Sierra Maestra

March 4, 2017

The bus met us outside Camagüey’s food market and off we went towards the eastern mountains. We stopped briefly in Las Tunas for lunch and then continued through the landscape of sugar cane and cattle farms towards Bayamo. As we travelled the roads became narrower with more potholes. This took all afternoon, but finally we could see the Sierra Maestra in the distance.

Agricultural advertising, Cuban style

Agricultural advertising, Cuban style

When we reached the edge of the mountains we stopped at the village of Bartolomeo Masó. We had put a small amount of overnight requirements into a day pack and left everything else in our main packs, which would stay with the bus tonight. We, on the other hand, would be whisked into the mountains in jeeps.

Our jeeps

Our jeeps

Well, “jeeps” is what our tour information said. They actually turned out to be vans, brand-new Korean nine-passenger vans! It took about 20 minutes to reach Santo Domingo, our home for the night. At our hotel we were greeted with Cuba Libres and then assigned our rooms. Each room turned out to be a little cabin. Really very nice!

Our cabins

Our cabins

After settling in we walked down to the river, where the water level was really low. However there were numerous Cattle Egrets there and also one Snowy Egret. We went down a path to the river’s edge and found a Spotted Sandpiper and a possible Green Heron, although it flew away too quickly for us to be sure. And just up the river we spotted a Kingfisher. But it was quickly getting dark so we headed back to our little cabin.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Dinner tonight was probably our worst so far. Very bland and uninspiring, right down to the canned fruit cocktail for dessert. Paul’s main meal was “tuna”, which was just what it said: a can of tuna, fortunately sans can. Rosemary had pork steak, which became slightly more tasty when dipped in mustard. And we all had boiled bananas, which just weren’t good at all.

Our bathroom lizard

Our bathroom lizard

March 5, 2017

Today was our day to hike to Fidel’s rebel camp. So after breakfast we all squeezed into the “jeeps” and were driven up what they said was the “steepest road in Cuba” to Alto de Naranjo. Here we met our local guide, Jorge, who would lead us to La Comandancia de la Plata, which was where Fidel Castro and his small group of rebels hid out back in 1956.

Sierra Maestra forest

Sierra Maestra forest

Northern (Cuban) Flicker

Northern (Cuban) Flicker

The trail started out through a lovely pine forest and then switched to cloud forest. Jorge was very knowledgeable about both bird and plant life; his English was also really good considering that he was self-taught. It was a fairly easy walk, but it was lucky the weather was dry or it could have been slippery. At the halfway point we arrived at a farming homestead whose residents had helped the rebels hide from Batista’s army. Here we paid 5 CUC for a permit so that Rosemary could take photos while at the mountain hideaway.

Rest area at the farmhouse

Rest area at the farmhouse

From the farm the trail continued downhill for a bit and then we started to climb. The first building we came to was a guard post. Jorge explained the layout of the camp, and then we climbed up to an open grassy area. Castro purposely cleared the trees from this area to simulate a farm, so that Batista’s army wouldn’t target it. The ploy worked because no bombs were dropped in the area.

Guard post

Guard post

Just above here there was a newer building which housed a museum. In it there was an old movie projector, a sewing machine, a typewriter, and other 1950’s artifacts. There was also a 3-D map showing the trails and rebel buildings. Not far away was the house that Castro first used, which later became a hospital and then a storage building. It was here that we finally got to see a Great Lizard Cuckoo. Jorge had seen a pair in the trees, and using his phone to produce a bird call he flushed them out so we could see them in flight.

Museum exhibit: letter from Fidel

Museum exhibit: letter from Fidel

We then climbed a short distance to see that house that Castro lived in, complete with his double bed and a large propane refrigerator. It was quite amazing to see this mountain hideout, still intact after all these years.

Fidel’s house

Fidel’s house

On the way back we stopped at the farmhouse, where we were served a banana and a cup of tea. From there it wasn’t far back to the trailhead. We had heard a pygmy owl on the walk, so near the end Rosemary asked Jorge if he could call one. So he played the call on his phone and, sure enough, one flew in and perched in a tree for us!

Cuban Pygmy Owl

Cuban Pygmy Owl

Then the jeeps took us back down to Santo Domingo, where we had showers and lunch. But much to Rosemary’s dismay there was a tick starting to embed itself on her waist! Luckily we had tweezers with us, and after a few attempts she managed to get it out intact. Lunch was uninspiring, as expected, and after lunch the jeeps took us down to Bartolomeo Masó, where we met up with our trusty bus.

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