Ferry Fare Collector


Didn’t we learn a thing?  Not only did we get conned once today with our BiCi excursion (see Blog 18A); no, twice!  But wait.  Not all conning turns out to be bad.

It was hot, the ferry was late, and we were early.  We were happy to meet one of the locals at the dock who spoke a bit of English.  Celi and he hit it off.  He told us about the schedule — no sign, of course.  Information, as always, was scarce.  People just know…   He explained the various stops on the way, and on the ferry deck — being one of the first guys up there, he kept two of the best seats for us until we had scrambled through the masses.  In one word, he was a cool guy.  Midway, of the 1+ hour ride, he asked if we were hungry and interested in eating a great fish meal.  The way he described the restaurant, the fresh fish, the cooking, it was mouth-watering.  Eventually, we had to eat.  Why not where he suggested?

He was so charming and engaging, that we actually missed the stop for the Castillo de San Pedro del Morro, the point of our excursion!  Instead we found ourselves on the tiny island Caye Granma.  Our self-appointed guide assured us that later ferries would take us back to the Castillo.  For now, we could relax and look forward to a delicious afternoon fish meal.  He led us past several good-looking restaurants citing one or the other excuse why that should not be the place for our meal:  This one is bad, that one only for groups.  There is no such thing as “only for groups”.  At the latest now, we realized that he was a jinetero (one of those skillful “hustlers”) working for a commission at a particular restaurant.  Just figure this:  For about 2.5 cents he rides the ferry back and forth every day picking up customers.  If he gets only 1 CUC per person, picking up two people (like us) every day, he will make about as much in a month as a doctor.  Not a bad job at all.

Picture our surprise when we found ourselves at a beautiful roof-top terrace, family-owned restaurant, overlooking the bay of Santiago with just about every (!) other foreigner who had taken the ferry.  These people know how to drum up business.  My hat is off to them.  We indeed had a most delicious fish meal accompanied by a couple of drinks.  Business was booming.   Service was slow.  Soon the entire tourist crowd was engaging in travel stories.  We had fun, and who is in a hurry?  But we were the only ones who also had come for the Castillo.  All the others were just there for the boat ride and the meal.  Eventually, we had to move on; the evening was looming. 

I admit that at first I was a bit miffed when I realized that our “friend” had made us miss the castle ferry stop.  But thankfully, I had read all of my guidebooks that morning, and knew that the castle was open late, and that a special cannon ceremony would be held at sunset.  That now was our goal. 

The ferry came promptly and dropped us off at the right shore.  Most people come to the castle by car as the ferry stop is a hot, sunny, 4-km upward walk from the castle.  But at the restaurant, one traveler had told us about a short cut.  Miraculously, we found it and reached the castle in less than 45 minutes.  The sun was setting, the canonaza ceremony would happen!  Soldiers dressed in white period-style uniforms marched in, and took the flag down that waved at the high point of the castle.  Then they stuffed the cannon with …  flammables?  Definitely not a cannon ball.  Whatever they did took an excruciating 20 minutes.  But then, BOOM!   Even though we saw it coming, the noise was loud.  Wow.  What fun.  This ceremony goes back to the construction of the castle in the 17th century and signals the sealing of the harbor for the night.  We could not have come at a better time.  The castle glowed golden at this time of the day and the sunset was truly spectacular.  Thanks, jinetero, for making this a perfect day.

There was no more bus, but we were able to fetch a taxi.  I had already prepared to hitchhike or to walk if need be.  Thankfully, we were spared that challenge.  This was a long, eventful day.  Time to go home.

Good night.