The boys were restless on Saturday morning, milling about in the lobby of the Hotel Victoria waiting for someone to make a first move. I stepped off of the elevator and realized it was a mask only zone. The only face covering that I could find in my bag had a broken ear strap so I dug deeper for a buff (buffs are worn by guides and fisherman in hot climates to protect the face from extreme sun and wind).
Once properly covered my hunt for coffee was on, we’d been told that there was breakfast included in the room charge but the angling crew didn’t seem to be concerned and our bus was expected at any moment. Luckily Victoria’s bar was in service and the man behind the stick pulled a strong coffee from the espresso machine in the corner. I nibbled on my stash of crackers on the bus for breakfast, offering to share them with my new friend Mike Nelson, a seasoned Permit angler from Bozeman, Montana. Chatting with Mike helped me frame the experience that I was quickly realizing, this fishing trip was not like any other. I was traveling with some of the most experienced saltwater fly fishermen in the world. Mike had once been a guide in Argentina and after a successful career as an entrepreneur carried his enthusiasm for fishing to the salt focusing specifically on one species, Permit.
A small thatched roadside hut called Para Ti allowed the crew a chance to stretch, use the restrooms and enjoy a beverage. I ordered Cuban coffee and was amused by the stick of sugar cane that came along with the small cup. It was used to stir in sugar, then I chewed it’s sweet goodness for several minutes. Par Ti provided the intense flavor I was looking for, celebrating a rich cream head and caffeine hit that this country’s coffee is famous for.
As we drove through the Cuban countryside I noticed the occasional vendor on the side of the highway. One guy had a collection of garlic strings hanging from a tree in the sun, further down the road another fellow sat next to a table covered with pineapple and papaya. There were very few cars, as we approached the town of Zapata the neighborhood’s quietness struck me as strange. Cuba rises slowly on Saturday.
As our bus pulled into the marina at around 10am we were greeted by a man in a white tee shirt with a blue tarpon logo on the hip and an Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers logo on the chest. He pointed to a ramp that led to a boat, we boarded, walked around the cabin and found ourselves stepping on a second boat boarding the mothership that we’d spend the next 6 days on.
After a short introduction to the staff we settled into our cabins, mine was #4. The 12×8 foot room featured 2 beds and a private shower with a sink and head. Since I’d expected to spend the week sharing a bunk with Simbo, cabin #4 was a welcome surprise.
By 1pm the ship was moving out of port and we were under way. At lunch, our Avalon hostesses Melkie and Amarilis explained the protocol for meals, making sure to point out how lunches would be presented in the days to come. While we ate at the table on day one, our future lunches would be presented for each angler to arrange a box from a buffet, always offering rice, chicken, fish salads, vegetable salads and a variety of fruits.
The cruise to our first mooring took about 6 hours. We arrived just in time to experience a brilliant sunset and dinner. The chef came out of his kitchen to greet us. His fare was organized with 4 vegetable options on the top bar and a lower bar offering pork, chicken, fish and pasta.