CTP – Blog 7 – Nueva Gerona, Isla Juventud

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.

photo of the sun set at cabo san antonio, cuba
Sun setting behind Cabo San Antonio

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.

Photo from Enseñada de Los Barcos with Nueva Gerona in the background in Cuba
Enseñada de Los Barcos with Nueva Gerona on the horizon.
Photo of a sea urchin skeleton in Cuba
A sea urchin skeleton from Enseñada de Los Barcos.

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.

Photo of a local fisherman from Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
I was surprised to see this guy fishing in the deep sea before entering Rio las Casas.
Photo of a cuban boat in Rio las Casas, Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
Rio las Casas was a busy (and smelly) waterway for the local boat traffic.

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.

Photo of a street and old car in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
My first street in Nueva Gerona, Cuba.
Photo of a horse and carriage in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
And just a bit further down that street.
Photo of Parque de las Cotorras in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by stevie vagabond
At the end of Calle 39 reaching Parque de las Cotorras
Photo of a street in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
It’s true, you do feel like you’re traveling back in time in Cuba.

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!

Photo of two cuban boys in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
A couple local kids after their tennis practice goofing around for the camera.
Photo of a frutana tree in Nueva Gerona, Cuba
Frutana — a type of local edible berry.
Photo of a street in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
More streets, houses, and cars cause they are just so pretty!
Photo of el cine in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
The local theater in Nueva Gerona
Photo of cuban kids playing in Nueva Gerona during sunset by Stevie Vagabond
Kids playing in Parque de las Cotorras — there were always people outside, interacting and playing here!
Photo of a local girl in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
Yudi — my first friend in Nueva Gerona.

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.

Photo of a busy street in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
The streets are busy in Nueva Gerona, and not just with cars.

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.

Photo of the head of Jose Marti at the Jose Marti House in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
A monument to Jose Marti that I saw throughout Cuba, but this one being right in front of the Jose Marti House.
Photo of the Jose Marti House in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
The house where Jose Marti stayed during his exile before departing to Spain.

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.

Photo of a typical cuba dish in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
Lunch with Dairiel at La Codornisa

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.

 

Photo of el Presidio in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
Entering the prison grounds from the back
Photo of el Presidio cylindrical prison building in Nueva Gerona, Isla Juventud, Cuba
The prison was closed for lunch, but Dairiel and Ramon did some sweet talking to this lady for us to wander around.
Photo of el Presidio from the inside in Nueva Gerona on Isla Juventud, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
One of the cylindrical prison blocks from the inside.
Photo of the central observation post in el Presidio Modelo in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
Central observation post for the guards to watch over the inmates.
Photo of a heart stone in el Presidio Modelo, Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond.
Just before leaving I saw this heart shaped stone at the base of the observation post — I wonder what the story is behind this.
Photo of the cafeteria block at el Presidio Modelo, Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
The cafeteria block
Photo inside the cafeteria block at el Presidio Modelo in Nueva Gerona by Stevie Vagabond
I could just imagine all the inmates here gathering for food — the conversations they would have.
photo of the old elevator in el Presidio Modelo, Nueva Gerona by Stevie Vagabond
The elevator unfortunately didn’t work anymore
Photo of a cuban local at el Presidio Modelo in Nueva Gerona by Stevie Vagabond
Dairiel — my personal guide and new best friend
Photo of the entrance to el Presidio Modelo in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
View of el Presidio Modelo from the front with Ramon pulling up to get us
Photo inside a cuban taxi in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
On our way to our next adventure — loved Ramon’s “A/C”

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.

photo of la loma in nueva gerona by stevie vagabond
This little house marks the entrance to the hike — no way would I have found this on my own
photo of a local on la loma with nueva gerona in the background by stevie vagabond
Dairiel finishing up the hike like a champ!
Photo of a cuban at the top of la Loma in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
This was also Dairiel’s first time to the top — he was pretty happy
Photo of Nueva Gerona, Isla de la Juventud, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
View of Nueva Gerona to the Northeast
birds eye view photo of Nueva Gerona with Nikon D90 by Stevie Vagabond
Birds eye view of a local neighborhood in Nueva Gerona thanks to the awesome zoom on my Nikon D90
Photo of a local overlooking Isla Juventud from la Loma in Nueva Gerona by Stevie Vagabond
Just before heading back down Dairiel took one last second looking west over Isla de la Juventud

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!

photo of a local street in nueva gerona, cuba by stevie vagabond
One of the neighborhood streets in Nueva Gerona
photo of the nueva Gerona baseball stadium by stevie vagabond
The Nueva Gerona baseball stadium
photo of a local ice cream street vendor in nueva gerona, cuba by stevie vagabond
Strawberry ice cream before checking out the stadium
Photo of las piratas professional baseball team in Nueva Gerona, Cuba by Stevie Vagabond
The Pirates professional baseball team in Nueva Gerona
photo of some local cuban boys in Nueva Gerona, cuba by stevie vagabond
A couple future baseball stars
photo of a local cuban grandmother in nueva gerona, cuba by stevie vagabond
Dairiel made a special stop to say hi to this lady on our way to his house
photo inside a local cuban house in nueva gerona by stevie vagabond
My only shot from inside Dairiel’s home — here he is turning the fan on and getting me some water

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.

 

Question:

Have any of you ever experienced hospitality like this while traveling?

 

Let me know in the comments!

  15 comments for “CTP – Blog 7 – Nueva Gerona, Isla Juventud

  1. Laurie
    June 13, 2016 at 2:31 am

    Happy birthday fellow Gemini

    • stevievagabond
      June 20, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Thank you Laurie, but I am a Taurus 😉

  2. Connie
    June 13, 2016 at 2:58 am

    Thank you once again for sharing your adventures. I’m proud of you for being so open and trusting in mankind. I’m so happy that you enjoyed your birthday. Love you⭕️⭕️❌❗️

    • stevievagabond
      June 20, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks mom it was a pretty unique birthday once again!

  3. Stuart North
    June 15, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Nueva Gerona looks like a pleasant, laid back Cuban town. I have never seen a circular prison before. Quite unique! The people you met were obviously very friendly and hospitable without being demanding. They differ from Haiti in that respect. The photos and text that you include in the blog are interesting and much appreciated. I’m sure you will continue to meet good people – the world is full of them! Best wishes on the next leg of the voyage.

    • stevievagabond
      June 20, 2016 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks Stuart! Very good points, and all exactly my thoughts. Nueva Gerona was extremely unique and super friendly. I would recommend it to anyone!

  4. Jenny Lauraeus
    June 17, 2016 at 4:10 am

    Hi Stevie 🙂 great to read your blog post! Cuba sounds and looks amazing 😀 ! Great you got to experience it! Me and James are planing to sail there next year as we thought about going there for a while now. It is good to go there now before it is going to change. I’m just wondering if you can dock and anchor anywhere for free anywhere in Cuba or is it only certain spots?
    Enjoy your adventures!
    Kind regards
    Jenny

    • stevievagabond
      June 20, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      Jenny this is now the perfect time to go! We unfortunately didn’t get to see very many places, but when we did stop I absolutely enjoyed the real Cuban culture. In my next post I talk about our last stop there which was more of a resort town for tourists, so not really my kinda place for this trip at the moment. You guys will absolutely love it here!

  5. Nancy Hirsh
    June 24, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Hi Stevie… Beautiful and very historical account of your trip on the seas and in Cuba, very well done! Thank you for sharing it. I’d love to share it on my Facebook page but am not sure how to! Much love and many prayers your way for your safe journeys….
    Peace, Bro…,✌️…. Nancy

    • stevievagabond
      June 24, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Wow thank you Nancy! I’m really glad you enjoy it! To share you can just copy the webpage address at the top of the screen and paste it on FB or where ever you like 🙂 thank you again!
      Stevie

  6. July 16, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Stevie tvoje cesta byla velice dobrodružná, hlavně že jsi v pořádku a celou cestu putování světem jsi zvládl. Přeji do dalších dobrodružství hodně štěstí a lásky

    • stevievagabond
      July 16, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Dekuji Dana, byla to divoka zkusenost. Nejtezsi bylo pro me byt bez vasi dcery. Ale Romi me to pomohla prekonat. Ani vam nemuzu rict jak jsem stastny ze je tady se mnou. Tesim se na nase spolecne zazitky. Tesim se az vas oba poznam.

  7. Dana Burianova
    July 16, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Stevie your trip was very adventurous, especially that you’re okay and the whole way you handled journey through the world. Wishing to further adventures of luck and love

  8. Kelly E Rodriguez
    December 1, 2016 at 1:21 am

    Dr. Mr. Stevie V,

    I am so glad you had a special time in Cuba. The culture is one of warmth and family, and people need the tourist income so badly.

    My husband’s family are Cuban exiles who left in 1969, but not before my father-in-law was arrested as a political prisoner in 1960, due to his opposition of Castro. He was held for nearly 5 years in one of the circular the “Presidio Modelo” prisons on the Isla de Pinos, and indeed those men suffered great evils, as you seem to have sensed while there. He barely made it out alive, barely survived without it completely breaking him.

    I have written a letter to the editor of World Magazine recounting my family’s experiences under Castro, and am seeking to use a photo of one of these prisons which shows an interior view with the guard tower in the center. Imagine the psychological effect of that architecture, every prisoner there knowing that at any moment, 24/7, a sniper in that tower could be aiming at him…. Although that was the least of what those men suffered.

    At any rate, I would be happy to supply you with a copy of my letter before you decide. My deadline is Friday. You can reach me by email.

    Many thanks,

    Kelly Rodriguez

    • stevievagabond
      December 1, 2016 at 2:47 am

      Hi Kelly,

      Wow I am sure the story you have is quite powerful from such a tremendously challenging experience. Thank you for reaching out to me and I would be honored to help in any way to share your families story.

      I will send you and email 🙂

      Your friend,

      Stevie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *