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

Hurricane Matthew and its Impact on Baracoa

On 4 October 2016 Hurricane Matthew struck far eastern Cuba, causing more the US$2.5 billion of damage. Amazingly and thankfully, no direct fatalities were recorded although 4 people died more than a month later when a bridge damaged by Matthew collapsed near Moa. The biggest single infrastructure impact around Baracoa was the destruction of the Moa-Baracoa Highway bridge over the River Toa.

The remains of the bridge over the River Toa after Hurricane Matthew

The remains of the bridge over the River Toa after Hurricane Matthew

While visiting in December 2016, a causeway was being constructed to allow vehicles to cross. In the interim, people crossed via boat and cable ferry as Rocío and I did to and from Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. Continue reading

Awesome Hot Chocolate and other Baracoa Food

Baracoa, known for its seafood, coconut, banana and cacao, stands out amongst Cuba’s generally plain cuisine.

Casa Fernando

Rocío and I enjoyed breakfasts and multiple dinners prepared by our hosts on our December 2016 stay. Casa Fernando prepared good food despite the limited ingredient availability.

Prawns first night at Casa Fernando

Prawns on our first night at Casa Fernando

For dinner we had choices of chicken, fish or prawns. This was usually preceded by soup and accompanied by salad and rice, bread or chips. 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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[Fidel’s Passing, Part 6 of 6] Fidel Castro’s Funeral in Santiago de Cuba

Santa Ifigenia Cemetery where Fidel Castro's ashes were interred featured a huge Cuban flag flying at half mast

Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, where Fidel Castro’s ashes were interred, featured a huge Cuban flag flying at half mast

The nine day mourning period following Fidel Castro’s death culminated with his 4 December 2016 funeral at Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. A private affair, only family and select guests attended the event. Fidel’s ashes arrived to the cemetery early that morning having travelled for four days across Cuba from Havana. Continue reading

[Fidel’s Passing, Part 5 of 6] Fidel Castro’s Santiago de Cuba Memorial Rally, 3 December 2016

After 4 days caravanning across Cuba, Fidel’s ashes arrived to Santiago on 3 December 2016. That evening a second mass rally occurred. Unlike Havana’s international speakers, Santiago’s rally featured only Cuban orators. Some world leaders did attend though including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and ex-presidents of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Soccer legend Diego Maradona and presidents Jakob Zuma of South Africa and Robert Mugabe were also in attendance although Rocío and I did not see them.

People in front of flagpoles prior to the rally

People in front of flagpoles prior to the rally with the Sierra Maestra in the background

The Santiago rally arrangement and procedures were similar to Havana’s including the same master of ceremonies, although the speeches were more domestically focused. Continue reading