Cuban Hospitality in Nueva Gerona
Leaving Cabo San Antonio
We departed from Cabo San Antonio just before 15:00 on Sunday, May 15, with help once again from Messum, on our way to Nueva Gerona on Isla de la Juventud. We were anticipating some choppy seas once we rounded the cape, but to our surprise they were dead calm! Unfortunately the wind still wasn’t in our favor so the motor had to stay on.
By my watch at 18:00 we had entered the Caribbean Sea. The waves had picked up just enough to make the ride a bit bumpy, since we were driving into them, but again nothing to complain about for our fifth over-nighter of the trip so far.
By 12 o’clock on Monday, May 16 we had reached the shallow waters that surround Isla de la Juventud in the Gulfo de Batabano. To our port I could see Cayos Los Indios and in front and to starboard lay Isla Juventud. The winds had also finally picked up and were coming from a more favorable direction that I was able to unfurl the Genoa and begin sailing again!
Late that afternoon we pulled into a bay called Enseñada de Los Barcos to anchor for the night. Right away I jumped in for a swim. The water was crystal clear, but it was dark since the bottom was covered in sea grass and speckled with white sea urchins. The water temperature was warm but refreshing. The Captain made some steak and tater tots for dinner, and shortly after that we were fast asleep for our first full night of rest since leaving Venice four days earlier. Thankfully the anchorage was nice and calm all night.
Arriving at Nueva Gerona
On Tuesday, May 17th we lifted anchor from Enseñada de los Barcos and made our way around the north coast of Isla de la Juventud to the islands biggest town, Nueva Gerona.
We arrived at Nueva Gerona after making our way up the Rio las Casas in the afternoon and checked in with the Guarda Frontera (in Cuba you have to check in and out at every port that you visit). All went pretty smooth and he allowed us two days/nights at the dock.
Right away we went for a walk into town and soon figured out how to use the wifi. At the end of Calle 39 there was a big public park called Parque de las Cotorras that apparently had government wifi, but you had to buy cards that would give you access per hour for 2 CUC each. Not a bad price and the wifi wasn’t that bad either, although I was not able to make any calls with What’s App, FaceTime, Skype, FB video, etc. That was a bit of a bummer.
I noticed immediately how friendly the people were, on par with our experience in Cabo San Antonio. Everyone was amazed by the Captains little dog, constantly asking questions and taking pictures. I quickly made friends with a local named Yudi who showed me around, and later joined us for dinner with her friend (can’t remember his name). It was a great first day!
My 27th Birthday in Nueva Gerona
The next day was my 27th birthday! I had no idea what I was going to do, but in the morning I planned to get some work done on my blog. As soon as I left the boat I ran into a guy I met the night before during dinner named Dairiel (wearing a shirt that said “Edmonton Oilers” on it). He was really happy to see me and asked if I wanted to have a guide in and around the town for the day. I said yes, and we were off on an adventure.
He called his buddy Ramon, who is a taxi driver, and he agreed to be our chauffeur for the day.
First stop was Finca el Abra (Jose Marti House). I didn’t know much of the history before getting here so I wasn’t too sure who Jose Marti was at first. It was cool to learn that he was a national hero and had stayed at this home for 9 weeks when he was 17 after suffering a brutal sentence in Havana.
After that we went back to the “wifi park” so I could get one blog post out.
From there we went for lunch at La Codornisa Motel which was quite a ways outta town. We had an awesome meal of chicken, plantains, rice and beans, and a cucumber salad for 2.50 CUC each.
After lunch we headed to el Presidio Modelo which is the historic prison on Isla Juventud, famous for the inmates Fidel and Raul Castro. I was blown away by the cylindrical structures of the prison and seeing what was left of them, while imagining what it must have been like. You could still feel the presence of the guards and inmates there which was a bit spooky.
Last stop of the tour was a grueling hike in the 95 degree heat, 850 feet up to the top of la Loma, which is one of the high hills around the town (compared to the rest of the landscape these hills looked like mountains). The view was absolutely phenomenal making the climb totally worth the heat stroke.
We got back in town late afternoon and Dairiel invited me back to his place for some water. To get there we walked from the base of la Loma through the dirt roads and the humble side-by-side homes, passed all the barking dogs, the old school cars, horse drawn buggies, the motorcycles with the side carts, and their local Baseball Stadium. We got a strawberry ice cream on the way to cool off. When we got there his neighbors were all sitting out in front talking to each other, and anyone else on the street. A few men on bikes looked like they were headed home from work while dogs were going crazy barking and chasing after them trying to bite at their ankles. We greeted his neighbors then he proceeded to unlock a gate to the narrow concrete alley between their home and the home next to it. We walked down the alley and his house was behind another locked gate to the right. Inside it was a very simple space. Two small bedrooms with a small living room and kitchen in between. No windows except into the alley. Dairiel got me some cold water and a guava, which I tried to share but he insisted I have it all. When I asked why he had two rooms he said “one is for me and the other is for Stevie when he wants to visit”! Then he went and got a Cuban flag to give to me as a gift for my birthday! I thanked him from the bottom of my heart for the flag even though my true gift on my birthday was him. Looking back now I remember how constantly throughout the day he would do little things like open and close the taxi door for me, go get me a bottle of cold water while I worked on my blog in the park, and insist on carrying my bag for me even though I could tell he was exhausted. What a great example of hospitality!
The next morning on Thursday, May 19th, after a few last errands I made one more trip to the park with my remaining wifi card to talk to Romi and my mom. When I got back the Guarda had come to give us our “despacho” (sort of a release form). Shortly after we were off, waving goodbye to the overwhelming generosity of the incredibly unique Nueva Gerona.
Have any of you ever experienced hospitality like this while traveling?
Let me know in the comments!