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gunahabibicanes peninsula

I finally reach the Gunahabibicanes Peninsula and head straight for the National Park Ecological Station for information.

The station manager opens our exchange by offering to buy my bike. I explain that without a bike my life wouldn’t actually function and that it wasn’t really just a bike but also my companion and friend. He looks at me searchingly and then nods, in apparent comprehension.

The inevitable question.

“Where are you from?”

When he learns I am, originally, from Australia the man bustles me into a air-conditioned room filled, unexpectedly, with brand new sleek black electronic equipment to watch a DVD about an environmental programme he is running which features images of Sydney, where a similar campaign took place. We settle in to watch the film but the previously unnoticed background rumble of a generator suddenly dies and a plaintive beeping starts up from the bank of electronic equipment. The man jumps up and glares balefully out the window at a man walking away from a ramshackle shed in a field across the road. He apologises and turns off the computer.

“This is the third time I’ve tried to watch it,” he says sadly.

We return to the room across the hallway and he shows me images of the local wildlife and asks me about my trip. When he learns that I have an interest in photography he guides me back into the other room to show me the framed photos he and his workmates have taken of the Peninsula’s fauna which adorn the walls. I question him about what kind of camera he uses.

“I had a Cannon. It was a gift… but I sold it.”

He sighs.

“Life is very expensive.”

We talk more about what the park offers and where I might be able to camp and how to organise meals. He invites me to take part in any walks or excursions with any other tourists that might organise a tour with a guide and then he questions me again about Australia.

“I would love to go to Australia.”

He pauses.

“I was invited to go to Queensland last year,” he tells me.

“Did you go?”

It is a question that I know I probably shouldn’t ask – that I already know the inevitable answer to.

He sighs, again.

“No… Life is difficult.”

We bid each other goodbye and I cycle the twenty kilometres or so to the end of the road towards the east of the bay and then backtrack to the most attractive camp site where, after a brief exploration of the limpid blue waters with my snorkel, I light a fire and cook a meal from the food stash in my panniers.

The Caribbean blues on the Gunahabibicanes Peninsula.

Close to my campsite, yet another Che memorial. It is hard not to love Che; studying a book of photos of him at the airport I discover the ubiquitous photo of his stern face is almost the only one of him that exists where he is not smiling or laughing.

In the morning, after a leisurely breakfast on the beach, I return to the ecological station to talk to my new friend. He tells me some tourists have booked a tour in the afternoon and I can join them if I want and directs me in the meantime on a short walk through the forest behind the Ecological Station.

Trees grow out of an astonishing jagged bed of rocks, inhabited by swarms of large brightly painted crabs. The day is grey and blustery and soon it starts to rain. I shelter under a tree lost in my thoughts when I hear a gentle croak above – glancing around a spy a blue bird, splashed with red and white, with a long ruffled tail, also sheltering from the rain. The bird rearranges its feathers and flaps its wings to display its bright red underside to me before flying to another branch a little further away. We examine each other at length before I turn back and return the way I came. As I walk along the path large brown birds thrash about the forest with unrestrained cries.

Cuba's most prolific wildlife is a multitude of land crabs.

Bird filled forest.

At the station, my friend jumps up from his work to greet me. He tells me the names of the birds I have seen – the Cuban trogon and the Great Lizard Mockingbird – and gives an astonishing accurate rendition of their cries. I examine his bird book and he apologises for not being able to give it to me.

The group, unfortunately, have cancelled their tour because of the rain, he informs me. A mini tropical storm is heading our way and so the weather is going to continue to deteriorate over the afternoon.

I am disappointed that my guided tour has suddenly evaporated – it is not permitted to walk in the park without a guide and I would feel bad to ignore the rules since this man has been so generous to me – but my friend tells me that groups of biology students are camped on various beach towards the west end of the cape conducting a survey of nesting turtles and I could, if I wished, camp with them and see their work.

As I set off on this venture, rain pours down accompanied by fierce winds but I find the conditions quite invigorating after days of intense humid heat and the weather suits the wild terrain of the coast.

Austere landscape...

... and wild coast goes well with wild, windy weather.

After a couple of hours, I come to a camp on the beach close to the road and wheel my bike across the sand to investigate. The two young men standing in an open sided thatched shelter are surprised by my appearance. A bundled form recumbent in a hammock suggests a third inhabitant of the camp.

I ask if I can stay but the boys are wary, muttering non-committal nothings and defer ultimate decision making to the sleeping form. I mention the man at the Ecological Station’s name but it seems to mean nothing to them. However, they invite me to sit down, referring to the inclement weather, and offer me a cracker adorned with the surprising combination of guava paste and mayonnaise. An old man, toothless and gnarled, who has lived on the beach for 15 years in a nearby small thatched shelter, comes by to examine the unexpected guest. Eventually, the girl in the hammock arises and again I ask if I can stay.

“If you would like to….,” she says uncertainly.

That’s good enough for me.

I put up my tent next to one that lies collapsed on the ground which the three young people then tend to. Accommodation sorted, we all return to the shelter where we pass the rest of the afternoon playing dominoes.

Biology students studying turtles pass the day sleeping and playing dominoes.

I am initiated into the game - the concept is simple but it helps to have a good memory, not something I am particularly blessed with. I have a surprising run of wins but I think I am aided more by good luck than skill.

As dusk falls I take a nap to prepare for a night of scouring the beach for turtles and wake to a meal of rice and canned meat waiting for me. My contribution of Quaker museli bars for desert is carefully perused and commented upon.

“Where did you buy these?”

“Mexico.”

They are impressed and their thanks are embarrassingly earnest.

After dinner the girl examines my hands and gets out a primitive first aid kit to scrub out my infected cuts with alcohol and dress them with ragged bits of gauze and tape. One of the boys wraps up some spare gauze in a scrap of paper and insists that I pack it in my pannier.

We sit talking by the light of a smokey kerosene lamp.

Towards midnight we take turns to walk the beach watching for the marks made by female turtles dragging themselves up the beach to make their nests. I sit with one of the boys on the damp sand under the unknown stars and he tells me the dreams he has for his future. We pace the beach again and again and finally, I go to my tent to sleep. The boy says he will wake me if any turtles appear on the beach.

I wake at dawn and return to the beach to investigate the nest sites.

The view from my tent.

The beach at dawn.

Turtle nests...

... are carefully marked. Sadly, no turtles visited the beach the night I camped here.

The turtle camp.

I pack up my belongings and when they emerge from their tent, bid a very fond farewells to the biology students and set off to reach the westernmost point of Cuba.

The marina on the western most point of Cuban - closer to Cancun than Havana.

Always hungry for fish, at the marina I sidle up to a fishing boat and am lucky enough to end up, before long, with freshly caught fish served up to me, fried crisp and brown. with a few wedges of lime.

Cleaning a fish, that minutes later is before me on a plate.

An impressive fish.

I backtrack to the hotel on the beach at Las Tumlas where a chat to a Dutch couple brings the very welcome gift of a tube of Bettadine ointment. I spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on a squatted lounge chair under the shady trees on the beach availing myself of the fresh water showers and other comforts.

It is four-thirty before I set off to cover the 55 odd kilometres back to La Bajada where I intend to get something to eat before finding another campsite on the beach. Favourable winds speed me along but iguanas soaking up the last of the sun’s rays and families of jutias, a large indigenous rat, playing by the road provide adequate distractions to slow my pace.

When I arrive in La Bajada the sun is already resting on the horizon and the lovely women who cook for me have little trouble in convincing me to stay for the night.

Casa! A welcome break from camping where I can wash myself and my clothes and generally make myself a little more socially acceptable.

Excellent interior decorating.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Lars | November 14, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Love your writing. But I do spend too much time reading here!

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