Cuba’s little gem

The parque nacional Alejandro de Humboldt can be found about 45km outside of beautiful Baracoa. It was high on my list because it would reveal a bit of Cuba that couldn’t be seen anywhere else. This is a part of the world where things are still being discovered. Not only is this a mountainous area, but it has some rare flora and fauna. The 45km to get there are a bit of a challenge though. I’d booked an organized trip with a guide leaving from Baracoa. An old van, with the guide sitting on a small wooden stool, bumped over the dirt road full of potholes. The road was wide enough, but our van swayed from left to right trying to avoid the worst parts. Turning into the national park we even had to drive through a river before we finally parked at a small house.

Arriving at the national park. Pigs lazing in front of the house.

Arriving at the national park. Pigs lazing in front of the house.

I had read it was the most humid place in Cuba and that turned out to be true in my experience. After 10 minutes of walking up the hill I looked like I had taken a shower. Was I in such bad shape? I wasn’t the only one who was struggling with the start of our walk, the group quickly spread out along the path. Every time there was a bit of shade our guide Dani would wait for everybody to regroup. The walk Balcon de Iberia was only 7km, but pretty tough because of the heat and humidity. Luckily the walk brought us through the jungle into a more shaded area.

Starting our walk up the hill

Starting our walk up the hill

The earth here was red and pretty dry, but heaving rain in the last few days had made it very slippery, although it wasn’t wet anymore. Carefully placing our feet on leaves and grass we continued up and down hills. Dani explained a lot about the nature in the park. The most important plant is the Royal Palm, the national tree of Cuba. The locals use pretty much every part of it, for example the leaves in the roofs and other parts to make ropes. We were also lucky enough the briefly spot the Tocororo, the national bird, with his red and white stomach and blue back, the colors of the Cuban flag. When we passed a small stall with a vendor, he said there was a scorpion in the big palm leaf, so Dani opened it up for us to see. At the start we’d also seen the famous tiny frog. It was held in a plastic container, but otherwise we would never have been able to spot one. For a long time it was considered to be the smallest in the world.

We passed some selfie-spots, as our guide liked to call them, before we descended towards the river. We had to cross it a few times, hopping over stones, and then we reached our lunch spot. Before I unwrapped my sandwich I decided to cool down in the river. You could swim to a little waterfall, where kids were jumping in with big tires. The water was so refreshing. Too bad we still had to sweat through our way back. Of course Dani had a better idea. He suggested taking the jungle taxi, which was a cart pulled by oxen. Unfortunately the jungle taxi had a flat tire, so we had to use our legs. This last part of the hike involved crossing the river a lot and walking through the mud. Many people decided just to take their shoes off instead of trying to find a dry path across.

Trying not to get our shoes wet.

Trying not to get our shoes wet.

To finish the trip in a more relaxed way, and get rid of all the sweat once again, we drove out to Playa Maguana. It was a gorgeous beach, with beautiful sand, but immediately the locals came at us. Do you want to buy some food? Some drink? A massage? A miracle cream? I tried some cucurucho, a mix of coconut, nuts and honey that is a local treat here, but the saleswomen didn’t stop harassing us. All of this made the beach experience a lot less relaxed. The water was heavenly though! This is definitely a trip worth making.

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