What The Flock?!

After a quick organised swap over of the car and driver in Havana, we were back on the road towards Playa Larga.

It’s amazing how Cubans drive, swerving from side to side to dodge pot holes or uneven parts of the road, right in the middle, or over to the left, only moving to the right when traffic is oncoming. They share the road peacefully with horse riders, carts, donkeys, bikes, mopeds, farm animals, people, trucks… it was incredible. No road rage, just a little friendly honk as they are passing to let people know. This is of course quite opposite to the Australian “get off the f%#king road you $%#*¥ $#£€%!!!”, well let’s leave that there. Even the horses know this as normal.

The fashion in Cuba is pretty much anything goes. We are talking pink skin tight running leggings, black 5 inch platforms or stilletos and a red crop top. They are a big fan of wearing leggings and a top of similar colours but not quite the same. Or mini shorts/skirts with a skin tight or preferably sea through vest top. Tight bleached denim play suits are very popular. The shorter/tighter/more transparent the better. Fat or thin, tight is alright here in Cuba. It takes a while to remember we are in a country where clothing choices are just not really important or even optional. Those lucky enough to have families living in America or Canada may receive some helpful goods, but we have seen one shop selling 3 pairs of underwear that are in a glass case. It’s that hard to access clothing, let alone any thing else. Shopping in Cuba is hard. Shops are like deserted dark rooms with sparse and random products spread out on shelves. If you are looking for soap, lamps or rum then Cuba is your place, but for everything you else its pretty hard. Here begins the search for sun cream as we were stupid enough to not buy an extra bottle in Mexico before we left….

Flitting Flamingoes and a Cormorant @ Laguna Las Salinas

Playa Larga is at the head of Bahía de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs. This bay is famous for being one of the two beaches that the US exiles invaded in 1961 trying to over through Fidel Castro, rather unsuccessfully. These days it’s best known for the wilderness area, Zapata.

There is not so much of a town here in Larga, so we relaxed on the beach, had a nice afternoon of swimming and planned our trip to Laguna Las Salinas for the next morning with our Casa host Consuela. We were staying in a huge 14 bedroom “casa” called Hostal Enrique. It was very close to the beach and had huge areas for eating and relaxing on terraces.

That night, due to the lack of restaurant options and our increasing intrigue into the casa particulares meal options, we ate at the Casa on the rooftop.

$12 CUC each and we had the biggest amount of food we have ever been presented with!! How the Cubans ever eat this much is astounding. We had a bucket of soup, 2 massive portions of rice and beans, a salad (which unfortunately due to last years Hurricane in September 2017, consists of shredded cabbage, a few thin slices of cucumber and couple pieces of tomato), a huge plate of yucca and a massive serving of fish (at least 4 fish died in the making of this meal) and bread! We didn’t know what to do with all this food to the point it was over whelming.

The next morning we had our breakfast (again overwhelming portions) and we were picked up in a classic American car and whisked off into the national park Laguna Las Salinas with a mixed group of tourists.

Here are the birds we saw;

Black hawk

Red tailed hawk

Reddish Egret

Great Egret

White Egret

Yellow warbler

Flamingoes

Little blue heron

Tri-coloured Heron

Stills

Sand pipers

Roseate Spoonbill

Ibis

Snowy Egret

Grey Heron

Great Blue Heron

Stills and Sandpipers @ Laguna las Salinas

Yellow Warbler @ Laguna Las Salinas

Black Hawk Flying @ Laguna Las Salinas

Little Blue Heron and Roseate Spoonbill @ Laguna Las Salinas

After a couple hours bird watching, we caught a man powered bicitaxi (probably the most embarrassing thing ever is two perfectly fit women, with their huge backpacks, sitting in a cart being pulled by a man twice their age) but we were time poor and wanted to get an earlier bus to our next stop!

Flamingo Fight!! @ Laguna Las Salinas

Turned out the bus was full and had left early so we quickly jumped off our bici- taxi to let the suspension and driver recover (never again, plus it was only just slightly faster than walking pace) and with another guy from the UK (Tamar?!) we split a taxi the short 12kms.

Turned out Tamar had basically lived the same life as me. Left the UK over 5 years ago, lived in Australia for a year, New Zealand for 2.5 years, photographer. Now however he was back in London working as an actual photographer and travelling in his annual leave. Adult life dreams!

A short 30 minutes later we had reached the tiny sleepy town of Playa Girón. Named after French pirate Gilbert Girón who the locals decapitated in the early 1600’s. We dropped our bags at Casa Keisy (recommended family friend of Consuela from Hostal Enrique). Run by a friendly but not overly chatty young pregnant couple.

Jess and Mini the Chihuahua In Front Of Our Casa @ Playa Giron

Pro revolution, pro Castros and Ché propoganda is everywhere you look in Cuba. Most popular being Che Guevara’s famous silloutte (from the guirrellas victory march on Havana in 1959) and his signature (famous from when he was made head of the bank in 1960’s and was made to sign the new bank note) plastered on nearly every turn, messages and phrases from Fidel Castro as well as phrases such as “free cuba” and “socialism or death”. All reliving past glories, it’s hard to fully understand what Cuba has been through, present day Cuba is very poor and quite bizarre but so safe, welcoming and friendly.

The Castro brothers have been in power for over 50 years and the country is still heavily geared towards socialism and the military. Raul is planning to step down in 2018 and we would be very interested to see how things pan out. Surely things have to change dramatically.

A walk around the town took about 20 minutes return. The town is mainly made up of the massive “Playa Girón Hotel” that consists of normal hotel rooms and surrounded by a small city of units for rent by the same hotel. Through this hotel we sat on the beach for the afternoon before heading back to our casa to organise a trip for the next morning.

The Spanish is faster in Cuba and they don’t often finish their words so it’s harder to understand. I was Alice was put to the test that night when our host handed over the phone to me to speak to the guide for our trip that we were trying to plan. It was not only my first phone call in Spanish, but my first phone call in super fast and slurred Cuban Spanish. I think I organised our tour for the day after next.

The next day we decided to have a much needed lay in as the bird tour was full up. Despite being constantly “on holiday” (I don’t like to use that phrase for the traveling because I don’t think it’s the same thing- don’t get me wrong, travelling is not far from being on holiday all the time and I’m under no impression that our lives are hard right now but it’s not the same) we haven’t had many of them as it’s been day trip after day trip plus a lot of early bird watching mornings. We had a really nice late breakfast and headed off in a taxi to Punta Perdiz. Paid $15CUC entry for access to facilities, buffet lunch and free bar. We couldn’t just pay entrance, it was all or nothing. Not being a big buffet fan, I say not a fan I mean I actually hate them, they’re completely disgusting. No good can come from eating at a buffet. It’s pretty much like compiling tons of different foods that don’t go together and leaving them out to keep cooking or dry out all day and then piling it into a mountain onto your plate and calling it good value. It’s not good value, it’s called food poisoning.

Swimming With The Fishes @ Punta Perdiz

After having pretty much just eaten breakfast we found some loungers, dumped our stuff and jumped into the beautiful bright blue water with fish tank clarity. It really as incredible! It was quite choppy so we had to watch where we were getting dragged but it was just beautiful! We saw what looked like two sets of canon wheels which was exciting and some less exciting sunken pic nic tables. Jess got stung by a jellyfish which was right in front of the Go Pro I was holding. She gestured to me that we needed to leave urgently and despite having seen the jellyfish I immediately thought something bigger was heading for us. With Jaws on our tail we raced back to shore. As the stinging had just settled down on Jess’ arm another lady got stung so we got out for a bit.

We spent the afternoon drinking beers and Ron Collins and dipping back into the sea for more beautiful fish sightings and jelly fish avoiding.

We did brave the buffet but after 15 minutes of pushing stail bread, over cooked pasta, tinned vegetables and miscellaneous soup around our plates we gave up and went back to laying about and snorkeling.

That night we managed to find another little restaurant in the garden of someone’s casa. There was a distinct lack of restaurants here. Cuban food is usually meat or fish, rice and beans, a piece of kumara and some raw cabbage, and if you’re lucky, half a tomato and two slices of cucumber, again due to hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Even before hurricane Irma, Cuba has not ever really been known for its culinary specialties. During the early 1990’s, the relationship with the Soviet Union went under and, being Cubas only source of imports, cuba went into a “special period” where Cubans had no electricity and such minimal food to the point they had to ration. As a nation, Cubans lost around a third of their body weight during this period.

Eating out in privately owned restaurants is geared towards tourists. The food is not really an issue, it’s not that bad, it’s more that you can’t buy little “snackitos” or fresh fruit as easily, and have to have massive (not overly healthy) meals to substitute.

The next morning was the morning I had been waiting three nights for. A bird walk into Bamejas. I was very excited, Jess a little less so to have to get up at 5am for “another bird tour”. Carlos the local bird guide picked us up at 6am and drove us a short while up the road to a viewing spot where we saw some doves feeding. A bird nerd puts down a bit of rice for them everyday and studies their behaviour. We walked around a short distance for about three hours and saw so many birds that we would never have even noticed if it wasn’t for Carlos and his knowledge (not to mention he had bird calls and songs recorded that he played as we were walking along). A lot of the endemic birds are territorial so if you know where to find them it’s just a waiting game. Jess was not overly chuffed with another bird walk at the crack of dawn but Carlos leant her some really good binoculars so she soon got a bit more interest! There are 26 endemic birds to Cuba and we saw a whopping 12!!!! Here are some birds we saw, some in English, some in Spanish:

1. Cuban Trogan

2. Bee Hummingbird (Zunzuncio)- the smallest hummingbird in the world!)

Zunzuncio @ Playa Giron

3. Cuban Pygmy Owl (day owl)

4. Bare Legged Owl (lived in a pair in a tree trunk, Carlos scratched the bottom of the trunk very lightly and one of them came out the top. Apparently they think it could be a snake (we also saw a snake later on!). He looked so furious when he got out and saw three humans staring at him, he must be like “every god damn night I get woken up by these idiots!”.

Angry Bare Legged Owl @ Playa Giron

5. Blue- Headed Quail Dove (Paloma Perdiz)

6. Cuban Tody

My Favourite Happy Puffy Cuban Toddy @ Playa Giron

7. Cuban Emerald Humming bird/Zunzún

Cuban Emerald Humming Bird @ Playa Giron

8. Cuban Parakeet

Sassy Cuban Parakeet @ Playa Giron

9. Zenaida Dove

10. Created Caracara (like a falcon)

11. Camao

12. Guanaro

13. Bobito Chico/Cuban Peweei

14. Negrito

15. Tocororo

16. Cartacuba

17. Arriero

18. Carpintero Jabado

19. Solibio

20. Mayito de Ciénaga

21. Catey

22. Tomeguín de la tierra

23. Cotorra/Parroqeet or Judío (Jew Bird, literally…)

25. Sinsonte/Mocking Bird

26. Zorzal Real/Gato

As we arrived back much earlier than we thought we packed up and tried to get the earlier bus. The bus was full and about to leave, the lady at the Viazul office said we could go but we wouldn’t have seats. It was only two hours or so so we went for it. Very reluctantly the bus conductor allowed us on, he was not happy, but he threw our bags underneath, Jess managed to nab the last seat and I was left to bounce around on the step next to the toilet.

Just like that, we were off to Cienfuegos.

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