Back on the mainland at Cienfuegos. Our Navionics charts are correct and we had no trouble motoring the last few miles in the dark to anchor near to the Marina Cienfuegos on Punta Gorda by 11pm. We anchored nearby Sweet Sensation and within half an hour a small powerboat with officialdom came out of the darkness to board them, after which they came to us. On board was an official of the Guarda Frontera and the dock master. We hadn’t called anyone at this stage and here they were to clear us in – very efficient! The official was a young fellow who stamped our cruising permit and retained it until our departure. The other guy spoke a little English and I think his name was Romero. Wayne’s hopes were lifted a little when he said that maybe the mechanic at the marina might have a suitable impeller for our outboard. That would be great! He also said that Saturday would bring winds up to 40 knots from the northwest into the totally exposed anchorage. We would stay aboard that day. They wished us goodnight and disappeared into the night.
By quarter past midnight after tidying up and filling in the log book, I put in my ear plugs, turned off the wind generator and snuggled into the aft cabin for a few hours of sleep. A pleasure landlubbers take for granted. If it’s not the wind generator whirring madly in a strong 25knot squall, or the anchor alarm steadily beeping the crew awake at all hours when the boat shifts with the currents, or the irritating snorts coming out of the captain’s nose at astonishing decibels, or the thump of waves against the transom, trying to sleep on a boat for hours at a time is often unattainable. But after days of interrupted sleep there is a point where sleep just happens. Turning off the windy, putting in ear plugs, setting the anchor alarm to a distance that doesn’t have it beeping every hour, and threatening the skipper with death should he even snuffle, then and only then is it possible to enjoy a deep sleep!
By 7.30am the sun was shining through our aft hatch and I lay there counting the hours of uninterrupted sleep I’d had. It was time to get up. As the dock master said there would be strong winds, we stayed aboard this day and did a few jobs, read books and relaxed.
On Sunday while Wayne remained aboard and took apart the outboard in anticipation of a new impeller, and emptied the jerries of diesel into the tanks, I joined Kevin, Chris and Graham for a stroll into the pleasant Cuban town of Cienfuegos.
The walk from the marina to the centre of town is around half an hour. Along the duel-laned avenida are a few locals selling vegetables from carts – usually tomatoes, sweet potato, capsicum, but little else. Further in town we found more carts selling cabbages, limes and one or two selling green bananas. No eggs to be found, but the local panaderia had a queue of around twenty people all waiting to buy cheap bread. We found a guy selling fresh hot pan for only 5 local pesos.
The town of Cienfuegos has plenty of tourists from many countries and buses congregate around the main plaza which has some of the town’s famous landmarks in various states of renovation and disrepair. On this sunny Sunday, Cuban families were out and about, sitting in the sun and enjoying a stroll with their kids. A few shops were open, but those that were had few items to sell. Here there is no over-supply of ‘stuff’ in fact it hasn’t been easy to buy much of anything. A stark contrast to over-indulgent and wasteful societies of which we are from.
Back at the marina, Chris and I took a walk down to Punta Gorda to a small gazebo on the point. A lovely walk with some interesting homes, plenty of hostels and the Hotel Jagua with a beautiful building nearby. Like Havana, there are plenty of old ’50s cars in Cienfuegos too.
Rather than push on to the next place, we all decided to have a day out and arranged a taxi ride from Cienfuegos to Trinidad some 75kms to the east. Apparently a trip to Cuba must include a trip to the picturesque town of Trinidad. A return taxi ride cost CUC$60 for all five of us. Our driver, a fellow named Ernesto, took the lot of us in a big green pre 1950 Plymouth. Many of the cars from this era are held together with bits of string, spit and parts from other makes, while some are very well restored. The Cuban’s certainly know how to renovate and reuse things and have little waste. Ernesto’s car had a steering column, gear shift from perhaps a small four cylinder car, plus an air conditioning system that might have been taken from a truck as it had six vents directed onto the front seat passenger, although it wasn’t operating on this cool day. In just over an hour, Ernesto dropped us off at Trinidad’s Terminal de Omnibus where he would wait until we’d explored Trinidad.
Trinidad is a colourful Cuban town that most tourists should visit. Eager to please the crowds and make a few bob, old Cuban men who either sit on a donkey smoking a cigar or invite you to sit with them for a photo. Caballeros ride through the town not for show but for purpose, as this is their mode of transport.
We walked through a local souvenir market where vendors sold wooden statues, an assortment of products made from ring-pulls off soda cans, tablecloths, paintings, jewellery and other trinkets. After a scoop at an ice cream store (which had four flavours on offer), we walked up the small hill to the communications tower to gain a view of the town. On the way some local women asked us if we had any soap or shampoo that we could give them. Toiletries are difficult for them to come by, but I hadn’t thought to bring any with me that day. At the top after climbing up a rickety ladder, a friendly local guy spoke to us in broken English and pointed out the various museums, national parks, old railway and old sugar plantations.
Back down again we stopped for lunch at a small tapas bar, after which we jumped back into the car and returned to Cienfuegos. We decided to leave the next day and settled our anchorage fee with the dock master and arranged for Guarda Frontera to clear us out the following morning.
In the morning as arranged, the official from Guarda Frontera and the dock master, appeared on time at 7am. He didn’t look through the boat as others have done, but merely stamped our document and handed it to us so we could leave. By 7.30am both Sweet Sensation and Blue Heeler were making their way south. An hour later we’d left the entrance to the bay and headed south under the mountains to the east.
Unfortunately for us, our desire to push south messed up our judgment. We should not have left that day.