I arrived in Cienfuegos on a Sunday. Taking a stylish 1950s taxi to town, my first stop was for money (how capitalist of me). To an ATM to be precise, so that I could withdraw CU (convertible dollars).
No luck… The machine kept the money and swallowed my credit card.
Let me digress a moment here to explain that tourist currency isn’t the same as local currency, and the CU purchasing power is a highly sought after commodity, even if it is not a necessity.
So much so that just about every scheme you can imagine (legal and otherwise), has evolved to obtain it. More on that later.
Feeling somewhat responsible for my evenings misadventure, my taxi driver promised to accompany me to the bank first thing in the morning.
Cashed up I spent the following day playing “tourist”, my taxi driver, “guide”. I offered to buy drinks, he offered to show me highlights of Cienfuegos, I bought lunch, he procured discount Cuban cigars (a must have souvenir).
All well an good.
I wandered all over town,
took some fabulous photos,
met the locals and
satisfied that I’d had a glimpse of the real Cuba, prepared to leave.
Four officials waited to board Eileen of Avoca the morning of my departure. Two made their way inside and rummaged around taking particular interest in sundry electronic devices such as mobile phones, memory sticks and cameras. I have a collection, many don’t work, but that did not deter them from suggesting they were gifts.
Fair enough, I had no real use for them.
I was amazed at how quickly and with what practised ease these items vanished into jacket pockets.
When asked if I had bought cigars, I retrieved the boxes my driver had procured and that’s when the excitement started…
Apparently they were counterfeit and must be confiscated!
Who would have thought that you can buy fake Cuban cigars in Cuba?
Is there some factory in China producing them on mass and somehow smuggling them into the country?
Well apparently they were imitation “brand name” cigars. I’d bought the Cuban equivalent of fake Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses or a made in China Prada handbag.
I was not overly concerned at this point, but unfortunately customs were not satisfied with their newly acquired electronic gifts and counterfeit cigars. For when I returned to Eileen I found that the last of my Cuban cash, a USB memory stick, and a fishing lure (of all things) had also mysteriously disappeared.
That the officials conducting the search were responsible, I have no doubt. They conveniently made me leave Eileen before they did. Presumably so I would not see what transpired. But after living aboard a 23ft boat for so many years I can’t help knowing where and what is in it…, intimately.
A poor show Mr Fidel!
In my travels, officials have occasionally hinted at gifts, but never before have they blatantly stolen items from my boat.
I would still go back to Cuba, but never again with my boat, for the following four reasons:
There is little to offer a single handed yachtsman in the numerous southern cays. What fun is a deserted scrubby island (or hundreds for that matter), when you sail alone?
It is illegal to invite a local aboard your yacht. There goes my social life!
And horror of horrors, you are not allowed to catch the local lobster. This is by far the most difficult prohibition to live with given that their consumption could almost be used as an unofficial unit of time here. “How long will you be staying at this anchorage?”… “Oh, about three or four lobsters…”
You already know the fourth reason.