I cried when we left Cuba. I had to! Well, if I wanted to leave, that is.
Immigration always makes me nervous, no matter how many times I cross a border I invariably tense when dealing with the shifty border officials. You never know what hoops they will make the foreigner jump through or what taxes, bribes, or fines they will expect you to pay. Or if they are just in a bad mood or are bored what power trip they will try and pull. Crossing the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa the South African border guards made us wait 24-hours and then threatened to make our bus wait another 24-hours before they would let us in the country. Border guards have absolute power and you know what they say about absolute power.
Now I understand entry formalities, countries don’t want bugs coming in on foreign food. They need to make sure no one is bringing drugs, weapons, or anything from a long list of banned items that a country might quarantine. But exiting is usually a breeze. Especially in a yacht. The United States, the Bahamas, and many other countries don’t even need you to get an exit stamp! Cuba on the other hand is quite different.
It was raining our departure day. A miserable drizzle that soaked everything. It had been interesting to visit Cuba but I was more than ready to get on to Panama. The longer we were there the more I realized it: Cuba is decidedly not a country for cruisers. At least not cruisers who don’t like getting stuck in red tape.
We finished a last-minute provisioning before heading out and waited for the dock master to check us out.
He showed up right on time, he brought a massive entourage with him. I gaped as a formidable gentleman, clearly in charge, two women, and a man with a large German shepherd in tow, all filed onto Umineko. Suddenly the spacious saloon seemed cramped.
The dock master explained to us in his limited English, that the gentleman with an air of authority was the customs officer. He needed to check our boat to see if we were taking anything out of the country that we shouldn’t.
What not to take leaving the country? I was confused. I was more baffled when the dog was led on a once-over of the boat. Looking for drugs, the dock master explained. Apparently Cuba wants to keep their drugs within the borders.
The customs stepped up next. Peering at me over his bushy grey moustache. When he asked if we had anyone on board who hadn’t been on board when we had arrived I understood. He was checking for stow-aways or people trying to escape.
No, I told him, just us.
Had we bought any Tobacco during our stay? He asked next.
No, I told him… my heart raced. I didn’t have a receipt for the expensive cigars I had gotten.
Had we bought any art?
Art? Well, I couldn’t really lie about that given one of my fellow crew members had the numerous paintings he had bought hanging all over his room to prevent the fresh paint from sticking.
I led him around the boat him looking in every cabinet, nook and cranny for anything we shouldn’t be taking out of the country. Then he got to Mori San’s berth, practically wallpapered with paintings he had bought on the streets of Havana.
The officer told me he needed to see the receipt. A game of telephone-translation between Mori San who only spoke Japanese and the officer who was limited to Spanish ensued. We didn’t have receipts because the paintings had been bought on the street.
The officer was not pleased with that answer. We couldn’t take the paintings out of the country without the receipts, he insisted. At once it made sense. Cuba was a communist country: the artwork the painter produces doesn’t belong to the painter. It belongs to the government. Buying a painting directly from the painter was essentially stealing from the government. But how could I explain that?
The officer was getting annoyed with me, the crew and captain were frustrated with me. I continued showing the officer the Port hull, apologizing and allowing myself get increasingly upset. By the time we reached my berth, tears were welling up in my eyes.
He sat me down on my bed and explained to me that he knew it wasn’t my fault. He would let it go. This once. But he could get in a lot of trouble for what he was doing.
I don’t know if he wanted a bribe. After he told me that we could go I did my best not to look at him. I never found out why the women were there, nor did I want to ask anything. I just wanted to leave before they found an excuse to keep us.
After the unexpected exit stress I was all for cooking a simple dinner. One of my favorite cruising vegetables is kale. It lasts weeks and weeks without showing its age, and doesn’t bruise or squish easily either. Better yet it’s packed full of vitamins and minerals. Some people like to eat it raw but I’m not quite so hardcore. I prefer to steam it.
But steamed kale can be a little boring. Just little splash of kombu soup stock can transform it into one of the most delicious things imaginable.
Kombu dashi is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is a soup stock made out of seaweed. Though it is generally sold as powder, you can also buy it in little bottles. Powdered dashi is great to throw in miso soup, or other recipes. However, I really do like bottled kombu soup stock better especially when using as the main flavor in a dish.
Captain’s Kombu Kale
- 4 c chopped kale leaves, stems removed
- ¼ c kombu soup stock
- Chop leaves into bite-sized portions.
- Cook large pot with ½” of water at the bottom
- Drain and toss with kombu soup stock