UA-31290512-1

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cuba Healthcare, Our Firsthand Experience

cruising life mariel hemingway marina doctor aboard
Doctor making "boat calls" in Mariel Hemingway
Marina aboard Journey.  Wayne is the patient.
“Where are you going to be in a month’s time to have those stitches removed?” asked Wayne’s concerned Jacksonville Florida dermatologist. It was late November.  She’d just spent several unscheduled hours carving out a cancerous hunk of Wayne’s flesh, a few inches below his left tit and was about to sew the incision closed.  Only a brief routine follow-up was scheduled that day.

“Cuba,” Wayne replied.

They decided dissolving catgut stitches was the best approach as they would not require removal; it would happen organically – in theory.

stitches mariel hemingway marina
Wayne's stitches, irritated, prior to their removal.
A month plus a few days later, the stitches had yet to dissolve and were irritating. 

When the doctor stopped by the marina to see how we were doing, Wayne inquired about getting the stitches removed.  Cuban visitors pay $3/person/day for Cuban health care coverage.  There would be no additional fee for the removal of the stitches.

An hour or so later a doctor arrived, carrying her two tools in a modest brown paper wrapper.  “Tranquilo, tranquilo,” she advised Wayne, as she set to the task of removing Wayne’s stitches, sterilizing her tools with the isopropol alcohol and pads Wayne provided.  I held onto Wayne's ankles, my feeble attempt to provide some comfort as it was clearly a painful process.

The doctor then explained Wayne needed to wash the area daily, but did not need to do anything else to the stitches, such as re-applying alcohol.  And then she left.

Did she take his pulse? Heartbeat? Temperature?  I asked, as I missed her arrival.  Nope, Wayne said she just got straight to work.  Later I asked Wayne if the stitched area felt better.  It did.

A few days earlier I talked to the hosts at the casa de particular we stayed at about the $5,000 US emergency visit for my broken wrist (click here if you’re curious about that); nearly half of the cost was for about 20 x-rays, which struck me as outrageously excessive.

“Here,” Pepe countered, “The doctor would just feel what’s broken and fix it.  No x-rays.  No cost.  Excellent medical care.”

Indeed, Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary film, Sicko, claims Cuba’s medical care is excellent, and that US health care, the most expensive in the world, ranks only 37th out of 191 countries.

wayne's stitches healing bocas del toro panama
Wayne's scar's healing nicely since the stitches were removed.
What would it take to “turn the clock back” to a time when US medicine was more simple, straightforward and affordable? Even if the doctors don’t dazzle us with the over-the-top soap opera star smile, like the one featured in Sicko.

What puzzled me was the number of Cubans we came across with poor dental care – yellowed or missing teeth.  Pepe, our casa de particular host claimed it occurred during the Cold War when America blocked Cuba’s access to the materials needed to provide proper dental care.  While I could tell he believed it, he sardonically observed that somehow Castro’s smile was unaffected by this issue.

My hunch is that it was politically astute for Castro to blame America for a service he may at the time have been unable to offer.  

If you’re able to shed light on the true circumstances, please share!

cruising destinations, panama to south pacific
Sunset from our anchorage looking across
at Almirante Port, "Chiquitas-ville."
Location Location

CUBA retrospective of January 3, 2015.  At the time, our boat was docked at Mariel Hemingway Marina, (N23.05.231 W82.29.972) CUBA.  We are currently in Panama.  This post was written in Almirante (N09.17.265 W82.23.146)about a 2 hour sail from Bocas del Toro and prescheduled for publication. Once we move(d) from this spot toward the San Blas, we're not sure what our internet access will be until we arrive in Shelter Cove Marina in Colon, Panama  in early February.  There we will prep and provision before we pass through the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, for  our South Pacific adventure.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Havana's New Year's Custom - Casting of the Waters

casa de particular cruiser destination
Part of the fabulous view at Terraza Los Pepes casa de particular
in Havana Cuba, our New Year's eve "on the town" spot.
The rooftop flag was a great landmark for finding our way back.
"Wherever you are, you don't want to be out on the street at midnight tonight!" warned Pepe, our Havana Cuba Terraza Los Pepes casa de particular host.  "That is the time of the casting of the waters, for good luck, a New Year's Eve tradition.  You'd get soaked!"


Policy.mic's article on international new year’s eve traditions does indeed report that for general good luck, Cubans sweep the house or throw water out the window (or off the rooftops and balconies, based on our New Year’s Eve in Havana – and Pepe was sweeping around when the clock tolled midnight).

At least it’s not as dangerous as South Africa’s Johannesburg New Year tradition of throwing old furniture and appliances, like TVs and radios, out the window.

owners terraza los pepes
Pepe (left) Jose (right) and their nephew.  They cleaned up
real nice later, but no photos of that.
We might’ve liked joining in on Panama’s tradition of burning effigies of politicians and others you don’t like.  Paying $513 in Panama cruising and entry fees certainly would’ve inspired our participation.

Back to New Year's Eve, Havana....

After finding a place to stay, eating a good meal perfectly complimented with a fabulous mojito (fresh, muddled mint, simple syrup, juicy-sweet Caribbean lime and super-smooth Club Havana rum), and a little walk, we took our hosts up on their offer to celebrate with them.

Over fresh-made cracking hot chicarrones (fried pork rind), roast pig, and many Havana Club Cuba Libres we enjoyed learning more about each other and our respective cultures. Pepe taught himself English from watching movies and tv in English.  Pepe and his partner Jose enjoy many international friends and traveled to Europe several times; their views were far from provincial. “Religion?  Politics?  Mine is my garden!” Jose declared.

cuban food, cruiser destinations
Jose's New Year's Eve cake was beautiful;
this photo does not even remotely do it justice.
Then Jose put on an African beat album and surprised Pepe by leading me through some fancy footwork.  Well, Pepe did the fancy footwork with much aplomb while I bumbled along.  Wayne tried to capture it on film, alas, the photos didn’t come out.  And of course, we joined in the casting of water off the rooftop into the street, amid cheers and sloshing from neighbors, fireworks and a "Ruski rocket" streaking brightly across the Havana skyline.

We finished the night off sampling Jose’s beautiful cake.  He’s so good at it, he’s decorated wedding cakes.  

All in all, we considered it our most magical New Year's Eve together to date.  After all, Wayne's wish was rum drinks (check) dancing (check - Wayne was ok dancing vicariously) on the streets of Havana (check - rooftop patio with newfound friends and a view -- better yet!)


We enjoyed ourselves and our new friends so much, we stayed an extra night at Terraza Los Pepes.  More coming up seen wandering the streets of Havana.


havana cuba
Call it a dove, call it a pigeon.... This one
visited 
Terraza Los Pepes rooftop at dawn.
Symbol of friendship at last between
Cuba and the US?  Hopefully....
Location Location
Catching up on a dearth of internet, this post is a recent retrospective of New Year's Eve, December 31st 2014, Havana Cuba (boat anchored then in Mariel Hemingway marina (N23.05.251 W82.29.972).  After boat work in Almirante (N09.17.265 W82.23.146) we returned to Bocas de Toro Panama today.  We're anchored just outside the marina (N9.201.041 W82.14.606).  Tomorrow our goal is to arrive at Escudo de Veraguras (N9.06, W81.33) or stop along the way for arrival the following day.  It's en route to the San Blas.  From there until when we arrive at Shelter Bay Colon from the San Blas, there will likely be no internet and thus a gap in posts (other than at least one prescheduled).  We are targeting a Feb 2  for Shelter Bay arrival, though might opt for a few days longer to enjoy the San Blas first.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

“No Intelligencia!” Havana New Year’s Eve Celebration

Dawn view of the capitol dome of the white house.
It was taken from the rooftop of Terraza Los Pepes
Havana Cuba casa de particular
.
“What would make you feel our trip to Cuba was worth it?” I asked Wayne, knowing it was not only an illegal detour, it was an expensive one. 

“Rum drinks and dancing in the New Year with you, on the streets of Havana,” replied my romantic husband.

Ringing in the New Year in Havana prompted a rarity for us – spending a night off our boat.

havana cuba, cruiser destinations
Cuba uses two parallel currencies.
On the left is what the locals use;
on the right, tourists.  Local buses and
ferries use local currency; some drivers
simply pocketed the money when
it was non-local.
In theory, US dollars were not accepted anywhere in Cuba, and ATMs there would not accept US debit or credit cards.  In fact, it is illegal for US citizens to spend money in Cuba. Our guidebooks advised bringing Euros as the best currency to bring to Cuba, so before we left Jacksonville Florida, we purchased some “walking around” cash through a local bank.  Even if we didn’t stop in Cuba, Euros were viable in the South Pacific French territories.

cruiser life, cruiser destinations, cruiser transportation
Dog, but no chickens on the local
Havana Cuba bus.  Typically all seats
were filled and standing room was
4 people deep through the aisle, end to end.
In a land ruled by rules, often the contrary approach is the more efficient one.

Our Mariel Hemingway neighbors aboard Christina found it no problemo to get a prompt exchange from US dollars to Cuban CUCs, the currency visitors were expected to use in Cuba.  The exchange rate was less attractive than Euros, though “Gorilla” – a local, unofficial money changer -- gave a better exchange rate than the local hotel.

We tromped off to the adjacent town of Santa Fe, in search of the closest cardena, the officially correct place to acquire currency conversion.  We didn’t find it.

meeting cuban locals, cruiser transportation
Pauli, our Havana Vieja (Old Town) pedicab driver and
his wife, who wondered what the heck took him so long.
The next day ”Gorilla” exchanged 20 Euros for 20 CUCs and Walter on Christina insisted on loaning us some more to get us on our way. 

Sailors are restricted entering Havana by boat; they are required to check in at designated marinas Mariel Hemingway was the closest to Havana and not quite in walking distance of it.  Thus, we further initially bumbled our way through Cuba’s excellent local bus system.  

We are both notoriously cheap and perversely enjoy the experience of everyday local bus transportation (>$1/person – if you have the correct change) over the costly convenience of a cab ($20-25 to Havana).   The novelty of riding in a 50s Chevy was tempting, but we opted for low budget.

havana cuba cruiser destination
Pauli the pedicab driver, careening down the streets of Havana.
The first bus we took, we got off too early.   The second bus we took the wrong way.  The third bus was a long time in coming, but successfully transported us to our destination. The double-long bus was packed, often four people deep standing in the aisles.  Impressively, we saw passengers carrying floppy open flats of two dozen eggs aboard!  Despite not making many stops, it took over an hour to arrive at our desired end of the line destination, the train station in Havana’s Old Town “Viejo Habana.” 

We were hot, hungry and unsure of how to find an available casa de particular – a room inside a local resident’s apartment.  Hotel rooms, which from our perspective isolate us from the locals, start at ~$100/night in Havana.  Casa de particulars start at $20.  Sure, I wrote down the addresses of several casa de particulars, however it was already after 3 pm and we didn’t have a street map so eventually yielded to a pedicab. 

cruising life, cruising destinations
New Year's eve dinner of "la pulpa" - octopus, in a  garlic sauce.
Always feel a bit guilty eating one of the smartest sea critters
so on those rate occasions, I make sure it's very well made.
On the side, the best mojito I've had to date.
Pauli, our young driver spoke little English, and Wayne speaks a little “muy malo” Spanish.  Later, when we hit other communication roadblocks, Pauli pulled out the translation app on his mobile.  “Type in English,” he directed. 

Meanwhile, Pauli took a look at the addresses and began pedaling.  “No reservation?  On New Year’s Eve?  No intelligencia!” he joked, pointing to his head and shaking it, to drive the point home.   About an hour later after encountering about 10 no vacancies, Pauli entreated one of the casa de particular owners from her third story balcony to help us via telephone find one with a vacancy, while Pauli did the same.  We noticed her concluding several phone calls with a negative shake of her head. 

transporting fruit in havana cuba
Pedicab with passengers followed by a similar jalopy
transporting produce.  Yes, Cuba have cars, buses and trucks, too.
At last, excitedly, that one last “Just one more,” did indeed lead us to a place to stay.  It only recently became a casa de particular and had not yet posted its sign on the street.

Pauli waited to make sure we were ok with the casa de particular; he was not familiar with the host or the unit.  Once we checked in, we asked Pauli to take us where he most enjoyed eating.

cruiser destinations, cruiser activities
Jose Marti Theater Havana Cuba, New Year's Eve.
Like many of Old Havana's architectural treasures,
it's undergoing reconstruction.
Pepe, the owner of casa de particular told us Pauli called the next day to make sure everything went ok.  “He was very respectful.  Many drivers will try to step inside, which is not okay.  Pauli was honest – I could see it in his eyes.  And he knew his place; he did not step inside.  He also called me on a phone number with his phone that cost him more money to call.”

All that and his rate was still only $5.  Wayne paid him $15. 

We also collected his mobile email address and promised to send him the photo I took of him and his wife, who anxiously appeared while Pauli waited for us outside the casa de particular.  Seems she was ready to celebrate too, while Pauli found it hard to pass up work when it came his way.

Hot, tired, and hungry we were happy we landed where we were and even how we did.  It’s all part of the adventure.

What else did we do to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Habana Cuba?  That’s the next blog post.

clothes dancing new year's eve cuba havana
Our clothes dancing in
Terraza Los Pepes
Havana Cuba 
casa de particular.
Location Location

CUBA retrospective of December 31, 2014, New Year’s eve.  At the time, our boat was docked at Muriel Hemingway Marina, (N23.05.231 W82.29.972) CUBA.  We are currently in Panama's Bocas del Toro region (guessing near N09.20.142 W82.40.718 when this posts -- it was prescheduled).  Eventually we'll pass through the Panama canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, for our South Pacific adventure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Forbidden Fruit - Havana, Cuba

cruiser destinations a cruising guide to cuba frank virgintino amaia agirre
Map courtesy of “A Cruising Guide to Cuba" byAmaia Agirre and Frank Virgintino.
Sloppy red arrows and lines charting between the US
and our Panama destination are mine.
“Where are you headed?” we asked the crew aboard Christina, a sizable Voyager catamaran, gliding past us as she sailed out of the Dry Tortugas anchorage.

“Cuba!  Before McDonald’s gets there,” Captain Walter replied, beaming.

“That’s exactly our sentiments too!”  Wayne hollered back.  “No McDonald’s, no Starbucks!” 

Both our boats proudly bore U.S.A. ensign flags, denoting our country of origin.

cuban rum and cuban cigars sailing to cuba
Kirstey and Walter of the catamaran Christina.
Photo pilfered from Kirstey's Facebook page.
Later Christina’s Co-Captain Kirstey told us her Dad initially asked, “What are you doing going to Cuba?  Are you crazy?” Dad, Kirstey explained, was pretty savvy on the topic of world affairs. 

Even before Obama spoke of his desire to re-establish US - Cuban relations, we figured it was just a matter of time before the tourism floodgates opened between the two neighboring countries. 

Once that friendly invasion happens, we believe Cuba will forever lose much of its unique culture in its desire to accommodate the inevitable pressures accompanying an economic boom. 

Our desire to explore distinctly different cultures and terrain compels us to make this journey.  Well, that and our penchant for sunny skies and tropical temps balmy enough to encourage scanty clothing.

We’re thrilled  with the idea of arriving before “the masses.” 

Amaia Agirre and Frank Virgintino of “A Cruising Guide to Cuba” concur....
The mystique of Cuba is a big factor in itself. Cubans are vivacious and love music and dance, family and life. To be with Cubans is to celebrate life; not what was in the past or what may be in the future, but in the present. For without doubt Cubans are experts at living in the present. If you want to get rid of some anxiety, go to Cuba; drink some rum, smoke a good cigar and dance until the sun comes up.

And did we?

You’ll just have to read the next post to find out!

us cuba relations sailng destination
We saw this sculpture after our 
last stop in the US, which was Florida's
Dry Tortugas.  Guess -- where did
we see this sculpture?
Location Location

January 21, 2015. Recent retrospective of December 29th 2014, USA, in the Dry Tortugas.  Even if we did not step ashore, hugging Cuba’s coastline is one viable track from Florida to Panama.  Panama is the point where we’ll cross the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific. We are currently in Altamira Panama (N09.17.265 W82.23.146) where we just got our mast pulled and repaired before our trip through the canal. Tomorrow or the following day we're likely headed to the San Blas, Panama.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dry Tortugas - Odd History, Beautiful Spot

Dry Tortugas labeled arial view.
Credit to Baseketslife.files.wordpress.com
Ponce de Leon and crew refreshed themselves, gorging on turtle at the land they claimed and named the Tortugas (turtles) in the 1500s.  We know it today as the Dry Tortugas, off the coast of Florida's Keys and still considered part of Florida.











Brick seawall border on
Ft. Jefferson moat, Dry Tortugas.
Today the Dry Tortugas is a protected nesting ground for turtles and a research station for marine biologists, an uncrowded national park as rich in history as it is in wildlife. 








Fort Jefferson entrance,
Dry Tortugas
The United States spent 30 years building Fort Jefferson there, but never fired a shot from it, nor was it fired upon.


Non operational lighthouse.  A taller, also
currently non-operational lighthouse
is on Dry Tortugas Loggerhead Key.
Atop Ft. Jefferson's wall
overlooking the sea.
It was repurposed as prison where Dr. Harvey Mudd served as its most infamous prisoner.  He was jailed for reseting the legbone of Abraham Lincoln's assassin.  He was later released by Andrew Jackson for his dedicated work on yellow fever while imprisoned


Garden Key beach view from Ft. Jefferson.
If for no other reason, it's worth a visit simply because it's beautiful






The quality of light and interplay of color
at Ft Jefferson is stunning.



Sprawling Ft. Jefferson at one point housed 1500 workers.












Stalagmite on the ceiling shows clear evidence
of Ft. Jeffersons's decay.



Thirty three Cubans risked their lives
on this boat seeking asylum
at the Dry Tortugas.  Guess where
our next stop was?
Location Location


January 20, 2015.  Retrospective of December 27-28 2014, USA, Dry Tortugas, Florida’s Southernmost point (N24.37.556 W82.57.668).  Dry Tortugas was our last stop in the United States on our way to Panama. We sailed there, though there's a fast ferry from Key West that goes to the Dry Tortugas as well as sea float planes.  We are currently in Altamira Panama (N09.17.265 W82.23.146) getting our mast pulled and repaired before our trip through the Panama canal, gateway to our South Pacific sailing adventure.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Awwww Sh--! (Short & Funny)

dry tortugas cruising destination florida wildlife
Sooty tern resting on our boat's bimini (canvas covering) at Dry Tortugas.
"How cute!" we exclaimed when this little sooty tern* paid our boat an early morning visit at Dry Tortugas.  
We get a kick out of the feathered fellas who visit our boat (click here for another good example).

"Stop pestering the bird," Wayne admonished.  No doubt he felt empathetic with the sooty tern when it comes to feeling pestered by me brandishing my camera.

dry tortugas cruising destination
Sooty tern's "calling card."
After the tern flew off, I saw it left us a not-so-welcome thank you gift.

"That's what you get for pestering him," Wayne said.

*The Dry Tortugas is a major nesting site for sooty terns.

florida wildlife cruiser activities hiking
One of the smaller hermit crabs we saw
on Dry Tortugas.  They were prolific!



Location, Location.
January 19, 2015.  Retrospective of December 27-28 2014, USA, Dry Tortugas, Florida’s Southernmost point (N24.37.556 W82.57.668).  Dry Tortugas was our last stop in the United States on our way to Panama. We are currently in Bocas del Toro Panama (N09.20.142 W82.40.718), catching up after a dearth of internet, and exploring and preparing for our trip through the Panama canal, gateway to our South Pacific sailing adventure.

Breaking Our Cardinal Rule -- Anchoring After Sunset

location between key west and before south pacific
Beautiful fiery red sunset just outside the Dry Tortugas.
That little black lump on the left side of the horizon
is 
Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park.
Never enter a tricky anchorage at night is one of our cardinal rules. It's a basic safety issue.  Yet Dry Tortugas, a good day sail from Key West, prompted us to break that rule for the first time.

A few days past the shortest day of the year, we arose before dawn to be greeted by fog!   

starting point of our sail to dry tortugas
Dawn view the morning of our Key West departure to Dry Tortugas.
Along with visiting French territories at the outset of “Everything’s closed!” long weekends we’ve acquired a talent for finding ourselves enveloped by fog at the outset of key journeys.  Or maybe it just seems that way.   Both our Jacksonville cruising season starts (click here for more our December 2013 start, and here for our December 2014 start) began that way.

dry tortugas cruiser destination
Arrow marks Fort Jefferson, which is at the Dry Tortugas.
The land mass 
 at the top of the map is Florida; Key West isthe end of the gray line off and to the left of the peninsula of FloridaThe land mass at bottom of the map is Cuba.
Unwilling to leave an unfamiliar anchorage dotted with derelict boats in semi-darkness (click here to see anchorage in daylight), we waited the extra half hour or so for enough light to penetrate, to demystify our visibility.  Nonetheless we were on track completing the 70 nautical miles with an arrival a little after 5 pm -- early enough to drop anchor and enjoy sunset in Dry Tortugas.

Several hours later, Wayne detected a fuel leak.  We shifted from motor sailing at six knots, to “pure” sailing at less than four knots.  After 45 minutes or so, Wayne found and fixed the fuel leak.  “Thank you, Ken and Wanda, for the invaluable spares you sent us from your Pearson 365 sailboat!” exclaimed a grateful Wayne.  “You saved the day!”

We were already nearly halfway to the Dry Tortugas, past the turnoff to Boca Grande, and reticent to return to Key West.  We knew at this stage we’d arrive near sunset.

location between florida and panama south pacific gateway
We anchored to the right of Fort Jefferson off Garden Key,
by that little anchor symbol to the lower right of the fort.
With light winds, and snagging two crab pot lines (clickhere to read about F---ing Crab Pots) we watched the sun set in view of Dry Tortuga’s Fort Jefferson -- but we were still a half hour away from dropping anchor in its protected park harbor.

Wayne navigated the harbor ably, thanks in part to good advice from Ron of “Last Dance”, our neighbor in Boca Chica Marina.  We dropped the anchor in the darkness, with Wayne resorting to using a flashlight to secure it properly.

location between key west and before south pacific
Arial view of Dry Tortugas with a Fort Jefferson as the focal point.
At dawn, it appeared we’d anchored on the fringe of the channel’s entrance.  Were we between the channel markers or outside them?  We weren’t quite sure.  Perhaps getting buzzed by a few of the local fishing boats should’ve been our clue.  Once we hopped into our dinghy to head over to the park, it was embarrassingly obvious.  We were indeed inside the channel.  That's a faux pas equivalent to parking your car far enough away from the curb to block the thoroughfare. 

Oops!

We hung a u-turn, clambered back aboard Journey, and promptly re-anchored in a more appropriate spot.

Rules are made to be broken.  Yet, anchoring after dark in the Dry Tortugas provided a perfect example of why there are rules.

cruising destinations near panama canal' gateway to sailing the south pacific
Currently, we are here, in Panama's Bocas del Toro province.
Location Location

January 19, 2015.  Retrospective of December 27-28 2014, USA, Dry Tortugas, Florida’s Southernmost point (N24.37.556 W82.57.668).  Dry Tortugas was our last stop in the United States on our way to Panama. We are currently in Bocas del Toro Panama (N09.20.142 W82.40.718), catching up after a dearth of internet, and exploring and preparing for our trip through the Panama canal, gateway to our South Pacific sailing adventure.