.

Cienfuegos, Cuba

From the Marlin Nautica y Marinas we had a lovely view of Cienfuegos, Cuba and were anxious to stretch our legs and see the sights.

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First stop was to the nearby hotel where we could cambiar dinero (to exchange money). Walking to the hotel we had our first encounter with Cuban art in this sculpture park.

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Back past the marina, we admired a mural which became our daily backdrop starting out the 20 minute walk into the city.

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Walking down the promenade alongside the lovely Bahia de Cienfuegos, it didn’t take long to notice that the clean, well maintained streets were nearly empty. We started to get that feeling that we had traveled back through time as the few cars that passed were older than our generation might appreciate. Several bicycling taxis asked if we wanted a lift and we politely replied, “No, gracias!”

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Many of the homes along this stretch were adorned with intricate metalwork.

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When we neared town, the center opened wide into a large pedestrian walk.

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On either side of the pedestrian walk the street was lined with apartments, small shops, and restaurants. Peeking into open doors or windows we saw barren, tile floored rooms in which a couch and or dining set were arranged. Many of the rooms extended into courtyards. The shops were very small and their supplies seemed limited for example; eggs and bread, soft drinks and vegetable oil, or pharmacy type products were spotted from our glancing. Some shops had lines of customers out front and most had none. Street vendors carried pineapples, mangos, bananas, fish, or baked goods on their bicycles. Some restaurants offered dining room seating, they were all empty, and some were just a cashier’s counter with a pizza oven behind. The street pizzas were on our list to try, but what we were really in search of was soft serve ice cream.

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After turning onto a pedestrian only side-street, we’d nearly missed the soft serve ice cream since the narrow doorway was blocked by a line of people. We spotted the ice cream cone sign which listed fresa (strawberry) and chocolate (chocolate). Once it was our turn in line, Brian and I were ready to order one each to sample both flavors. We approached the counter, a folding table with a money box atop, and cleverly said our pre-rehearsed, “una fresa y uno chocolate.” The man behind the soft serve handle replied, “no,” and swirled his finger in the air. We deducted from his sign language and the ice cream cones in our vicinity that the two flavors were mixed. “Ok, dos!” The rumbling soft serve machine churned out two delicious cones!

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Chowing down on our sweet treat, we walked ourselves into the center of Cienfuegos. We found a well manicured park in the center. Many of the buildings around the perimeter of the park were government buildings as well as some shops.

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We strolled through this street market. Many beautiful, handcrafted items were for sale. The merchants weren’t pushy; they were happy to tell us about the quality of their item and negotiate a price. They made wooden cars, wooden mini-sculptures, wooden children’s toys, jewelry, leather shoes, leather belts, leather handbags, and aluminum can airplanes and ball caps.

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The pedestrian street and park square were visited by us many times during our visit to Cienfuegos.

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We ventured onto many side streets throughout Cienfuegos too. Some were more run-down than others. People everywhere were kind and good humored; they were very patient with our broken Spanish and pleased to chat with us. In the evenings, when the 80-degree temperatures cooled, more people would take to the streets to sit and socialize with one another. Old cars (I know Dad is drooling) became commonplace right along with horse drawn carriages.

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We stumbled upon a beautiful Catholic Church.

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This was “taxi row” as each of the cars had a TAXI sign neatly displayed in the windshield.

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We tried not to miss the colors and the details of Cienfuegos while we were learning a new culture and practicing an unfamiliar language.

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Yes, that’s a chicken. Chickens were everywhere and I supposed this boy either wanted a new pet or a tasty dinner.

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