News from Cuba – Update #5

Crocs, anyone?

The southern coast of Cuba offered us some amazing and wonderful experiences. We arrived in the village of Playa Larga, which sits at the northern end of Bahia de Cochinos, known infamously to most Americans as the Bay of Pigs. (More on that in a moment.) Playa Larga is a lovely little town that serves as the point of departure for Cienaga de Zapata, a vast and mostly undisturbed peninsula that is an established nature preserve/national park. Once again, our hosts at the Casa Particular where we stayed were extremely gracious and accommodating, so we settled in comfortably in no time. As you might expect, the village sits on a long stretch of lovely beach, fringed with cocoanut palms. Due to the wind off the Carribbean, though, along with a cold front and a fair amount of rain, it did not feel warm and tropical.

Inside a Cenote

Our (volunteer!) guide there was a gentleman named Luis Lazo Novoa, who proved to be a gold mine of information about his area, and in addition to being the mayor of sorts of this small town, also proved to have traveled extensively to environmental and community development conferences around the world. We had just one full day there, and we made the most of it.

First, we ventured way out into the nearly untracked wilderness of Cienaga de Zapata to learn about nature preservation as a component of sustainability. This park is largely wetlands (‘cienaga’ means ‘swamp’) in which innumerable waterfowl reside or stop in during migration. There we saw herons, egrets, many types of ducks, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, and most strikingly, flamingos in the wild. These huge birds are impressive even at a distance, and we had the rare opportunity to see them up close in the wild!

Our next stop was a crocodile hatchery. Here, a major and mostly unprecedented effort was begun (by Fidel, we were assured) to learn about crocodiles and develop a breeding and reintroduction system to replenish their depleted populations. None of us had ever seen so many crocodiles in one place, and you have to admit that the little ones are pretty darn cute. Several of us got to hold one of the young ones, and we were also able to interview the director of the facility.

After lunch we hiked a recently-developed nature trail designed to help increase appreciation of the natural environment. This was a loop trail that gave us a chance to learn about the native forest and the biology of the cenotes (deep, open, water-filled caverns) in the limestone of the southern coast.

The Cuban Government is Not Shy about Expressing its Views

Graham writes:
We hiked a short trail, only about 2km, through the native forest. Being a tropical region, this forest was obviously unlike from what we are used to, with totally different plant systems. There were cactuses that grew as vines among the trees, and other types of cactus that grew like trees, which we learned weren’t native but were actually introduced from Mexico. Another type of tree grew right on top of the rock, with roots snaking all over the rock to hold it in place. We saw lots of birds and some forest crabs — crabs in the forest! –thar were bright orange in color, that ran all over the place as we walked along. We were circling these huge caverns filled with crystal clear water that was very deep, but we could still see the bottom. In one there was a nest of fledgling owlets that hissed at us as we went by!

After the nature hike we stopped briefly at Playa Giron, the site where the US tried to invade Cuba in the early 1960s when the post-revolutionary nation was still very young. They have a museum there, and clearly this is a place of huge national pride. A billboard shouted something to the effect of “Giron:  The first defeat of Yankee Imperialism in Latin America!” Politics aside, it was interesting to visit a historical site that we had read about in our Cuban history and that figures prominently in the Cuban identity.

Skye writes:
Accompanying us on our day in Playa Larga was the son of our host family, Miguel Alejandro. At first we didn’t talk much, but on the way home we started communicating through his broken English and our collective broken Spanish. We found that we had a lot in common as we talked about the things young people talk about — music, sports, girls, all sorts of things. He is a fisherman like his father and after we returned he showed us his room and told us of fishing expeditions and fly fishing tournaments that he had been in. It was totally different talking with someone our own age, someone totally different who still shared a lot of values with us.

It was hard to leave Playa Larga, but Cienfuegos and Trinidad beckoned. More stories soon!

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