One year late, the Covid pandemic finally allowed us to travel to Cuba.
La Habana vieja, or old Havana, has an impressive array of stately buildings, with el Capitolio as the centerpiece, flanked by the gran teatro and the small, but beautiful parque central. The buildings here may as well be standing in the central part of Vienna. In contrast, there are no traffic avalanches but rather the slow trickle of oldtimers from the 50’s with the occasional lorry thundering past. Pretty to look at but damn those cars were loud. The exhaust gases from those moving pieces of history are also pretty bad.
Our trip to the south of Cuba took us through lush, green vegetation with lots of agriculture and huge pastures for horses and cows. As far as I could tell, fields were mostly sugar cane, some towering bamboo, and some plants I couldn’t identify if my life depended on it. The land seems fertile and the innumerable lifestock appeared well fed and healthy. This idyllic picture was complemented by lots of horse carriages, sometimes interspersed with a rare agricultural machine from the 50’s. The centrally planned economy is apparent in several large factory style centers that are meant to process the produce from the surrounding areas. Naturally, propaganda was found at regular intervals. Something along the lines of “united we will be victorious”, “for Cuba, the greatest”, “patria o muerte”. Even my rudimentary Spanish was sufficient to get the message.
After 7 hours by bus, we finally arrived at the fisher village of Jucaro, where we were meant to board the Avalon IV for our liveaboard. To our surprise, we were instead lead to the Avalon II, which is primarily a fishing boat. Apparently, there were not enough divers to warrant the use of Avalon IV. On the plus side, only 5 divers on the ship 🙂. The rest of the guests were fishermen who had the admirable habit of disappearing early in the morning and only returning after nightfall. Very likeable.
The reefs at Jardines de la Reina are immaculate and the best I’ve seen to date. The archipelago used to be Fidel Castro’s private fishing area and has since become a national park where commercial fishing is strictly prohibited. It shows. The corals are healthy, varied and plentyful – as are the fish. We saw sharks on every dive, from a minimum of 3 to up to 24. Mostly caribbean reef sharks and silkies but also some black tips. As we happened to be the first divers after two years of complete lockdown the sharks were rather interested in us 😃. The diving itself was easy and relaxed – no major currents, nothing challenging. Felt a bit like diving in a bathtub or a very sheltered aquarium. Except…
One of the highlights was snorkeling with a crocodile in the mangroves. Absolutely loved it 😁. Impressive, ancient creatures and, of course, very much a predator. I was advised to keep the camera between me and the crocodile. Sure thing, that’s what I came here to do. Although admittedly, I wouldn’t want to get into the water with one if I was only armed with a gopro.
While they seem very relaxed on the surface (carefully taking in their surroundings), once they dive it’s a different story. Their whole demeanor changes, like a big cat getting ready to pounce. Accordingly, the guides got really nervous whenever he disappeared under water. With the goggles, it was easy to follow its movements and keep the camera between him and me, but this is not the time to get distracted by something else.
After the liveaboard, we decided to spend a few days in Varadero to relax. Havana just seemed too noisy and stressful in comparison. Great cocktails.
In all, it was a beautiful and memorable trip but we did have a few organisational issues. Primarily, the reasons seem to lie in cultural differences between a socialistic country and Western tourists. We are used to choice. To being presented with information and then choosing whatever we prefer in that moment. It’s a luxury that doesn’t exist in Cuba, at least not to the same extent. As a result the need for information is also limited. Why inform people in advance if it doesn’t change anything? They will see what it’s like when it’s time.
In Western society, there seems to be an underlying sense of urgency. This doesn’t seem to be present in Cuba. If somebody isn’t on time, or things are not well organised, people will simply wait. What other choice is there? Complaining doesn’t make an iota of difference. Maybe its not such a bad philosophy. I found just accepting the things that one can’t change can be very relaxing 🏝.
ok, so I might have gotten a little bit carried away with the sharks there … but they are simply hard to ignore 😁