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

[Fidel’s Passing, Part 2 of 6] Attending Fidel Castro’s Wake in Havana, Cuba

As mentioned in Granma, people could pay tribute to Fidel Castro on 28 and 29 November 2016 at the José Martí Memorial, part of Havana’s Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolución). Not wanting to miss anything, on the morning of the 28th, Rocío and I caught an old American car from Old Havana. All roads near the plaza were closed so our expensive taxi fare provided even less value.

East Timorese Students near Plaza de la Revolución, Havana

Proud East Timorese Students near Plaza de la Revolución, Havana

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Arequipa, Home away from Home

Arequipa's Coat of Arms on the Portal de la Municipalidad

Featuring Misti Volcano, Arequipa’s coat of arms on the main plaza’s southern portal, Portal de la Municipalidad

Arequipa, Peru’s second city and location of its Constitutional Court was home base for a significant part of my trip. Its mild climate, manageable size, affordability, world heritage-listed historic centre, volcano backdrop and South America’s best food made the city a great place to stay. I also met Rocío here. Continue reading

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

Colonial and Pre-Inca Gold Processing Technology with a Bonus Sun Halo

Gold has been found in southern Peru’s Carabaya Province for centuries, if not, thousands of years. On our second day trip from Macusani, guide Ulices showed Rocío and I two historic gold processing sites in Corani District – one Spanish colonial, the other pre-Inca. Each site in the high Andes used different methods to apply similar processing principles.

Colonial Gold Processing

Not far from Corani town are the ruins of a gold mill set up by the Spanish rulers during colonial times. Gold ore was crushed between two millstones on a channel. The milled ore then washed into a pond with the heavier gold falling to the bottom and the lighter waste rock travelling downstream.

Spanish Colonial gold processing, Corani District, Peru

The colonial gold mill’s runner stone remains partially on top of the larger bed stone Continue reading

Hot Spring, Waterfall and Flash Mystery: Highlights of Ollachea

Ollachea is stunningly set amongst the mountains, large waterfall and ancient terraces. These surroundings along with the natural hot spring make the mining services town worth visiting. At 2,785 high, Ollachea’s elevation and climate lie between tropical San Gaban 54 kilometres north and tundra Macusani 49 kilometres south. Like San Gaban and Macusani, Ollachea is capital of its own district in Carabaya Province, part of southern Peru’s Puno Region.

In October 2016 Rocío and I came to Ollachea to relax in its natural hot springs and enjoy more wonderful trout. While visiting, my camera flash mysteriously failed. We also toured ancient sites nearby worth their own blog post.

Ollachea surrounded by the fog-covered Andes Mountains

A central Ollachea street with surrounding mountains blanketed by clouds Continue reading

Puerto Maldonado, Southern Peru’s Amazon Gateway

Puerto Maldonado is the tourism, transportation and economic centre of Peru’s southern Amazon Basin. Direct buses and flights from Cusco make Puerto Maldonado a convenient Amazon alternative to Iquitos in Peru’s north.

Puerto Maldonado lies at the confluence of two large rivers, the Madre de Dios and Tambopata. The Tambopata joins the Madre de Dios which in turn flows into the Madeira River, a tributary of the Amazon River.

Giant mural, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios

A giant mural covering the side of a Puerto Maldonado building; the object held by the mural subject resembles a blowgun, a traditional hunting weapon used by indigenous Continue reading