I was up, not with the lark but with the local rooster who decided to crow his head off at regular intervals, starting at 2am and then at 2 hourly intervals; And to compound the insomnia, as soon as he started, it set off a relay of co-roosters stretching across the valley who were waiting for their cue from Rooster Numero Uno to continually back him up, endorsing the fact that yes, we were indeed into a new day.
Well, I needed an early start anyway as I was off on a nature walk with Abel, Mileidys’ husband. Straight after a 5 star breakfast of a pint of freshly squeezed pineapple juice, coffee, scrambled eggs, fresh bread and local honey I joined him, straight from the Casa into the fields, and within minutes he was pointing out fascinating details on flora and fauna, birds, animals and insects, explaining about all the farming methods and crop rotation and running through the country’s history, traditions and legends.
Just like Josh back in Havana he was an enthusiastic mine of ceaseless information and an all-round excellent chap. One or two facts stood out. For instance did you know that a mocking bird can mimic every other birdsong but just can’t get the hang of the nightingale’s? Or that humming birds make love in mid-air with their wings going at 80 beats a second? And that Cuba is home to the tiniest bird in the World – It’s a Bee Humming Bird – so the size of a bee!! – and a parrot can talk because it’s got a different shaped tongue to other birds. (presumably like ours!). Or that the ants there can carry more than 40 times their own weight? I watched them busily working on a major project trying to keep to what was obviously a very tight schedule. They’re strong buggers that’s fer sure. There are snakes and all sorts of spiders including tarantulas but none, thankfully, harmful to humans – at least that’s what Abel said.
We stopped at a small holding where the owner bred fighting cocks!
Bred just to be downright aggressive they have their cocks-combes taken off their heads and are lean and mean with long and sharpened claws. It’s a popular sport and men meet in secret places in the countryside to stage fights and gamble, which is against the law. The gambling, not the fights apparently.
As you walk deeper into the countryside you see very large birds with about a meter wing span circling overhead everywhere. At first you think they are some kind of eagle but in fact they’re vultures! Hundreds of them. They’re encouraged as they are the farmers’ natural cleaners, devouring of course, anything that’s dead.
We passed the remains of a dead horse around which were a dozen or so of these nasty looking birds feasting, with others sitting on the roof of a tobacco drying barn relaxing, warming their wings and politely, it seemed, waiting their turn. They also seemed to be watching me pretty closely so I thought it wisest to keep moving. Just to be on the safe side.
One breathtaking moment was just after we had climbed a steep limestone rock to see, on the other side, what is known as The Valley of Silence.
It is utterly beautiful; like discovering the promised land of milk and honey. One or two dotted homesteads, acres of ploughed red earth fields and tobacco plantations, distant mountains, and yes, because there is no farming machinery anywhere, absolute silence save for the song of nightingales. Close to God.
As we walked we came across a Ceiba tree – magnificent, tall and strong which has massive religious importance to the Cubans where they often come to leave offerings.
Want to know any more? Well glad you asked. Just some of the crops the Cubans produce and export are: tobacco and rum of course, sugar cane, coffee, bananas, coconuts, tapioca, corn and maize, pineapple and avocado.
When the Russians pulled out in the 80s and 90s it was a disaster causing starvation throughout the land. Gradually they are recovering with tourism being the main industry they are working on to bring the money in again.
Abel was full of stories about his boy and youth-hood where he and his amigos had a wonderful time messing around in the countryside; he demonstrated to me how they used to lasso tiny lizards with a stripped reed to make a thin string and get them to look like earrings as they painlessly clamped their jaws on ear lobes. It did the lizards no harm and they were all set free again after these little games, so no need to worry.
The 4 hour walk or rather, ramble, was brilliant but I was glad to get back to my room for a shower, drink a litre of water and put my feet up for a bit. Then I walked into town, had a large tot of Old Havana rum, a cigar – of course! and a snack whilst surveying the bustling Main Street from the restaurant’s outside terrace.
I’m still marveling at these old U.S. bangers – there’s loads of them. They are massive and just about holding together with large burbling smoky exhausts. They’re virtually all taxis and you can hop in and out of one locally whenever you want, sharing it with others for just I CUC which is a great idea.
Back to the Casa to freshen up, relax some more!! and get ready for dinner. Sadly the girls had had to move on but the very lovely Mileidys, and her Mum I think, set up a V.I.P. table for me under the flowering and prettily illuminated archway.
A whole grilled Dorado, French beans, seasoned rice, tomatoes, cucumber and avocado, followed by chunks of fresh pineapple, banana and mango. Superb. A tot of rum finished it all off nicely. And so to bed perchance to dream, well, at least until the cockerel wakes up