Tired of the same old bourgeoisie diving in capitalist countries throughout the Caribbean? Throw off the shackles of oppressive Divemasters and find freedom in the socialist divers paradise of Cuba. I was able to get in touch with my red side on a live aboard trip to visit our communist brothers to the south.
We flew to Cancun, Mexico and boarded the "Oceanus", our new home for the next week. We were supposed to leave that night for the 10 hour ride to Cuba but the government official who was supposed to come by to let us leave the country never made it till the next morning. Rather than waste a day going over, we made two dives in the Cancun area that day and then left that night. We awoke the next morning anchored in a large bay next to the town of Maria La Gorda. Town is actually a bit of a stretch. Maria La Gorda consists of the dive shop/hotel office, bar/store, two hotel buildings and a few government buildings. We anxiously awaited the arrival of the custom officials. The United States government has had an embargo against Cuba since the 1960's. What that means is that you can visit the island, you're just not allowed to spend any money there. We would be staying on our boat and anything to do with Cuba would be handled by our Mexican hosts. Still, the prospect of meeting Cuban officials made us a bit nervous. Their boat came out and six or so smiling faces came aboard and said hello and set up shop in the salon. We milled about outside on the dive deck and they called us in one at a time to make sure we had the same faces as on our passports. They asked a few questions and that was that. This same procedure occurred at the end of the week before we left. The officials spent more time chatting with the crew than anything else. I believe this great big show is because these guys have nothing else to do in this town. The only excitement comes twice a week when they come out to the Oceanus and say hi. Apparently governmental red tape knows no difference between Democracy and Communism. With customs behind us we were free to dive.
First, a little about the boat. The Oceanus is over 100 feet long. It has a large dive deck with for all our gear; they pump Nitrox and have two chase boats for support. The salon area was comfortable, but not terrible spacious. The rooms were below and consisted of two bunks per room. Again, not the most space in the world, but room enough. There were two heads in the hall.
The diving was very good. We didn't see anything very big, just the usual Caribbean suspects. Most sites had a sandy bottom at 30 feet, sloping to the reef at 50 feet, sloping to the wall at 90 feet. Where the sand meets the reef were many swim-throughs, tunnels, valleys and little caverns that would lead to the wall. This is the kind of diving I love. The more swim-throughs the better. Some sites had valleys 30-40 feet deep that wound through coral heads. I had a blast.
In the middle of the week we ventured ashore for a land tour of western Cuba. As we drove through Cuba on our little private bus, we saw some wonderful sites. Tobacco farms and drying huts for the leaves. Old Chevy's and Fords from the 1950's. Even some old Studebakers were still on the road. There are many schools and each one has the Cuban flag and a bust of Jose Marti, the hero of Cuban independence, in front. There are still signs of the Revolution, bus stops with "Vive La Revolution" written across the sides. Billboards with youthful pictures of Fidel and Che. At the roadside, open-air restaurant where we ate lunch, we had a small gift shop selling pictures and shirt of Che Guevara on one side of us, while a farmer used a horse and plow to till the earth across the street.
Our main stops were first in Pinar Del Rio and a visit to a cigar-rolling factory and then to the Vinales Valley. This valley is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever been to. It was a very lush green with farmlands, mixed with heavy vegetation and trees mixed with mountains that spring out from the ground and rise over 500 feet high. We toured a cave with a boat ride out the other end and visited a mural painted on the side of a sheer cliff that represented evolution. We capped it off at a local hotel where we could see over the entire valley and watch the sunset.
This was a great trip and a wonderful opportunity to see Cuba as it has been for the last 30 years. Soon the embargo will end and Cuba will become the hot place for cruise ships to visit. You will see Coke and McDonald's billboards where I saw Fidel and Che. I feel I was very lucky to have caught a glimpse of this side of Cuba.
Let's go diving!