Saturday, 21 April 2018

Cuban Cruising - The South Coast To Manzanillo

Fresh Dinner
We departed peaceful Marea Del Portillo on a fine forecast - in fact it was a little too fine and we motored the 30 nautical miles westward to Cabo Cruz. On arrival the anchorage there didn't look so attractive, so we continued on around the Cape, heading North West to Manzanillo, a small city to the north west.

Now we were in the Gulf of Guacanayabo, at the eastern end of a chain of Cayos and reefs that extends almost to the western tip of Cuba. Our immediate target was Ensenada Guano, a small bay that would provide shelter in the prevailing winds.

The approach to the bay looks straight forward, however sailors should be careful of some coral heads rising up from the depths as you close the shore - visual navigation is essential. After anchoring in the late afternoon we were reminded why the Cuban south coast is popular in sailboat cruising circles - the locals are very supportive! Just before sunset two fisherman came by in a tiny rowboat and offered very nice sized spiny lobster - we traded for two, a few pesos plus a couple of T-shirts to cement the deal. Our dinner plans changed for the better, and the locals rowed home happy with their bounty.


Next morning we worked our way north through the narrow channels under engine power, before breaking out into the wider bay and enjoying a brisk windward beat for five hours toward Manzanillo. On arrival we took the dinghy to shore, landing among the fishing boats on the stony beach, eagerly assisted by fisherman and kids. They guided us to the Guarda Frontera office where we were heartily welcomed and cleared in by a very capable young officer with excellent English skills - a rare thing in these parts.

Local Fishing Boat
 A word about the local boats is in order - while there were many traditional planked wooden fishing boats with single cylinder diesel engines, there was also a fleet of smaller styrofoam vessels, some with sails, available for rent. Against all odds, the Cuban people are inventive and determined to enjoy themselves. 

Our guide book said that Manzanillo was a typical small rural Cuban city, with less vehicles and a relaxed atmosphere. This proved to be true, as the locals were incredibly friendly and proud to have us in their city.

The city itself was a beautiful collection of traditional wooden, brick and stone buildings, many crumbling, set on streets populated mainly by pedestrians, bicycles and horse carts.

The city center featured a grand square of parkland and pedestrian walks, the Parque Cespedes, with shade trees and seating areas. In the park was a stunning tiled gazebo, The Glorietta, with classical Moorish design features. As in every Cuban town, around the square were arrayed museums, restaurants, bars, banks, churches, ice cream shops and government offices.

The streets near the square hosted small traders and shops, some excellent small restaurants and many homes that also served as "Casa Particular", the classic Cuban home stay. For us, the shopping and provisioning was quite adequate - we bought vegetables from street traders and packaged goods in the stores. This was a fine city, and though the beach landing was through fairly dirty shallow water, that was soon forgotten once among the friendly locals in this city of fading grandeur.

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