Monday, 28 June 2010

Cuba Calling

Yesterday was hot enough for Harvey and me to have our first swim of the year in the North Sea. It’s not as warm as the Cuban Atlantic, which was 25 + Celcius, but once you get in, it is quite invigorating.

How much do you know about the Caribbean and Cuba? If it's as much as me before my visit, then it's not a lot. Here are a few things I found out on my trip.

• Cuba is the most incredibly lush place I have ever been to. Everywhere is green with palms and banana trees growing all around. This may be to do with the climate. During my stay an average day was 93 degrees of humidity and 32 degrees of heat. That's hotter than my green house on a hot day. These conditions lead to tropical storms of thunder, lightening and huge amounts of water dumped in a short period. It's no wonder that everything you can think of grows here and it grows quickly.

• On my first day, I went for a cycle and melted. I looked up and thought oh, oh that’s a vulture. It landed beside the road, so I got off the bike to take a look. It was not at all bothered by me and started on a nice meal of unidentified dead animal. Then I heard some chirpy sounds and yes, there were vulture chicks and guess what, they are just as ugly as their parents. I was really wilting in the heat and I looked up at a tree, to see another half dozen (turkey) vultures looking down at me. Time to get out of here, I thought. I later found out that the turkey vultures are a protected species with a big fine for killing one.

• On a trip to the island of Cayo Saetia (more later) we were told about a sea animal which is endangered and being protected in Cuba. Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. They are noted for their friendly nature, their large size (up to 3.6 metres (12 ft)), and paddle-like flippers. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning 'breast.'

• Cuba is an agrarian society. There are animals all over the place. A Cuban taxi in the country side is a horse drawn cart. There are cows, goats, horses and pigs all over the place. A lot of people live in the countryside. If they are not on horses, you often come across people standing by the road side, waiting for some sort of transport.

• Like most Latin American counties, the people speak Spanish. It’s a good idea to have a smattering of it. I got a few phrases off when I was there, but Hola and buenos dias does not get you very far. I’ve decided that learning some Spanish would be a good idea, and the good old BBC, do a 12 week course on-line for free. So I booked in and my first lesson arrives today!

• I went on a snorkelling trip to Cayo Saetia, which is a beautiful island at the mouth of a huge bay on the eastern side of Cuba. It was a great trip with lots of colourful fish to look at (although there were no octopus, which our dive leader had promised us.). The coral was not so good due a typhoon a year or two before, which had dumped a lot of dirt on it. The island has only been open to the public for fourteen years. Prior to that Fidel and his pals used it for hunting – how’s that comrade? Quite incredibly the island is home to zebra, water buffalo, antelopes (which are very tasty – had some with our lunch,) and other African animals. The island is beautiful and puzzling… like a lot of other things in Cuba.

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