Dinner with the Masseys | SteamboatToday.com

Dinner with the Masseys

12 ways to visit Cuba legally

Family visits

Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations

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Professional research and professional meetings

Educational activities

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Support for the Cuban people

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Hemingway Marina Thai Curry in a Hurry

This dish can be made in one pan, so cleanup is easy. The sauce is thin and flavorful but can be made with full-fat coconut milk if you want a richer dish.

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 cups cauliflower flowerets

1 cup julienned carrots

1 (14-ounce) can lite coconut milk

1 cup frozen peas

1 (14-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained

2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste

1 tablespoon soy or tamari sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce, if desired

1/4 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce, or to taste

2 cups cooked brown rice

lime

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add cauliflower and carrots, cooking until the vegetables start to soften and turn brown. Add Thai curry paste to the pan and sauté for one minute to develop its flavor. Add coconut milk, peas, garbanzo beans, soy sauce and fish sauce to sauce. Turn heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve over rice or other cooked grain with a squeeze of lime juice.

Recipe by Karen Massey, lifeintheboat.com

A two-wheel cultural exchange

For 200 miles in April, Bob Struble navigated the pot holes and rice-lined streets of the Cuban countryside.

In recent years, Struble, Routt County’s retired emergency management director, has been taking multi-day cycling trip with friends around the world.

Struble discovered a United States-based company called Cuba Unbound, which recently began offering bike tours for the purpose of cultural exchange. Their route took them through the central park of the country, which spans 780 miles.

“I’ve alway been interested in Cuba,” said Struble, who did the nine-day trip with his significant other Laurie Wren.

When it came time for the group to decide where to go this year, Struble said it was pretty much unanimous. Cuba.

The trip started and ended in Havana with a loop through the interior of the country. The group was accompanied by two Spanish-speaking American guides as well as a Cuban guide who worked for the government.

They shared the road with carts pulled by horses and oxen used to work the farmland.

Along the bike route, farmers had spread their rice harvest to dry along miles of road.

“For me the highlight of the trip was when we went though these small little towns,” Struble said.

This was not just a vacation where you kick back.

In addition to the miles on the bike, the schedule was packed with meetings with community groups and schools.

The children would run out of the schools and welcome them.

“They were very happy and wanted to share their story,” Struble said. “I think they were curious. I think they really wanted to know about America.”

Wahoo fishing (and chasing Hemingway) in Cuba

Trolling a fishing line deep in the Atlantic off the Cuba coast, Steamboat Springs Realtor Cam Boyd couldn’t help but feel a hint of Hemingway this past fall, even if Boyd was chasing wahoo instead of marlin.

“My old college roommate invite me to compete in a fishing tournament over there,” says Boyd, a relative novice at competitive deep sea fishing. “It was a pretty unique opportunity.”

So he found himself crossing the Straits of Florida on a 36-foot, open, sport fishing boat, with four custom 300-horsepower engines that topped 60 mph. Even that, however, wasn’t enough to prevent the 1.5-hour crossing from becoming a seven-hour, seasick-filled sufferfest caused by 15-foot seas.

“At one point, a wave crashed over the bow, shattering the windshield and filling the hull with a foot of water,” Boyd says. “It was a pretty rough trip.”

Stomachs settled, they finally arrived at Marina Hemingway in Havana, where the three-day fishing tournament began for wahoo, a sportfish that can swim up to 60 mph and reach 100 pounds.

“But it was rough, too,” says Boyd. “The seas were about 12 feet, we were continually drenched, and the fishing wasn’t all that good. But we ended up winning the tournament.”

From there, it was on to Cuba’s more traditional attractions, like driving around in vintage 1950s-era automobiles, exploring Havana, dancing the Mambo and visiting the home of Hemingway, who lived there for nearly 20 years, prompting “The Old Man and the Sea.”

“Hemingway’s still a big deal down there,” Boyd says. “There are photos of him all over. But I think he caught a few more marlins than we did wahoo.”

— Any dinner with the Massey family would be a treat, but this was a special night on their sailboat docked at Marina Hemingway in the once-forbidden country of Cuba.

"It's 90 miles off our coast, but in our minds it's worlds away," said Dean Massey, a retired Soroco High School teacher who moved to Steamboat Springs after raising twin boys with his wife Karen while sailing in the Mediterranean.

Myself and a journalism colleague set out for Cuba with the hopes of finding stories relevant and interesting to Routt County residents. With $142 plane tickets and a two-bedroom apartment along the Gulf of Mexico booked for $60 per night, it was a cheap trip.

I last visited Cuba in 2009 at the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency and wanted to see how it had changed. This was Scott Franz's first experience in the country.

It was fortunate that our trip overlapped with the Massey's, and we made plans to meet.

Once we arrived April 6 in Havana, communicating with the family proved difficult.

The delivery of text messages was delayed for hours. We discovered it was one of many quirks encountered when traveling in a Communist-run country where infrastructure has crumbled, partly due to a United States trade embargo. It was not until 2008 that Cubans were allowed to own cell phones.

On the day of our our arrival with the light fading, we finally got the text message saying the Masseys were at their boat and eager to talk about their experience.

Our taxi driver picked us up near the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba in his 1952 Dodge. With no seatbelts and the windows rolled down, he drove us 10 miles west to the marina drowning out the roaring engine noise with music from Buena Vista Social Club.

The entrance to the marina was gated with security guards who did not view two Americans as a threat.

The marina was immense, with many more boats than we expected.

We got dropped off and walked straight past the marina store as well as the boat we were told to look for.

Multi-million dollar luxury yachts joined the more modest boats. One vessel were less than seaworthy and looked abandoned.

Eventually, after using some broken spanish and some hand signals, a security guard gave us directions to the 45-foot-long Catamaran named Snowcat II with a Colorado flag weathered by thousands of miles at sea.

With the sun setting, Karen and Dean and their 24-year-old twin sons Jack and Ben served us Cuban rum drinks and dishes of boatmade curry.

"We're always in a discussion about food. It's just her deal," Dean said referring to his wife, a dietician who works for Colorado State University as director of the Routt County Extension Office.

Americans arrive

Cuban Roberto Alfonso González did not hesitate to answer when asked if he would like to visit the United States.

"In my dreams," the young taxi driver said with his arm around his girlfriend sitting in the middle seat.

Miami, New York City and Las Vegas are on his list of places to see, and González also wants to visit Tennessee because that's where his favorite whiskey — Jack Daniel's — is made. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., is also on his imagined itinerary.

"He was a great man," González said.

Traveling outside the country is nearly impossible for González and other Cubans. According to a survey by The Boston Consulting Group, half of Cuba's citizens have an annual household income of between $300 and $400.

Instead, Cubans live out their dreams of visiting the United States through conversations they have with the Americans flocking to their country.

"You like our people, we like you people too," González said.

In March 2016, President Barack Obama began lifting travel restrictions that made it possible for Cuban family members and other Americans like the Masseys to visit Cuba legally.

Airlines recognized the opportunity, and there are now about 20 daily direct commercial flights from the United States to Havana, according to the Cuba Journal travel publication. Another 20 planes leave the United States daily for other destinations inside Cuba.

It is estimated 140,000 Americans planned to visit Cuba in 2016, up from 40,500 in 2007, according to ABC News and the Cuba National Office of Statistics.

The 90-mile journey

The Massey family has been tempted to visit Cuba before.

While the Masseys were anchored at the Dry Tortuga islands near the tip of Key West, Florida, in 2005, they heard the cheers of eight Cuban refugees who had escaped their country and made landfall in the United States.

The Masseys then discovered the rickety boat the Cubans had used for the 90-mile crossing, still filled with water jugs and other supplies.

"Resilient people from a nearby country that we could only fantasize about," Karen said.

The Masseys then found themselves within sight of the island while sailing to Honduras.

"Then, you couldn't go to Cuba," Dean said. "We were in Cuban waters about six miles offshore. We were just like 'We would love to,' but we couldn't take the risk. It was the forbidden. You haven't been there. You want to go."

This year the Masseys got their chance.

On March 30, the Masseys traveled legally and joined 50 other boats in Key West for their 16-hour trip to Havana.

They took turns keeping watch while sailing through the night.

"There is nothing more peaceful than being on a sailboat in absolutely pitch black," Karen said.

It was a choppy ride with the wind going against the Gulf Stream, but the Masseys have more than 15,000 hours of sailing experience, which included a 16-day trip across the Atlantic in 2002.

Ben and Jack were homeschooled on the boat from third to sixth grades during their four years on the water.

"It was good having a twin," Jack said. "It was alway nice seeing other boats with kids."

Holidays and other events were celebrated on the water.

"When they went trick or treating, they went boat to boat," Karen said.

Nights on the boat with the boys were spent wrapped in a blanket, drinking hot chocolate, eating candy and reading Emily Dickinson.

"Those were special times indeed," Karen wrote on her blog lifeintheboat.com.

The Masseys sold their first boat named Snowcat and moved to Steamboat in 2005.

It was not until Cuba that her entire family was on the boat together again.

Once arriving at Marina Hemingway, the Masseys learned Cuba has strict controls in place.

"You wouldn't believe how many people came onto our boat," Karen said.

A nurse came to take their temperatures. Agriculture officials inspected their produce, but that is not all they wanted.

"He said, 'What else do you have for me?'" Karen said. "I thought he wanted my food, and he just wanted money, and I gave him $5. He said I was prepared."

The Cuba trip was organized by Cruising World's Expedition and Rally, and it included the Parade of Vessels, a display of the 50 boats in Havana's harbor.

On land, the Masseys took in the usual sites like the Revolution Museum, Ernest Hemingway’s house and the Havana Club rum factory.

Near the end of our dinner, Karen brought out a plate of sliced pineapple, prompting another discussion about food and impressions of the country.

The Masseys were given the pineapple after buying a $3 piña colada earlier that day.

"They have a whole bunch of a few things," Dean said.

In the countryside, the Masseys explored Vinalles, where they discovered rock climbing is on the mountainsides and tobacco is grown in the valley.

"It's disappointing that all of the local agriculture efforts are focused on tobacco and sugarcane," Karen said.

Produce is not as bountiful or attainable for the Cuban people and restaurants, and diets are heavy on rice and beans.

"Unless it's in season and given in their rations, they don't eat it," Karen said. "The best Cuban food is probably in Miami at this point."

With their food supply shrinking, it was time for the Masseys to set sail for home, and for us to continue exploring with a stop at the marina bar.

Dean was going to spend the next day preparing for their overnight departure and the 30-hour trip to Florida, giving the family time to think about their next journey to Cuba.

"There will be a next time," Karen said. "This is a wonderful country."

The Masseys were curious to hear about our trip once we returned and my thoughts on how the country has already changed since 2009.

Changing perspectives

The historic areas of Havana have changed. A lot, and it is going to be very different in another eight years.

Most noticeable was the number of Americans now exploring the city.

I only met two other Americans during my first trip. They spoke very timidly, quietly revealing their nationality because they had traveled to the country illegally.

Myself and my travel companion at the time understood their concerns.

Even though Cubans were excited to talk to Americans, they did so carefully and kept looking around to see if anyone was watching them.

At times, it did feel like people working for the government were spying on us.

There is no need to keep our citizenship a secret any more.

The influx of Americans is not necessarily a bad thing, but the Cubans have grown accustomed.

If you look as American as we do, you constantly will be bombarded by taxi drivers in the more touristy areas asking if you want a ride.

It is no longer as easy to get a genuine, candid photo of the Cubans sitting in their doorways or playing dominoes in the park.

They will likely expect a tip.

The food has not changed much.

Do not be surprised if you order a burrito, and you get a ham and cheese sandwich instead. It is all they have.

Also of note are the massive hotels that are rising from areas that used to have those run-down buildings that make Havana, Havana.

There is substantial foreign investment coming into Havana.

The Chinese are helping build a 600-room hotel at the Marina. There is even a Sheraton here now.

One thing that has not changed is the friendly hospitality and of the Cuban people.

Cubans like to practice their English, and they love to meet Americans and joke around.

Tipping your cab driver just a couple bucks means a lot, but do not give away your only pair of sunglasses. It took two days of searching to find new ones.

Visiting a country for the first time is always an adventure, especially a Communist one like Cuba that has been so impacted in that past 50 years by American policy.

Like they Masseys, I'll be back. So will a lot of other people.

Visiting Cuba for a second time was just as satisfying, and I am hopeful that next time I go, I'll meet a taxi driver like González who was able to fulfill his dreams of drinking Jack Daniels whiskey in Tennessee.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland