Our fifth day in Cuba was by far our most memorable. After speaking with our resort representative, we had found out about a couple of excursions and one that caught our eye. The trip we decided to take was called the 'Rambo Tour' and would lead us into the Topes De Collantes National Park in the Sierra del Escambrey. These mountains (sierra) have unique history and were some of the areas that Fidel Castro, Che Guevera and others prepared for their revolution. Ironically, it was also the location where other revolutionaries tried to revolt against Castro. Now, the mountains house some of the best trekking adventures in Cuba. Our planned trip was to see a coffee plantation, tour the national park and head to another adjacent Park de Guanayara to see Salto el Rocio Falls. One of the surprises we had was that our transportation to the mountains would be on an open air African-imported Soviet troop carrier truck. We would learn and appreciate that the monster of a truck was one of the only ways to travel in the dirt roads of the Escambrey mountains due to the steepness and sheer rough travel of the roads.
Once in Trinidad, we met our tour guide Asael and were immediately impressed. Asael spoke five languages and had a mastery of English including the humor. After some short introductions between our other Canadian trip-mates, we left the surroundings of Trinidad and headed for the mountains. As we went further into the mountains, we began to see road ahead of us simply by looking straight up. On more than one occasion, we met other similar sized trucks and had to slowly sidestep our way around the other vehicle to pass safely on the narrow road.
Our first visit was at Casa del Coffee, a coffee house and farm found among the township in the national park. After a tour, we began our 15 kilometre trip further into the tropical jungle. Truck travel became obviously necessary due to the conditions of roads, although an open truck was something Sheena didn't appreciate after we saw the size of the Cuban wasps!
We arrived at our trailhead, expecting a 3 kilometre hike through the river valley toward waterfalls, caves and our end destination at a house turned restaurant in the middle of the jungle. We continued along the trail, realizing there were 'tourists' and 'hikers' on our walk. The tourist group tended to pass over the fun stuff, such as a large cave we explored and the main attraction — the waterfall! Our guide Asael noticed this a bit and when I asked if we could swim in the falls, he at first said we needed to stay with the larger group. Then to our surprise, as we continued to walk along the trail following the river and more falls, Asael asked me if I wanted to go down river with him and accept a Cuba vs Canada challenge. (He had earlier claimed that all Canadians do is go to all inclusive resorts, rather than hiking in Cuba). Because he was so good at our humor, I thought that he was kidding at first. But, when he started stripping off — Sheena, myself and a couple of others were delighted to join him on a rockhopping and waterfall jumping trip down river. So, with the 'tourist group' following another guide to a lagoon about a half a km away, the six of us followed what seemed to be Asael's route that he's followed since he was a kid. We laughed as we jumped off smaller waterfalls and enjoyed the jungle like surroundings. As we got to the lagoon and we found a way to repeatedly climb the small cliff to jump the falls, Asael looked at us and said, "I thought I was crazy, but you're crazy." Hopefully we restored a bit of the Canadian outdoors reputation. Once we made it to the lunch at the La Gallega jungle restaurant, it would have been easily the best meal we would eat all week. You can't beat rural chickens!
The following two days, we tried to enjoy the beach as much as we could. We also decided to brave the heavily salty water and try snorkeling from the catamaran, a trip that takes you about 1km off shore to the nearby reef. Strangely only about 15 feet deep and seeming like a deep pool, Sheena and I and a few others explored the wonders of tropical coral reefs, colourful fish and incredible sea life. Watching the fish watching us was an incredible experience. In returning to the beach, we realized we would like to try it again on our next trip — maybe even scuba dive next time! On our last day, we returned to our beach routine, enjoying the last few hours of warmth and meeting up with Alex and Leslee for an evening of Chilean wine, salsa dancing and great music.
The trip home was long — up at 3:30am, and finally home to Belleisle at 9:00pm with 2 feet of new snow. How soon can a person forget you were in a sunny paradise? Lets hope its not too long before we go back to Cuba to refresh our memory.