With no vacation plans for this year I was happy ton find a new destination in www.undercurrent.org
on Cuba, Avalon and the Jardine de la Reina. I checked with some travel agent who only could offer me the Tortuga or la Reina there, I booked the latter. To make the most of the 14 days in Cuba I chose 2 spots to get a good overall picture of the diving there. On arrival in Havana it took 40 minutes for my suitcase to drop onto the carrousel. Immigration and customs l had heard were similar to US entry one hell of a long procedure. Lucky for me with 3 incoming international flights at the same time I guess the workload for the officers was just too much and they decided on a fast job to get rid of all the passengers. You need to fill out the usual forms and bring a so called “tourist card” which must be signed and stamped by your travel agent. Coming from US it might be a different issue. Cubanacan the local operator was supposed to give me the e-tickets for my domestic flights, which I had only a voucher for so far. These guys knew nothing of that. I had to call their boss to check things and learned the whole thing is a tour booking, I won´t need an extra ticket. I crossed my fingers hoped for the best and left it at that. Accommodation for my first night in Havana was the Hotel Presidente an old house but quite nice. Next morning should bring me to Cayo Largo. Make sure your transfer works and they know which of the 5 Havana airports you are leaving from. We went to a small airport which seemed to be in Army use at some time. A small twin turbo prop 36 seater with only 3 windows on each sight which looked more like a Russian freight plane took me C. L. We saw some beautiful island spots on approach, the turquoise water promised tropical island dreams to come true. Flight time was easy 35 minutes only. Hotel Sol is an all-inclusive resort, it´s a huge place with great pools next to the beach which you reach on wooden walkways. The beach is really awesome, never have I seen whiter powdery sand. I checked in around noon rooms were not ready before 3 p.m. This I feel is a disgrace for tourists coming from a long flight in smelly sweaty clothes. I had booked a 6 dive package which started the next day. The dive center picks you up at 8:10 for a two tank dive. Water had 29 C, vis was rather poor so I planned to just do the 6 and leave it at that. Things improved when we went further out, we dove on a place called Punta Melisa with a small wreck huge boulders and canyons with a vis down to 30 meters, so I continued the diving. Most times we went to a deeper place in the morning, later we would dive coral garden aquarium like places with lots of colorful fish life and lovely sponges and Gorgonia forest in all pastel colors there are around. My reliable Uwatec Smart Z showed the service icon right after the first dive, a great begin of a dive vacation. Battery was still at 63 % and on the first dive under water everything on the display worked fine. I tried to get some rental computer at the dive center, which brought me a strange look and the answer: ”we are in Cuba …”. Adventure was waiting for me on my way back to Havana as we went with a Russian chopper, a wouh experience. Next step would be the Archipelago Jardine de la Reina. Pick up was at 4 a.m as we had to go on a 5 hour bus ride plus 3 more on a boat to reach the place. You will see a lot of the countryside, we stopped two times for refreshments but this still is a bit much stretching your endurance to reach your desired place, a damned long ride. On the boat we were cruising through a maze of fantastic mangrove islands. La Reina is a rather small and a bit rusty live aboard, actually she is ugly with her wheelhouse out of shape at the front of the boat. There is not much storage space in the cabins or on deck. This however she compensates with accommodating only 8 guests, which is just the right number of divers for a skiff. Fish life is impressive – see undercurrent. We had shark encounters, Caribbean reef and silkies, nearly every day. Big groupers filled the picture. It was easy diving with current only once and a bit of swell around. Sometimes the guides were baiting sharks and groupers with a box full of fish pieces, then a real feeding frenzy started around us. I still have to get used to watching lionfish being speared and fed to groupers and sharks. We did 3 dives a day from a skiff, only 1 night dive was offered when all guests asked for it. Cruising with the skiff through the mangrove forest with high speed was James Bond like. La Reina was waiting for us in calm waters inside the mangroves. There I had my first encounter with a rather tame saltwater crocodile, we went snorkeling around the animal. Impressive to get close and see the huge teeth. Once we went onto the beach of one mangrove island to feed iguanas and cute rats they call Utilla. Meals on board were the best I had on my whole Cuba trip. The chef did a great job in his tiny kitchen. Two times we had lobster and a huge snapper a delicious treat. After dive 3 in the afternoon fresh pizza and Mojito were waiting for us, yummy.
The whole area has a lot of potential, there are still many places to dive at and new sites to discover. Rumors have the Aggressor starting here next year.
Cubanacan is not a reliable agent down there. On my way home a pick up at 4:25 p.m. was planned. I took a day room to rest a little bit after sightseeing Havana. Till 5 nobody appeared so I phoned the local agent. They had the time changed to 6:50 without telling me. I could have spent more time in Havana then.