Monthly Archives: May 2016

“Ninety seven miles south” Phil Thompson

In his address to the Cuban People, Barack Obama described the 97 miles between Cuba and Key West as a distance characterized by “barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.”  Elizabeth Jean departed Marina Hemingway at dawn; the red and green channel markers lit our path to the open ocean and framed the Big Dipper and our path north on the far horizon.  By midnight we were docked in down town Key West after a fast an uneventful passage.  Roughly coinciding with our transit were two other voyages that will continue to characterize Cuba’s evolving relationship with the United States.
The Adonia which arrived in Havana on May 2, the first U.S. commercial ship in more than 50 years.  Carnival selected Arnaldo “Arnie” Perez, a Cuban-American who works as Carnival’s general counsel, to be the first person to step off the ship.  Special arrangements were required to set aside Cuban restrictions against Cuban-born citizens arriving by sea.  The approximately 700 people on board participated in a variety of pre-approved “people-to-people” cultural engagement excursions, from guided tours to concerts to meetings with local artists and artisans.
cuba migrants article
On April 29, the day we departed from Cuba, two groups of Cubans, one a group of 12 men on a 15-foot vessel, arrived in the Florida Keys after transiting the 97 miles traveled by Elizabeth Jean and her crew that same day.
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“Yo Tengo Un Sueno Dos Pueblos Amigos”

Our time in Cuba was intense and at the same time very short. Of our 7 days there, 2 were devoted to arriving and departing, three were spent exploring with limited opportunity to interact at length with local.    Thus, we spent only 2 days with individuals in a manner that provided any glimpse into their lives, thoughts and feelings.  Therefore, our observations regarding Cuba and its people are likewise limited.  With that caveat, we were impressed by the willingness of those with whom we interacted to offer their perspectives and what appeared to be a genuine desire for increased understanding and contact.

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The operative phrase in this painting is a dream that the people of Cuba and the United States are friends.  In our travels, we have learned of the often important distinction between a countries’ government and its people.  While the future contours of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba government remain uncertain, we are grateful to have been a very small part of a process by which people of the two countries may get to know each other and become friends.

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Our guide Andres wore this t-shirt on our first day touring Havana.  It provided an opening to discuss changes in our two countries’ relations as well as the transcendent values that independence represents (such as freedom of expression).  On our trip to Vinales, Andres shared a story of how his government withdrew an early opportunity to learn English, offered when he was evaluated for military service, when he indicated he was unwilling to serve in Angola.  While he was willing to defend his country, he was not willing to fight abroad.  He found other avenues to teach himself and pursue his current livelihood.


Juan at one point referred to the United States in his halting English as Cuba’s biggest enemy.  He then quickly changed his statement calling the U.S. Cuba’s biggest friend.  Yes, things are changing that fast.  They may change again.   Regardless of how Juan views the U.S., he and his family opened their homes to us and treated us with a kindness, humor, and warmth too genuine to discount.

These brief encounters leave us deeply grateful for our time with these people and more than curious about how things in Cuba will develop.

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“Shrinkage” Seinfeld

A deep limestone sink hole provided a cool respite during our horseback ride through the Pinar del Rio’s Valley of Silence.  In addition, the stop provided yet another opportunity for Elizabeth Jean’s crew to practice its Spanish and exchange important cross cultural ideas.


The sink hole was empty when we arrived and Eric (who had failed to bring a bathing suit) did what comes naturally.  He thoughtfully left most of  his clothes far from the water and sand.


Fast forward to the arrival of four European women.  After waiting in waist deep water for what seemed like forever, Eric grabbed his underwear and beat a hasty retreat.  Note the women’s complete lack of interest.


Eric took solace in the well known shrinkage principle.  Upon rejoining Juan and Andres, Eric asked in Spanish if they understood “shrinkage.”  Their quizzical expressions signaled that the freeze in U.S.-Cuban relations had hindered the penetration of this popular culture meme.  After further discussion, including pantomime where vocabulary was lacking, Andres and Juan grasped the concept.  They debated whether “contraccion,” “reduccion,” or “el encogimiento” (meaning shyness or withdrawing) best captured the concept.

For those unfamiliar with Seinfeld’s exposition on shrinkage google “seinfeld and shrinkage” and Youtube will answer your questions.


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“Cigar smoking knows no politics” Anonymous

Anonymous, who is so wise about so many things, appears to have been born before the U.S. embargo, which among many other things, outlawed Cuban cigars in the U.S.  In addition to the forbidden fruit aspect of the Cuban cigar, the beauty of the Pinar del Rio, Cuba’s tobacco growing region lured us to Vinales, the region’s center.   Our 1954 Plymouth managed the two and a half hour drive from Hemingway Marina with a bit of encouragement from Raul, our driver.  Our hosts for the day were Juan and Elena owners of Villa de la Finca.  After serving us lunch, we mounted Mojito, Mulatto and Coco Loco for a four hour horse back tour of tobacco country, coffee growing station and the national park.  As dusk descended over the Valley, Elena served us a lobster feast on the roof top of their house.

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Our ride to the valley.

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Villa de La Finca, our base for exploring the countryside.  The Villa is a Casa Particulares, a privately owned and operated guest home.  We did not spend the night but the guest room was well kept and had its own bathroom.  Further information can be found at  For more on tourism and entrepreneurship in Vinales see:

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The chair is as comfortable as it is beautiful.

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Our ride through the valley.

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Tobacco plants against a backdrop of mogotes, the steep sided remains of limestone deposits that makes the Pinar del Rio so stunning.

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Photo credit: Keith Seiler


Our host Josel, dubbed the “holy roller” by Keith quickly rolled a cigar.  He dipped the end in honey, a local tradition, before offering it to us.  Photo credit: Keith Seiler


Twenty unmarked, handrolled Cuban cigars for $60.  We were unaware that the rules for bringing in cigars back to the U.S. had recently been relaxed and passed on the deal.  Photo credit: Keith Seiler.


Eric has his hands full.  Photo credit: Keith Seiler.


Half way through our trip we stopped at a hut where coco locos almost magically appeared.  Photo credit: Keith Seiler.

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Our guides, Andres (who also helped us explore Havana) and Juan of Villa de la Finca.


Eulalie and Juan exchange hats.  Photo credit: Keith Seiler.

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More mogotes rising majestically out of the valley floor.


Coffee drying at the hill station.  The plastic bottles hold the finished product.

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Lobster tails in the mid ground, yucca, cucumbers and tomatoes, rice, beans and flan capped off a memorable day in the mountains.


Elizabeth Jean’s crew and our host and hostess, Juan and Elena.  When we left it felt like leaving family.






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“Time gives poetry to a battlefield” Graham Greene

Former British Secret Service Agent turned author, Graham Greene, conjures Havana as a battlefield on the eve of Castro’s revolution in his novel “Our Man in Havana.”  Fifty eight years later, we sampled Havana’s poetry, although Cuba’s past battles are kept front and center.

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Castle de los trey reyes del Morro’s cannons defended the eastern headland of Havana Bay from pirate attacks until the end of the 18th century, when the British captured the city.

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The Museum of the Revolution documents many aspects of Castro’s rise to power.

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The former presidential palace, with much of its opulence intact and its exterior scarred with bullets from a failed assassination attempt on President Batista, houses exhibits including Castro’s battle strategies for specific towns and cities.

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Restored to its palatial luster, this room contrasts dramatically with side rooms showing photographs of Castro and Che and their various battle plans.

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According to the sign on the left, Castro drove this tank during the Bay of Pigs.

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Inside the palace, this mural depicts a crucial battle in Cuba’s war of independence from Spain.

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Torre de la Catedral dominates a street corner in Old Havana.

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The church’s interior  is meticulously maintained.

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Around the corner from the church, La Bodeguita del Medio, Hemingway’s favorite bar for mojitos.  Don’t believe me?  The framed note over the bar is from Hemingway himself.

In September 1997 a bomb went off in the bar as part of a bombing campaign against tourist spots that injured dozens and killed an Italian tourist.  While no-one was killed in the Bodeguita, dozens were severely injured.  Just moments before the explosion, the barman had agreed to have his picture taken with a tourist who later turned out to be the Salvadorian mercenary arrested and convicted for planting the bomb.
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The hotel Ambos Mundo’s roof top provides a view of both Havana’s grandeur and decay.  The elevator passes a room used by Hemingway; a typewriter, purportedly one of his, is mounted outside the room door.

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The old City streets pulsed with music from bar patios and this band and costumed stilt walkers.

Havana Street Artists

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Restored buildings line the Old Havana’s streets.

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Colorful dog statues outnumber pedestrians in the old town square during our visit.

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Camillo Cienfuegos, a guerrilla leader who played a key role during the fighting, looks out from the Communication Ministry building on to the Plaza of the Revolution.

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Che Guevara looks out on the plaza from the Interior Ministry building.

In January 1998, according to Lonely Planet, one million people (nearly one-tenth of the Cuban population) crammed into the square to hear Pope Jean Paul II say Mass.


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Jaimanitas: A fishing village with a twist

Our first day trip from Marina Hemingway materialized, as had so many of our on-shore explorations, by chatting with fellow cruisers at a marina or anchorage. Crew from the sail boat docked next to us raved about an inexpensive local kitchen.  They explained we would find Raul’s just over the bridge and to the right, and then a left at an  alley.  A cruising couple on another boat later recommended that we see the “tile art” in the town across the bridge.   As seen below, “tile art” does not begin to capture the mind blowing art explosion greeted us in Jaimanitas.  After all the complicated machinations leading up to our Cuba visit, it was nice to hatch a plan in the moment based on fellow cruiser’ experience.

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Jaimanitas’ fishing fleet docks in the estuary seaward of the bridge into town.

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Horse drawn carts, along with 50’s vintage U.S. cars are common transportation modes.  Soviet Lattas and Chinese models comprise the more recent car fleet.

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At Raul’s, we enjoyed beans, rice and chicken.

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Photo credit Keith Seiler.

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Artist Jose Fuster’s former home.  Fuster, known as Cuba’s Picasso, has decorated over 80 homes and several streets in Jaimanitas.

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A tile mural decorates this pool.

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Photo credit: Keith Seiler.

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Che in tile.

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The Reality Gallery Project, across the street from Fuster’s home, displays and sells paintings by Cuban artists, including some who helped Fuster with his tile work.

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This painting is fashioned from tobacco leaves.


This cool new courtyard provided an opportunity to sample more Cuban rum and some shade as we reflected on Jaimanitas many surprises.

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A mashup of Che and Chaplin hanging in the lobby of El Zorro Bar.  We are still trying to figure out what the artist was trying to say.  Let us know what you think?

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“Hemingway’s Cuba Can’t Last” Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

We reached the safe water buoy off of Marina Hemingway a couple hours before sunset after a night passage up through the Yucatan passage and a motor sail along Cuba’s north west coast.  The entrance was clearly marked and we docked near the Guarda Frontera office inside the inlet.  Health, agricultural and coast guard personnel visited Elizabeth Jean.  In the custom’s office, the official began to stamp our visa, the standard practice with U.S. visitors as it leaves no record in the visitor’s passport.  Having obtained a U.S. permit for Elizabeth Jean to enter we asked the official to stamp our passport.  After expressing surprise, he smiled and firmly stamped our passports.  Hemingway Marina, provided our first introduction to Cuba generally.  In addition, the marina served  as one of several reminders of Hemingway’s time in Cuba, which spanned 20 years and ended in 1960, the year before he killed himself.  While defining Hemingway’s Cuba is beyond this blogger’s humble abilities, Alibhai-Brown’s quote (borrowed above in the blog title) raises the persistent question of how Cuba will change if it’s relationship with the U.S. continues to open.

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   Our Cuban home during our stay.


The Old Man and the Sea Hotel anchors one end of the marina.  As far as we could tell, it was not open for business, although we were able to walk through the lobby.


Outside the hotel, this statue of the Old Man, with his fishing pole missing, reflects the marina’s state of repair.  The marina is functional, but will benefit from additional investment.  While we were there workers were repaving a number of the canal walkways.


Hemingway’s image hangs in the hotel’s lobby.


The Hemingway Yacht Club is well kept and provided the location for toasting our arrival in Cuba.



Rumors of Santiago Rum’s smoothness proved to be true.  Joe, our new best friend, poured three long shots for us.

Picture dated 1960 showing US writer Ernest Hemingway (R) awarding three trophies to Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro after a fishing contest in Cuba. Ernest Hemingway commited suicide in 1961. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

A 1960 picture of Hemingway awarding fishing trophies to Castro.  The yacht club has several pictures of Castro and Che Guevara participating in the tournament.  For an interesting perspective on Hemingway and Castro see the following link.

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Fidel and Che during the fishing tournament.


Captain Eulalie outside Hemingway Yacht Club.


One of a series of figures lining one of marina walkways.

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Sunset over Elizabeth Jean‘s dodger, as she is moored at Marina Hemingway.  Photo credit: Keith Seiler.

For perspectives on Hemingway’s Cuba, including the Alibihai-Brown article noted above, see the following links:

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“Cultivo una rosa blanca” Jose Marti (1853-1895)

Among other things, the white rose symbolizes love and new beginnings.  Jose Marti, known as “the Apostle of Cuban Independence” for his outspoken support of Cuba’s independence from Spain, believed in cultivating the white rose with friend and enemy alike. On March 22 at Havana’s Grand Theater, Barack Obama began his address to the Cuban people quoting Marti. We on Elizabeth Jean had planned visiting Cuba almost a year ago. Serendipity, however, timed our journey a few weeks after Obama’s visit. Thus, we were mindful of what might be an historic window in U.S.-Cuban relationships for this visit. Given the relaxing rules governing U.S. visits to Cuba, we elected to apply for the U.S. Coast Guard 3300 permit to bring Elizabeth Jean into Cuban waters. The permit, which the Coast Guard approved 10 days after we applied, allowed us 14 days from entry at Marina Hemingway to our entry to the United States. The next several blogs will detail our experience cultivating white roses with our new found Cuban friends.


For a translation of Marti’s poem click here:

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A month after Obama’s visit this sign remained in Havana’s old city.  Our visit allowed us to sample Cuban hospitality as relationships between the U.S. and Cuba begin to normalize.

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“A Gift From the Sea” Anne Morrow Lindbergh

To the extent that I am at all in touch with my feminine side, I owe it to my mother, Zelda Laschever (affectionately known as the Muz).  To Muz I also attribute my deep attachment to the ocean and its many gifts.

When I was an adolescent in search of things masculine, Muz gave me a slim volume of prose, “A Gift From the Sea.”   The book was a best seller, popular among women of my mother’s generation for its messages on finding peace and purpose in the face of loss.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the book’s author, knew a thing or two about loss.  As the wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Anne suffered the kidnapping and murder of their infant son in 1932 in the full glare of the public spot light.  She found solace on the oceans’ shores collecting solitude and seashells.

The oceans’ healing powers also comforted my mother over her life’s course.  When the repeated pain of my older brother’s debilitating schizophrenia overwhelmed her, she retreated to the Jersey shore to throw clay on a potters’ wheel and search the shore for the perfect shell.  Her balance restored, she would return strong enough to see the world’s beauty anew.

Muz, you used to tell me that I “had your eyes.”  Unlike my fathers’ or brothers’ which are various lighter shades, mine, as were yours, are brown.  I think of your eyes and their uncanny ability to see the beauty through your tears as I look out on countless ocean waves, sunrises and sunsets.  It is through your eyes that I enjoy these gifts from the sea.  Much love this coming Mother’s Day from your brown eyed son.


Zelda Lachever (aka “The Muz”) feet propped up on the potters wheel, Surf City New Jersey.

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“I’m your handy man” James Taylor

Keith Seiler, Eulalie’s fellow Windworks Instructor, put in his request to crew with us last summer.  “If you go to Cuba and want crew, count me in,” he offered.  As we headed north through the Caribbean Sea and our Cuba plans became firmer, Keith bought his ticket to Isla Mujeres, our departure point for our Caribbean capstone.

A licensed captain, Keith is by vocation and avocation a tinkerer.  He grew up taking things a part and putting them back together, mentored along the way by folks who recognized his engineering potential.  His professional tinkering has ranged from large construction equipment to intricate medical devices (his true passion).  He even provided an alternative surgical strategy for an operation on his injured foot.  The surgeon was wise enough to follow Keith’s recommended and less invasive approach.

While waiting for our weather window to Cuba, Keith helped with a number of known and newly discovered boat projects.   He replaced rivets holding our shroud tang in place, fashioned panel lights for our propane gas switch, among others.  His most entertaining feat, however, was fashioning a brace for our water pressure pump from a spatula handle.  Through it all, he patiently mentored us so that Elizabeth Jean will benefit from his presence and our improved skills once he is contentedly back on his own Daniel K.


Keith detaching handle from spatula.


Spatula handle (left) next to intact water pressure pump brace.

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Finished Seiler brace next to broken brace.


Spatula head and the pump brace formerly known as spatula handle.

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