From Panama, I caught the bus to Costa rica, where I had signed up for a week of turtle conservation work. The project was located on the Caribbean coast of Costa rica, and was quite remote, we had to take a river boat for the last part of it, which was the only form of access. The conservation work involved nightly patrols on the beach where the turtles would lay their eggs in the sand. Because we were competing with poachers that also roamed the beaches, we had to scoop up the eggs and bury them in the sand at the hatchery which we did shifts watching over. The highlight was seeing the baby turtles swim towards the sea!
From Cuba I flew into Panama city. Panama is known for its canal, an important shipping route, and an important part of the economy. Panama City is quite large and has high rise buildings. I only had a couple of days in Panama, but while I was there I took a visit to see the Parque Nacional Soberania, which is quite close to the city where I got to see some of the tropical rainforest.
The next part of my travels is a journey through Central America. From Cuba I flew to Panama, where I will travel up through the countries of Central America by bus. The buses here, including the most popular, Tica bus, are very clean, comfortable and reliable. Travelling by bus here is a great option, it is a tiny faction of the cost of flying, better for the environment and offers great views of the countryside without having to worry about driving. Yay for bus travels through central America!
Cuba has the most amazing music. Everywhere you go in Cuba, music is playing. It has all sorts of influences, Spanish guitar, African beats. In all of the towns of Cuba people gather in the market squares and halls, people bring their whole families, parents, aunties, uncles, children, grandma, grandpa and listen to live music. In Bayamo, we heard a guitar player who was so incredible it made my hair stand on end. Hannah has a recording on her phone, but in the meantime for a taste of Cuban music, here is the Buena vista social club.
From Bayamo, I headed up to the Sierra Maestra, home to the highest peak in Cuba (Pico Turquino), and historic guerilla headquarters. Unfortunately Hannah wasn't able to come along too, but I was able to join another group of people exploring this amazing place. The road up to the encampment from the nearest village - Santo Domingo is almost unbelievably steep. From the carpark, there is a great walk through the jungle to get to the former guerilla headquarters, and there were some beautiful jungle plants and orchids on the way.
After a few kilometres of walking we got to the historic guerilla encampment that the Cuban revolution was led from. Its almost incredible to think that it started from 12 people, who had landed a boat nearby (the Granma) and of the original 82 rebels on the Granma, 70 had been killed as they landed. Fidel Castro was one of these 12 survivors, and in the wild, steep hills of the Sierra Maestra he marshalled his forces and grew his army, and two years later successfully defeating the Battista forces and took over Cuba. Coming from NZ, where slow news days feature reports like Three-legged dog steals dog roll from Invercargill dairy its hard to imagine a revolution happening in our sleepy corner of the world! The encampment has simple barracks with thatched roofs, the cook house and basic medical centre which are still in place.
Fidel's house was a little fancier, it even had a gas powered fridge and several escape routes in case it was attacked. Can you spot the dent on the lower right side of the fridge? That's a bullet hole, it got there when they were unloading it from their boat under gun fire.
At the top of Pico Turquino was where the guerilla fighters established their radio station, Radio Rebelde, in 1958. At risk of torture and execution, they started broadcasting on the outcomes of guerilla battles and the imminent victory of the Guerilla forces. Radio Rebelde is now the national radio station of Cuba. In NZ there is a radio station that is proud that they once broadcast from a boat without a licence. I think Radio Rebelde wins this one.
Overall, it was a great day and a fascinating insight into a site of significant political history.
From Havana Hannah and I headed East to the other end of the Island towards Bayamo. We ended up sharing a car with a couple of others, and we were pretty tightly packed in!
We drove through the night and 12 hours we finally got to our destination. It had been a long but interesting journey!
Viñales has world class rock climbing, and so I was super happy to get to have a go at it. Viñales offers a whole lot of limestone routes, from beginner climbs to ultra hard 40m roof climbs and long multipitches, Viñales has a lot to offer for anyone that likes climbing. The crags rise out of the amazing rainforest and are within easy walking distance of the cute town of Viñales.
After a couple of days in Havana, Malo, Hannah and I headed off to the valley of Viñales, about 2 hours West of Havana. It is a stunning spot, great for all kinds of outdoor activities. On our first full day we went on a bike ride and a boat ride into one of the caves of the area.
One of the places we visited in Havana was the Museum of the Revolution. It covers the history of the 1959 Revolution that overthrew the previous Battista regime. As someone who has studied politics, I find this political history interesting. Revolutions usually only occur when things are very desperate, as the risks involved for revolutionaries are great. Things were pretty grim before the revolution, there was a lack of access to education and healthcare, widespread illiteracy, a low level of employment, poverty even for those that were employed, as well as torture (instruments were displayed). It's pretty amazing that a revolution was also successfully pulled off with the small numbers that Fidel Castro's guerilla army had at first as well.
As well as providing an interesting insight into a different political culture, the cafe at the museum had the most delicious lemon drink on offer that I have ever tasted. Recommended!
I arrived in Havana for a big occasion, a huge 6 day Carnival to celebrate the 90th birthday of the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro. There were 'Happy Birthday!' signs everywhere, some of which said things like, 'Happy Birthday! To your 90 years, and 90 more!'
It was great to have an opportunity to attend a Carnival, so Hannah and I went along. The traditional dances and costumes and pounding cuban beats made it an amazingly colourful and uplifting thing to be part of.