Getting Re-Oriented

Orient, NY was our home away from home when we lived in New York City.  It was the perfect balance to hectic city life with lots of space, great sailing and peace and quiet.

Bug Light welcomes you to Orient Harbor

Bug Light welcomes you to Orient Harbor

Sitting on the eastern-most end of Long Island (get it, so far east it is the Orient) sits our historic village of less than 800 people.

Orient Historical Society

Orient Historical Society

Latham's Farm Stand

Holly's chicken

Our neighbor’s free range chicken

Come on, how much more small town can we get?

For those not familiar with the area, Long Island is in fact aptly named and at the end splits off into two directions.  The South fork is where you’ll find gorgeous ocean beaches, gorgeous homes and gorgeous people, aka the Hamptons. And on the North fork you’ll find waterfront vineyards, working farms and gorgeous people.

The gorgeous people of Orient ;-)

The gorgeous people of Orient – Holly and Phil and John and Martha

Halyard swing

Halyard swing

We were a bit nervous to return, worrying that perhaps our memories were rose colored and that reality would reveal something less.  But we were over the moon to find the hamlet had not changed and the small changes that have happened were for the better.   We were welcomed by our friends Phil and Holly and Martha and John, and kids.

Love seeing friendly faces welcoming us back.

Love seeing friendly faces.

We anchored in front of the yacht club, which allowed for easy dinghy docking and shoreside access.

Neko in Orient

Neko in Orient

OYC

OYC

OYC Jr. ragatta

OYC junior regatta

The yacht club’s junior racing program is really the envy of the area.  When we were there, Orienters took all the top spots in an Opti regatta with 6 or so different clubs joining.  The training goes on 6 days a week.

“Too much tiller, Margot” is what this poor young girl heard all during her lesson.

We were thrilled to learn about the oyster biz from our pals at Oysterponds Shellfish Co.

Reg Tuthill

Reg Tuthill

Frank checking the fruits of his labor.

Frank checking the fruits of his labor. “It takes Oysterpond oysters about 18 to 20 months of growth before 75-80% are ready for market. The creek warms up faster, cools down slower and is filled with lots of food for the oysters brought in with the strong flow of water.”*

Orient has a deep history in oysters, in fact Orient was once know as Oysterponds and oystermen thrived harvesting them from 1874 until the brown tide killed them off in the 1980s.  “The algae wasn’t poisonous to the oysters but out competed all the other algae and left the water filled with 99% brown tide which the oysters didn’t like to feed upon. It still shows up in some areas but not at the levels of the 1980″s.”*              *From local historican John Holzapfel

The Tuthill family has the privilege of owning the water rights to the estuary where Oysterponds Shellfish Co. harvest their critically acclaimed oysters.  Their family was one of the original settlers in Orient as deeded by the King of England in 1640s

But aquaculture is alive again and our buddies Phil and John are really helping the old guard ramp up operations.   I think we helped them plant close to a half million baby oysters.

Cruz in the estuary

Cruz in the estuary

Oyster unloading

Step 1 – Unloading half a million oyster seeds

Step 2 spread out baby oysters

Step 2 spread out baby oysters. These seeds are about the size of your thumb nail.

Step 3 count out baby oysters and load in growing bags

Step 3 count out baby oysters( they are about 5 months old) and load in growing bags

Step 4 carry oyster bags to

Step 4 carry mesh oyster grow bags to “plant” in the bay.

Step 5 Planting oyster bags

Step 5 Planting oyster bags where they will grow doubling in size every 10-15 days. “It takes Oysterpond oysters about 18 to 20 months of growth before 75-80% are ready for market. The creek warms up faster, cools down slower and is filled with lots of food for the oysters brought in with the strong flow of water.”*

Roberto shucked some mature ones right on the spot, and they are delicious.  If you see Oysterponds oysters anywhere, get them!  They are hearty and briny and perfect.

shucks

Down the hatch.

Down the hatch.

Lucy watching every move

Wild dingoes in the area

Speaking of local foods, it was nice to sample some of the local fares again.  Farm stand produce, clams that Phil dug up with his hands, mussels that we pulled out of Hallocks Bay.

Birds in Hallock's Bay

Geese in Hallock’s Bay

Mary musseling musselsFarm to table has always been a way of eating here, not just the latest trend and it continues to flourish.  The nearby town of Greenport has some exceptional restaurants, The Frisky Oyster is as good as ever, even if its prices are higher than ever.   Newcomer Brix & Rye has an incredible bourbon selection and delicious food.  And Little Creeks’ fun shuck-your-own oysters has taken over White’s bait and tackle shop right at Mitchell Park Harbor.  Linton’s store, now that he sold it it goes by its real name of the Country Store, has been taken over by a young couple selling very good sandwiches and prepared foods.  Orient country store signThe little store in East Marion has been transformed into a gourmet food store called Fork and Anchor.  Greenport has a brewery making craft beers.  And of course, all those vineyards are going strong.

Holly and Mary spending the afternoon wine tasting.

Holly and Mary spending the afternoon wine tasting.

Vineyard

Vineyard

Mary, Pete and Phil

Fun night with Phil and Holly in Greenport

I know these names don’t mean anything to most of you, but these places deserve a plug, check them out if you are ever out this way.   People complain about the strict conservation and preservation rules out in Orient, but we hope they hold strong and keep up the fight because in our travels we’ve seen how overdevelopment ruins a place.  And Orient is a rare pearl worth treasuring. Long Island Sound

Cape Crusaders

Whew, what a ride. We wanted to make up for time lost in Fort Lauderdale and get to our old northern stomping grounds. So we screamed up the coast from South Florida to Orient NY in 3 weeks.   Along the way we dealt with some of the gnarliest capes that the US east coast has to offer.   Although we were really moving, we enjoyed our time in Charleston. However, it ended all too soon and we were then on a 200 mile jaunt up to Cape Lookout. Lookout is a special place with a big circular bay nearly bereft of development.

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Cape Lookout lighthouse

Pete kiting Cape Lookout

Pete kiting Cape Lookout

Pete kiting Cape Lookout cu

It’s a great place for kitesurfing (only wish we could have stayed longer).  We also were able to swim in the water again (a little creepy because of all the shark attacks in the area) and we and R&R Kedger trekked out to spy on the wild horses living on Shackleford Banks. Cape Lookout is a wild and beautiful place, and we hope to return someday.

Our first sighting of the wild horses off in the distance.

Our first sighting of the wild horses off in the distance.

horse #5

orange wildflowers

orange wildflowers

Mary spotting the horses

Mary spotting the horses.

they don't seem to mind if you don't get too close

They don’t seem to mind if you don’t get too close.

Pete and Lucy scout for horses

Pete and Lucy scout for horses

wild ponies sauntering across the dunes

wild ponies sauntering across the dunes

But we had a schedule to keep so we shot over to nearby Beaufort for one night to fuel up and hit the road the next morning.   From what little we saw of Beaufort, we liked it. It’s a cute little old town making a living like so many places off the tourist dollar. It has a lot going for it with its preserved houses and beautiful nature just out the door.

Beaufort, that's bow-fort

Beaufort, that’s bow-fort

They know how to grow a delicious shrimp in the Carolinas.

They know how to grow a delicious shrimp in the Carolinas.

We had a decent weather window and would not have a good one again for a while. So we were presented with the choice of staying in Beaufort/Lookout for about a week to wait for the next window or moving out. With NY calling, we headed out into some of the worst seas we have ever been in. Lucky for us it was just the ocean swell built up from a week of 20 knot winds meeting the outgoing tide from Beaufort. It made for steep 10 footers which had Neko pointing at the sky and next at the deep. But once we got about 5 miles out the waves smoothed out a bit and we were able to turn to take them on the quarter. Life got better.

This leg would have us round notorious Cape Hatteras, the graveyard of ships. This is a treacherous cape that sees low pressure systems spinning off the coast as if being hurled out by the weather gods. They meet up with the Gulf Stream, which passes very close to Cape Hatteras, and often combine to create treacherous seas and nasty squalls. It’s not a place to trifle with.   Lucky for us we had a good weather window and saw only brief periods of high winds and the lightning fireworks show stayed mainly inshore. And are we glad it did – at the point of the cape there were continuous lightning strikes onshore that were so visible and lasted so long it seemed like a colossal Frankenstein experiment.

Hatteras lightening show

Hatteras lightning show

Breathing a sigh of relief as we left Hatteras behind, we set our sights on our next cape – Cape May in good old Joisey (leaving aside Cape Henry and Cape Charles, which we just passed in the night).  Pulling into Cape May after 3 days at sea was such a relief.

Cape May New Jersey

Cape May New Jersey

Fishing Boats Cape May

Fishing Boats Cape May

It was interesting to hear the accents on the VHF change from the slow southern drawl of South Carolina to the tighter drawl of North Carolina and Virginia to the oddly specific accent of those hailing from the Philly-Delaware-South Jersey axis. It is a sound I am very familiar with and knew we were back in home waters.

However, it was just a quick stop. We headed out the next day for the 200 mile trip around Montauk Point (well, they could have called it a cape) and on into Orient Harbor for our long awaited arrival back in Orient.

Happy to see the  familiar Montauk lighthouse signaling us home.

Happy to see the familiar Montauk lighthouse signaling us home.

Catching blue fish left and right.

Catching blue fish left and right.

Oh how sweet to again drop anchor in these familiar waters. The last time we did so was on Quint years ago but nothing ever changes in this place and it looks exactly the same. We don’t have a home any more, but this place feels as much like one as anywhere.

Orient's Bug Light

Orient’s Bug Light

OYC sailing lessons

OYC sailing lessons

Anchored in front of our little Yacht Club

We anchored in front of our little yacht club

Our old Island Packet

Our old Island Packet “Quint” moored in Orient Harbor in 2007.

Southern Hospitality

Dateline Charleston, SC: First order of business is to clarify that even though we are back in the US and closer to our old stomping grounds, we are not done with this adventure yet. One of our original goals had been to sail back to the NY area to meet up with family and friends, and we are very excited to be doing that. But it is not the end of this journey. I think when that time comes we will just feel it and it is not here yet. So, we are taking this opportunity to visit favorite places and, perhaps more exciting, to visit parts of the US one or both of us have never seen. We may be domestic, but many places are still foreign to us.

Lovely homes line the Charleston Battery

Lovely homes line the Charleston Battery.

Another benefit is that family and friends are closer at hand for quick visits. They aren’t burdened with trying to cram their week’s vacation into our wildly unpredictable schedule. Pete’s brother Matt was first to arrive for a 4th of July/Brothers Malloy visit during our stop in Charleston, SC.

Brothers Malloy lineup

The Brothers Malloy.

Returning crewmember Chris was able to bring his whole family, giving us the chance to meet our new niece Sophia.

Pete convinced Emma they could run through the fountain without getting wet.

Pete convinced Emma they could run through the fountain without getting wet.

and....

and….

Emma learning not to trust Uncle Pete

Emma learning not to trust Uncle Pete.

We even caught back up again with fellow cruisers Rob and Rose, who we’ve sailed off and on with since Pacific Mexico.

We love seeing our boat buddies Rob and Rose  arrive to share in the fun.

Now the party can start.

We arrived in Charleston to a harbor buzzing with Coast Guard and police boats.   We later learned it was security for President Obama who was giving the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of 5 church members shot to death at the Emanuel A.M.E. church.

cross in wet lands

It was truly inspirational to see the families and the city of Charleston rising above and forgiving, persevering and seeking light from such a dark and repulsive act.

These uplifting banners were found throughout town.

These uplifting banners were found throughout town.

AME church note

AME church flowers

Hundreds of flowers line the front of the church.

AME hydrant

Charleston is dripping with charm and history and bacon fat (the food is delicious but geez have they met a dish they haven’t merged with a pig part).   Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t let that stop us and we ate and ate and ate. Hell, who doesn’t love a homemade biscuit or eating catfish for breakfast?

You know how I know I’m getting older, no not that it is harder to lose weight from all those biscuits or recover from a hangover, it is I’m going on a walking tour or taking a corny carriage ride and, gasp, enjoying it.

Carriage ride

All aboard the middle age express.

yes of course I worried about the horse.

Yes, of course I worried about the horse.

Where once I scoffed at guides leading me around with a group of other camera toting gawkers, I now find them a perfect way to get the lay of the land and god forbid learn a thing or two. Afterwards we can tackle the city on our own, seeing it at our pace and once again being too cool for guide books. Humidity be damned, we walked and walked (remember we ate a lot of biscuits) soaking in the gorgeous architecture, landscapes and everything else the low country had to offer.

Southern hospitality wasn’t just for us, Charleston is one of the dog friendliest towns we’ve been to and Lucy was welcomed almost everywhere we went.

Some of the best houses were down these alley streets

Some of the best houses were down these alley streets.

Lucy riding into town.

Lucy riding into town via the marina’s courtesy shuttle…now that is first class.

Caught red handed (or mouthed) Pete and Lucy sampling hot sauces

Caught red handed (or mouthed) Pete and Lucy sampling hot sauces.

Lucy found a new house for us.

Lucy found a new house for us.

But it’s not only about horses and dogs, we had another raccoon incident.  This little guy somehow found his way onto the our dock, and was caught by Lucy actually trying to climb up our water hose to get on the boat.  Since the dock is long and far from the shore, he was certainly not where he belonged.

Wanna be crew

Wanna be crew.

The marina called the critter catcher who scooped him up and we were sad because we know where wayward raccoons go (and not to a big farm out in the country).  But we later saw some commotion on the dock and heard that the little guy opened his cage and got out.  But not to be deterred, the critter catcher caught him again.  However, this guy was determined and once again opened his cage and escaped.  This time he scampered into the marsh and the catcher said he would not go after him a third time.  So here’s to a determined little guy.  May he live long and prosper.

He sure is cute

He sure is cute.

Note to cruisers: The Charleston City Marina was full of some of the most helpful folks we’ve met. They welcomed us and Lucy with open arms and dog biscuits. They provide a free shuttle service into town yet it is walkable if desired. If you are in the anchorage it is a quick dinghy ride to the marina’s dinghy dock.   If you do go into the marina and they assign you to the Megadock be sure to request the inside. When those summer storms roll in the boats tied to the outside were getting tossed around like corks.

Here comes the rain again

Here comes the rain again.

Almost Pulled it Off

We were audacious enough to think we could pull off a major refit in a month’s time.  We limped into Fort Lauderdale, Florida with a badly clogged fuel system and loads of crud in our tanks.  Our sails and sail covers were tattered.  Our little generator seemed like it had a terminal case of the flu.  One of our rudders was making ominous knocking sounds.  Our dinghy engine was on its last legs, having rusted nearly away in its 10 years of life.

Neko limping our way into Fort Lauderdale through the 3rd Ave bridge, one of many bridges in Fort Lauderdale

Neko limping her way into Fort Lauderdale through the 3rd Ave Bridge, just one of many we had to go through going up the New River to get to Lauderdale Marine Center.

We docked at Lauderdale Marine Center after an amusing trip up the New River past waterfront mansions cheek by jowl along the crowded little waterway and immediately started interviewing potential service providers.

Can be a tight squeeze traveling the canals.

Can be a tight squeeze traveling the canals.

A different experience going up the narrow New River.  A tight squeeze sometimes, but fun sailing right through downtown.

Fun sailing right through downtown.

Some houses so close you felt like you could step off the boat into their yard.

Some houses so close you felt like you could step off the boat into their yard or take a dip in their pool.

Our list of work was long: clean the fuel tanks, replace all the standing rigging, repair the sails and replace the torn mainsail bag, much canvas work (new bimini and curtains, dinghy chaps, permanent screens for companionway door and galley window, seat cushions), refinish deck chairs, remove the old generator and replace with a new one (oh, by the way, this entailed using a crane to pull one main engine out of the boat entirely, set it on the ground and lower the new generator in and then drop the main engine back in), install two air conditioning units, rewire the boat for 240V/50hz power from its original European power, replace the washer/dryer unit, plus a whole bunch of projects we would do ourselves.

New rigging

Riggers were up the mast at least 50 times.

Mauricio and his guys were masters at their craft.  Here they are installing our new grey bimini.

Mauricio and his guys were masters at their craft. Here they are installing our new grey bimini.

Who needs 50 shades when our new 1 shade does the trick.  You can see the new dinghy chaps, bimini and sail bag

Who needs 50 shades of grey when our new 1 shade does the trick? You can see the new dinghy chaps, bimini and sail bag

Neko getting hauled out of the water.

Neko getting hauled out of the water.

Prepping New Generator

Prepping New Generator

Flying generator.  (Neko is the little sailboat that could in this neighborhood)

Flying generator. (Neko is the little sailboat that could in this neighborhood)

Down she goes

Down she goes

Main engine out of the boat.

Main engine out of the boat waiting while the new generator is installed and then back in she goes.

Guess who loves the AC the most?

Guess who loves the AC the most?

This was once salon seating. Now it is access to our electrical panels.

This was once salon seating. Now it is access to our electrical panels.

Lowering down new washer

Lowering down new washer

Mary painting anchor chain.  Each color marks 25'

Mary painting anchor chain. Each color marks 25′. We got new Maggi anchor chain.

Lots of trips to Home Depot and West Marine

Lots of trips to Home Depot and West Marine

We got down to hiring service providers and hounding them to work harder and faster.  We really wanted to get out on our timetable because the Bahamas beckoned and we had plans to get up the East Coast and meet up with friends and family.  Boat refitting is similar to making renovations on a house, but in much smaller quarters with everything you want to access under, behind or in between something else. This means the whole boat is torn apart.  And all the contents of those perfectly stowed cabinets and lockers are now spread over every square inch.  Making it hard to work, live, maneuver, breathe.

Mess spills into the cockpit

Mess spills into the cockpit

salon, where's a dog to sleep around here?

Where’s a dog to sleep around here?

workers every inch

workers in every square inch

This was once our shower

Even our shower was chock-a-block with stuff

Everybody worked diligently and understood what we wanted to accomplish.  Once they began they showed up and worked hard to get their projects done … except for one company – our riggers.  Despite our continuous hounding of them, they failed to show up and do any significant work for about a month in the middle of our stay.  It got to the point where all the other workers finished and moved onto other projects.  We’d pass them on the docks and they’d ask “Ya’ll still here?”

Yep, still in Fort Lauderdale.

Yep, still in Fort Lauderdale.

We eventually gave up on getting to the Bahamas this season, making apologies to our nephews, whom we’d promised some time in the islands, as well as friends Lloyd and Rob, who wanted to do the sail over with us.   Also, we were then approaching the time of year when our insurance would not cover us for tropical storm damage because we were lingering in the south for too long.  So we also lost the chance to stop in northern Florida and visit with Uncle Bob and Aunt Lorraine.  But on the bright side, being stuck in Fort Lauderdale so long allowed us to see family and friends, attend our dear friends’ wedding, see Mary’s folks and Mr Kitty in Central Florida and Mary to travel up to NYC to celebrate her god daughter’s high school graduation.  Also, we had a wonderful visit from Uncle Bob, who drove all the way down from Stuart to meet us on Neko.  And we saw Mary’s brother Tom (and Andre) before he moved from Miami and who kindly lent us his car for a month.

And Mary made time to help rescue a baby raccoon who had fallen in the water.

Raccoon rescue, off to the wild life sanctuary.

Raccoon rescue, off to the wild life sanctuary.

So good things do come to those who wait and Neko is almost as good as new. And we leave Fort Lauderdale much better than when we came.

See ya later alligator

See ya later alligator

Cuba, So Close, Yet So Far Away

We wanted to travel to Cuba before the Americans started flooding in, so along with our pals Charlotte and James we embarked on a 10-day educational trip.

Bienvenido a Cuba Pedro, Jaime y Carlota.

We know that America-Cuba relations can be a hot button topic, so we used this trip to educate and not debate. The key for us was to take a cue from the Cuban people who separate politics from people.

I just love this lady enjoying the day in the park with her amigos

Anyone who can rock a turban is aces with me.

Excuse me, there is a chicken on your head.

Excuse me, there is a chicken on your head.

Initial Impressions.  Cubans love Americans and readily put politics aside to get to know you as a person.  In fact, politics does not even enter into a personal interaction with Cubans.  What a refreshing attitude.  And if indeed some political issues were discussed they were not met with the vitriol that always seems to bubble up in the States.  The people of Cuba are the heart and soul of the country.  They are warm and welcoming, intelligent, funny and delightful.

men waving

Always greeted by waves and smiles.

kids

All the children were friendly, curious and full of giggles.

Hemingway house dog welcoming Mary and Charlotte.

Hemingway house dog welcoming Mary and Charlotte.

Honestly, we were not sure what to expect from a country that mainly has been presented to us as either the romanticized playground of the 1950s jet set or a repressed society full of people willing to risk their lives to achieve freedom.

Hotel National

Hotel Nacional De Cuba, host to everyone from Winston Churchill to Frank Sinatra, Eartha Kitt and Lucky Luciano.

Would people speak to us, were they allowed to speak to us, did they have toilet paper?You laugh, but so many people told us to bring our own, so we did.  And then our Cuban friend laughed at us because they have TP.   LOL.

Pete and his new friend enjoying a Cuban coffee

Pete and Señora enjoying a Cuban coffee. No need to worry, everyone spoke to us and were patient with our Spanish and practiced their English.

Our new amigo Olexis.  Always happy to answer all our questions and laugh at us for bringing our own toilet paper

Our new amigo Olexis. Always happy to answer all our questions and laugh at us for bringing our own toilet paper.

So many of our preconceived notions were way off, while many were confirmed and some things never quite explained. We just took it all in, which is easy to do because everywhere you look the colors, the architecture, the people always are interesting.  Click here for even more photos.

Musicians on the streets of Trinidad

Musicians on the streets of the historic city of Trinidad. We must have heard the song “Guantanamera” a million times from every band, street musician and radio. But we did learn the song is about a girl from Guantánamo. Seems so obvious now.

Cigar lady

Who says ladies don’t smoke cigars.

Man and bike

Recycle, refurbish or restore is the name of the game.

Initiates in the Santería religion are required to wear white clothing for a year, and they always carry a white umbrella.

Initiates in the Santería religion are required to wear white clothing for a year, and they always carry a white umbrella.

dominoes

Dominoes is a way of life.

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You are not allowed to take photos of the cigar workers, but this is the lobby of one of the many working cigar factories in Havana. Workers train for 9 months to learn how to roll the perfect cigar. Most workers were in their twenties and thirties as older workers develop carpal tunnel from the repetitive motions.

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Souvenir shops with pro-Cuba items and images of Che abound.

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Just an interesting shot.

pedestrian walkway

Lovely pedestrian walkway in Havana.

If there is one thing the world seems to agree upon and that is Earnest Hemingway.  His home stays as is the day he left Havana.

If there is one personality the world seems to admire, that is Earnest Hemingway. His home is as the day he left Havana.

There are some 4 star hotels in Cuba’s larger cities that have the same luxuries as those you’d find anywhere else.  But they are completely disconnected from everyday life on the island.  Rich little tourist islands in a sea of poverty.

Iberostar Hotel

Iberostar Hotel

For example, we stayed in an Iberostar hotel our first two nights in Havana to acclimate a bit.  They had cable TV, including CNN, BBC, HBO and the other usual channels.  This caused us to be surprised that media consumption in Cuba was not that much different from our own.  Is there anywhere in the world that doesn’t have “The Big Bang Theory” on constantly?   It was only later we learned that these TV channels are limited to international hotels.  For everyday Cubans, the country offers two local TV news channels – both government owned – and one international news channel. Guess where that one is from? … Venezuela.

On line for media?  Food? To pay a bill?  Folks waiting on line is commonplace.

On line for media? Food? To pay a bill? Folks waiting on lines is commonplace.

Internet access is virtually non-existent. It exists in a few college areas and certain other designated spots, and is censored, expensive and slow.   But the people are resourceful. They know all the international pop culture references. We found out that this is due to one of the many ingenious black market practices that exist here. There is a service they call “The Package” or “The Terrabyte”. On a weekly basis copies of current popular TV shows, movies, magazines, etc. that have been accessed via satellite are made available to locals in kiosks around the country. Memory sticks and drives are filled a la carte with whatever media the customer desires.   So people in both the cities and countryside knew about “Breaking Bad”, “Game of Thrones” and those ubiquitous Kardashians.

Cuban countryside

Cuban countryside

Sierra del Escambray mountains

Sierra del Escambray mountains

Cuba is a country of contradictions.  The countryside is beautiful and largely undeveloped. But this is mainly due to the lack of investment funds available and red tape for development anywhere.  Refreshingly there is almost no litter along the roads, but we learned this is because everything that can be recycled is recycled.

Wide open undeveloped land.

Wide open undeveloped land.

Due to its expense there is very little disposable plastic waste.  Many items are still sold in glass and metal containers.

1950s car

Touring Havana in 1950’s convertible

Cubans are pros at making the best of what they have.  Just look at all those old American cars.  Yeah, they are here – lots of them.  They’ve kept these cars running and passed them down from generation to generation for 50 or 60 years.  We assumed they were kind of a tourist gimmick, preserved for some propaganda reason. But there are TONS of them all over the island in varying states of repair, from glistening perfection to hideous, smoking beasts with more bondo than sheet metal.

colorful cars

Taxis lined up.

Along with all the classic 1950s American cars are lots of 19? motorcycles with sidecars

Along with all the classic 1950s American cars are lots of old motorcycles, most with sidecars.

cars in Havana

Cars on Paseo de Marti.

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Old Chevy now a taxi. The driver installed his own homebrew air conditioning.

Interestingly, the cars trace the historical ups and downs of Cuba. All those old American cars from the 50’s (none from the 60’s as the revolution happened in ’59 and that is the last model year present) represent the heyday of American involvement with Cuba and their abrupt end in 1959 tracks the end of the US presence here.

Blue Car

Then there are Russian cars, mostly Ladas; these are from the ‘70’ and ‘80s but they also abruptly disappear in the mid-1980’s when the fall of the Soviet Union caused Russia to drop Cuba like a hot potato.  They did not hold up as well as the old American cars, probably because the Cubans do not value them like those old US warhorses.  The Russian cars are taxis or just old beaters now.

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This is a Lada.

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Ladas look like they are from the 60’s but are really from the 80’s.

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Cool looking Skoda – from Czechoslovakia, when there was a Czechoslovakia.

The exit of the Russians ushered in a decade of extreme hardship for the Cuban people.  We were told horrible stories about people eating potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner; going without shoes for an entire year, and other tales of desperation.  And that, too, is evidenced in the Cuban cars – there are generally none from the ’90s to be found anywhere in the country.   Now, there is a steady trickle of unfamiliar Chinese and Korean cars showing up in Cuba, as those countries seek a toehold in this potentially lucrative market.

The people are poor.  I mean, we saw these kids in the city of Cienfuegos playing baseball in the street with a stick as a bat and a rock wrapped in a sock as the ball. This is right out of a Hollywood script.  How we wish we had a bag of baseballs to hand them.

Cienfuegos baseball game.

Cienfuegos baseball game – he missed; that thing behind him is the ball – a rock wrapped in a sock.

They had to call timeout whenever the “ball” unraveled. But they were having a grand time. In most of the rural villages there were more people getting around by horse and cart or just horse and saddle than by cars or trucks.  Yet you sensed no resentment, envy or covetousness.

Family on horse and cart

Family on horse and cart.

Man on horse and cart

Man on horse and cart.

horse and carts

Parking lot.

old cuban man

No horse, so he walks.

men on cartDespite the hardships caused by US government policies, the people unanimously welcome Americans and are eagerly looking forward to renewed relations. Even though Cuba was a Soviet client state for decades, most people will scoff at Russians and readily align themselves with the US. When Barack Obama first announced thawing relations with Cuba, we, and I think a lot of Americans, thought – “Oh, well that’s a surprise. OK, the sanctions regime didn’t seem to work so lets give this a shot” and then went about our day. In Cuba, despite the government’s cool negotiations with the Americans, it is a day of national celebration for ordinary people, sort of an unsanctioned holiday.   It’s so prominent that it has its own nickname – D17, for December 17 – the day of Obama’s announcement.

One has to admit that the communist regime in some respects has performed well for its citizens. Free education for all has resulted in an astoundingly high literacy rate. Subsidized healthcare means people are healthy and treated well.   And racism seems to be non-existent.  Although skin shades are as diverse as in the US, it never seems to make the slightest difference.

All school children wear uniforms

Everyone is given a free education pre-school to university.

Campus of the University of Havana

Campus of the University of Havana – stunningly beautiful grounds and buildings.

As mentioned above, somehow the population seems in general to be a happy lot despite the fact that they are well aware of their poverty.

Havana's Malecón is a hang out place for all.

Havana’s Malecón is a free hang out place for all.

Cubans love to dance.

Cubans love to dance and always welcome everyone to bust a move.

It’s very unlike some other Caribbean countries where tourists seem envied and can be treated badly. Cubans greet each other with hellos and jokes all day long, whether they know each other or not.   However, in other regards, communism has clearly failed its people. man in windowCuba has lagged far behind the rest of the developed world in the past 50 years. This is plain from the obvious longing of the everyday Cubans for some of the comforts of life in the more developed world. Cuba was clearly a thriving country in the first half of the 20th century, evidenced by gorgeous architecture all over Havana and other cities.

Cruising the streets of Havana

Cruising the streets of Havana.

Some homes look like they could be in Miami

Some homes look like they could be in Miami.

Others look like New Orleans

Others look like New Orleans.

Cienfuegos shopping promenade

Cienfuegos shopping promenade, said to be the Paris of Cuba.

colorful sidestreet

Rooftops of Trinidad

Rooftops of Trinidad

Yet many of these buildings are now crumbling ruins due to neglect from a lack of money to preserve them. And architecture from the period after the revolution (what little there is) is stark, forbidding and cheerless – it reminds one of Soviet buildings from the Cold War era.  There seems to be very little economic progress that occurred after 1959.  Food items are still rationed.  Commerce is tightly controlled and anemic.  The nonchalant acceptance of the lack of basic freedoms, like free speech, freedom of religion, travel and association surprises the Westerner.  Yet there are signs that slow progress is being made.

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People live in these crumbling buildings

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patched house torn up street

Propaganda.  One of the interesting things about communist countries is the prevalence of propaganda.  It seems so foreign to those of us steeped in commercial advertising (although it is becoming more prevalent at home these days).  There are few if any billboards on the roads of Cuba, but this is only because they are not allowed. The billboards you do see are typically government propaganda praising the heroism of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos and Raoul Castro (in that order – Che is much more popular than Fidel, I guess it is true what they say, “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse!”).

Cienfuegos, Fidel and Che

Cienfuegos, Fidel and Che

Che monument

Che monument

Che billboard

Roughly translated, “Knight without reproach and without fear”.

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“The Revolution will move ahead”

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“Socialism or death”

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“Until Victory, Always!”

Endless supply of books on Che and the revolution

Endless supply of books on Che and the revolution

The Museum of the Revolution is a striking example of this.  Its a fascinating collection of artifacts and information about the revolution.  We weren’t aware just how long and hard Fidel and his cohorts toiled to bring about change. Peter Cuban flag

“US leaders and their lackeys” LOL

Revolution Museum

Revolution Museum appropriately housed in the former presidential palace.

However, the museum is not sparing in its condemnation of “imperialists aggressors” who conspired to stunt the heroic revolution.

Rincón de los cretinos

Rincón de los cretinos “cretin corner”.

Propaganda is not limited to the players of the revolution though.  Jose Marti, who was a writer and symbol for Cuba’s independence from Spain in the 19th century, is always referred to by the honorific “Our National Hero Jose Marti”, never just Jose Marti.

Jose Marti

Cuban National Hero Jose Marti

It sounds so odd but flows so easily from Cubans that you guess it had to be drilled into everyone during schooling.  Anyway, the propaganda is all very amusing but of little importance to Cubans, who seem to want to look forward instead of dwell on the past.  It seems that with the government’s slow weakening, people express their opinions fairly freely (although there is the odd, suspicious look around for eavesdroppers before criticisms are delivered) and the general outlook is to get on with life.  Cubans don’t want to condemn the revolution; they seem to want it to just slide quietly into history.

Don’t they all want to defect?  Not anymore. We would say that the majority of people we spoke to would want to immigrate to the US, but the desire to do so is not so desperate anymore. Most would prefer more economic opportunities in Cuba so they could live a more comfortable life at home.  Cuba has softened its travel restrictions a bit lately and some people are able to go abroad.  However, due to historical restrictions, there are nearly no boats on the water and Cubans have generally lost their maritime heritage.

Derelict fishing boat in Cienfuegos harbor

Derelict fishing boat in Cienfuegos harbor.

It’s odd to look out over a beautiful bay and not see boats zipping around because Cubans are still not allowed to own, or even go on, a boat.

We went diving in the Bay of Pigs,  no dive boats here, just stepped off the end of this dock.

We went diving in “Bahía de Cochinos” or Bay of Pigs, yes that Bay of Pigs. No dive boats here, just stepped off the end of this dock and were met by thousand of fish and pristine coral reef. The most fish we have seen in all the Caribbean.

Diving

Dive center was a repurposed bus.  Our dive guide was a Cuban special forces commando and one of the best guides we've ever had

Dive center was a repurposed bus. Our dive guide was a Cuban special forces commando and one of the best guides we’ve ever had

When we visited an old yacht club with foreign boats moored at the dock, our guide stopped at the edge of the dock and said he could go no further. He is not allowed to go anywhere near boats. In fact he said this was the closest he had ever been to a boat in his life.

Old Yacht Club

Old Yacht Club

Charter boats for foreign visitors

Charter boats for foreign visitors

CUCs and CUPs, Paladars and Casa Particulars. They have a strange monetary system where locals use CUP (cuban peso)  and foreigners use CUC (convertible peso). A CUC is worth about 24 CUPs, yet this is not reflected in prices. Cubans pay a lot less for items than a foreigner does.  For example, we went to a baseball game (they are just as fanatic about it as the most die-hard fans in the US), and we paid 3 CUCs for a ticket while our Cuban friend paid 3 CUPs – 24 times less.  (So that is $3 for us and 13¢ for locals – for a playoff game non the less).

We were thrilled to take Olexis' to his first professional baseball game.  The  Havana Industrials  in the playoffs (they lost)

We were thrilled to take Olexis to his first professional baseball game. The Havana Industriales in the playoffs (they lost).

Not everything is priced as 1 CUP to 1 CUC, however, and sometimes there does not seem to be any relationship between the two prices for the same good.

One day we decided to go to Coppelia, Cuba’s famous ice cream parlor.

Locals waiting on line for ice cream at Coppelia.

Locals waiting on line for ice cream at Coppelia.

We were told that the lines could be long and were prepared to wait. However, when we got on the line, people from the ice cream store rushed over to us, confirmed that we were not Cubans and immediately took us to a special room for foreigners. We were the only ones in the room and were quickly served while many locals continued to wait on line.

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Getting ready for ice cream in exile.

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Coppelia was opened by the Cuban government in 1966 so Cubans could enjoy an ice cream treat.

I am sure our prices were a multiple of what the Cubans paid, but we didn’t care about that. We regretted not being able to enjoy the ice cream among the local crowd.  It was odd to be sequestered in a private room and treated differently than everyone else.

Pete thought he was getting a bargain $8 haircut, but as he walked out noticed the price list for locals as 83¢   LOL

Pete paid $8 for this haircut, but as he walked out noticed the price for locals was 83¢. LOL

Like their money, commercial life in Cuba runs on two tracks.  There are government run hotels, restaurants and shops.  These are usually clean, poorly stocked and bereft of customers.  Then there are private versions of the same (even private businesses have to give 51% profit to the government, except private shops, because those are not legal yet). Casa Particulars are private hotels and inns that started as black market places to stay and have recently been permitted by the government.

Exterior of Cienfuegos casa particular

Exterior of Cienfuegos casa particular.

Interior common room of  Cienfuegos casa particular

Interior common room of Cienfuegos casa particular.

Exterior of Havana casa particular

Exterior of Havana casa particular.

Pete enjoying the view with our casa particular host Skylar

Pete enjoying the view with our casa particular host Skylar.

Beautiful corridor to the rooms of Casa Habana

Beautiful corridor to the rooms of Casa Habana.

Room at  Casa Habana, just love that old tile

Room at Casa Habana, just love that old tile.

Roof deck

Roof deck “secret bar” at Casa Habana one of our casa particulars.

They run the gamut from Grandma Luisa’s old room in the back of the house to clean, well-run multiple room inns.  They all come with breakfast – oddly always the same breakfast no matter where you are. And can range from luxurious to bring-your-own-toilet-seat.  Its the same with restaurants.

Private restaurant in back of owner's home

Private restaurant in back of owner’s home

Cafe Laurent

Cafe Laurent in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana

countryside restaurant

countryside paladar

Outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchen

Paladars started as secret private places to buy a meal.  Now they are permitted, and regulated of course, and can be found everywhere.  They range from home cooking in someone’s house to trendy eateries with Cuba’s version of hipsters running around.

O'Reilly 304 (street address) could easily be in San Francisco

“O’Reilly 304” paladar could easily be in San Francisco

For restaurants, think of the government-run versions as old, expensive big-city eateries that are resting on their laurels and paladars as the new little restaurant that everyone is talking about.  We went to the paladars the majority of the time.  For shops its a little different.  From what we could learn, private shops are not yet permitted and, indeed, are still cracked down upon.  However, there are ration shops where things are quite cheap and people can buy their ration of subsidized egg, milk, bread, etc.  Then there are government-run shops that are not ration shops where people can spend their excess cash for other things.

Ummm, I don't think this is a government run gas station

Ummm, I don’t think this is a government run gas station

Finally, there are clandestine shops and black markets where you can get some things that you just must have.  Pete was ushered through a family’s living room, a bedroom, the kitchen where a daughter was peeling beets, and finally to another bedroom to be shown a duffel bag of cigars for sale.  Its all very confusing but shows how ingenuity squeezes through somehow no matter what the government does.

Pete and James enjoying their Cuban cigars

Pete and James enjoying their Cuban cigars

That’s it.  CUBA, we loved it!  With relations with the US thawing at a rapid rate, Cubans have a real task on their hands to grasp the benefits of an improved economy without spoiling the unique and timeless beauty that 50 years of communism have, inadvertently or not, preserved.  Note there is not a single KFC, McDonalds or CVS in any of the pictures we posted.  We hope the country can manage the coming change in a manner that allows people improved lives but that also keeps it that way.  They have a delicate and graceful culture that we can all benefit from.  We have so many photos from our trip. If you’d like to see more click here.

aerial Havana

Here is to a bright future for Cuba.

You say you haven’t seen enough Cuban dog photos? Ok, ok, click here for more.     And thanks Charlotte and James for sharing some of your photos.

Mexico Part Dos

We returned to Mexico, this time to the Caribbean side for a quick stop to see our dear friend Randy at his beautiful casa in Tulum.

Randy's casa es Lucy's casa

Randy’s casa es Lucy’s casa

You know Randy has had a few too many if he isn't checking out the bikini babe on the beach.

You know Randy has had a few if he isn’t checking out the bikini babe on the beach.

Randy, Mary ,Pete in TulumTulum is on the Yucatan Peninsula along a stretch of ocean they call the “Mayan Riviera.”  It’s essentially miles and miles of all-inclusive beach resorts behind huge gated walls, kind of bland and unnatural.  Tulum is the hipsters’ answer to the Riviera Maya.  If Cancun’s frat boy-filled non-stop party or the Riviera Maya’s all inclusive mega-resorts aren’t your thing (and you know they aren’t ours) then head to Tulum for a yoga retreat, eco-chic chill out.  Even the  Mayan ruins there (the only one built on the coast) are low key and easy to navigate in a few hours, then you can cool off in one of Tulum’s many cenotes (freshwater sinkholes).

Time for a quick morning of kiting for Pete

Time for a quick morning of kiting for Pete

We also ducked into El Cid marina in Puerto Morelos for a safe haven for Neko while we did some land travel (more on that in the next post).  When we pulled into our slip I looked over and to my delight saw one of our sister ships, “Beach House”.   You have to realize there were only 13 (Neko is #12) Switch 51’s made and I’ve never seen another.  Pete is active online in the Switch owners’ group and they all “know” one another in the virtual world, so it was a kick to meet Scott and Nikki in person and check out each others’ boats.

Scott and Nikki for our sister ship "Beach House"

Scott and Nikki from our sister ship “Beach House”

Lovely beaches of Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Lovely beaches of Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Lucy enjoying digging in the sand.

Who me?  No, I wasn’t digging.

Happy to be back in the land of delicious Mexican food

Happy to be back in the land of delicious Mexican food

We headed over to Isla Mujeres to wait for our weather window and to enjoy a few last days in Mexico. Like Cabo on the Pacific side, Isla Mujeres was a bit too touristy, but the folks were friendly and for our fellow boaters the anchorage is well protected – apart from the wakes from the giant over-packed party excursion boats.  And clearing out of the country was a breeze.

Room for more

Room for more

Then after a year and a half it was time for us to head to the strangest land of all…Florida. With the help of  the Gulf Stream giving us an extra 2+ knots push we sailed along at times up to 10-12 knots, making the trip in a speedy 48 hours .  We would have loved to stay in Key West a bit longer, but only had time for a delicious fish dinner and trip to the Hemingway house before a cold front and cruise ship invasion made us zip out and up to Fort Lauderdale and a marina tie up.

polydactyl cats at the Hemingway House

polydactyl cats at the Hemingway House

Beautiful Key West

Beautiful Key West

Pete Hemingway House

Pete Hemingway House

Cruise ship

Our signal to depart

Funny, we left San Francisco under the Golden Gate Bridge and returned to the U.S. under another bridge, this time they had to open up for us to fit under.

Safely through the 17th Street Bridge.  The first of 5 bridges to get to our new home base in Fort Lauderdale for the next month.

Safely through the 17th Street Bridge. The first of 5 bridges to get to our new home base in Fort Lauderdale for the next month.

We left the U.S. under the Golden Gate Bridge and returned 1.5 years later through another.

We left the U.S. under the Golden Gate Bridge and returned 1.5 years later through another.

So after some boat repairs here in boat heaven, a.k.a Fort Lauderdale, visits with family and friends, and trips to Target we will move on to the Bahamas and then, who knows?

Seeing is Belizing

We have been to Belize twice before on charter boats: first in 2001 (when we met and adopted Lucy)

Lucy in 2001

Little Lucy in 2001

and then again in 2010.   Even though I’d love to say that Lucy recognized her homeland, I think we were more excited anthropomorphizing her nostalgic reaction than she was to return.  Honestly the best part is that she is still with us after all these years and we were able to share another great experience with our favorite hound.

Who said you can't go home again?  Looking longingly at the homeland

Who said you can’t go home again? Looking longingly at the homeland.

Belize is bordered by a barrier reef (supposedly the longest one in the northern hemisphere) which only allows entry at certain points.  These can be treacherous and often require passing with the sun clear of clouds and well overhead.  The reason for this is that where the reef is not sticking above the water, it lies only a few feet below and you can only tell it is there from the different color of the water.  In bad light, they are invisible. Charts show shipwrecks dotted along this reef virtually every few miles.  It would be real easy without modern navigation aids to trip right over it.  When Pete and Chris came over from Roatan, they slowed down and had to wait for hours outside the reef for some squalls to pass before the light was good enough for them to see the reef entrance. However, they got inside and anchored in the cute little town of Placencia, where I met back up with them after my sojourn to the Sundance Film Festival.

Tranquil restaurant is a delightful place accessible only by boat (or I guess you could swim)

Tranquil restaurant is a delightful place accessible only by boat (or I guess you could swim)

Placencia footpath

Placencia’s footpath guide you around town

Placencia waterways

Or you can use the waterways

Placencia Selfie

Placencia Selfie

On previous trips to Belize we focused on the northern part of the country so we were thrilled to explore the southern cays, mangroves and the outer atolls.

Exploring the mangroves, sadly we didn't have a manatee sighting

Exploring the mangroves, sadly we didn’t have a manatee sighting

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Swim day. Lucy has mysteriously taken to wading out and then swimming a bit without any coaxing from us. This is new behavior.

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Why, hello dare.

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Goff’s Cay. Pete was looking for the Corona and lime from the ad.

DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO(Word of the day ATOLL – a ring-shaped coral reef or a string of closely spaced small coral islands, enclosing or nearly enclosing a shallow lagoon.  You’re welcome cross word puzzle lovers ;-)  They lie outside the reef and reaching them requires passing back through the reef.  The waters all around Belize are crystal clear and very shallow.

The water was clear as gin.

The water was clear as gin.

It is a world of difference when you are on a charter boat (think rental car) zipping through the shallow waters of Belize without a second thought compared to gingerly putting along in your own boat through the shallows praying you won’t run aground.  We draw 4′ and at times we were uncomfortably close to the bottom.

It is slow going when you draw 4 feet and the depth finder reads 4.4

It is slow going when you draw 4 feet and the depth finder reads 4.4

After our rock encounter in Panama, we were at first a little gun-shy.  But the bottom is mostly sand and the few coral heads that do stick up are easy to spot.

Yes that is the bottom of Neko and yes that is the bottom of the sea.

Yes that is the bottom of Neko lying feet off the bottom.

After a few weeks of this dance, we were considering 8′ really deep water.  Back in California we would have had a fit if we strayed into 8′ deep water. The Belize atolls are delightfully remote and populated only by quirky little dive- or eco-resorts where everything is shipped in by boat.

clear water Belize

clear water Belize

Neko and Pegasus enjoying a romantic sunset

Neko and Pegasus enjoying an atoll sunset

James and Charlotte from Pegasus

James and Charlotte from Pegasus

Glover

Glover’s Reef with odd stick structures.

Pete and Lucy at Marisol Bar

Lucy never passes up a happy hour

 

Nothing better than a bar at the end of a dock

Nothing better than a bar at the end of a dock

Your room awaits you

Your room awaits you

We continued our diving adventures with our pals Charlotte and James on Pegasus at Glovers’ Reef and Turneffe Atoll.  The water in Belize is beautifully clear and full of coral and sea life.

Sea Hunt

Sea Hunt

Pete's new pal

Don’t touch that turtle!

Rollin' in the deep

Rollin’ in the deep

Mary and Peter Scuba II

I still can’t believe I’m doing this

Diving "The Crack" at Glover.  One at a time please

Diving “The Crack” at Glover.   Yes, this is the way up and out…WTF

We had a blast but a norther (strong wind from the north) was threatening and these islands do not have safe places to anchor with protection from north winds.  So we hustled back inside the barrier reef and ducked into the Cucumber Beach Marina to wait it out.  For our fellow boaters, this marina is well protected and a good place to pick up/drop off visitors at the airport.  Belize City itself is worth a look if you are there but I wouldn’t make a special trip.  But check out of the country there was fast and simple.

Belize City

Belize City

Ice cream stop

Ice cream stop

Local bus to Belize City

Local bus to Belize City

I passed on the cow foot soup

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Lighthouse named for a guy who paid for it but never set foot in Belize City

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Florida? Could be, but its Belize City.

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Belizean Venice? Not really…

 

For my Florida friends...I think there might be a trademark law suit here LOL

For my Florida friends…I think there might be a trademark law suit here LOL

From here on we were back in familiar territory and didn’t spend too much more time.  We couldn’t pass up a stop at Caye Caulker, an island with no cars, but loads of rastas, hippies and young people out exploring the world.  Its a fun stop and we spent about a week there.

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Happy to see a rescue dog program in place

Happy to see a rescue dog program in place

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Use your best island accent to figure this one out

 

Rasta bar

Rasta bar

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Eat here it is fantastic Italian!

Eat here it is fantastic Italian!

DSC_0268Then it was out another reef cut into the ocean for our return to Mexico, this time Caribbean side.

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Leave the yellow buoy to starboard (hope its where its supposed to be), turn left, don’t hit the rocks.

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Reefed down on the way up to the next stop, Mexico.