The Adventures of CS33 Borean
2003 - 2004

Instalment 5 - December 4th, 2003
Marina Hemmingway, Havana, Cuba 

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(Occationally, editorial comments from Don of S/V Destiny Calls, host of this web site and southern waters frequenter, will appear in green italic)

Fifth Installment
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Janette and I arrived at the Marina Hemmingway at 11:30 Tuesday, November 26. We were both very tired after having been tossed about all night. Having tied up to the dock in front of the Guarda Frontera, we awaited for the clearing in process. Our first visitor was from the Ministry of Agriculture. Emilio was very genial, after showing him our passports and boat papers, he asked us what food we had on board, what fresh fruit or meat we had. The importation of certain foods is banned, such as poultry ,beef and apples. We were told that we could consume these foods on our boat, but could not go ashore with them. He then inquired about our first aid kit, which Janette showed him and he was satisfied. The last place he wanted to inspect was the head. Here he took out a can of household bug (ant) spray and let off a couple of squirts. At this point we were told we could lower our “Q” flag and that we were cleared in. While Emilio was on board ,our next visitor was the Harbour Master. Abel, was very efficient, he also wanted to see passports and boat registration. As he was filling out forms he would ask us questions , as to type of engine, manufacture, and horsepower. He also inquired as to the outboard engine for the dinghy. The next to board our boat were the Customs inspector and Guarda Frontera. Once again passports and boat papers were asked for. As with the previous inspectors they asked us , how long we planned to stay, and where we planned to go. They then proceeded to search the boat.

Emilio and Abel were still on board, the 2 customs inspectors, as well as the 2 Guarda Frontera, and Janette and I. A total of 8 people in our main cabin, people going through all our cupboards, icebox, every nook and cranny that they came across. Every book that we had on board was checked, I imagine that some titles might be sensitive here and they wouldn’t want us to leave any behind. There were some exclamations from the customs people when they came across all the toothpaste and tooth brushes we had on board. At this point Abel very officiously said he wanted to see the engine compartment. I had to ask all the people on board to move back , so that I could remove the engine cover. Everyone was squeezed in towards the vee berth as the dinning room table was set up to facilitate all the paperwork. Cocpit lockers were emptied next, more toothpaste was found and eyebrows were raised.

Was I going to be selling all these items I was asked. I smiled and said no, that they were for distribution, freely for the people of Cuba. Everyone satisfied they all left the boat and we were free to go to our slip inside the Marina. We tied up to our assigned slip with the help of the Dock Master and others, who were there to welcome us.

The Dock Master informed us that the paper work was not complete yet , and could he come on board to do so. After doing the necessary official signing of papers and paying of the various taxes Jose left us to ourselves so we could rest…..but there was still one more visit and one I had to make. I was instructed by the customs people that I was to present myself at their office for what was to be the final examinaton of my papers . This whole process took almost 3 hours to complete. Janette and I had been up since 7 o’clock the previous morning and had not much to eat, we decided to check out a local restaurant and then get some much need sleep.

The next day we cleaned up the boat, restored the boat to living state, wash the floors and just settled in. We went on to explore the marina and its amenities. We also met the public relations officer Isaura who is a naval engineer.. She was a wealth of information.

During the day another boat came in- MoonShine from the UK. We had them over for drinks at 6. Nicola and John Rodriguez are a newly wed couple who have been on board for 18 months. We decided to visit old Havava with them the next day. I had the Lonely Planet guide to Cuba which is the bible for many travelers who are on land. With this in hand we made our way at 0820 to find the bus to take us to the city. A taxi would could $15 usd but the bus only $2 per person. After chasing a few busses and waiting at the wrong place we boarded a large sight seeing” Busscar” from Cubanacan and sat in luxury.

The view was great and it was A/C too. The ride took 30 minutes and we got off at the Castillio de la Fuerze on the harbour road. There we would get the ride back.

Right near by was the tourist market of all things that the Cubans think that tourists want to buy from art to artisana, from tiny ashtrays to funny clay cigar smoking dolls. There were hats, cotton clothes and many other things. I did not buy anything, but Jim did bargain and buy a fedora style hat for $3. Our friends did buy two oil canvases of old cars from an artist who had 4 names of which two were Fidel Castro. His was the best in our opinion.

We then started the walking tour with the square in front of the cathedral Plaza de Cathedrale. There were a few groups with guides. They were being entertained by a street trio. Jim taped them playing while some folks danced. The Spanish infuence is so very evident every wherein all the architecture. We went to the Teller school for graphic arts. Students can pay to be there for one to three months. This square is where the tourist market used to be intil the visit from “ El Papa” the pope in 1998. It is a big square with restaurant one side and very open. It is picturesque. The cathedrale is under renovation in parts. A large building stated by the Jesuits, it is rather austere. There are few statues but some paintings. I could not find the way of the cross. It seemed to me more of a tourist attraction rather than a place of worship. There were two begging ladies at the entrance of the gate-one with an artificial leg that was very damaged and another with amputated limbs. This was the first of many sad things we saw.

Next we walked the streets to find the real life on the streets. We saw cafeterias, stores that ration tickets are used to buy necessities, bars that sell refrescos in glasses that are 30 years old. ( note: if you want to drink you should bring your own mug of glass-the cleaning of these is questionable). We visited the hotel lobbies of La Florida and Hotel Raquel just to see it and to sit in A/C. These were very beautifully restored and very pleasing to the eye a big contrast with the realiy outside their doors. The walk took us to Plaza San Francisco where we ate at the El Mercurio resaurante ( suggested in the guide). It was 1/2 the cost of La Paella. We sate inside and were treated to piano music and CNN television and A/C. The service was ok and the food tasty.

My visit to the WC (toilet) was a novelty. Pay for toilet paper before entrance, but I came prepared so I did not pay. We travel everywhere witr our own soap and toilet paper. We entred museums of Finance, of arms, of Arab culture and ceramics and the City museum. The Plaza Armas was the last part of our tour. There we were entertained by the local municipal band which gave a very good concert. The local booksellers were also everywhere.

We lingered there for quite a while. After we made our way back to the Castillio de la Fuerze and sat for drink before boarding the bus. This bus was our own private coach we were the only 4 passengers. We were all exhausted by the long walk but we enjoyed every minute of it.

Seeing this city makes one think of how it was in the past and how it could be one day. There is so much that needs repair and so much that needs to be down. Even in 50 there will still be in renovation!!!


Joni and I have been to Cuba only once, March 2003. It was on a great big cruise ship, the Sunbird which is owned by My Travel, a British tour company that caters mainly to British and Canadians.

If I had to sum up Havana in one word, that word would be “broken”.

Nothing works in Cuba. Elevators don’t go up and down, the stairs do. Lights don’t turn on and off, they’re just off. Stores don’t have stock, they have space.

Don’t get me wrong, we thought Havana was one of the most interesting cities we’d ever visited, it’s just broken down right now.

The effects of the American trade and travel embargo wasn’t just apparent in broken Havana, it was apparent on board the ship. Of the 1500 or so paying guests onboard, there was not one American. Zero, this according to the Pursuer's desk.

My American cousins are technically allowed to go to Afghanistan, Iran or Iraq but not allowed to Cuba. Doesn’t make sense to me but it sure does change the scenery, tourist wise anyway.

If you get a chance, see Havana before it’s all fixed

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