November 30th Zapata-Day!
Traveling outside of Canada, for the foreseeable future, still requires lots of patience and flexibility, as well as being prepared for an ever-changing set of rules. Despite these challenges, four intrepid anglers made the journey to Cuba and the Zapata Peninsula to be among the first anglers in two years to fish the flats of one of our favourite places – Las Salinas within the Cienaga de Zapata National Park.
Terry and I went a few days earlier than clients. We flew on the red-eye to Toronto and then down to Varadero. This was the only option because all direct flights were canceled. The red-eye is not all that fun, but it does get you where you want to be and it reminded us of the "old days" when that was the only option for us to get to Cuba and allowed us to fly cast at YYZ en route.
So, we arrive in Cuba to the new screening procedures. Terry breezes through thanks in-part to him being fluent in Spanish. I, of course, get randomly selected for a covid test then get the extra questioning about bringing so much fishing gear. I’m sure my file from my dozens of trips pops on their computer screen, hence the extra questions, which of course require an interpreter. All is good, and we begin the wait for our luggage.
Waiting for luggage is always one of the most stressful times of traveling. The limbo time when luggage starts to show up until you see your own bag. This trip we took six 50 pound bags mostly filled with stuff to give away. The flight was completely full so there was A LOT of luggage. It took about 45 minutes or so until we got ALL 6 of our bags. Many other people were nowhere near as lucky. We learned later that just over 100 bags did not get on the flight and as a result of people wanting to take so much stuff to Cuba WestJet sent out an email limiting the number of bags that could be paid and checked.
As always, there was no problem carrying rods/reels on the plane from Canada to Cuba but rods MUST be checked on the way home.
We headed out from the airport arrivals door expecting to meet someone to transfer us to Playa Larga. Between departing late and the luggage situation we were two hours late so there was some concern that the transfer vehicle had given up on us! A quick “WhatsAPP” message to the organizer and low and behold we learned that a transfer was never organized for us because of a miscommunication…. We were “outside” the package time.
Fortunately, it took all of 2 minutes to rectify the problem and we were on our way with the very friendly Rodolpho and his van stuffed full of luggage and the two of us. On the 2 hour drive to the Casas we learned a lot about the difficulties of the past two years and in particular the past year since the money/economic change was initiated. It sounded VERY challenging. We were happy to be there to help get some tourist money flowing again.
We arrive to our Casas (we had to stay in two different casas due to room availability when we booked) and are greeted with the typical friendly Cuban attitude. Both houses were excellent; B&B Varadero and Villa Rio Mar. It didn’t take long before the “Cuban Telegraph” is working and we are being visited by guide friends who are extremely happy to see us just as we are happy to see them! Of course one of the first to greet us is Felipe who is a very good friend. It was so good to finally see each other in person.
It was quite something to walk down the deserted beach to our long-time friend’s house "The Casa Zuleyda" for dinner. All the restaurants were closed, except our friends as they knew we were coming. It was a very surreal experience to be walking around with NO other tourists. The town of Playa Larga was dead quiet but filled with hope now that at least someone was coming. The numbers of tourists slowly increased as the week went on which was so good to see.
Wednesday, December 1st Cuban help Day!
Terry and I spent the morning organizing the items we brought to give away. Packages for men and women with vitamins, socks, toothpaste, deodorant, bar shampoo, soap, pain killers, bug spray, and rubber boots. Yes 45 pounds (10 pair) of rubber boots which farmers are finding near impossible to get. Our plan was to hire a taxi for the day and havet Felipe take us to areas that needed the most help. Slight snag – no taxis or rental cars due to ZERO tourists both the taxi and rental cars were all in Varadero or Havana where there was more work. So being creative we found a ride with a friend who could take us around. It was a wonderful experience being able to go to the farm and provide the workers with boots. Several were working in bare feet!
We enjoyed quick visits with long-time friends, got to meet their new baby boy, and see the new and improved “fly shop” that Don Yoyi is building. Anyone who has visited Yoyi’s place to buy wood carvings or boxes wouldn’t recognize the place now. There is some new and beautiful art on the horizon.
Link to Instalment Two
Additional Instalments to follow in the next day or two.