Category Archives: cuban beaches

Wild Camping in Cuba – Part I

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The last time I planted tent poles, it was within pistol shot of the crumpled Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince, March 2010. At 33 nights, it was the longest I’d spent in a tent. Given the wretched situation and endless cavalcade of sick and hungry Haitians seeking succor from the Cuban medical brigade I was covering, it was, (it goes without saying), the most taxing tent time of my life.

But a few months on, I was ready for the swelter of the carpa and clouds of (malaria-free) mosquitoes. Even the dicey baño scenarios didn’t deter. Besides, a camping vacation was the only kind our budget could handle.

Our target was the Bay of Pigs (see note 1). The snorkeling was good, the fishing promising, and the beaches we found on our 2003 island-wide adventure, camper-friendly. But in one of those travel mystery moments, as vague and insistent as a nostalgic scent or voice carried on a breeze that you can’t be sure isn’t just the wind in the leaves, we changed course. Which is how we ended up under a bridge.

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As sick as it sounds (and probably is), the plastic tarp and stick structures huddled under the bridges reminded me of Port-au-Prince. The more fortunate had two-person tents and a thatch-screened area for pissing and more demanding duties. Families 15-strong cordoned off their slice of beneath-the-bridge beach using old rope, freshly-cut palm fronds and whatever else was on hand. Their dogs prowled the periphery, their bunches of plátano hung out of reach. Side by side like cubes in an ice tray, kids tucked into mosquito net cubicles rigged by red eyed fathers in knee-high gumboots. As the little ones slept, bonfires blazed and chispa burned throats. Cooking, bathing, dishwashing and other necessities of life were carried out in broad daylight. Children frolicked. Women worked. Men played dominoes. It felt awfully familiar.

We kept exploring. Every few kilometers there was another river carving its path onto the beach and feeding into the sea. Each river was spanned by a bridge. They had evocative, indigenous names that filled my mouth with marbles: Yaguanabo, Cabagan, Guanayara. Then we pulled down into Río Hondo. Claims had been clearly staked at the far side of the beach nearest the deep, green river and by the looks of it, the campamento there was hosting a family reunion of forty. Already I could feel the reggaetón and general bulla rattling my bones and grating my nerves.

We kept on exploring.

Our pocket was tucked away at the other end of Río Hondo’s sandy expanse, where the bridge curved over and away like a mulatta out of your league. Almond and seagrape trees provided shade for weathering Cuba’s brutal summer sun and we could easily improvise bathroom facilities where they thickened back from the beach; the tumble of sea stones that made up the shore gave way to a sandy, shaded patch for our tent; and our closest neighbors were 300 meters down the beach.

The site was, I dare say, perfect.

To be continued…..

Notes

1. You almost never hear ‘Bahia de Cochinos’ in Cuba, which just goes to show you how far apart the thinking is between here and there. Forget coming to terms on human rights issues, immigration, or sovereign state concepts: the two sides of the Straits are even at etymological odds, having different terms for the embargo (know as the bloqueo here and occasionally as genocidio, which I have a small conceptual problem with), the Spanish American War (called the Guerra Hispano-Cubano-Americano here which makes eminent sense: the Cubans, after all, played a pivotal, indispensable part), and the Bay of Pigs (here referred to as Playa Girón).

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Filed under Americans in cuba, cuban beaches, environment, Here is Haiti, Travel to Cuba

Things I Don’t Love about Cuba

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Just back from a week camping on a remote beach as part of the Cuban sea turtle monitoring project, I’ve got nothing to complain about. That’s a lie – lend me your ear and I’ll complain long and hard about the heinous mosquito and sand flea bites blanketing my body (the giant beach roach in my hair was also fodder for a gripe or three).

We saw it all on that white sand beach flanked by woods and cliffs under a fat, full moon: sharks, iguanas, deer, a croc cruising an inland lake, fat jutia perfect for the spit (see note 1), wild pigs and cows, translucent frogs, snakes, bats, and birds too numerous to mention. What we didn’t see, unfortunately, were turtles; seems this is a slow year in Guanahacabibes, the wild peninsula at Cuba’s western extreme. Instead we had to live vicariously through the project’s director and her tales of seasons past when scores of green and loggerhead turtles rumbled up on the beaches here to bury their eggs in the sand. Despite the no-shows, I relish being able to make dreams of mine like this come true here.

You may remember a while back I wrote about Things I Love about Cuba and Things I Miss about the USA. Today, as I try not to melt down in another unbearably hot summer afternoon here in Havana, I thought it time to get some stuff of my chest – things particular to this place that take some getting used to (and others that I’ll probably never quite groove to).

– Weekly public health inspections of your home, combined with obligatory in-home fumigations (see note 2)

– A daily newspaper only 6 pages long (and even fewer diverging opinions!)

– Incessant, sometimes inflammatory, gossip

– Being a big (or at least medium) fish in a small pond (see note 3)

– Really fat ladies in Lycra, rivaled by rolls of back fat

– Lack of public bathrooms at beaches leading to (you guessed it!) water-borne turds

– Good-natured shouting – anytime, anywhere

– Going regularly without toilet paper (see note 4)

– Smoking in hospitals

– Men and women of all ages speaking openly about menstrual cycles, maxi pads, Tampax, and flow

– Reggaeton and other intolerable music (see note 5)

– Amoebas in the water and the occasional bout with giardia

– Electric showers that surprise you with a nasty shock every once in a while (in other latitudes these showerhead-mounted apparatus are known as ‘widow makers’)

– THE HEAT

Notes

 1. The jutia is what can safely be called Cuba’s RUS (rodent of unusual size – these suckers can reach up to 15 pounds!). They’re cute, but make good eating; at least one upscale private restaurant in Havana serves up a nice jutia in almond sauce. 

 2. Although these can be a royal nuisance, they are largely what helps keep dengue at bay here.

 3. Being a native New Yorker, I’m infinitely more comfortable with the small fish, big pond arrangement.

 4. I’ve become quite used to this actually thanks to three experience-honed strategies: carry a few spare squares; water rinse; and snatches of above mentioned 6-page newspaper.

 5. Reggaeton – love it or hate it

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Filed under Americans in cuba, cuban beaches, environment, Living Abroad