It was pouring! This wasn’t just rain. This was rain that would get you soaking wet within the minute. All sad I looked out over flooding Baracoa while I had my breakfast on the covered rooftop terrace. Shit. What now? I had an excursion planned. As the time to leave got nearer, the rain didn’t stop. “Don’t worry.” said the casa owner, “Just a tropical storm”. So I put on my raincoat and ran to the office from where the tour left. Inside the office stood the same guide I had the last day, big grin on his face. “Nice weather”, I commented. Together with all the other tourists I got into a van. We drove out of Baracoa, water splashing up from the puddles. It was indeed a tropical storm. As quickly as it had started, it stopped by the time we arrived at our first stop.
We didn’t seem to be anywhere in particular, but it turned out we were standing next to a cacao plantation. I stared out into the forest next to the road. There was no order, but when I looked for it, I could find some cacao plants. As it turns out the cacao plant is very vulnerable and therefore they plant all sorts of fruit and coffee trees around the cacao. They give them shade and protection. The Cubans have to give 90% of all the harvest to the government and the rest they get to keep to sell. The fruit trees give the added advantage to make some extra money. Because it is a cacao plantation the other trees don’t count in the eyes of the government.
Next to the ‘forest’ was a small house, where we were invited to look at different cacao products. We got to taste the raw cacao bean, which tasted sour and wasn’t very nice. To make the chocolate that is sold throughout Baracoa, farmers dry the beans and then make a powder from it. The powder turns into a paste, which becomes chocolate with the addition of milk. Chocolate was a typical Baracoa thing. We even got hot chocolate at breakfast. Of course we couldn’t leave the plantation without drinking some chocolate here as well. This hot chocolate seemed to be just cacao with water. It was up to us to add milk and sugar. A bit of milk made it drinkable. We thanked the lovely old woman for her hospitality and moved on.
We had a few more random stops. The first one was at this idyllic spot. There was a bay with a beach and only a few houses. This used to be where a railway ended and brought bananas to the ships in the bay, but all the tracks were gone now. It was just the most photogenic place. We also stopped at the German tunnel, basically a hole in the rocks where the road runs through. It was once made by a German who then started charging toll. Only a little bit further was the main destination of the day; Boca de Yumuri. We got off the van on a big bridge, looking out over the river where it ended into the ocean.
From here we all got into a rowboat and were rowed a little bit upstream. I had expected to have a longer boat ride, further into the valley, but we stopped after a few minutes and were dropped off at a beach. We walked for a little while and found a good place to picnic and swim. The water was amazingly refreshing. It had gotten hot after the storm. Years ago gold was found here by the Spanish. As the colonists got greedy they used the local Taino to dig deeper and find more. It is said that the Taino people would rather commit suicide then work for the Spanish. As they jumped off the cliffs surrounding the river they would scream ‘Yumuri! I’d rather die’. What a sad name for such a beautiful place.
Of course this day ended on the beach again. Around Baracoa are a few beautiful beaches and it seems like tourism here is still growing, but not too big yet. Apart from a few people, our group had the beach to ourselves. This beach didn’t have many hawkers harassing you, which made it a very pleasant experience. It was as if he storm had never happened. The sun was out and we were in paradise. Although it wasn’t exactly what I had expected, it was a fun day and I got to see a lot of Baracoa’s surroundings. I am still curious what you would find if you rowed a bit further up that river though.