Traveled Nov, 2016
The bus ride to Playa Larga was relatively uneventful. We had one stop in the town of Giron, famous in the Bay of Pigs incident. It was completely dark by the time we arrived in Playa Larga and we had no idea where to find Otto’s House, our casa for the next 3 days. Some of the casa owners were there to pick up their guests, and one told us it was a little far so we should take a bicycle taxi. So we made a deal for a couple dollars to get a ride and loaded our bags. This was our first time in a bicycle taxi and we noted all of the different types of vehicles we had utilized on this trip.
Otto’s was a cute house just a block off the beach. It wasn’t beach view but had some nice rocking chairs outside. Otto spoke excellent english – his father lives in the US.
We wanted to do a trip to the Peninsula de Zapata national park and there was a polish couple at our casa that wanted to as well, so we planned a trip with them the next day.
I woke up early and went over to the beach for sunrise.
I meet a group from Colorado that were on a art and political people to people trip and were riding around Cuba in an old school bus. We compared notes and found we had learned many of the things they had discussed as part of their organized trip.
After a big breakfast at the casa, our 50’s car and national park guide picked us up and we started driving east. This confused me because I thought the national park was west of town. We soon discovered we were heading to a smaller unit of the national park, and not the place any of us had specified. The particular guide we had couldn’t take us to the other part of the park (each guide had their own specialty). Although we were disappointed, we decided to make the most of it. He took us on a trail among the raised coral and pointed out lots of interesting plants. I especially liked the flowers of these air plants:
He took us down into a small cave that had 100’s of bats. The ceiling was very low so these bats were so close to our heads. I could hear the flapping of the wings when they got close. This was a special kind of bat that was a herbivore. They only ate certain kinds of leaves and the floor was covered with partially chewed leaves.
Outside the cave, the guide showed us a hiding snake. This snake lived at the entrance and when the bats went out for the night, the snake had easy hunting.
This large hermit crab was found nearby. The guide showed how strong it was by prodding it with a stick. This thing could take your finger!
He took us to another trail where we saw a series of cenotes – sinkholes that were filled with a combination of sea and fresh water. The water in these cenotes was beautiful. From above we were able to see a couple pre-historic fish that were part crocodile & part fish.
At the last cenote, there was a staircase down to a landing where we donned snorkeling gear and swam around the natural pool. The sunlight rays were amazing from under the surface and I swam with a couple turtles and many fish. Unfortunately, the pre-historic fish were not in this pool – all of the pools are connected and they’re scared of people so they were hiding.
He showed us one special cenote that is famous for scuba diving. There is a certain time of day where the sun ray can be seen 75 feet below the surface. Thus was the end of our tour. The day was quite early so I inquired about being left at the Cueva de los Peces which was on the way back to town so all of us got dropped there, expecting to catch a bus back to town later in the afternoon.
This “beach” was like no other I had been too. The entire surface was made out of sharp risen corral so we put our stuff under a tree to go swimming. Luckily the locals had made a cement platform at the end of the beach with a rusting metal ladder into the bay. There were loads of fish just off this platform because other tourists were feeding them bread and rice.
The water temperature here was much higher than our swimming at Cayo Jutias off the north coast. I swam out to the farther coral. There were some fish here but I’d seen much better snorkeling at other places in the world. The most interest thing to see here was the scuba divers.
Across the street was a dive shop, restaurant, small shop, and the most accessible of the cenotes in the area, the Cueva de los Peces. I took a swim here but the one in which we swam in the morning was more interesting.
We still had a couple hours until the bus so I walked around and took some pictures of the coastline.
Back at the casa, we had Otto arrange another national park trip tomorrow with understanding that we’d be going to Las Salinas to see the flamingos. Later we had the most amazing dinner – fried plantains, black bean soup, squash, salad and a whole toothy fish with a lime in it’s mouth! The cook at Otto’s was the best that we had – her breakfasts and this dinner were so tasty.
After dinner I went to the center of town to the local bar. It was a great mix of locals and tourists and a 3 piece bands played. Just before I left, another band was coming in and one of the members came to chat me up. His name was Elvis and he told me they’d be playing at the beach bars the next night. I was feeling tired so I didn’t stick around to see them go on.
The next day the Polish couple and us got another 50’s car and another guide and we headed west. Today was a convoy of 4 vehicles – some had only 2 people and others were quite full. We realized everyone had paid $35 per vehicle and they really could have consolidated us into fewer vehicles so this was a way to make more money. We drove thru a forest and eventually got to some large pools. There were just a few flamingos here, but they were very far away.
We drove further to see many more pools and many more flamingos. Some of the flamingos were white – these were young flamingos that hadn’t eaten enough shrimps to turn pink. Gorgeous, isn’t this?
In addition to flamingos there were other sea birds, including pink spoonbills and a flock of these other unidentified birds.
As we exited the park, we saw a tree full of storks.
The day was young so I went for a quick swim in the bay. There was supposed to be snorkeling here but it was really far out. At some point I was so far from shore, I decided to turn back. My biggest disappointment had been that we hadn’t seen the bird that is most famous in this park – the world’s smallest bird, the Bee Hummingbird. This hummingbird is literally the size of a bee. I went on a walking trip towards the national park and took a side road, keeping my eyes open to look for this elusive bird. I could see a gate farther down the road so I kept walking. This road took me past the city dump where a couple dozen goats were getting their daily fill. I discovered the gate was the national park and the park attendants diligently guarded it. They said the closest trail was far away and I’d need a guide, and that it was possible to see those hummingbirds in this area. I looked and looked and didn’t see the bird, but I did see many beautiful butterflies.
For dinner, we headed into town. There were two restaurants with similar names Chuchi el Pescador (the fisherman) and Chuchi el Gordo (the fat guy), we ate at the fisherman’s. For $15, I had plantains, rice, salad, lobster, fish, and 2 beers. This was a great meal too. Playa Larga certainly had the best food of the trip.
We went to the beach to watch the band that I had met last night. They sang my favorite Cuban song – “El Cuarto de Tula”. We followed them down 3 different bars and had a great time dancing. My biggest regret is that I didn’t buy their CD – they were so good and fun. Elvis told me about a 4 day provincial party that was starting tomorrow but we already had plans to go to Havana so we would miss it. If I ever go back to Cuba, I’d love to go to one of these parties. They don’t appear to be advertised in any of the guidebooks, and the dates vary by year.
Before heading to Havana, I arose for one more sunrise and one more big Otto House’s breakfast.
After that, we headed back to Havana.