L O G B O O K - by John Philp




ELIAN WHO?

MON 24th APRIL - Arrival at Hemingway Marina, Havana.

Hemingway was built by the American Mafia whilst they were developing the gambling industry here in the 1930’s. Cheap sex, liquor and gambling were big attractions for American tourists back then. The mafia moved back to the US to make Las Vegas what it is today after Castro’s Revolution removed them in 1959. There’s actually a rumour that Castro personally owns one of the hotel’s at this marina!

Tonight’s our big night out on the town for Lydia’s 50th birthday. Captain arranges a chauffeur driven 1957 Oldsmobile to Cuba’s most famous club - the Tropicana. The club features an outdoor 1950’s style cabaret with elaborate stage and lighting effects and a caste of 200 leggy, bosomy dancers in stunning costume. Artists such as Nat King Cole, Maurice Chevalier and Benny More have performed here. It is a memorable evening!

TUE 25th - The main tourist attraction in Havana is an inner district called La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, cobbled squares, colonnades, and narrow streets lead to restored colonial palaces, cathedrals, museums, and old forts.

During our tour Kristy and I visit the El Floridita bar, celebrated as an Ernest Hemingway haunt, and home of the frozen daiquiri. After lunch we visit the cigar sales room at the Partagas factory. Beside the walk-in humidor I spy some photo’s of famous people who have stopped by, including Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Jack Nicholson. I guess a little thing like a federal law prohibiting Americans to spend money here is a mere trifle when you have a passion for cigars hey?

THUR 27th - During a visit to the Real Fabrica de Tabacos la Corona cigar factory today (Cuba’s oldest) I watch them rolling Cohiba cigars - probably the most sought after brand in the world and Castro’s favourite before he gave up cigar smoking. Cohiba was developed by Che Guavara when he was Minister for Industry. It’s made from tobacco grown only in the ten best plantations in the Vuelta Abajo region, and whose the leaves are aged in an additional third fermentation period. Only women hand roll the Cohiba cigars!

Afterwards onto the Museo de la Revolucion which houses a complete narrative of the revolution. Beside it is the Pavillon Granma displaying the 18m vessel Granma which transported Castro and 82 others from Mexico to carry out the revolution. This glass enclosed memorial is one of the holiest shrines of Cuban Communism.

Our next stop is the grand Capitolia National building, similar in design to the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. except richer in detail. It’s the only place I could get internet access in the entire city. I was told that ‘they’ monitor all internet traffic through here.

FRI 28th - Havana is an immensely rich historical and cultural experience. Take the Castillo Real de la Fuerza for instance, the oldest extant colonial fort in the America’s, dating back to 1544. They’ve turned the lower level rooms into an art gallery for ceramic’s. The effect is stunning - the perfect marriage of art and history.

On the way into town for dinner we notice chairs set up for a function on the Malecon promenade. The taxi driver says it is a rally for Elian Gonzalez. The Elian saga is a big deal here. It’s featured on TV for hours each evening, and there are even Elian t-shirts and Elian billboards around the city.

On the way to dinner we stop for a drink at the most celebrated bar in all of Cuba - the Bodeguita del Medio. Celebrities such as Salvador Allende, Fidel Castro and Harry Belafonte have left their signatures on the walls here. We weren’t drunk enough to climb up the walls to the only available space where we could leave our mark!

SAT 29th - We depart at 4pm for the west coast, the formalities completed this time without fuss. When the customs officials come aboard they ask whether we have any batteries, Captain gives them four and they decide that as we are so generous they will dispense with the usual search of the vessel! I could have hidden 20 Cubans on board and sold them passage to Panama!

At dinner time we pass Mariel - the harbour where 120,000 Cubans departed en mass for the U.S. in 1980. In the ensuing chaos, Castro took the opportunity to send across prisoners and the mentally retarded. The prisoners have made good in their new home - they now control the lucrative south Florida drug trade.

SUN 30th - It’s a sunny day, the wind from the east at 8-10 knots. In the afternoon we pass the alluring Sierra de los Vinales. The hills here are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, ‘haystack’ shaped mounds called mogotes. Two hundred miles remain to our destination - Maria la Gorda on the west coast.

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