Cubans & the Permiso de Navegación

Here’s a good question that came in today from an adventurous Cuban + WoWCuba’s insider answer:

Q. Hi, I am a Cuban national interested in the diving courses offered in Cuba. Could you provide me with information on how can the Coast Guard authorization mentioned in the website [required only for Cuban nationals] be obtained? Thanks, Daniel

A. Hey Daniel, great to see you’re interested in diving into diving. It can be a rewarding activity and there’s no doubt Cuba’s a great place to discover the fascinating underwater world.
If you’re intending to perform a course which involves dives from a boat based at an int’l marina, then you have to submit a request for the “Permiso de Navegacion” from Capitania Nacional in Rpto Flores in Havana. Once it’s approved (not sure how long that’s taking these days, but I’d think you’d probably need several days to a week’s advance notice), then you bring a $5 CUC stamp from the bank. They’ll stick that to the signed/stamped paper they’ll give you to present to the marina to board the Gaviota &/ Marlin boats based at the selected international marina(s) for the specified activities/time period. You also have to present your passport or C.I. to coast guard officials for all boat departures.
In your request you should tell them you plan to dive / learn to dive / fish (or whatever your intended purpose is) from _____ dive center or marina in the time period from ____ to ____. We usually put my husband’s full name, Cuban identity card #, any other relevant information and maybe a contact # (on the off chance someone needed to call to check/advise anything). Anytime we do undertake this process, we usually ask for a time estimate on return and then call Capitania first to confirm whether the permiso’s ready to be picked up. Ya’ know the drill.

Worth mentioning you can get Open Water Diver certification with shore dives in locations like Hotel Copacabana or the Zapata Peninsula (except Caleta Buena, where dives are from a small dive skiff) without going through the above rigamarole. Hopefully one of these days they’ll do away with that silly rule, but for the moment it’s still in place and that’s how getting Abel’s authorization for the sailing/diving/fishing we’ve done together over the years in Cuba has always worked for us. It’s the same process for all Cubans, regardless of where they live (in Cuba or abroad) although there have been moments where it was easier to obtain for Cubans holding residence in a foreign country. Not really sure if that’s still the case, to be honest. Hopefully not.

Hope that helps clear things up and get you on the road to certification. Kristen


Cuban Harlistas 2014 Rally & Family Tales

We left off last time with me anxiously awaiting the arrival of a container ship from Panama carrying 13 motorcycles bound for our Harlistas Cubanos 2014 event in Varadero from February 6-10. The ship was late leaving Panama on Jan. 23 and the first ETA we were given was for January 31st. As that date approached, it was then adjusted to Feb. 3. But the stars and the moon and all the spirits were with us this time. The ship arrived in the Havana port at 21:00 on Feb. 3rd, they began unloading it at 23:00 and by 16:00 on Feb. 4th all the bikes were sitting in the parking lot of the Panama biker group’s hotel with everything lined up for their temporary license plates & registration with the motor vehicles office just down the street the next morning. Record time, according to the port officials. So we didn’t have to resort to my worst case scenario of me having to stay back and continue to get the paperwork completed while Abel, the main organizer of the international encounter, went to Varadero without me on the back of his bike once again (last year’s riding to the gathering on the back of the Blue Streak was disappointingly out for me due to a back injury). This year´s encounter included participants from Cuba, Panama, Norway, Germany, Holland, Denmark, and Canada. The number of foreign bikes registered for the encounter almost matched the number of bikes from Cuba, a first.

The Panama group is the first we’ve hosted on their own bikes from South America. They told us that there was a lot of talk in their part of the world that if you sent your bike to Cuba you’d never see it again. Which made us laugh, because of course it’s not true. They’re certain their numbers will grow significantly for next year now that the temporary importation/re-exportation process has been thoroughly proven. Actually, we’re not quite yet out of the woods, and that’s the funny part. After the event was over, on Feb. 10 everyone drove to the port and packed up all the bikes in the shipping container once again, and we even optimistically hoped that we could move forward their original shipping return date from Feb. 28 to Feb. 14. Mid-week we spent a frantic morning on the phone because there was a question about the Dangerous Goods Certificate, which was originally issued in Panama, but a copy of which hadn’t been received here. After much calling back & forth, the go-ahead was given from Panama and payment of the certificate on the other end was guaranteed. The container was going to be loaded on the ship. Pshew, wipe your brow and take a breath. But in the end it turns out that the container wasn’t loaded after all because the customs agency on this end hadn’t delivered the Declaration of Merchandise to the container port in time, so everything’s now in place to depart as originally planned the end of the month. I’ll take that.

Yesterday the organizer of the Panama group called us to check on the status of the paperwork and return shipment of the bikes and Abel reassured him that everything was set for departure sometime at the end of February/beginning of March. Tranquilo, no hay problema ninguno. He’s on top of this. After he got off the phone I got a mischievous gleam in my eye and I told him he should have told the organizer, “Yeah, right. And you REALLY thought it was going to be that easy? Of COURSE the importation part’s a breeze, but you SERIOUSLY thought we were going to just send all those modern bikes back to Panama just like that?!?!?!?”. Abel cracked up and started expanding on that idea, saying he should tell him that “Your bikes have already been distributed all around Cuba. That 2014 Harley Fat Boy that was making so much noise all the time? That’s already rolling the streets of Santiago de Cuba!!!”. Hahahahahahahahahaha It would be great to catch his reaction to THAT on a hidden camera. Which got us thinking that hidden camera pranks might be another great thing to do over the next year with some of our motorcycle friends here in Cuba. You’ll have to stay tuned for that and see what happens.

My parents who haven’t lived together in more than 20 years (but neither of whom has remarried) arrived in Havana last night after missing their Sunday flight through Toronto due to yet more snow in eastern Canada. The new route took them through Montreal and Toronto with an overnight before arriving in Havana. They’d shared a hotel room the night before. So 1.5 hours after touching down in Havana they were finally through immigration, luggage claim and customs. Hello, hello, kiss, kiss. And then they’re both at it. Dad complaining about Mom not being able to be left alone or she’d get lost. Mom complaining that Dad’s deaf and Dad saying, “What?” with a snicker. Probably pretending to be deaf so she’d stop rambling. Mom trying to scam $300 out of Dad. He says she already spent it all. Them bickering about the hefty $10 tip she gave to the guy inside the airport for getting Dad a wheelchair so he didn’t have to walk anymore, bringing her a pop and assisting with her luggage. Dad saying she’s upsetting the economic balance. Mom telling him to blow it out his ear. With 3 flights in 2 long days, Dad’s knees/feet were a bit swollen but hopefully in a couple of days he’ll be back to normal. He’s off to the city tagging along with Abel who’s running errands this afternoon, a wonderful climate adjustment and change in scenery. Mom’s staying with my brother’s family basking in being Grammy. And not sleeping in the same room with Dad.

We’ve made a couple of videos this season too. Getting with the social media scene. The first one we produced is of our bicycle tours of Cuba, and most recently one of the Harlistas Cubanos 2014 event which should be finished tomorrow. Once we have the finished product, getting the videos uploaded is a monumental task from Cuba since our dial-up internet connection won’t support a 100 MB upload. So our heartfelt thanks to the clients who so graciously provide the assist in forwarding those DVD’s back to our PEI office. It takes a lot longer, and is a lot more circuitous, but eventually it gets done. It was recently announced that they’re going to make internet connections available via cell phones here. But I’ve heard through the grapevine that the rates are apparently going to be in the $0.05/KB range when the service is finally activated. Ouch! Something like the unattainable car prices here. Somebody also told me there was talk about giving existing internet users triple the time for the same monthly fee. For me, that’d be welcome compensation because on windy (like today) or rainy days my connection runs between slow and stopped most of the time. But I imagine this is just wishful thinking as I dutifully paid my extra hours last month. To connect from my home office, I pay for 80 hours/month which is the maximum package you can buy and even though I have credit in my account, when the monthly allotment runs out I have to make a personal trip to the local telephone office to request the extra time. Stop work, go to office, wait in line, sign letter, go back home. Call office to make sure account is reactivated asap. For those of you who live in the wifi/hyperconnected world, welcome to 1990. There’s been no official notification of free extra hours even though I regularly let them know that my home phone line and internet connection truly suck. They know that though, I suspect.

Signing off and getting back to work. I wonder how long it’s going to take to upload this post.

Cuban Generosity

Have you ever noticed that the less people have, the more generous and less materialistic they are? I can think of a host of adjectives for the Cubans in my social circle such as gregarious, innovative, hard-working, family-oriented, and selfless. But more often than not it’s their generous solidarity that strikes me as one of the most commendable traits of their culture.

I first noticed this phenomenon over 2 decades ago when I was traveling alone on a bus in eastern Cuba. I was the only foreigner on the bus. It being my first season living here, I was still very unfamiliar with the local national monetary system and when the bus stopped and everyone got off to purchase local refreshments, I just stayed on board since I had almost non-existent language skills and no local currency with me, which it seemed that everyone was using. As the Cubans were re-boarding the bus a young mother traveling with her toddler must have noticed that I didn’t get off like everyone else and as she passed my seat she handed me a cold Cuban malt and continued on back to her seat. She expected nothing in return, she was only being kind. I was astounded that a total stranger whose resources were surely so much more limited than mine would be so generous and thoughtful.

Since then I’ve had countless opportunities where I’ve been on the receiving end of Cuban generosity and each time I think that it’s one of the best things that’s come out of this socialist revolution. I sometimes need to remind myself to be more generous and understanding, like my Cuban friends.

A lot of people consider it their duty to pick up hitchhikers here. Those who drive state vehicles are often in the obligation to do so. My husband is occasionally asked by friends and neighbors to drive them to the airport (which is over an hour from our house) and he always happily obliges. Sometimes my ugly selfish self comes out and asks him why he would do that for the sister of someone he knows (not even a family member) when there are other alternatives, such as our entrepreneurial neighbor who operates his own taxi. He knows that most of the people who ask him to do this have very limited incomes, can’t afford a taxi and probably would have to take several buses or hours out of their day if he didn’t offer to help out with the transportation. There have been a few occasions where I’m pretty sure a couple of people have taken advantage of my husband’s generous nature, but he still doesn’t let that stop him. Once when he was unable to help out due to other obligations, he offered to give a man who lives on the street behind us money to take our other neighbor’s taxi to drive a family member to a medical appointment, but then the taxi-driving neighbor wouldn’t accept the money and did the favor for free anyway. It sometimes miffs me when the same people call my husband up twice in a week to ask for drives here or there, when it’s clear to me that they could have taken the bus instead of inconveniencing us. But it doesn’t seem to bother him too much, so I usually let it ride.

Yesterday while visiting a friend outside of Havana I was talking to his 80+ year old mother and her sister who recently had a fall and fractured her hip. They are both widows, and the sister has no children. She said she was very lucky that a former neighbor and friend of hers who now lives in Miami found out about her condition and forwarded a care package and money which helped her through a very difficult period. The huge majority of the elderly in Cuba are looked after by family members until their death, despite the fact that this duty sometimes comes at a great economic sacrifice. Most Cubans I know consider sending their elderly family members to nursing homes to be akin to abandonment. Only in extreme cases would they consider a nursing home in lieu of home care for an elderly family member. Before we left our friend’s house, we couldn’t get away without a bag full of avocadoes from their tree that they insisted we accept. We stopped at the Casa del Pintor, a paladar we like in Bauta, for dinner on the way home. As the meal was ending our friend ducked into the bathroom for a moment, and I advised my husband that he should quickly settle the tab with our server since I knew our friend would try to pick it up if we didn’t first. The two of them ended up trying to shove money at each other, fighting over who was going to pick up the $23 CUC bill for our shrimp/lobster/beef dinners and drinks as I laughed my way out of the restaurant. While our friend is very lucky and has a well-paying job I don’t like taking advantage of his generosity, hard as it sometimes is to convince him otherwise. I joked on the way out that he could pick up the tab the next time, when we pick a more expensive restaurant for dinner.

Cuba sent almost 400,000 soldiers to fight apartheid in Angola and will always hold a special place in history, right alongside Nelson Mandela, for being on the right side of that battle. I was watching the July 26th speeches in Santiago de Cuba today, a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the battle that began the Cuban Revolution. My father in law was one of the young guerrilla fighters from that failed attack on the Moncada Garrison who was amazingly lucky to come out of the hospital from where he was stationed to fight alive, and his just-off-the-press book “El Unico Sobreviviente” about his epic escape journey back home is being launched during the festivities. As I watched all of the foreign leaders deliver moving speeches about solidarity and contemplated just how many countries had come here to express their sincere thanks for Cuba’s selfless support, despite all of the economic obstacles this country faces, I was touched by the fraternal spirit of the current Latin American leaders and their struggle to empower the middle class. Many are trying to follow Cuba’s lead in free education and health care for all. The thousands of Cuban doctors who have been sent to the rescue during some of the most serious crises in this and other parts of the world is simply unprecedented. One leader said that while Cuba may not have money, it has people and the very fact that they are so willing to share their precious human resources so freely with other nations in need is commendable.

The generosity of those less fortunate should be an example that each and every one of us follows. It’s definitely humbling when someone much poorer than you opens their home, wallet, or shares their meager possessions. So pay it forward as often as you can. It’s a hard thing to remember sometimes but the more you do it, the better a place this world will be.

Cross Your Legs, and Roll Your Eyes

As loyal as a faithful dog, I’d never consider betraying my Cuban husband. So it irks me sometimes when he likes to give his input on how I dress when we leave the house. Here we are in the middle of a stifling hot Havana summer, and on Saturday I put on a sundress, the hem of which ended about mid-thigh. Hardly indecent considering the shockingly short hemlines of some Cuban damsels I know. When my husband caught an eyeful of me walking out of the closet he demanded, “Is THAT how you’re planning on leaving the house?” I retorted, “Well, yes, it was exactly how I was planning on leaving he house since we’re traveling by car and not motorcycle today, and it’s freaking hot out there!” He reminded me that there was a fair wind blowing and I would surely be showing my bloomers to half of Havana’s Carnival-goers at the Piragua where we were heading to meet friends. Without another word he headed outside to talk to the bricklayers in the back yard. And I turned on my heel, back to the closet to put on a pair of trusty lycra shorts under my outfit. Once outside I made sure noone else was in sight and I flashed my husband so he could see that I’d compromised just to make him happy. As I laughed up a storm, sadly he didn’t think it was as funny as I did. He didn’t even smile. Undeterred, I took up my post sitting on a cinderblock in the garage to watch the work progress, carefully tucking my skirt between my legs before I sat down. As I caught a dirty look from my ever-watchful husband I incredulously asked, “What now??? I have on shorts under this dress you know!” He pretended not to know what I was talking about, apparently not wanting the workers to know about the intimacies of our little spat. But I definitely knew I had seen the evil eye.

Once we left the house I took up the issue once again. His position was that 99.99% of Cuban men are cave men and if you give them an opportunity to catch a glance of a thigh, a piece of your rear end, or anything else in that general vicinity of a woman’s anatomy they will seize it. And talk about it later amongst themselves. And he doesn’t want me to be the object of anyone else’s lusty conversations. If a Cuban man is not looking at a woman, then he’s most likely gay. It’s not the first time I’d had to learn a lesson like this by embarrassment. Many years ago a neighbor commented to my husband that I was sitting with my knees too far apart while wearing shorts. Cripes, I’d never had to deal with this before in my Canadian circle of friends. We’re a pretty relaxed bunch and if you’re a girl and you sit down with your knees apart it just doesn’t have the same connotation in Canada as it does here in Cuba. We had a couple of friends visit for the weekend, and I asked their opinion, and discovered that they pretty much concurred 100%. The man’s opinion so perfectly matched that of my husband, it was as if it were a recording. The woman said it’s not attractive to sit with your knees apart. And that Cuban men tend to be overly jealous, but it’s because they know how other Cuban men think all too well. She says sometimes when she’s riding on the back of her husband’s motorcycle and they stop at a red light, she’ll catch him looking all around just to ensure noone’s staring at her. But she also reports having been subjected to bold Cuban males sticking their lascivious tongues out at her while he’s not looking. To maintain your dignity here as a woman you’re just supposed to ignore them, pretend you can’t hear the catcalls, and basically act like you’re deaf and/or blind when presented with acts of lewdness by a Cuban man.

My sister has been flashed here a couple of times. The first time she was shocked, but the second time she was prepared for it and did a banshee scream and ran at the man who promptly disappeared. She’s also had some Cuban man actually touch her butt as she bicycled across a bridge in Guanabacoa. Scared the bejeezus out of her, actually. I remember flying up to Toronto to meet her right after 9/11. We ended up getting stuck there together for several days since Cuban planes were temporarily restricted from flying over U.S. airspace. We took advantage of the extra time in the big city and went shopping. I remember as we walked past a group of construction workers who were buying snacks from a truck, noone said a word. They looked, but didn’t dare comment. After we passed them I burst out laughing because it was such a contrast to the behavior of the men I’d mostly become accustomed to in Cuba. Civilized Canadian construction workers. What a refreshing change.

The other day as we were walking on the beach I made my way up close to a dune to collect some beach glass that had caught my eye. As my eyes were mostly downcast as I searched for treasures in the sand, I didn’t notice the Cuban man lurking in the sand dunes. When I caught up to my husband who had his eagle eyes focused on the guy, he told me I’d almost bumped into a tirador/pervertido, a guy who gets his thrills from watching women and will publically masturbate. Gross.

I once had a client who was indignant about a lifeguard at the Ancon beach who she perceived had been coming on to her. She reported that he repeatedly manhandled his package right in front of her. While I didn’t want to tell her that I doubted her version of the events, in reality I figure he was just adjusting it. The Canadian woman was not used to seeing a man so unabashedly and unashamedly scratching or moving his male parts around in public. Kind of like the nose-picking thing here. The first time I saw a Cuban woman happily picking boogers out of her nose in my office, my jaw dropped. When she noted my reaction she apologized, but this was clearly a cultural misunderstanding. What’s acceptable and “normal” here may be a totally different story in another country. It’s taken me a long time to learn this, but the best thing you can do is bite your tongue and just roll with it.

Potty Talk

Elimination is not a pretty subject. But it’s something most of us do every day so I thought I would share some of my loo experiences of the last couple of days. One of the things that strike me when I return to Canada, especially since my Cuban husband has also drawn my attention to the subject, is the cleanliness of the public bathrooms. In Cuba we mainly avoid them if at all possible. I also try to hold on and prefer not to use them on planes. On my husband’s visits to Canada he was often impressed by the spic & span bathrooms in the shopping malls, movie theatres, restaurants, even ferries (which he found especially impressive since he didn’t even see a single bathroom attendant anywhere during the 1-hour crossing). I began to wonder if he might have some kind of a bladder problem when we walked just a block from my family’s Charlottetown home to the grocery store and he was looking for the bathroom as soon as we went in. I asked him why he was always going to the bathroom everywhere we went and he said he was just marveling at how each one was as clean as the last, sometimes even cleaner than our bathroom at home. Each one equipped with running hot & cold water, soap & all the toilet paper you want free for the taking…

You don’t appreciate these things unless you’ve known or lived otherwise. In Cuba many public restrooms have attendants who will give you four or five squares of tp when you go in, then go in behind you and dump a bucket of water down the toilet when you’ve finished. A tip is expected when you leave. Many of them pay a tax to the government to be able to occupy this position of employment.

On a motorcycle trip last winter with some Cuban friends I took these pictures in a public bathroom that was particularly clean, smelled good, and was at the very top of the scale of public Cuban bathrooms. You still had to take your own tp (pass it over the top of the stall to your friends), but what did that matter when the bathroom had running water in sinks and toilets and was sparkling?

I probably shouldn’t tell you this story, but quite a few years back a friend’s parents were doing a Fly/Drive holiday in Cuba with my friend’s aunt & uncle and the aunt’s watch fell into a public toilet she’d used in a Cupet gas station. The toilet had no running water, and I guess someone had used it before her (don’t you love these details?!). She really liked the watch and it was expensive – she was always a very well-dressed, attractive woman. I don’t know what she promised in return, but she somehow managed to convince her husband (these guys will do the wildest things to keep their wives happy on vacation) to fish it out for her. They told us this story over dinner their last night in Havana.

Continuing on with the latest episode in my toilet tales, when I arrived in PEI, no sooner than we’d left the airport and my Dad was telling me about his latest green business venture. For those of you who don’t know about the eternal entrepreneur’s background, in the mid 70’s he began business in PEI with a woodstove & windmill business, protesting nuclear power, we ran our Wood Islands house on wind power for 5 years until Mom couldn’t stand it anymore (the technology wasn’t then what it is now), and also kept our own animals and organic gardens. The bicycle business has been in our family since 1977. Some people say he was a man before his time. Many other seasonal operations were experimented with until we found a match with Cuba in the early 1990’s. These days Gordon tends to the urban gardens around our Charlottetown energy-efficient property and head office. As we were leaving the airport he told me that he’s now selling compostable toilets. Here’s our exchange:
“Do you mean you’re selling people the idea of them, or are you actually selling the toilets Dad?”
“I’m selling the toilets. I have one down in the basement. I wish I would have installed them in the whole building last year. I sold two already.”
I couldn’t believe it. He’s just become the dealer for compostable toilets on PEI.

My sister-in-law had made dinner for us all and after dinner my Mom said that he goes down there and uses it every day. He wanted to know if I wanted to go and see it. Not particularly, Dad. But thanks for the offer to go see your toilet. Mom thinks it’s gross, wants to know if he put a seat on it yet. Dad’s going to be using it on the garden.
If you’re going to be in PEI, come on down and see my Dad’s personal throne. It sounds like he’s eager to show it off. He might even try and sell you one.

Get Your Motor Runnin’


They say “Don’t mix business with pleasure”, but our personal hobbies and leisure activities are often the inspiration for our Cuba travel product lineup. Our latest project was inspired by my husband Abel’s initiation into the world of antique Harley Davidsons in Cuba a few years ago. My Dad, an incessant entreprenueur, had a Kawasaki dealership for awhile when we were young and I’d been initiated into the Harley world with the parents of a childhood friend. While in university I’d also spent some late nights at the local Charlottetown Harley Club, where a roommate of mine was a member, and had always found the Harley crowd to be down to earth and adventurous. After we sold our sailboat, Abel was looking for a new hobby. In 2007 he bought a 1947 Flathead and spent almost a year restoring it with the invaluable expertise of a local mechanic in Cuba. Since there’s no dealership in Cuba, maintaining these bikes is kind of an art form. The film Cuban Harlistas features a great collection of material from riders around Cuba who have mastered the art of keeping these machines on the road.

Abel was desperate to be riding the bike and almost gave up on his mechanic coming on the end of the 1-year restoration. Eladio, a machinist by trade, tends to priorize a lot of the smaller jobs that present themselves at his workshop on a daily basis since they’re what keep him solvent. But he assured Abel that the bike would be ready within the month, they hugged & made up and sure enough, a month later Abel got his first taste of the wind blowing through his military-short hair. We participated in our first group activity, escorting members of the antique car club on a ride from the Piragua to the Macumba, where eats/drinks and activities by the pool filled the afternoon. What a rush! We made it there in one piece without stalling the machine and everything was rosy.

But his happiness was short-lived. Not long afterwards he was riding on the highway enroute to the mechanic’s house for some tweaking. I was driving behind in the car. Abel was at cruising speed on the open road and all of a sudden there was a loud noise followed by the bike screeching to a sudden stop. 80-90 kms/hour to zero in no time flat. He’d blown a piston, the only part not replaced as part of the restoration. When they opened it up there was some old Lada piston or something inside. Typical. So off I went to the mechanic’s house, where I got re-directed by his octegenarian mother to another venue nearby where they were celebrating his birthday party. We had our schedule mixed up and thought we’d missed the party since we had to work. On my merry way again, I found the party and once I there, recruited some help to tow the bike. We made it back in one piece and spent the rest of the afternoon socializing with the diverse group of new friends we were just getting to know. We were already familiar with one of them since he worked in another travel agency here in Cuba. The crowd included everyone from hairdressers to accountants, machinists, artesans and chemists plus their children, parents and even grandparents. You name it, but the one thing they all had in common was a passion for adventures on their motorcycles. The mechanic’s wife got thrown in the pool, clothes and all.

Abel rode the Flattop for awhile, but soon after also acquired a 1948 Panhead, his favorite ride. The previous owner had spent a lot of time restoring it and most of its motor was new. Abel joined a local motorcycle club called Habana Harley, a collection of about a dozen riders here in the capital. They get together every once in awhile, usually for shorter rides or activities around the city on weekends. The members’ families participate in the events organized by the club too. Men usually sit around and talk about their bikes and the women sit around and talk about the men, so typical of just about anywhere I suppose. He joined another international club called LAMA (Latin American Motorcycle Association), founded by Puerto Rican Mario Nieves, which has chapters in many provinces in Cuba. In Havana alone the club has around 80 members today. The club has no borders, no preferences for race, color, religion, or political beliefs. It’s just a collection of people who like to ride their motorcycles together. We participated in the first-ever national LAMA rally in Cuba last August. Riders from all over Cuba converged for four days in Santa Clara, in the center of Cuba. Adventures with friends are the best. I acquired a new nickname on that trip. It’s “La Sirena”. In Spanish La Sirena can mean The Mermaid or The Siren. I’m the latter of the two. Quite a few people in the group have sirens on their bikes but I can do a perfect imitation of the sound. Good talent to have if you’re excited and your bike siren’s not working I guess. If you’ve been to Cuba before you may have noticed that quite a few cars have funny horn sounds (songs, whistles) which their owners often toot when they see an especially attractive female in the vicinity. David from our office in Canada once purchased  a  catcall horn here to have secretly installed on one of his PEI-friends’ vehicles when he returned home, unbeknownst to the owner. Gotta love a good prankster.Lama Riders outside Trinidad

The LAMA club’s president in Cuba, Adolfo Prieto, approached us since he had been working for several years already delivering motorcycle tours of Cuba with a Danish company. Since there was no independent motorcycle rental in Cuba, they had been sending a container of personally-owned bikes for temporary importation for their tour members, and re-exporting them upon the conclusion of their tour. Adolfo said that with Canada being the # 1 emissor of tourism to Cuba, and the Canadian shipping route being so much shorter (and direct), he couldn’t understand why noone was doing this from Canada yet. He figured that with our connections in the travel industry in Cuba, plus our geographical proximity to the Halifax port from our home base in PEI, Canada, we would be the ideal candidates to promote this kind of activity. We didn’t have to think too hard about it – we agreed that the project was exciting. We’d already had plenty of experience using container ships from Halifax to send merchandise to Cuba for our longstanding bicycle tour operation so knew this would be possible. The shipping time is usually only around 5 days and the boats depart for Havana every 2 weeks.

So with Adolfo’s assistance, we began to research all of the requirements for temporary importation in Cuba, contacted the shipping and insurance companies, plus a friend of ours who managed the local Harley dealership in Charlottetown PEI for exact dimensions of the shipping crates and other miscellaneous information, and began to put together our packages for a 2-week and a 3-week winter program. I spent some time last summer promoting the tours at the Red Island Run and the Wharf Rat Rallies in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia and while interest was high and we had several riders committed to participate, we haven’t yet rounded up the required minimum of 8-10 riders to confirm a tour date. To those who express hesitation on shipping their bike, all we can tell you is that it’s the most economical way to run this kind of program where you ride your own equipment and share shipping costs with a group of friends. The only limitation is that a travel package needs to accompany the Cuban ground handler’s support for the temporary importation process with local authorities.

A couple of months ago another Danish company did a temporary importation of 12 new Harley Davidsons intended for use as part of their escorted tour programs. We’re currently putting together a program together with them designed for the Canadian marketplace using the 2010-11 Harley Davidsons they already have in place in Cuba. While it is sure to be slightly more expensive than the group maritime shipping option, we’re plan on making both options available as we continue to explore this new marketplace.

With a personal passion for this activity, all the personal and professional connections we could hope for to be able to pull this off, all we need now are some committed riders of a similar pioneering nature to turn this dream into a reality. If you know of any, be sure to put them in contact with us. This is Abel’s pet project and his email is

Update 2019: 
-WoWCuba has experience providing packages including temporary importation, licensing + pre-booked travel services for motorcycles arriving by shipping container.
-WoWCuba has supported and co-organized the annual Harlistas Cubanos rally in Varadero, Cuba since its inception in 2012.
-WoWCuba also promotes and arranges group tours or private custom-designed motorcycle trips in Cuba using several international companies who maintain fleets and guide staff in Cuba for exploring by motorcycle. Trips range from 1/2 day excursions to multi-day and weekly touring packages. Che Guevara’s son Ernesto is a motorcycle guide and pretty fun to travel with. Adolfo Prieto immigrated to the US but returns to Cuba for tour guide work with one of the Chilean companies.  There are other European and South American companies offering guided, supported motorcycle tours using BMW’s and Harleys. Most of them use Cuban guides and foreign tour leaders.
-Independent motorcycle rental is still largely unavailable in Cuba with the exception of some 3-wheel units that are currently operating through a partnership between Ecotur and an Italian tour operator.
-Abel sold the Flathead, the Panhead, and now rides a Sporster with an electric starter. He said to heck with the kickstarter.

The Times They are A-Changing

"Cuban Coastline" These are interesting times in Cuba’s history. A couple of years ago members of different chapters of the Communist Party of Cuba from workplaces all over the country began contributing their suggestions on changes that needed to be made in Cuba’s society and economy. Until this month, the Communist Party of Cuba had not held a congress in 14 years, since the economic crisis during the “Special Period” years following the collapse of the Soviet Union was really just a period of survival and recovery. Last year the suggestions by the various party nuclei were put together into around 300 proposed changes to existing policy. Yesterday the Communist party congress concluded 4 days of debate and exchange in several different commissions that were formed to attend to these matters and came up with the text and final modifications to around 300 proposed changes to existing laws. The changes will be put to a vote in the Cuban Parliament when it convenes in July and are fully expected to be ratified.

Among the most notable of the changes for everyday Cubans will be a law which will permit the purchase and sale of property/homes between Cuban naturals. While we understand that multiple property holdings is not part of the deal, this is a big step forward and is looked upon favorably by the overwhelming majority of Cubans in Cuba. Another law will permit the sale of vehicles among Cubans. Up until now, only owners of vehicles that were purchased pre-Revolution, or those that had the coveted “traspaso”, were able to legally change the name of the ownership of their vehicle. Obtaining a newer vehicle is usually only authorized if the Cuban natural requesting the purchase has worked abroad for a certain period of time and/or can otherwise financially justify the means with which he or she is able to purchase the vehicle.

Five young Cuban men have been languishing as political prisoners in jails in the USA for the last 13 years. Last month an American, Alan Gross, was convicted in a Cuban court of illegally delivering satellite phones to Cuba and was sentenced to 15 years. Ex-president Jimmy Carter was subsequently here on a visit which many largely understand was a pretext to negotiate the release of Gross. Today on CNN the tone of the report on the Cuban 5 was distinctly softer, finally recognizing that there are 2 sides to this story and concurring with Carter that 13 years is enough already. The 5 were working to prevent terrorist acts, not commit them. Will we soon see some movement on the part of the USA to pardon any/all of the Cuban 5 in exchange for the release of Alan Gross? Time will tell. But there certainly seems to be a change in the position of the US on this issue.

The other distinct change in Cuba is that licenses that have been granted to many categories of private businesses that were previously looked down upon by the government. Private businesses will now pay a monthly tax and while there are few of these operations that will make their owners rich, they will allow them to control their own destiny. Small cafeterias and points of sale of various items have sprung up around every corner. Many will not survive – it’s the nature of competition. But the general hope is that services, quality and availability of certain products will improve as a result of the move. What remains to be worked out is the supply of goods to these vendors. A marketplace must be created where they can buy goods at wholesale to supply their operation.

In my 17 years of living in Cuba this is by far the most exciting period. I hope to share some of my experiences (past and future) in this blog and hope you all enjoy the posts.