It was a beautiful day and the weather was stunning yet again. I made bread as we motored along passing the Cayos de Limones and the town of Niquero, which looked very industrial, before arriving at the Cayos Balandras.
We knew the wind was due to pick up in the next couple of days and we might get the effects of a front coming down from the US, so we went in search of a nice secure anchorage and found the perfect spot just off Cayo Pragua. We had our own sand beach, the wind dropped off completely and it was just oh so quiet with just the odd fishing boat rowing by out towards the channel, we even saw one guy in an inner-tube from a tractor tyre 5 miles offshore fishing (we saw this often in the harbour at Santiago too).
Then about 5.30pm a motorised fishing (quite rare) boat approached us, containing two Guarda. We thought we were far enough away to be ignored. They were friendly and all ready to clear us until Andrew suggested we might like to stay a few days for protection from the wind. The Guarda called the harbour master on the radio who then wanted us to move to the anchorage off Niquero - Andrew was very firm and explained we couldn't go there as it was too shallow unless we were in a spot with no protection from the wind. After a lot of radio calls it was agreed we could stay one night but we needed to go to Niquero to clear out in the morning at 7am. Damn - our perfect anchorage was being taken away from us.
7am we reluctantly pull anchor and motored around to Niquero, it was relatively calm but some chop as we launched the dinghy. Andrew went to try and find the Guarda base and found the dirtiest of waterfronts ever at the commercial dock, got covered in oily shit trying to get ashore and then spotted the Guarda rowing out to us. The same jolly guy dropped off our cruising permit and only a bit of oil on our deck - then we were free to leave. It was all fine, and in the end and you have to accept the rules when you are in a foreign place.
We headed out into the channel and the wind was pretty strong directly from the North as we went through the scary Balandas channel with big waves breaking on either side of us. Then we tacked all the way up the coast to Manzanillo - it was pretty tough going, however in the afternoon the conditions eased off and we had a leisurely sail into Manzanillo.
The wind in this part of Cuba is heavily influence by the land and tends to be from the East (SE or NE) from around midnight until mid later morning and then we get a Westerly (SW or NW) seabreeze in the afternoon that dies off at sunset. If there is a northerly or north-easterly gradient wind the wind at night can be strong but it eases off as it gets subdued by the seabreeze effect during the day. We are now getting used to this pattern as we select our anchorages.
We approached Manzanillo, which is a small town that has a great set of protected Cays five miles out to the west. There was no protection off the town in the NW winds as we arrived so Andrew called the Guarda to ask if we could go to the Cays and clear in tomorrow. The response was we should clear in and then we can anchor wherever we like - it was now about 4pm so we needed to move fast to get this all done before dark. We had picked out a spot at the Cays on the way in so we had a plan. It was the fastest dinghy launch, check in, dinghy stow and off ever - all done in half an hour. They were the most friendly team and the fishermen at the compound pulled up our dinghy and took care of it.
The anchorage at the Cays turned out to be perfect overnight, however the next few days we were expected Easterly winds so we moved over to the town for the next two nights. We went ashore on Saturday morning to explore this lovely, if not a bit rundown town.
Not far from here is where the leisure yacht Granma was shipwrecked carrying revolutionists including the two Castro's and Che Guevara who then escaped into the Sierra Mastra, leaving most of the other 82 rebel soldiers dead. The region is now named after that yacht, which was originally named for the Grandmother of its original American owner. Celia Sanchez, known as the first lady of the revolution is from Manzanillo and there's a lovely monument to here rising up from the town in the form of painted ceramic tiled steps with plaques showing doves and flowers.
On the Saturday morning we found street vendors everywhere pushing carts of vegetables, a few motorbikes, mainly horse drawn carts and the odd car. The roads are wide, avenue like with crumbling old buildings that were once very beautiful and others that are more like beach shacks made of wooden planking. It's kind of eerie as the infrastructure is all there for lots of traffic but the town streets are mostly deserted and quiet.
In the centre of town is a lovely Parque Cespedes - complete with city hall, museum (cultural centre), cathedral and a few small restaurants. This same theme as Parque Cespedes in Santiago and felt very familiar. However, the central feature here is a stunning tiled pagoda and lovely shaded trees - oh and wifi of course. I watched a your girl facetime with her grandmother looking on over her shoulder in absolute amazement at what she was seeing, lost for words almost crying - I guess a family member.
There was a lovely buzz around the centre of town and we found the fun Dinos Pizza - they just sell beer and pizza; and only ham n cheese pizza. Just 5 tables - these private restaurants are only supposed to seat a max of twelve people and are not allowed to sell lobster or chicken breast as they are reserved for tourist restaurants. After lunch we ventured into the barbers shop just off the square- we waited on a really old couch with a teeny tiny box tv showing English premier league football whilst the guys around us were getting very smart haircuts, including shaved in patterns, big quiffs and shaved smooth forehead lines. Andrew managed to explain he just wanted a grade 3 and cut in top. It was perfect and cost a total of 10 local pesos (approx. 40 cents) - a world record! That put things into perspective as we went a bought a couple of cases of beer (still a CUC a beer - same in a shop or restaurant), some cheese (8CUC) and some veggies (less than a CUC).
The town on Manzanillo is famous for it's Saturday night street party and pig roast, we had planned to go along however it felt a bit sketchy to leave our dinghy ashore at night with the fisherman, even though they had been great. We haven't seen another yacht for over a week and there were no other tourists in the town, so we felt a bit conspicuous with our shiny white palace anchored off this very poor town, so we opted to listen to the music from the boat instead.
We had a lazy Sunday and went for a walk on the Malecon - ocean promenade. We found a spot for lunch -another pizza place and ridiculously cheap but really quite terrible food. The locals didn't like it either (many pulling faces and pushing food away) and yet there was still a huge line of people waiting to get in when we left. Manzanillo is a really interesting town and a great place to stock up but don't go there for the fine dining!
Monday morning we decided to venture West so cleared out - very early as we hadn't realised the clocks had changed. Andrew took some sweets for the girls in the office but they were refused - all very official in the big city! The fishermen got them and were happy. They all came down to wave Andrew off - what a cool place - we again have had our hearts warmed by the lovely Cubans.
|Askari Anchored behind the fishing fleet at Manzanillo|
|Using internet in the plaza|
|Cultural Centre Manzanillo|
|Haircut in Manzanillo|
|Street front in Manzanillo|
|Statue at fishermans compund Manzanillo|
|Local sail boat|
|Niquero - not so nice|
|Manzanillo shore front|
|Mill at Manzanillo|