Santiago de Cuba
This past weekend was our IFSA sponsored trip to see some of the other side of the island. After an early flight at 5:30 Friday morning, we landed in Santiago de Cuba. Since this was our one day to spend in the city, we tried to make the most of our time. First, we went shopping through some of the market streets, and then saw a few museums. Then we made our way to the church in the main square of the city, and although it was closed for restoration, we were still allowed in for a couple of minutes to see the amazing architecture.
To finish the day, we took a taxi a couple minutes outside of the center of Santiago to the Castillo del Morro San Pedro de la Roca, which had some of the most beautiful views of the coastline and the city. It was originally built between 1638 and 1700 to defend the city from pirates, but has now been declared a Heritage Site by UNESCO and is currently a museum.
Saturday and Sunday were the start of the real adventure. We had to wake up the next morning at five to catch a Jeep that would take us to the southern trail of the tallest mountain in Cuba, Pico Turquino (1972 meters above sea level). With a breakfast of Tukola (Cuban soda) and a ham and cheese sandwich, we were ready to take on the 15km of day one.
The route to the top of the mountain had some of the most incredible views that I have ever seen. As we continued higher and higher, the clouds slowly began to move in on the peak, and when we reached the top, you couldn’t see out more than a couple meters off the trail. As our day came to an end, we spent the night in a campismo that sat just a few kilometers on the northern side of the peak. After a really “cold for Cuba” night, we made the last 8km leg to the bottom of the trail.
We eventually made our way back to Santiago Sunday evening, exhausted from a weekend of hiking and looking forward to returning back to Havana. Unfortunately when we arrived at the airport, an official came and informed that our flight was canceled due to the plane being broken and stuck in Paris. So, when is the next plane out of Santiago? No room for us until Tuesday at the earliest, and the same situation at the bus station. Next and final option, a 15 hour car ride across the country. Our tax driver through all of this mess offered to drive us to Havana overnight for a reasonable price. So the whole night was spent with four students, our director, and the driver cramped into a small car from 1948 on a cross country road trip. Although it was a very uncomfortable 15 hours and the car did break down once for about an hour, this was an adventure that none of us will soon forget.