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La Jardines de la Reina

La Jardines de la Reina

La Jardines de la Reina, (English; Garden of the Queen) is a group of over 600 Cays and reefs about 50 miles off the Southeastern Coast of Cuba. Christopher Columbus named this area in honor of the Queen of Spain. Sailing this remote archipelago was one of our main reasons for wanting to visit Cuba.

This area is considered one of the words best perserved marine parks for several reasons.

1.) There is not easy access for your normal vacation tourist. There are not ferries running to the area every day because it is located so far off of the coast of Cuba.

2.) There is only 1 floating hotel in the area and from what we were told, the cost to stay at this hotel is over $10,000 a week, per person.

3.) No taking of any species, except for Lionfish, is allowed in the marina park area.

The lack of tourism can clearly be seen because of how healthy the reefs are and the abundance of sea life everywhere!!! The water on the outside of the reef is some of the clearest water we have ever seen. You can clearly see the bottom in water over 60′ deep. In anchorages, 10+ pound lobsters are literally walking around under our boat!!! Anyone who knows Rich knows how difficult this is for him not to take them. I keep reminding him that he does not want to end up in a communist prison.

People can sail here on their own vessels, but surprisingly in over a week, we have seen only one other cruising boat and it was from New Zealand. It’s unbelievable that more people are not sailing here. Yes, the area may be remote and uncharted, and that may keep some people away, but for those who like pure untouched nature, the beauty here is unlike any place else in the Caribbean.

The drone footage we are getting of the area is incredible, we can not wait to share our videos.

Cayo Luna and Cayo Grande

Cays Media Luna and Cayo Grande

When navigating into La Jardines de la Reina you have two options. First option is easy sailing through deep water on the outside of the reef; or the second option of sailing through unsurveyed and uncharted Cays and Reefs in the inside…… Sailing on the outside sounds boring and this is what most people do. We opted to sail through the beautiful uncharted Cayos and Reefs on the inside and we were rewarded for our decision!! It was beautiful sailing with decent winds and calm waters.

Our first stop was Cayo Media Luna. This was a small protected anchorage of mangroves shaped like a crescent moon. We anchored here one night and were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow right at sunset.

The next morning we left at sunrise and had a wonderful sail to Cayo Grande. Cayo Grande is a large mangrove that is totally surrounded by a reef. There is a small channel into a large protected bay where you can anchor in 10 feet of water. There is an uncharted ship wreck just off the middle shoreline that you should watch out for, but a small portion is above the waterline so it is easy to see in low light. We took our dinghies to the North side of the mangroves where there is a wide open beach with decent snorkeling. There were several small stingrays hiding in the sand and nice shells were washed up on the beach. Large Conch were everywhere!!! Krista and I made conch salad and grilled conch for dinner and everyone ate on Sail Pending.

These two islands are outside of the marine park but are absolutely stunning anchorages. We sailed for 2 days and have not seen another boat and had both anchorages completely to ourselves. These are some of the most beautiful anchorages we have visited in the past 19 months of sailing and we are shocked that there are no other boats around. If this is a taste of what’s to come, we can not wait to get into La Jardines de la Reina!!!

Cabo Cruz

Cabo Cruz

Cabo Cruz was a two night stop on our way to La Jarden de la Reina. We anchored behind a large protective reef.

There was not much to this small fishing village except a lighthouse and a military base.

We were greeted by the Guarda as soon as we set our anchored. They were friendly and courteous. They removed their shoes before coming aboard, asked the exact same questions as the previous stops and did not request any bribes or tips.

Our first morning, we explored the mangroves and the Sandy Feet crew taught us about the Cassiopeia Jellyfish, which were everywhere on the bottom of the mangroves.

The next day we headed North and anchored at Cayo Luna, which is a small Cay just outside of La Jardines de la Reina, which means Garden of the Queen.

Sun High Overhead

The days are getting longer and the middle of the day is brutally hot, when the sun is out.

It’s neat to watch for the time of the day when there are no shadows….. like right now.

The Boys of Marea del Portillo

The boys of Marea del Portillo

Every afternoon after school the local boys would swim out to our boat and just hang out on the back and play in the shade in the water between the hauls.

The boys did not speak much English but we would sit with them and show them pictures of the places we’ve been and give them chocolate and cheese for a snack.

One afternoon the boys were playing soccer on the beach and Rich flew the drone over to take pictures and videos of them. They all jumped in the water and swam to the boat to see the pictures. They got to our boat almost as fast as the drone got back.

The last day we were here the boys swam out to our boat with a big bag of mangoes for us. They were telling us “thank you for your hospitality” ….. but, I don’t think the boys realize that their little community gave us much more than we could ever give them.

Marea del Portillo will always hold a special place in our hearts. This has been one of the most welcoming anchorages that we have ever been to and one of the hardest for us to leave. We will always remember Josephina, the Old Man in the row boat and the boys playing around our boat everyday. Each place we visit in Cuba is amazing. We can’t wait to see what is over the horizon in the next anchorage.

The Fishermen of Marea del Portillo

The Fishermen of Marea del Portillo

Every evening just before sunset about 6 boats, with two people each would paddle their way out through the anchorage and into the Caribbean Sea. One man would be paddling and the other man would be holding an oar out the back of the boat using it as a tiller to steer. If there was enough wind the small boats would have a home made sail to use the wind to help propel them through the water. There was also a small kerosene lantern on a metal pole, in the middle of each boat.

In the morning, just after sunrise, as I was drinking my coffee, all the boats rowed back into the anchorage and they would park the boats along the beach. Each morning the beach was lined with the people from the community welcoming their fishermen home and checking out their fresh catch.

But each evening and every morning, there was one boat with an old man who went out alone. I watched and wondered why he was alone and why he didn’t have a second person with him. Each evening and every morning as he rowed by our boat, he gave us a big smile and waved. I wondered what stories this old man had and whether he would even tell them. I also wondered if an old man just like this one, was the fisherman who inspired Earnest Hemingway to write “The Old Man and the Sea,” because each day, I would sit and wait for the old man to pass and wave at us…. and I was thankful each morning when I saw that he returned safely.

I am sure that when I look back and think about Cuba in several years, I will think about this old man and wonder if he has safely returned from his nightly fishing trip.

The village of Marea del Portillo

Josephina and the village of Marea del Portillo

Josephina is the local woman who brought the Guarda to our boat in her small row boat. She speak a little English; therefore she interprets for the community.

The first day we met her she had mangoes, green beans, cucumbers and fresh baked bread for us and did not want any money. She only wanted old cloths or anything else that we could give her from the boat. She also told us she would try to get us anything we needed while we were here.

We told her we would take fresh bread every day and any extra fruits and veggies that she had.

Each day when we went ashore, she found us and took us to her house. She would have “gifts” from the other families in the community. One family gave us butter and cheese, another family brought tomatoes and cucumbers, another family butchered a pig and offered us as much fresh meat as we wanted and another family gave us ice cream. I don’t even have the words to explain how this made us feel.

As we walked around this small Cuban village we see happy, smiling faces. Their life is not easy, but they do not complain. They can not just jump into a car and drive to a grocery store to grab a few things for dinner. We saw only 3 cars in the entire town, 2 of which were taxi’s. People used horses and mules to get around. Even in the main (paved) road that went through the edge of town we saw more horse and buggies then we saw motorized vehicles.

The Cuban people in these smaller villages must think about their needs months or years in advance. They have to either grow the food they eat or raise it. They are extremely proud of everything they have and then they are graciously willing to share it with us, as we pass through their town. The generosity of the Cuban people is amazing.

Marea del Portillo

Marea del Portillo

We pulled into this anchorage only planning to spend the night to rest and continue our journey West in the morning. But, as soon as we dropped the anchor several local boys swam to the boat and started playing. Then we flew the drone and saw all of the little pathways weaving through the mangroves and decided that this anchorage probably deserved a full day to explore and that we would spend a second night.

The next morning a local woman, Josephina, who spoke a little English paddled the uniformed Guarda out to our boat, in a little row boat. The Guarda prepared the paperwork which allows us to stay more than one night and come ashore. The Guarda was friendly, the paperwork was straightforward and no bribes or tips were asked for or even expected.

We explored the mangroves with our SUP’s and then went into shore to take a walk and see if we could find a place to eat lunch. Josephine took us to her house and gave us Mangoes from her tree, cucumbers from her garden and fresh baked bread. She would not take any money, but asked us to bring her any old clothes that we may have on our boat. We thanked her and promised to bring her what we could after our walk.

As we were walking a boy on a bicycle pointed to a house and said, “Restaurant”. We continued our walk without finding any other places to eat, so we came back to the house and knocked on the door. A lady answered the door and said “Si, Restaurant” but explained they were cleaning and currently closed. The lady told us to come in and she would give us cold drinks….it was a very hot day and we could not say NO to a cold beer!!

She brought us cold beer and her husband came and talked to us in very good English. He apologized for being closed, but said that they could prepare either Shrimp or Chicken, if we wanted to have something to eat. The chicken was $3 and the shrimp was $4, each was served with fried bananas, rice, and salad. We were as hungry as we were thirsty, so we decided to have lunch. We went back to the boat late in the afternoon with full bellies and wanting more of this cute little town…..

We can not believe we have this entire anchorage to ourselves!!! We decided that we needed another day to explore and that we would stay a 3rd night…..

Rich enjoying Cuba

Rich says he smokes a cigar at sunset because it keeps the mosquitoes away….. hmmmm? I think we are going to need more Cuban Cigars.

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