The procedure for clearing into Cuba is lengthy, complex and of course carried out by mostly Spanish speaking officials. The procedure is to enter flying the yellow quarantine flag with the Cuban courtesy flag above it but because the Captain was too sick to attach the flags to our 27 ft high aerial we got by with just the Q flag on our bowsprit. The Immigration Officer was here to greet us but he is not the first to clear us and procedure must be followed so he apologetically asked us to wait "treinta" (30) minutes for La Guarda to arrive. I brought out our handy dandy Spanish for Cruisers Book we had purchased at the Nautical Mind bookstore in Toronto and a Spanish/English dictionary and we chatted half in English, half in Spanish, with the odd French word which sufficed while we waited. Apparently the Guarda on duty was out fishing, not aware of our arrival so his partner, a lovely woman named Tatiana arrived, speaking fluent English and apologizing about her lack of uniform since she was not on duty. She asked us several questions about last port of call, plans for cruising Cuba, next port of call, length of stay, home port etc and explained that the doctor was on her way.
Tatiana interpreted for the doctor who spoke no English. We were asked about our health and assured her that we were both healthy (HAHA - John almost green). She made sure we had no pets on board, made a brief inspection of all rooms in the boat and filled out the first of many forms. Once this was done we were able to remove our Quarantine flag. We could not leave the marina until we obtained Visas and because it was Sunday evening (and father's day) the other officials were not at the marina. We watched the news (in Spanish) with Tatiana, who was the warmest, friendliest woman you could ever hope to meet interpreting for me. We had already decided to stay and rest for at least a day, more if the weather didn't calm down.
We were the only boat at the marina and the electricity was not on when we arrived. Shortly afterwards 2 men dragged a garbage can on wheels down to the diesel pump and filled it full of fuel for the generator. The generator was started, I do believe just for us.
We fell into bed, too hot and exhausted to eat, thankful for the power to run our a/c and feeling pretty smug that we had only had 2 lovely ladies on board and so far hadn't spent a dime. HUH. That illusion lasted only until morning.
I was sitting in my comfy deck chair out on the dock savouring my very first Cuban sunrise (we were up at 6:30) when the officials began to arrive. The Immigration Officer took our passports, yes he took them away. At first I thought he was going to keep them to make sure we didn't leave until we were cleared out but eventually he returned with them and with 3 more officials, the Customs Officer and 2 Ministers of Agriculture.
We offered them water, pop (soda), or beer. Two of them accepted soda and the others chose beer. Two of the four spoke fairly good English. The 2 Agriculture Ministers spoke none and we had a comical question and answer routine in Spanish, English with a little bit of charade type activity on my part. One fellow checked all the meat, milk and eggs in our refrigerator and freezer, making notes on all of them including where they were purchased. He couldn't read English so I answered his questions with pig snorts, chicken gestures and moo sounds. That got a few laughs from them all and John.
We had to show them all our prescription and non-prescription drugs (Tylenol etc) and once again they listed them all on another form. We have many forms and wherever we go we must carry them all and our visas and our passports.
We were explained about the regulations regarding American Dollars conversions to pesos and it turned out that each charge was multiplied by 1.2368. The charges were $35, $25, and $14 with the added 1.2368. Then we had to go up to the Marina and pay for our visas, another $30 or $37.11. The price on the fuel pump said $3.90/gallon and John put in 100 gallons, expecting to pay $390 but no, it came to $482.35. Yikes, and no they do not take visa so thank goodness he brought lots of cash. We still had to pay for the slip which at 40 cents/ foot x treinta ocho (38) = $15.20 x 1.2368 = $18.79 per night PLUS a exit fee of $10.00 or $12.369 pesos. It is very confusing considering we still paid in US dollars ???? But we are in Cuba so we just paid. John was getting pretty upset by the time we paid for the fuel and we were almost out of cash. Luckily there are no stores anywhere near here so we don't need the cash but we wanted to have some on hand when we arrived in Mexico.
We were told that 3 km away there was a hotel where we could use our Visa card to get cash. We biked up as soon as the officials all left and almost died of sunstroke. No, we were told, we could not get cash there. We would have to go another 61 km to the nearest bank. We were soooo hot that I stripped down to bathing suit top and (ugly) underwear and went in for a swim at a gorgeous but deserted beach. There was not one person at the hotel and we are the only visitors at the marina. The area is very secluded with a road which goes one way only.
Upon return to the boat we both showered and flaked out like a couple of wet blankets. We thought we were done with officials but all of a sudden another one came along the dock with the Immigration Minister and a dog to search for arms and drugs. We knew of course that we had neither on board but it was still an intimidating experience.
Of course I snapped pictures of all of the officials completing their paperwork and this thrilled them. They were honoured that I wanted their picture. We passed out more beer and gave Wanda the search dog some water. The dog owner spotted our can of WD40 and said something in Spanish to the Immigration Minister. He interpreted that he could really use some for some rusty bolts in his home so John found another can we had purchased and we gave him the almost empty can. You would have thought we gave him a $100 bill, he was so tickled with his WD40. These things are simply not available to the people in Cuba.
Hopefully the weather is calm and we can be on our way to Isle Mujeres in the morning, after an exit inspection of the boat to make sure we are not harbouring any Cubans. Other than the officials it is against the law to invite any Cubans on to the boat. So our one day in Cuba cost us large but we are safe, sound and well rested.