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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Jamie Z, Nov 29, 2020.
Poop Taco : good one
18 marzo 2021
Day four aboard the Stahlratte.
Slept well. My night started out laying on the couch in the sleeping berth next to my bunk. The confined space in my bunk was just too hot and stuffy, and the rolling of the boat has me bouncing from one side of my bunk to the other.
Shortly after midnight I heard Ludwig shouting commands outside. I saw crewmembers going past the ports on deck; they were raising the sails in an attempt to stabilize the boat, and they did so successfully. Afterward the boat rocked quite a bit less.
I felt good this morning. I think I’m getting my sea legs. The thing is, seasick or not, just the effort of walking around the boat while it’s moving up and down and side to side can be exhausting after a while.
Each day I’ve noticed Fin is becoming more and more wild. Today he has gone shirtless. Tomorrow I expect boxers and a headband made from a torn T-shirt.
On this fourth day, boredom has begun to set in. There is always someone to talk to, share stories. And lots of endless ocean to stare at. For the most part on this trip we have been outside the sight of land or any other boats. A few times over the past couple of days we have been able to see the Cuban coastline, or at least Cuban islands.
Maybe I should be a fisherman! Andy was probably having more fun on this boat than anyone else.
And as we spent what we all hope is our last evening before we arrive to Cuba, everyone gathered on the top deck to take pictures of the sunset.
Then dinner. We ate chicken and potatoes, one of the rare times we had meat on the boat. Edwin cooked our dinner, and it was excellent.
I went to lay down for a little while. Heard the crew lowering the sails, and when I looked outside, lights were visible on shore.
Our port of call is Cienfuegoes on the south coast of Cuba. The city is located in a protected bay with a narrow strait leading out to the Gulf. I got up to watch our entry through this strait. Everything was dark except for some lights on shore and a few fishing boats in the water.
Ludwig expertly guided us through and to our dock at 2:30am early Friday morning. It was clear this is his favorite part of his job.
Just after we had docked, a couple of men from the marina approached the boat and talked to Ludwig. At least one of them seemed to know him. They were wearing face masks, and it jolted me back to the world situation. I had gotten used to going maskless on the boat for the past four days.
We had been underway for 84 hours.
19 marzo 2021
Day five aboard the Stahlratte.
Last night I had only seen the lights of Cuba so when I woke this morning I went on deck to see what shore looked like.
Already breakfast was being set on the top deck and we all sat to enjoy our first morning in (near) Cuba.
Then the people in green showed up. First to take our temperatures, and then to collect the results of our covid tests back in Mexico. I only had a PDF saved on my phone; of course it seems obvious now, but I’d never gotten a printed copy. So there was a mad dash to get my results printed from the onboard printer.
We also have to take a covid test, so the people in green showed up and gave us a nasal swab.
After the swab we had to walk to shore to immigration where they took our photos, but when I met with the immigration officer he kept me in the office for a moment, and called Ludwig to the office. They spoke in Spanish, and then Ludwig explained to me (and the other Americans on board) that we are required to purchase health insurance. This is something I had read about before I left, but I wasn’t sure what they would ask for.
After immigration, word started to spread that we will now have to quarantine on the boat for three days, after which another covid test will be administered, and then another quarantine period. And then finally after that we can begin the one- or two-day process of importing the motorcycles.
As I wrote this, I hadn’t heard anything officially from Ludwig, only other passengers who have overheard discussions. I’m holding out hope that something will change, otherwise it looks like my time aboard the Stahlratte has only begun.
In the meantime we sat on the top deck with Andy, who you see second from the left, a well-traveled German who is planning to go ashore with us, but he is going to spend his time in Havana.
The official exchange rate for Cuban pesos is 25-1 for US dollars. Andy told us that a good black market rate is 50-1. In the afternoon, a fellow from the marina approached our boat and offered currency exchange at 40-1, which is good enough to get a few pesos in hand.
Before I came to Cuba, all my research suggested *not* to bring US dollars to Cuba, as the banks charge a 10% commission on the official exchange. So I brought a ton of Mexico pesos to exchange, but when I asked the money-changer if he would take pesos, he said no. Fin brought a load of euros, and the guy gave him a sub-par rate for those.
So as it turns out, according to Andy, US dollars are the best currency to carry in Cuba, despite everything I’d read before I showed up.
I’m going to see if Ludwig will accept payment for the boat in Mexican pesos, since I have so many of them now...
And I killed a bit of time swinging in the hammock.
Ludwig came to speak with us and told us the current plan. On Monday we can start the importation process for the motorcycles. On Tuesday morning, we have to take a second covid test, but according to Ludwig, this test will have results in six hours. Once our results come back, and our motorcycle importation is complete, we might be able to go ashore with the motorcycles.
For dinner we ate the barracuda which were caught yesterday.
20 marzo 2021
Same boat, different day. The sixth day aboard the Stahlratte.
I finished watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Caught up a bit of my ride report. Backed up my photos from my phone to my tablet because I have no internet access currently and my photos aren’t being backed up to Google Photos as usual.
The doctor came aboard and talked with Ludwig for a short time. Ludwig told us then that our schedule is (more) confirmed. We’re still on track to take care of motorcycle registration on Monday, then Tuesday our second covid test and hopefully on the road Tuesday afternoon.
A large yacht pulled in beside us. It seems severely underoccupied. The boat looks like it could hold 100 people, I think about 15 are on board, including uniformed crew. On second look, it does appear that it’s one couple on board, plus crew.
Everyone on the Stahlratte is talking about the yacht. Klaus came back to report what the man did for a living and where he was from.
And someone came up with chocolate ice cream!
The crew were performing some maintenance on the four-cylinder diesel engine, so I asked to see the engine room.
I paid Ludwig with Mexican pesos leaving me plenty of US dollars to spend at a favorable black market rate in Cuba.
Late in the afternoon I went into my bunk to read, and ended up watching Lion King for the first time on my tablet. I know everyone else liked that movie, but I didn’t care for it at all. At the conclusion of the movie I went up to find everyone else finishing up dinner. Apparently even the people from the yacht had come aboard and brought beer and scotch for everyone.
Nobody thought to come get me or open the door and call my name. Ouch.
Though I did end up having a few drinks with Andy and Klaus after everyone else went to bed.
Awesome update Jamie. Regarding the people on the yacht bringing beer. Ouch is right!!
21 marzo 2021
Day seven aboard the Stahlratte.
I must apologize for the long, frequent, and relatively thin photo content for the past few updates. When stuck on a boat without being allowed on shore provides a lot of time to do nothing, and a lot of time to write about doing nothing.
And I want you guys to feel the same feeling of nothing happening for days on end.
We try to stay active. Fin likes to exercise, so he’s doing push-ups and sit-ups. I’ve been reading my handful of Cuban eguidebooks. I also drink a lot.
Today, as it turned out, was bath day. I took a shower, and changed clothes for the first time since I boarded the ship. I washed my dirty clothes and hung them to dry.
Afterward I sat upstairs and Jorge offered his bottle of rum.
In the afternoon the crew uncovered our bikes and lined them up in preparation for unloading, hopefully tomorrow. It’s an exciting step forward.
22 marzo 2021
Progress today. We unloaded the bikes.
Mine went first and I rode up the dock onto shore, but yet not really onto Cuban soil.
The other bikes followed and we lined them up along the aduana building. A couple of uniformed men arrived with dogs and they went past our bikes a couple of times. All of the officials were light-hearted and taking photos and asking questions about the big bikes.
Apparently today we were “allowed” to walk onto shore to a shop located near the dock. I think it’s some sort of duty free, as it’s filled mostly with bottles of liquor, and a few staples like eggs and pasta. But it’s mostly empty. I didn’t buy anything.
We also transferred our gear to a catamaran next to the Stahlratte. I’m a little confused about what’s going on. There are five of us with motorcycles, plus two more people who are going ashore at the same time, while the Stahlratte will spend a few weeks island hopping with a few passengers before (in theory) returning to pick us up. I think the current plan is that the Stahlratte will leave today, and the seven of us will sleep on the catamaran tonight. It’s a tight fit. There are three beds.
It's a nice boat, but filled with somebody else's stuff, and not enough room for all of us.
Tomorrow we should be getting our number plates and one more covid test… and then if everything is in order, we should be free to roam the island.
In the afternoon, the Stahlratte set off to spend some time in the Cuban islands.
And the remaining seven of us climbed aboard the catamaran to spend the night. In the evening one of the guys from the marina brought food for us from a nearby restaurant. This is my first Cuban meal. I ordered shrimp.
Meh. The food was universally bland.
Afterward, Fin and I walked around the docks to look at the other boats in the marina. From what I understand, all the boats here are owned by a German travel company, and it’s possible to charter the boats, though we have not seen anyone else here.
We also got a couple bottles of rum and spent the evening sitting out on the deck drinking and listening to music. We all sort of let loose. Or maybe I'm projecting...
Just caught up on the RR, though the time on the boat and all the waiting sounds monotonous, I really appreciate you telling it like it is. Being accustomed to moving on 2 wheels most days, not being able to has to be a bit of an adjustment. Good on ya for keeping the positive vibes going.
Can’t wait to know what the spurs are for, that’s frickin sweet!
Keep the knobby side down @Jamie Z, look forward to seeing what comes next and I really dug the stealth camp spot you found!
Jamie, I've been following your RR all along and gotta say I would trade the time stuck on the boat with my same daily grind for the past 14 years in a heartbeat. I hope for new posts everyday to hear about your new adventures so I can escape my mundane routine just for a moment. When I can't be riding myself, I'm trying to live through your posts. Thanks for sharing.
I love your adventures as always. I’ve read many time on these pages of the Stahlratte. Seriously, have they ever heard of cleaning, maintenance or even a coat of paint? That rig looks like a ship wreck.
Exhalent update. I think I would be bouncing off of the walls after being on the boat a few days. Really liked the last bunch of pictures on the boat.
I totally agree and I would imagine the new owners will clean it up.
23 marzo 2021
We awoke at sunrise and the marina doctor boarded to give us our last covid test. Results should be here in six hours.
I heard Klaus asking him to check on our bikes; to see when we can get our number plates.
Now we wait.
…and still waiting, six hours later. Basically nothing has happened today. We still have to get our bikes registered, and as far as I know, that process hasn’t even started. It’s looking like we won’t get on the road today. Maybe tomorrow.
I’ve had a good attitude for the most part so far, but I’m starting to break today. I’m getting frustrated, not knowing what’s happening, if anything. No idea what we’re waiting for. Just sitting here. It’s hard because I have to depend on the others who speak Spanish, and I think a lot of information isn’t passed on.
The others seem to be handling it better than me.
Edwin, Amit, and I played a short game of poker to kill time.
4pm update: It’s clear now that we’re not going anywhere today. I’m still holding out hope that the results from our covid test this morning will show up so we can leave the confines of the marina.
Fin and I walked around the marina grounds a bit. This is my view of Cuba.
I went out on my own a little later to walk around the marina and went down the shoreline about 100 meters. When I got back to the boat, the guys told me that someone from the marina had told them that I wasn’t allowed to go that far away and to let me know.
So I went into my bunk and watched the first of three movies: The Quiet Earth.
Usually I like these kinds of post-apocolyptic movies, but this one went off the rails a bit.
Food has become an issue. We left the Stahlratte with a few stores, but those are now long gone. One of the guys from the marina, a friend of Ludwig and Klaus, offered to have his mother make dinner for us. The meal was truly fantastic.
We all talked a bit before and after dinner and most everyone expressed their frustration with the process.
I went back into my bunk and watched Reservoir Dogs, which I enjoyed quite a bit. And then The Outsiders, and I hate to say this because it was recommended to me by a friend, but what a terrible movie.
Red Dog ...""
I love your adventures ... ...of the Stahlratte. Seriously, have they ever heard of cleaning, maintenance or even a coat of paint? That rig looks like a ship wreck. ""
You should be as good looking and mobile when you are 118 years old
Man, Jamie, I'm with you on the inactivity issue for that long a period. I understand it in light of the stupid Covid crap, but if I had known I was going to encounter some of the issues you have dealt with, I would have waited until all the BS is over with. I don't say that as a negative toward you. In fact I admire your patience and tenacity in the way you've dealt with some of the Covid and bureaucratic stuff both in Mexico and Cuba. I hope the trouble will be worth it when you strike out in Cuba.
Thanks for sharing your adventures! I loved Cuba for 2 weeks Christmas and New Year in 2015 Varadero at the ol' Allegro. To this day I wish I had brought my license to rent a bike. You're living my dream!
I just saw your spot on Facebook and apparently Jamie is a way behind on reporting as it looks as he has done a good chunk of Cuba travel. Goes with the territory. I’m glad to see a spot update.
Jamie, I hope you're having a grand time, looking forward to updates but hope for you it will be awhile because you're busy!!!
Jamie, you've got an amazing ride report going, we are loving it!
24 marzo 2021
We finally made it. In a day filled with a lot of waiting, it ended with an eye-opening ride into Cuba.
Our day started by waking at sunrise. Andy made coffee, as usual. I wasn’t feeling hungry. I felt too much anticipation for the upcoming day. We expected the doctor at 9am to give us the results of our second covid test, and he arrived precisely at 9. We were all negative.
This means we can now enter Cuban soil, but now we had to start the process of importing our bikes.
First task was to clear out the catamaran of all our belongings and bring them out to the bikes which have been sitting on the sidewalk outside the customs office for the past three days. I pulled a cart with half our luggage ashore.
I don’t have any pictures of the importation process because photos aren’t allowed, but it was almost exactly like Ludwig described. I was the second to go after Klaus. A young immigration officer who was apparently in training filled out the customs documents, by hand, in triplicate. He had to stop to ask questions of his supervisor a few times.
The office was how you would expect. No air conditioning. Two small wooden desks. Mostly blank white walls except for a few official-looking papers and posters. I didn’t have to do anything other than watch the poor guy copy down my name, birthdate, and the serial number to my bike numerous times. The air in the office was stale and hot.
They ran my cases through the X-ray machine and asked if I were carrying a drone or a GPS. I showed the guy my phone and told him I had maps of Cuba. He didn’t have a problem with that.
I signed a few documents and paid 300 Cuban pesos and I was let free.
But that’s not all. Next I had to go to what was referred to a police station, but it was more of a DMV office. Klaus had already gone ahead, and after Jorge finished his import documents we rode over to the office to meet Klaus.
My first ride into Cuba, though short, was quite exciting and my heart raced. My eyes darted everywhere, not only to see everything around me, but my mirrors had been folded in for the boat ride, and now I couldn’t see anything behind me at all.
When we got to the DMV station, Klaus stood outside. He told us that initially the people there told him we would have to wait ten days before we could get Cuban plates on our bikes. Klaus made a phone call to the fixer who had been helping us and he went in to talk to the DMV people and convinced them that we could go ahead today.
But we had to wait for Fin and Amit. The DMV officials wanted all five bikes there before they started. After a while, Jorge rode back to the marina to make sure everything was ok while Klaus and I waited outside the DMV office.
We walked down the street and found some ice cream.
Where I saw one of the many classic cars here in Cuba, this one in excellent condition on the outside.
And then the three others showed up.
After lunch, the DMV people came out and told us they would process one bike at a time. Klaus went first. The process took about 40 minutes, but then they called for a second bike. And then I was third.
One guy rubbed a pencil on both the VIN and engine case number on the bike, then using a piece of tape, captured the numbers and stuck the tape to a document. Another man filled out some information on the document, and they gave us each a Cuban number plate.
The plate is slightly larger than US plates, but the two mounting holes are located directly in the middle of the plate. They brought out a cordless drill for us to drill new holes and I had my Cuban plate mounted within a couple of minutes.
We had to go inside the office then with the paperwork and our passports and a woman in there typed a bunch of information into a computer and printed out an identification card for us.
This office was cozier than the last one. Wooden doors, posters of Fidel and Che along with quotes from them hung on the walls.
We had to pay a fee of 1125 Cuban pesos for the importation, payable in stamps. Klaus had gotten a bunch of stamps from our fixer. The stamps were valued at 40 pesos, so payment required a pile of them, and with the one fan blowing in the office, made a real mess of the stamps.
The process went slowly but smoothly. Klaus and Jorge finished first and left before us. There was one hitch when there was some computer problem with Fin’s passport.
While we waited for that to get sorted, I rode into town to find SIM cards for our phones. Unfortunately, almost everything here is closed down, or is running very limited hours. I found the wireless store, but they had closed after lunch.
I stopped to ask a few guys on the corner where I might find a SIM card and one of them took me across the street to an unmarked cell phone repair shop. He asked me how many SIM cards I needed, and when I told him three, he said it might not be possible to get three, but he would try, and he could have them in the morning. That doesn’t help us, since we’re all planning to leave Cienfuegos today.
So far as I’ve seen, many Cuban shops don’t have large windows, nor do they have the metal garage-style doors like Mexico. The shops simply have a sign and a door. Maybe one small display. And sometimes not a sign at all. It was hard to tell what any of the shops were selling, or if they were open. This first trip through a Cuban city was eye-opening, but I had no time to dally.
Not only did I not find any SIM cards, but I also noticed I didn’t see any sort of grocery stores, and I only saw a couple of restaurants open. Obtaining food on this trip might be a problem, as a few of you have already pointed out. In fact, it looks like I should expect most things to be closed, if my excursion into downtown Cienfuegos is any indication.
When I returned to the DMV office, the other two were suited up and waiting outside. I gave them the news about the SIM cards, then we shook hands and wished each other well. We all took off down different streets. It was about 4:30pm.
I aimed toward Trinidad, a city not too far away on the southern coast to the east of Cienfuegos. I had to resist the urge to stop to take pictures of everything I’m seeing for the first time. All the old cars. The horse wagons. The billboards with Fidel. I know it’s a cliche now, but it’s like going back in time.
The road turns inland at first, and then follows the coast all the way to Trinidad.
The road is in pretty good shape. Mostly smooth. A few bits of loose pavement. There is almost no traffic. I stopped several times in the middle of the lane to take pictures. A lot of people are walking or standing alongside the road.
When I got to Trinidad, I wanted to hurry to find something to eat, and some water. I stopped at a “cafe” along the street, but he just had a few dry goods. I bought a peanut bar from him. He had no drinks or water.
Further down the street I saw a shop which looked like it had drinks. Though she didn’t have any water, she had a few juice boxes so I bought four. I’d barely eaten or had anything to drink all day.
One thing I noticed when riding through Trinidad is that almost everyone along the street stops to stare when I pass by. There are a lot of turning heads. A few shouts (I didn’t hear what). Almost nobody waves, but if I wave first, they will enthusiastically return the wave.
I can’t imagine the attention the other guys are getting. My bike is fairly nondescript compared to bikes like Fin’s customized BMW or the 1250GS ridden by Klaus.
Riding through the neighborhoods in Trinidad was like a city-wide block party. Hundreds of people were outside sitting on their steps or walking along the edge of the street. Nobody was erupting in spontaneous singing and dancing like I’ve seen in some documentaries, but almost everyone turned to stare as I went past.
From Trinidad I headed north into the mountains where I hoped to find a good stealth camping spot. On the ride today I noticed a handful of places which would have been good to set up a tent, so I hoped the pickings would be as good in this direction, but there was just a lot of thick forest.
I pulled down a two-track which went down a steep rocky hill. When I turned back, some guys on horses were coming down. They stopped to talk to me. I told them I was looking for a place to camp. They said they lived down that road and I could camp at their place if I wanted. I would have loved to take advantage of that offer, but the driveway was steep and rocky. I didn’t want to risk it.
I continued on, the sun sitting on the horizon, and found a flat spot along the side of the highway where someone is doing some construction. I’m not entirely pleased with spot, but I was running out of options. Besides, Only one vehicle has gone past since I’ve been here in the last hour.
But I did a bad thing. Pulling off the road onto this empty lot, I ran over a hose being used to siphon water from a nearby creek to a garden below. The hose is brittle plastic and it split open when I ran over it. It’s not leaking a lot… but there is a fountain of water spraying.
I stared at the damage I caused for a while, trying to think of some way to fix it. The best I could think was to leave a ziploc bag with some cash in it in the morning when I left. I felt terrible.