Friday, April 20, 2018

Cuba... Garden of the Queens, April 7-14, 2018

We just returned last Sunday from a fantastic trip aboard the Tortuga in the Garden of the Queens (Jardines de la Reina), the extensive archipelago 60 miles off the south side of Cuba. I'm going to start posting reports on our trip today, but please note these initial posts will have lots of photos, but limited text. I want to get the photos posted so everyone on the trip can see them sooner rather than later.

Time allowing, I'll circle back and fill in some of the info gaps (flies, tackle, etc). Many of the anglers on this trip promised to come forth with some of their own reports too (are you guys listening!). Suffice it to say, we had a fantastic time and can't wait to get back to Cuba!

Let's begin with our arrival in Cuba...

After months of preparation involving gear, tackle and sifting through the essential details including approved itineraries, conservation fees, visas, etc., our Jet Blue flight touched down in Camaguey just before 1:00 PM on April 5th. Customs turned out to be a tedious, if not threatening, process. At one point, our passports were taken into a backroom and we were left to watch the door behind which they had disappeared.

We waited anxiously until a very courteous agent cheerfully cleared us and placed the passports into our itchy palms. We remained patient and continued  leaping through all the necessary hoops. We filled out additional forms, showed health insurance verifications and even went through another metal detector upon exiting customs.  We eventually arrived outside and into a hot sunny afternoon.

Here, were saw a touching sight. Many of the passengers on our flight were being passionately welcomed by (and we assumed reunited with) their families. Our imaginations filled in the details.

We soon found a taxi and instructed the driver to head for the Hotel Colonial. After a few wrong turns and two stops for directions, we pulled our bags across the cobblestone street and walked into the hotel's breezy entrance way. We quickly realized we had made an excellent choice. The staff greeted us warmly and showed us our well-appointed rooms which opened onto a beautiful patio garden. We would enjoy great a/c, en suite bathrooms and plenty of room.

View from our hotel

 Doug Jeffries commented,
"The hotel we stayed at was really nice.  The staff (Juan Carlos and that lady who was the concierge) really went all out to help us in any way they could.  The concierge even walked Jim down to a store she thought might have batteries for his shaver.  They deserve a kudo.  Recommend we use them again.  The restaurants they recommended, advice about changing money and buying rum, etc. were great too."

Anna Riggs hams it up for me at a sculpture we found down a side street.

There I also found this little dance troupe...
...and John Riggs couldn't resist a photobomb!

At the hotel, we changed Euro's and Canadian Dollars into Cuban CUC's and headed down a narrow side street to a small paladar for lunch. After an excellent meal, we split into smaller groups to do some sightseeing, buy cigars and source the obligatory local rum.

Later we reconvened for dinner. We walked a few blocks to Lucky's... another small paladar suggested by our hotel's concierge. It didn't look like much from the outside. Skeptically, we climbed the narrow stairs to find a lovely restaurant that turned out some excellent meals as well as lethal mojitos! After carefully negotiating the stairs once again on the way out, we strolled to our hotel's bar for a little entertainment, then it was off for some much needed sleep. We were a tired bunch!

On this first night, we were a group of nine. Two more trip members would arrive from Havana after midnight and three more would arrive from the states by air tomorrow. Then, we would made the three hour drive to Port Juarco by bus. At the dock of this small fishing village, we boarded a V-hull cruiser that took us the remaining 50 miles to the Jardines de la Reina.

Our bus was very comfortable
This is why the bus ride took 3 hours!
...and then when we were really ready to be done traveling, we saw the Tortuga

...just in time for dinner!


Next, Let the games begin!

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