Our MVFN EcoTour to Cuba
by Brenda Boyd
In late February 2010, 16 intrepid naturalists embarked on a 10-day magical adventure to the western half of Cuba. We had two wonderful tour guides, Don from Quest Tours, Yuri Padrón, our Cuban guide, and our own bus driven by jovial Emilio. We changed locations every two nights, and did day tours from our hotel base, with optional pre-breakfast bird walks.
We saw a great variety of landscapes, from arid plains to lush mountains with towering pine and eucalyptus trees; from mangrove salt/fresh water marshes in the Zapata swamp to the City of Trinidad, founded in 1514; from rich agricultural land dotted with small villages to Havana, a city of two million.
Above: Cuban Tody, photo by Howard Robinson.
We identified 117 species of birds, several of which are endemic to Cuba including the tiny, but exquisitely colourful and vocal, Cuban Tody, and many of our “own” birds such as the Baltimore Oriole, which enjoy the warm winters in sunny Cuba. We visited an Orchidarium, stunning, even in a torrential downpour, which had been developed in a natural setting amongst outcroppings of limestone laden with fossils. The Orchidarium housed over 600 species of orchids, 200 endemic to Cuba.
We visited two rehabilitation and breeding centres for the endangered Cuban sub-species of the American crocodile and rare Cuban Parrot. It was fascinating to see and hear the interaction between the parrots in their breeding cages, and the wild Cuban parrots flying around them! A 40-kilometre causeway journey took us to Cayo Las Brujas (yes, 40 k.!!), built by the Cuban government to promote tourism on the islands offshore. We had a great day on a catamaran, observing the mangroves, shorelines, sea caves, wandering on a deserted beach, doing some snorkeling, and getting to meet some other fun-loving tourists.
Banyan tree and crocodiles. Photos Brenda Boyd
The grand finale was a quick visit to Old Havana, which is now a World Heritage site, with beautiful centuries-old Spanish buildings, cobble-stone streets with only pedestrian traffic. Our last dinner at the magnificent Cafe Oriente was a page from the 1930’s, complete with a live dance band and tuxedoed waiters.
In addition to the astonishing variety of flora and fauna that we saw and learned about, Yuri shared many fascinating stories of the history of Cuba, one of revolutions and economic upheavals. We learned a lot about life and attitudes in present-day Cuba, and realized that a strong commitment to the good of Cuba and each other is still very much alive and well. Cubans have an excellent free educational system (97% literacy rate), and universal health care. There are no homeless, and everyone is provided with basic food and shelter. As one Cuban said, “You have so much, and we have so little, but . . . we are happy!”
The best part of this incredible experience was the camaraderie amongst our group, and the development of friendships that will endure along with the marvelous memories of this experience of a lifetime! ~ Brenda Boyd
l-r: Eric Wilson (sitting), Pip Winters, Tineke Kuiper, Cliff Bennett, Emilio, Aileen Merriam, Gray Merriam, Janet Noyes-Brown, John Clinton, Brenda Boyd, Joel Byrne, Anne Mason, Don Shanahan, Mary Robinson, Howard Robinson (kneeling), Noel Noyes-Brown, Al Potvin, Joyce Clinton, Yuri Nápoles Padrón. Photo Howard Robinson