The Epic La Gran Piedra Adventure

Wildfires, tree rat stew, a fallen tree blocking the road, slavery, a butterfly with clear wings, and a ride with the Cuban Air Force, this December 2016 La Gran Piedra day trip had almost everything. La Gran Piedra National Park (Parque Nacional de la Gran Piedra) is named after the monolith at the top of the mountain about 28 kilometres from Santiago de Cuba.

Waking up early, our Santiago de Cuba hosts kindly provided a 6am breakfast. We walked to bus terminal near the port on Jesús Menéndez Avenue. Our options from hear were a bus to Siboney 1 hour later or a 10am bus direct to La Gran Piedra (The Big Stone).

The bus schedule to La Gran Piedra from bus station near Santiago de Cuba's port

The bus schedule to La Gran Piedra from bus station near Santiago de Cuba’s port; buses leave Santiago 6am Monday, Wednesday and Friday, returning from La Gran Piedra at 3pm. There is a 10am Sunday bus which I guess also returns 3pm but it’s Cuba so who exactly knows…

Instead of these options, we:

  • Rode moto taxis across town (20 CUP; US$0.80 each) to El Palo del Aura where more frequent transport departed towards Siboney.
  • Caught a bus for 1 CUP (US$0.04), exiting at the junction to La Gran Piedra. Here we watched lizards while waiting with others for a ride up the mountain.
  • Took a private car (organised by a man in a tractor) up the mountain for 20 CUC (US$20; negotiated down from 30 CUC).

This car should have delivered us to the top, however, we came across the following:

Our old US sedan ride to La Gran Piedra stopped abruptly by a recently fallen tree

Our classic US sedan ride to La Gran Piedra stopped abruptly by a recently fallen tree

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Baracoa, a Special Place in Eastern Cuba

Boats in Baracoa Bay with El Yunque (The Anvil) mountain in the background

Boats in Baracoa Bay with El Yunque (The Anvil) mountain in the background

Baracoa in Cuba’s far eastern Guantánamo Province has unique a history, location and environment. Founded in 1511, the city is the island’s oldest Spanish settlement and Cuba’s first capital. Historically, people could only visit Baracoa by sea or air with the first mountain-piercing road connection opening in the 1960s. Continue reading

Visiting Alejandro de Humboldt National Park from Baracoa, Cuba

Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt) is UNESCO world heritage-listed and located north-west of Baracoa in the provinces of Guantánamo and Holguín. The park is famous for its endemic flora and fauna including the northern hemisphere’s smallest frog, the Monte Iberia Eleuth, which we were lucky enough to see and photograph!

Pretending to sell Baracoa sweet cucurucho at Humboldt National Park entry

Pretending to sell Baracoa sweet cucurucho at Alejandro de Humboldt National Park entry

A destroyed bridge over the River Toaheightened the challenge of visiting the park from Baracoa without private transport. However, with Rocío’s persistence we succeeded and, after waking up early, arrived to the park by 8am. This is despite the power failing on our bridge-replacement electric cable ferry. Continue reading

Guantanamo Bay and a Crazy Journey from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa

7 December 2016 was an epic day. After Fidel Castro’s passing and associated events, Rocío and I looked forward to finally beginning our normal holiday. However, little is normal in Cuba and this day certainly wasn’t.

Singapore Chris who we met outside Fidel’s funeral joined us at Santiago de Cuba’s Avenida de los Libertadores Intermunicipal Bus Station. Trucks and utilities east to Guantanamo and Baracoa leave from here and not the Serrano Intermunicipal Bus Station stated in Lonely Planet’s 2015 guidebook.

Morning mist outside Santiago

Morning mist outside Santiago

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Birds and Insects in Arequipa

Arequipa, a desert city in Peru’s south, has fascinating birds and insects, including impressive hummingbirds. Following are photos and a video compilation from my visits there.

Hummingbird next to vase of flowers, Katari Hotel Rooftop Restaurant, Arequipa

This hummingbird is admiring a vase of flowers on the Katari Hotel rooftop Continue reading

Colca Canyon: a Volcanic 2 Day Birthday Tour

In November 2016, to celebrate our birthdays, Rocío and I took a two day tour of the picturesque Colca Canyon. In southern Peru’s Caylloma Province, the Colca is one of the world’s deepest canyons and a must visit to see the Andean Condor. I had previously hiked the canyon. This time we wanted a relaxing trip. Booked through our YES Arequipa hostel, the tour was extremely good value.

Day 1

On our first morning we were picked up from our accommodation by the tour bus and driven north to Chivay, the canyon’s principle town.

Vicunas in front of Misti Volcano between Arequipa and Colca Canyon

Vicuñas in front of the Misti volcano Continue reading

Two Amazing Day Trips from Macusani, Carabaya Province, Peru

In October 2016 Rocío and I undertook two amazing day tours in the southern Peruvian Andes Mountains as part of our 2016 Interoceanic Highway Trip. We saw stunning scenery, prehistoric history and witnessed something extremely rare: a condor hunting and dive-bombing. From Macusani, guide Ulices and our Hilux driver took us one day to Ayapata District and the next to Corani District.

Video of the condor hunting and dive-bombing near Lake Qañuqota, Ayapata District

Located in Puno Region’s north, Carabaya Province is rarely visited by foreigners. In fact, in ten days, we did not see a single foreign tourist. This is despite being situated between touristic cities Puno, Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. One reason for limited tourism is elevation. Carabaya Province’s capital and largest city, Macusani, lies an inhibiting 4,315 metres high.

With fun couple adjacent Lake Qanuqota, Ayapata District, Carabaya Province, Peru

While hiking to Pitumarka we met a fun couple relaxing against a stone wall seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Ayapata District Continue reading

Wondrous Landscapes, Natural and Ancient Sites at Pitumarka, Peru

The scenery and views around Pitumarka in Ayapata District blew me away. Travelling from Macusani, Rocío and I accompanied guide Ulices and our Hilux 4WD driver for the first of two amazing day trips.

Seeing the glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, Andean geese, flamingos and other birds on the way to Taype was a great start. At Taype we turned off the main Ayapata unsealed road and drove past Lake Taype surrounded by mountains and potato fields.

Potatoes growing next to Laguna Taype, Carabaya, Puno, PeruLake Taype with potato fields in the foreground and mountains behind
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