by Ellen Paul
Most birders on major birding ventures manage to avoid spending even a moment or two on non-birding activities or observations, and we are no exception. On a trip to Zimbabwe, we only went to Victoria Falls after we had birded the area thoroughly and had a few minutes to kill before heading to our next destination. Had there been more birds to see, we wouldn't have wasted time on some stupid waterfall.
Such tunnel-vision is nearly impossible in Cuba. You can't help but be overwhelmed by everything you see. It is a world apart. No matter how much you read or hear about it, you can't be prepared for this, especially if you are from the U.S. Nothing makes sense. Just when you think you understand the rules, there is always some anomalous freedom that leaves you befuddled. Everyone is employed, but nobody works. Killing time - days, weeks, months - is an art form here. Nobody works, but somehow production quotas are filled. Production quotas are filled, but somehow there is nothing to buy, except on the black market. There is nothing to buy, but somehow everyone has a TV, VCR, sufficient food, and so on. As an American, you assume that the Cubans must be unhappy about the situation, but then it turns out that many are not. Or so they say. But maybe they really aren't. After all, it isn't nearly as bad as it was before the revolution. If you lived in a shack and had no running water, no electricity, no education, no health care, and no future, maybe it looks pretty good now - you have a house, electricity, running water, free health care, universal education, TV and while basic material goods are in short supply, they are in better supply now than then. Be a good boy and your children can go to university. So, even though there is no upward to be mobile to, your children have opportunities that they would never have had before.
So, apologies for the significant amount of nonbirding detail here. Read the parts you want to read, skip the rest. Also, we've given logistics in some depth and travel directions as precisely as possible (we should have noted the exact distances but didn't realize just how few road signs there would be, so we didn't bother). You can definitely bird Cuba on your own, if you are the type to avoid organized tours. It isn't all that tough, even if you don't speak Spanish (although fewer people here speak English than in most of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean). Speaking Spanish may not be much help here anyway, since the Spanish is very rapid and there is an aversion to pronouncing more than one syllable per word. So, buenos dias sounds more like the Portugese bom dia. People will slow down and enunciate clearly if you ask them to. So all this extra detail is for those who like to do it on their own.
Getting there is not a problem, even if you are from the U.S. Many people go through Canada, the Bahamas, or Mexico. Jamaica is a great way to go, because you can bird Jamaica on the way out and back, and it is a straight shot to Havana from either Montego Bay or Kingston. Why fly several hours north to Canada and then south again, when you can go through Jamaica? You can make your reservations on Air Jamaica in the U.S., but of course you can't pay for the tickets or pick them up until you arrive in Jamaica (just go to the Air Jamaica desk in the departures terminal). When you leave Jamaica, you buy a $15 tourist visa at the airport. The Jamaicans don't stamp your passport when you leave Jamaica, although for some mystifying reason, they do stamp it when you return, so you end up with two entry stamps and no exit stamp (as though you had simply gone for an airplane ride). Anyway, that $15 tourist visa is what the Cubans stamp, rather than stamping your passport. Many people day-hop from Jamaica to Havana, as there is a Havantur office right in Montego Bay, on Gloucestershire Street. You can make hotel reservations, get your tourist visa, arrange for guided tours, and so forth.
U.S. citizens traveling without a treasury department license or not on a sanctioned tour take note: the penalty for trading with the enemy (exacerbated by the Helms-Burton Act, exacerbated by the Torricelli Act; those of you in North Carolina, Indiana, New Jersey: GO VOTE!) is up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison.
Do yourself a favor and get the Cuba Handbook from Moon Travel Handbooks. It is an invaluable resource. You'll have to overlook the fairly glaring errors about birds but the travel information is great. I'll just give a few of the critical details here. First, drinking water is safe throughout the country. We drank water from taps with no problem. We didn't eat unpeeled fruits and vegetables because none were available. Supposedly, the local farmers markets have been legalized again, but we didn't see any. There were people selling huge chains of garlic alongside the road, but no fresh fruits or vegetables. In January, there were no chiggers or cattle ticks, but there were mosqitos at night. We checked with the CDC about malaria, and were told that Cuba is considered malaria-free. Do keep a very tight hold on your passport. If you do lose it, don't be hesitant to go the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. We traveled with a back-packing American for a few days. On an earlier trip, his friend's backpack had been stolen with the passport inside. After days of calling every other embassy and mission trying to get a passport, they finally called the U.S. Interests Section, with great trepidation and certainty that they would be arrested and fined or jailed once back in the U.S. Not so. The passport was replaced quickly and no one bothered them at all.
We had been told that you must have written proof of a hotel reservation to get into Cuba. Well, maybe so. The Cuba Handbook mentions this, but the author says that no one has ever asked him for proof. We had the same experience - no one ever asked us. Other friends, however, say that they have been asked and weren't permitted to enter the country until the hotel sent someone over to the airport with proof of a reservation. So, to be on the safe side, we booked a hotel for the first two nights. It wasn't easy! Phone numbers in Cuba change frequently, so even the most up-to-date travel book will be wrong. We finally booked through the Cuban Connection (www.cuba.tc). They can also book a car for you. You can also book a car through www.cubacar.cubanacan.cu.
They put us at the Hotel Comodoro in the Havana suburb of Miramar. Let me tell you that you can be miserable for a lot less than the $200 night (high season) that this place will set you back. On the outside, it looks fine, but on the inside, it is a real dump. There is another, newer and much fancier hotel right next door called the Melia. If you want to be in a nice hotel and out of the downtown area, stay there.
You absolutely need reservations during the Christmas season and you will need to make them months in advance. Despite the building/re-building boom in hotels in Havana, there still aren't enough hotel rooms. Those said to be nice include the historic Ambos Mundos, the Golden Tulip, the Sevilla, and the Hotel Florida. The Hotel Nacional in Vedado (10 minutes from Havana Vieja) is quite famous and overlooks the Malecon, the famous seaside boulevard. They are expensive, and you would be better off staying in a casa particulares - a room to let in a private house. Try to stay in the licensed ones. They are inspected and must meet standards. Also, the owners are the licensed ones must pay a steep monthly fee for their license, regardless of how much money they take in, so it helps to keep them in business by staying there. They are generally no more expensive than the illegal ones, and may even be cheaper. Enough on accommodations. Get the Cuba Handbook.
Of course, there isn't much birding in Havana, but if you don't spend a day in Havana, you will have missed a singular experience. Havana was obviously a beautiful, European-style city with wide boulevards and magnificent buildings. It is now decaying - perhaps beyond repair - and in the areas where they expect tourists, they are dressing up the building exteriors with fresh coats of pastel paint. I found myself being the ultimate (ugly?) American and thinking what some good Yankee dollars and know-how could do to bring this city back in no time at all. I never knew that waste was a Communist principle. It is said that Castro has no regard for Havana because it represents the corruption, greed, immorality, and injustice of the Batista regime, and wasn't willing to spend resources to maintain the city, and that his strongest base of support was the campesinos, not the city folk, so he had no political need to worry about conditions in Havana. Whatever the reason, the result is so very sad. Highly recommended - the Museum of the Revolution. Allow plenty of time - it contains a great deal of information and it's a lot to absorb. You could spend a good four hours here. The Natural History Museum was in the Capitolio - a beautiful building along the Prado, but it is now housed in a new building on the Plaza de Armas. Can't comment on it because it was closed on Sunday, which is the day we had in Havana.
We left Havana to go to the Zapata peninsula. Roads are good, but the road signs are not. The six-lane autopista has few cars and large numbers of bicycles, horses, horse carts, ox carts, pedestrians, the ubiquitous lines of people waiting for rides. Give people rides. They will help you with directions. Although they may direct you to THEIR destination, then get out and tell you how to get back to where you wanted to go. Use your common sense in choosing riders and keep your valuables out of sight. It is said that there is very little crime here, and that is apparently so, but why ask for trouble?
When you leave Havana, find your way to Parque Lenin, on the south west side of the Havana suburbs. This makes sense if you are staying out in Miramar or one of the other western suburbs. The Cuba map by Freytag and Berndt (available in Borders) is said to be the best, but we found it minimally useful. We relied on the maps in the Cuba Handbook. What you are looking for is the Autopista Nacional. The problem is that it is not finished through the city. So if you are in Miramar or the western suburbs, you can go down either 31st Av. or 41st. Av. to the southwest. Street numbers are even and avenue numbers are odd. The streets are marked with small concrete markers on the corners - look carefully for them. The two streets cross in an X, with 31st going off to the right and 41st going off to the left. From either 31st or 41st, turn left on 100th Street, which becomes Av. San Francisco. Take that to Monumental. Or, you can follow 31st to the end, turn left onto 112th, which becomes 116th, which becomes Monumental. You will see Parque Lenin on your right. Almost directly across from the entrance to Parque Lenin, the road splits - in fact, it might actually be an entrance ramp. No signs that we can recall, or that we noted. Anyway, turn left here. If you miss the turn, you will soon come to a lake on your right, and you know you've gone too far. Turn around and go back, looking for this ramp on your right.
Now finding the Autopista isn't so easy. If there was a sign, we didn't see it. What you are looking for is a railroad line that you cross over. Then there is an major road called the Carreterra Central. Go over that, too. The next major road is the Autopista Nacional. I think there was a sign saying Santa Clara or Jaguey Grande.
If you are in the Habana Vieja, find your way to the Via Blanca, which runs to the Autopista just south of the southernmost tip of the harbor. If you are east of the harbor, look for Via Monumental and take it southwest to the Autopista.
Relax. There is no traffic. You can make u-turns everywhere. Just watch out for cattle, bicyclists, and horses.
It is about 120km to Australia, which is where you want to turn south to get to the Zapata peninsula. There are several businesses on the corner, including the ubiquitous and generally awful Rumbos rest stops. At this intersection, turn right to go to Zapata. Go about 30 km to Playa Larga.
En route from Havana to Zapata, there isn't much birding. Mostly farms, citrus groves. We had Cuban Crow, Greater Antillean Palm Swift, Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, and Broadwing Hawk.
Next challenge: How to find Chino.
Orestes Martinez Garcia, known as Chino, is a naturalist guide for C.I.T.M.A. - the Ministerio de Ciencia Tecnologia y Medio Ambiente, at the Estacion Ecologica Cienaga de Zapata. The ecological station will be on your right, a couple of kilometers before Playa Larga. You could stop in there and ask for Chino. Or you could go to Playa Larga (turn right into Playa Larga, just before the road divides, go to the last street before the road curves around to the right; if you get to the gate to the road to Santo Tomas, you've gone too far). The house on the right-hand corner of that last street is Chino's brother's house. Stop and ask for him there. Or, you can go to the casa particulares where you will probably want to stay - it is owned by Ernesto Delgado, the street name is Caleton, and the telephone number is 059-7210. Sorry we don't have a house number, but it was a pretty white and blue house with a scrollwork gate. Ernesto can track down Chino. Or just ask around in Playa Larga. Everyone knows him.
I suppose you could try to reach him in advance. The e-mail address we had doesn't work and all we can do is give you the phone number that he says is current (phone numbers apparently change frequently in Cuba). It is 059-5670. Try after 9 p.m. His number at work is 059-5539. Or write to him (even from the U.S., regular letters should get through; it is less likely that his response to you will get through). The address we have for the Ecological Station is Estacion Ecologica CITMA, Carretera a Playa Large Km 26, Cienaga de Zapata, Mantanzas, Cuba CP 43000.
You could bird the area on your own, except that you are required to have a guide to go to Santo Tomas or into the swamp (the parts that are national park), and besides, Chino knows all the good places to bird in the area, knows where to find everything, and won't quit until you've seen it all. So do yourself a favor, find Chino, and start racking up the numbers.
We don't know what the actual guide fees are. the Cuba Handbook says that you can arrange a guide through Rumbos or through the hotel in Australia known as Fiesta Finca Campesina, and that guides cost U.S.$53 for one person per day (less per person for two or more people). It also says that birding excursions are offered from the Villa Playa Giron. I have no idea if any of this is true. I guess you could ask at the Ecological Station, or you can do what everyone else does which is to just make arrangements directly with Chino. Do this well out of earshot of everyone else (an important rule to follow whenever you are arranging payment for anything outside of official channels, such as an unlicensed casa particulares). Richard Knapton's report (April 1998) doesn't say how much he paid; his tour guide was actually Arturo Kirkconnell, an ornithologist based in Havana, and Chino was the local guide in Zapata, so Arturo probably made arrangements with the local guides. Jon Hornbuckle paid $10 per half day (he doesn't say if that was per person). We paid U.S.$50 per day (for the both of us, not per person), which may sound like a lot until you realize that you will be birding sunup to sundown, and then you will go out again in the evening to find owls. Chino won't rest until you've seen everything, and seen it really well.
Bring old shoes to wade in the swamp.
Now, about those birds:
We arrived in Playa Larga about 1 p.m., found Chino by asking around. He took us to Ernesto's where we dropped our things, and then Chino had us out and birding immediately. He took us to a cattle trail in Soplillar. Immediately - Cuban Trogon, nice and low - easy to see. This is dry forest, not too dense. Birds everywhere, and I've never seen pishing have such incredible results. The birds just fly right out, dozens of them, zipping right by your nose. Yellow-headed Warbler, Northern Parula, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Crescent-eyed Pewee, Prairie Warbler. The Cuban Todies don't really pish, but seem to get caught up in the excitement, and show up in a minute or so. Todies alone make the trip to Cuba worthwhile. The same trail yielded Loggerhead Kingbird (many of those everywhere), American Kestrel, and Cuban Emerald. In a marshy area at the end of the trail, Northern Jacana, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher. Then, in an open, shrub-scrub area - exceptional looks at three Bee Hummingbirds. Unfortunately, they aren't in breeding plumage until February, but they are still just so incredible. In that same patch, a West Indian Woodpecker, a Cuban Pygmy Owl, a Gray Catbird, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Red-legged Thrush, Great Lizard Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani. On another trail, Gray-headed Quail Dove - the obligatory glimpse thereof. Actually, one of us had a good look. Rose-throated Parakeet, Fernandina's Flicker, Cuban Blackbird, Crescent-eyed Peewee, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black and White Warbler, American Redstart, Palm Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Greater Antillean Grackle, and Yellow-faced Grassquit. Looked for Gundlach's Hawk. No luck.
Tried for owls first night. No luck.
Second day - out before dawn. Ernesto is used to Chino's crazy birder friends, and had breakfast ready for us. Chino took us to an area of the swamp that is apparently outside the protected area. We had a Greater Antillean Nightjar on the drive. As the sun rose, we heard Sora Rail, King Rail, Spotted Rail. Common Moorhens seen, along with Merlin, Green Heron. Then, with the help of a tape, we had a Zapata Wren right by the side of the road. Easily seen, and for quite a long time. We heard three, or possibly four Zapata Rails, but seeing them would require going out into the swamp in a blind and sitting there for hours. And incredible luck. There was a Marsh Harrier in the distance. So, as it turned out, we didn't even get our feet wet. The rest of the morning was fairly quiet. We hit small, birdy patches along the way back to Playa Larga. Again, pishing was rewarding. Lots of Common Yellowthroats, Cape May Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers. We also found a Black-cowled Oriole, and a Cuban Vireo. Back to the upland trails around Playa Larga, where we found a Bare-legged Owl (thump on the old, hollow palms), Cuban Bullfinch, Summer Tanager, a glimpse of Key West Quail Dove. At this point it was hot and nothing was moving except us. We were now focusing on quail doves, and especially the Blue-headed Quail Dove. Tip-toeing down trails for hours. I began to complain about the heat, but my whining fell on deaf ears. We tip-toed until the sun went down. Our last stop for the day was a visit an older gentleman named Santiago (not Santiago's farm, because even though home ownership is legal, the farm property is owned by the state and the chickens, organges, cane, and everything else produced belongs to the government), who knew his birds and assured us that there were Blue-headed Quail Doves on the trails behind his house and in his garden in the morning. We made plans to go back.
That night: STYGIAN OWL. Seen well. Really well. Happy dreams.
The next morning, we went to the farm run by Santiago. Just after dawn, a flock of Cuban Parakeets came to a tree in the front yard. No Blue-headed Quail Doves in the garden. We headed off into the karst (limestone) forest, leaving the seeds of sour oranges along the way. Karst is not easy to walk on and in some places, you need to look out for large holes. So we walked. And we walked. We were rewarded with a very good view of a Ruddy Quail Dove on the path. More walking. And then...no, not a Blue-headed Quail Dove. But crippling looks at a Key West Quail Dove. (I'm not repeating other things that we'd seen before, such as Fernandina's Flicker and Cuban Trogon, but I will admit to stopping for every Tody. You can never get enough Todies). We stopped at a good-sized pond, but it was now the early afternoon and quite hot. We turned up a Limpkin, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and West Indian Woodpecker.
The afternoon started with a non-birding adventure. For Americans of a certain age, it is very jarring to be standing at the shore of the Bahia de Cochinas. The Bay of Pigs. There is a museum there, and whatever else you think of the U.S., the CIA, Castro, communism - it's hard not to be ashamed of our involvement in this sordid mess. Not to mention that we botched it compeletely.
On the third and final day, we headed off to Santo Tomas, where Chino will take you out into the swamp in a rowboat. Upon arriving in Santo Tomas (30 km drive, road is well-graded dirt but has some craters caused by flooding), we stopped in a marshy field to look for Cuban Sandhill Cranes. None found. The swamp itself was extremely quiet. We found a Killdeer, Northern Flicker, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler. No Zapata Sparrow. We said our good-byes to Chino, leaving him our Cornell Lab and TNC caps, lots of toiletries, some t-shirts, and the shoes that never saw the swamp.
Now, for some more logistics - almost everything in Cuba is done on a cash basis. Most hotels take credit cards, but outside Havana, you won't find anything but hotels that take credit cards. And forget about using a credit card from an American bank. Forget about traveler's checks, especially if they come from American banks. Forget about ATMs. Forget about getting more cash. What you have in your pocket when you arrive is all you will ever have. So, read the Cuba Handbook carefully, make your calculations, and add at least 10%. And after all that, you will still find yourself counting and calculating every night. As did we. And we decided that the two tanks of gas we would need to get to Camaguey and Caya Coco (at U.S.$35 per tank) would break the bank. We were very eager to find the Giant Kingbird (Camaguey) and the Oriente Warbler (Caya Coco), but decided that we didn't want to stress out for the rest of the trip.
Instead, we headed off to La Guira National Park, west of Havana. A long drive. Had we known then what we know now, we would have done Camaguey and Caya Coco and skipped La Guira.
Getting there wasn't too tough, except for the fact that the Autopista ends on the east side of Havana and picks up again on the west side, so you have to navigate your way around. We basically went back around on Via Monumental towards Parque Lenin and picked up the Autopista near El Palmar. Actually, there were a fair number of signs in this area, so it wasn't too difficult. From there, it is a boring but easy drive to the turn off for San Diego de los Banos. There is a billboard for San Diego de los Banos. There are kilometre markers along the road. John Hornbuckle's report says km101; as it turns out, it was more like 103 or 104. Note - Jon's report says that this is the only site west of Havana. That's not correct, and I mention this not to pick on Jon, but to encourage you to go to Sierra del Rosario instead of La Guira. Better overall birding, better place to visit. (There is also a national park on the far west coast, but I don't know anyone who has birded there, so I can't comment on it). OK, so you go into San Diego de los Banos, and there are two hotels - one rather expensive one for foreigners called the Hotel El Mirador, and one older one called the Hotel Saratoga, which looked clean, but they weren't willing to take foreigners. There is also supposed to be a Hotel Libertad, but we couldn't find it. So, we asked for a casa particulares, and were directed to one that was obviously not licensed. It was clean, had cold showers, but we had to ask for toilet paper. The food was reasonably priced but truly awful. Also, you will have to use your DEET here, because the windows don't have screens and the mosquitos were fierce.
Well, it poured all afternoon, so we couldn't go into the park until the next morning. Beware - there are two bridges heading north out of San Diego de los Banos. The eastern one, just north of the town square, where the mineral baths are, is a disaster waiting to happen. You can walk across it, but don't drive across it. The decking consists of a few rotting wooden planks. The other bridge is a few blocks to the west. Cross that bridge and just keep going. You will eventually come to a grand stone entranceway. Turrets, in fact. Casa Cortina was the estate of one of the filthy rich Cubans who had good reason to flee the country. The place is little more than ruins now, but it must have been a real Hearst-like Xanadu in its day. There were broken, toppled Carrara marble statutes all over the place, a children's park with a small zoo - the aviary is now empty, but there is one very sad Vervet monkey living in a barren cage. Waterways curve around the property, which also had a Chinese garden, a set of English ruins imported to complete the English boxwood garden, and supposedly, Cortina's mansion is preserved as a museum. Well, maybe it was at one time. We searched high and low and couldn't find it. We even ran into the curator, who spoke no English, but it was clear that there was no museum there. Lacking the past tense of Spanish verbs, I wasn't able to ask if there had been a museum in the past, or what had happened to it.
So, birds. Yes, well, near there entrance, in the pines, we did find Olive-capped Warbler and Western Stripe-headed Tanager. Along the waterways, we found Cuban Emerald, Cuban Trogon, Red-legged Thrush (many), Green Heron, Northern Jacana, Common Gallinule. On the road heading north out of the park, we found American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Mourning Dove, Northern Parula, Crescent-eyed Peewee, Prairie Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Mockingbirds, Yellow-headed Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Summer Tanager, Loggerhead Kingbird, and Red-legged Honeycreeper. On the road back to the Autopista (which bypasses San Diego de los Banos), we had Common Ground Dove, Great Lizard Cuckoo, and Turkey Vulture. There are some nice ponds along the road heading back to the Autopista, and we had Common Egret and Black-Necked Stilt.
So you get the idea - a fair number of birds, but only three new. And we are of the opinion that you should be able to get the Olive-capped Warbler in the abundant pines around Soroa, which was our next and final stop.
Soroa is in the middle of the Sierra del Rosaria Biosphere. This is a region of gently-rolling hills. There isn't much to indicate that it is a protected area. Soroa is a tourist town, with an orchidarium (not what you'd expect - it's actually a hillside botanical garden where virtually all the plants are imported except the orchids - it is quite nicely maintained and the tour guides are all botanists who give very detailed information), a waterfall, a steep trail to the top of peak which is high enough to give great views, and a tourist hotel (I think it was something like $46 per night per room; there is a swimming pool, dollar store, small gift shop, bar and a restaurant with the typical lousy food and lousy service, prices aren't bad). This is the only place outside Havana where we saw other tourists - a group from Spain, and one lone American. He had found an unlicenced casa particulares which was apparently very rustic. Forget hot water - he was washing from a bucket. Although this had nothing to do with poverty - the pipe had broken and they hadn't been able to get it fixed.
Anyway, we hiked up the hill the next morning - it is steep and muddy but not too difficult. It wasn't extremely birdy, but birdy enough to be worth the effort, especially because we had it all to ourselves. The real treat was a Cuban Solitaire up near the top. Like all solitaires, it was hard to find, more so because this one is a plain, drab brown. Finally, we came around a bend and there it was, out in plain view, singing just for us.
We headed off for Las Terrazas, a few kilometers northeast of Soroa, just for the afternoon. When you turn off towards this agricultural community that is touted as an ecotourism site, you will pay a fee, which gets you a good map. The area was once a coffee plantation, since reforested, and there are various places to stop and see the ruins. The central village has a lake, an expensive hotel (which looked rather shabby from the outside but is highly recommended by the Cuba Handbook), More Cuban Todies. La Sagra's Flycatcher was also a nice treat. There is a model village to house the workers - but don't think in American terms. Think Soviet. Crumbling Soviet. There is an ecological station where you can hire guides, but the trail map is good (finding trail heads may be tricky, but otherwise, you won't really need a guide). There is also a restaurant. We followed one trail that starts across the road from the ecological station and pished out stacks of Black-throated Blues, Yellow-headed Warblers, American Redstarts. A few more Cuban Todies, along with a Cuban Emerald, Western Stripe-headed Tanager, and Scaly-naped Pigeon, a Red-tailed Hawk, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and a Louisiana Waterthrush rounded out the day and we headed back to Soroa.
We followed the northern coastal road back to Havana, hoping for some good birding spots. We tried Bahia Honda, due north of the park, but it was a very built-up area with a good-sized town and several factories, dairy plants, and such around the bay. There was a very pretty bay (I think it was Bahia de Cabana) a little further on, but it wasn't birdy at all. The coastal route is mostly agricultural, so it is more interesting than the Autopista. We arrived back in Havana, feeling that we had done well for the areas we had covered. We spent an evening in the casa particulares recommended by a friend, and returned home the following morning, using the time in the airport to plan our next trip to Cuba.
There is one significant aftermath that I want to report. I am still feeling immense sadness and guilt. It is hard to know that the binoculars around your neck cost more than your guide makes in an entire year. It is hard to see people so grateful for a cheap pair of sneakers that you bought specifically to wade in the swamp and wore just once before giving them away. The shortages suffered during the “Special Period” after the dissolution of the Soviet Union deprived Cuba of virtually all its subsidies, oil, and the barter economy have abated, but people will still be happy to receive toiletries, clothing, and other items from you, in addition to whatever fees you might pay. You have to restrain yourself from giving away all your clothes and luggage. Take as little as you need for yourself and fill the rest of your space with give-aways. And then you get home, and open your bathroom cabinet, and see the six tubes of toothpaste you bought because they were on sale and the jumbo pack of 24 rolls of toilet paper. You trip over the three pairs of shoes you wore yesterday.
Please write to your federal senators and representatives and urge them to repeal the Helms-Burton and Torricelli Acts.
Great Blue Heron
Key West Quail-Dove
Greater Antillean Nightjar
West Indian Woodpecker
Cuban Green Woodpecker
La Sagra's Flycatcher
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Greater Antillean Grackle