After a 2-hour drive through rural mountain villages in a decommissioned Russian army truck, we arrived at El Nicho conservation area, a nature lover’s dream with hiking trails and a panoramic backdrop of the Escambray mountains.
We hiked a steep rugged trail passing dozens of waterfalls. Anxious to cool off, we stopped to swim at the base of one, the water invitingly clear, aqua green , but I yelped at the surprisingly freezing temperature.
On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit stand to buy several enormous local fruits called Mamay that take twenty five years to grow. Tearing them apart with our fingers, juices dripping down our faces, they tasted deliciously like a cross between a sweet potato and mango.
Tourists are a rare sight in the villages. Locals ran out of their houses, waving, trying out their English, shouting the carefully enunciated “How are you?” The few vehicles were primarily horse drawn carts, farmers plowed fields with horses and I was surprised to see a number of cowboys on horseback.
I had arrived in rural Cuba by way of “Cuba Cruise”, a Greek Louis Crystal Ship that circumnavigates the island during the Winter season taking passengers places they wouldn’t normally visit. Most tourists go to the resort side of Cuba, approximately a 12 hour drive from Cienfuegos city center where we had docked.