Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Amazing Families of Cubas Caribbean Coast

     Cocodrilo Cubano eats Ajo.  The Cuban crocodile, the Rhombifer, has the smallest range of any crocodile in the world, existing only in the Zapata swamps, the region where the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion occurred on April 17, 1961. The Cuban croc is an endangered species, with less than 6000 reptiles active in the wild. They live up to 80 years and are 3.2 meters in length when mature. We visited the Criadero de Cocodrilos, a croc breeding program heavily sponsored and encouraged by Castro himself. The breeding program raises young crocs to an age where they can be released into the wild, hoping to increase the strength of the population in Cuba. We asked a breeding specialist if baby Cuban crocs eat American Ajo, and this picture is the answer.

      Mountains meet Sea. The perfect combination of turquoise waters, abundant coral gardens, white sands and mountains in the backdrop. We felt so welcomed by this family and the warmth of Rancho Luna, our dream destination by the sea.

  Nightly power outages at Rancho Luna means two things: Petzl headlamps and Manuel connecting a battery converter to his ’58 Ford which will power a small light so his wife, Lutgue, a fabulous chef, can continue preparing her signature Cuban meals. Mouthwateringly delicious.

Our new family the Bustos!

 Guayjimico. Leaving Rancho Luna was difficult, and it took us a canceled departure and an extra day before we got on the road to Villa Guayjimico, where we found ancient limestone cuevas, a hidden turquoise inlet for the Turquoise Queen and perfect limestone cliffs for leaping into warm Caribbean waters.

Go Cards!

1   Familia Cubana a Playa Larga. After a 100 kilometer day of riding, we arrive to this family’s casa for a home cooked meal of black beans, rice, yucca, hot soup, avocado, mango juice and beer. Their home rests at the entrance to the Zapata swampland, Cuba’s most ecologically diverse bioregion. The marshlands support 190 species of birds including Sandhill Cranes, Pink Flamingoes, parrots, owls, the Zunzuncito (world’s smallest hummingbird) and more. The swamps are habitat for 900 plant species, 115 of which are endemic, found only in Cuba. Endangered manatee and the Cuban Croc also find refuge in this ecological sanctuary.

1  Pepe Leads us beneath the Surface of the Bay of Pigs. Despite jokes from the divemasters that Pepe will lead us to the “fish that eat imperialist Americans”, we don our tanks and submerge beneath the waves. Turquoise currents are gentle, bending purple gorgonias back and forth. Orange vase sponges and Porkfish, rainbow parrotfish and schools of blue tangs, Cuba’s Caribbean underworld is a kaleidoscope of beauty. At 18 meters we circle a sunken ship covered in multicolored corals, with poisonous (and invasive) Lionfish hiding in the crevices. The shallows of the coral gardens are gorgeous and calm, a unique first encounter with the history-rich Bahi de los Cochinos, the Bay of Pigs.

Big Fish for Dinner

 Ajo and Letchuga basking in morning sun.

  Nina with her horse and carriage in background

 Ajo abounds near the Caribbean shores. For the first several weeks of our Cuban tour, our bike came to a screeching halt every time a braid of pearly white medicinal Cuban garlic was spotted. Now, as we learn about Cuban’s love of Ajo and its widespread appeal and availability, some hours do go by when we pass up a roadside garlic vendor. This afternoon was not one of those times, and these old-timers echoed the story told to us by many a Ajo lover: “For truly excellent health, for bone strength, joint function, circulation, heart, immune system, this is what you must do. Take on bottle of Cuban white rum, two heads of Garlic, split head into cloves and drop cloves into the bottle of rum. After several weeks, you have a green medicine. Every morning before breakfast, just one small shot of Ron de Ajo. This is the key to Cuban’s optimal health.”

Kati and a joyfully intoxicated Cuban friend hang from the roots of an ancient Banyan tree in Cienfuegos city.

  Haircut Cuban style, Rancho Luna Playa in the background with young onlookers.

  Best Meal Ever. Casa de Busto

  La Salida del Sol. Sunrise over the tranquil Bahia de Rancho Luna.  Above the bay the impressive Sierra del Escambray, where waterfalls and pine forests are hidden in the folds of lush green canyons. Below the surface are coral gardens of every color, reef fish and sunken ships, undersea tunnels which we explored by scuba. Somewhere beyond, the mighty Whale Sharks, docile, plankton-eating mammoths of the sea, swim near the surface searching for their meal. We stayed at the home of the Busto’s for three days, which seemed like weeks. Up early with the sun, to the ocean for morning exercise, then back to our family for language lessons, walks in the backyard to learn of their assortment of green medicine plants and reading time before the puesta del so vista from the roof.


  1. Yes! Yes!

    Guy with the hawk outside farmacia...epic

    The heart garden garlic....soaking up sweet rains, frosty mornings, and fall sunsets. Each a few inches above the soil, unfurling toward the sun with leaves still hugging each other as they emerge from the bulbs. Aaaaannd I still need to tell you both a cool story about what else has sprouted in there.

    I imagine you in your words...

    "Sometimes, for unknown reasons, the realities of life far exceed our wildest dreams. This has been one of those sweet, unforgettable times." I also like guessing who took the pictures...

    Central Coast blessings of heart garden fertility to you two...