A crowing rooster roused me from sleep, not unusual in Key West, Florida. But when the pig grunted, welcoming the morning and I inhaled the aroma of last night’s Cohiba cigar lingering in the air it dawned, I’m a little farther south……a tad over ninety miles south to be exact, fifteen minutes west of Havana, Cuba.
My crib is a small, comfortable room in a private house, (Casa particular) in Jaimanitas, a suburb of Cuba’s capital city. The town sits on the mouth of a mangrove lined, dark river flowing into the blue Atlantic. This is my second morning at the Cuban version of a bed and breakfast and already my landlords regard me as their own. This is the Cuban way. This adoption process takes place daily throughout the country with visitors who seek sun and rum on the largest Caribbean island. But with Americans it’s different. America and Cuba are neighbors, practically kin.
My mission is to check out Cuba’s fishing, and to see if the wide variety of angling options can be tapped on a modest budget. I’m not interested in an expensive all inclusive week at one of the government sanctioned live-aboards or multi-storied resorts. Instead I want to see the country and talk to the people whose livelihood is fishing. From past visits to the island, I’m familiar with Cuba’s two party financial systems. There’s the government mandated economy and the private sector with its lower prices and unique standard of service.
As I lay awaiting the sun, listening to the grunting pig and the crowing roosters, my arrival at Jose Marti airport and the improved emigration process comes to mind. On past visits the government demanded to know exactly where I would stay each night. Yesterday, when informed of my opened-ended fishing schedule the official merely stamped my visa and said. “Have a nice stay.”
Chino, an old friend and newly appointed guide and I will spend the week searching out fishing holes within easy reach of Havana. Our transportation is his 1952 Chevrolet Power Glide. “It’s an international car.” Chino said, beaming with pride at the freshly painted aqua and white reminder of another age. The engine is a Peugeot diesel, the brakes from an Audi, and the transmission and steering wheel are courtesy of Toyota. Chino couldn’t have been prouder had the car been a new Rolls Royce.
Running into Chino and his ancient auto was a stroke of luck, not genius. A lack of fluent Spanish can make any trip to the countryside – where road signs are as scarce as Americans – frustrating. Cars with English speaking drivers are readily available in Cuba. Chino’s translating will prove invaluable in the search for the best salt, fresh and brackish water fisheries.
My recent findings and tips about the angling mecca of Cuban waters, the best time and the most economical method of exploring them will appear monthly in Coastal Angler Magazine. Join me and native guide Chino in the months ahead for an incredible journey through America’s back yard, Cuba.