Apologies for the delay all!
We left Baracoa about five days ago and are now in Santiago de Cuba!
I didnt have much time to write in Baracoa as we always seemed to be busy with one thing or another. We hiked up the large flat-topped mountain, El Yunque, spent a great deal of time exploring the town and taking in the atmosphere. I don't know if I mentioned before, but this is a small city, rather a moderately sized town in reality, which seems to bustle day and night. Ashore at eight in the morning, people scurry to and fro as if carrying a breaking story to the print deadline of a newspaper. Pausing only to grab the 'street snack' of the day, whatever it may be, perhaps a pork roll, a ubiquitous 'peso pizza', an ice cream(Cubans adore ice cream) or a small deep fried 'croqueta' they huury on their way to places unseen - only to reappear moments later in another part of the square to repeat the whole process. The whole pantomime is reminiscent of a crowd scene in a cheap television drama, or perhaps the film, The Truman Show. Everyone is very busy and in a huge rush, but o nowhere in particular. The same faces keep popping up like overused extras in a cheap movie. This doesnt detract from the scene however, it just adds a certain frenetic comedy to the experience.
Walking amongst the ramshackle houses in the residential areas is just as much fun. Much like in the Mediterranean, the street is surveyed by the elderly through a mixture of stable type doors and rocking chairs on porches - a kind of traditional closed circuit television. Children run home from school in pristine uniforms - a different colour for each age group - stopping only to grab a peso ice cream or a cone of 'mani' - some hot dry roasted peanuts. Teenagers, mainly girls as the boys are in the local baseball stadium practicing for a 'try out day' for the local team, push their bikes along in noisy groups laughing and joking - mainly at the boy's expense. Donkeys pulling carts full of water make occasional stops at groups of adults holding buckets for a top up - Running water, although common, isnt available in all houses. Occasionally a front yard is given over to a blacksmith or bicycle mechanic. With an absence of parts, these two roles are often combined in another strange mixture of the ages - you can imagine the bicycles being shod when they have a puncture. Children are everywhere. The Cubans love them almost as much as ice cream. Walk in a Cuban street with a child and it will take you an hour to cover a hundred yards. They coo, call, chat, hug and kiss children as if they were the last survivor on the planet. It is somewhat touching to see when comparing it to how many European countries have changed over the years and how it is almost becoming a social stigma to even talk to a stranger's child.
The whole is a noisy, friendly and happy scene. The people don't have much but there is no mistaking that, at least on the surface, they are very happy and indeed proud of their lot. This is true of the majority of the people we have seen in Cuba to date.
The hike up El Yunque was a lot of fun. The Shaka girls did stirling work up very steep jungle terain. The views from the top were spectacular and a swim in the river at the end, perfect. Half way up the trail, a local farmer had set up a stand where you could eat as much fruit as you could manage for next to nothing. Everything from sweet bananas to huge grapefruit gushing with juice were peeled and laid out to eat. Small pieces of coconut covered with local honey were a delicious 'dessert'. The honey was delicious, so we asked if it might be possible to buy some in town. The farmer asked for one of our empty water bottles and returned a short while later with a couple of pints of the stuff - once again, so cheap as to be practically free.
It has to be said that we loved Baracoa and all of its idiosyncrasies, but especially its people. Time to move on however and another 180 mile sail to Santiago de Cuba on the South Coast of Cuba.
For those interested in the onward clearance process, we were visited by the harbour master and customs again and the boat given a cursory search before we were wished well and given our onward clearance. We were told that although we could stop on the way to Santiago, the bay at Baitiquiri had an extremely dangerous entrance and although we were free to go there, the harbour master cautioned us against it, especially in the windy conditions we were expecting. The bay at Escondido was out of bounds as it was a military base and practice area.
Finally the harbour master asked us to re-inforce that although visitors were welcome in Baracoa, it was not possible to clear vessels in or out of Cuba at this point and had not been for the last fourteen years.
I'll write a little more about he southern coast when I've got to grips with it a bit!