The last trip with IFSA!
So our last and final IFSA Butler group trip began in Santiago! We traveled to the eastern half of the island from Santiago to Baracoa with a quick stop in Guantanamo overnight.
Where did we go in Santiago?
-Jose Marti’s mausoleum
– the beautiful town square
– the Moncada barracks, where Fidel made his first attempt at the revolution
– church of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the patron Virgin of Cuba -Gran Piedra- the largest whole volcanic rock in the world
– San Pedro de la Roca castle and fortress
Guantanamo was really just a short stop on our way but the food was great and we ended up finding a reggaeton concert by sheer luck. We stayed one night leaving the next morning to head to Baracoa, on our way out of town we stopped by the roadside shoreline to hunt for shells and take photos.
Our arrival in Baracoa was in the afternoon and we found ourselves in a small beachside town full of tourists and sleepier at night than anywhere else I’ve been in Cuba. It is lush and feels like a vacation city, the colorful houses are surrounded by tall lush mountains, and El Yunque distantly looks out over the sea from an hour outside of town.
The food in Baracoa is delicious and unique from the rest of the country’s standard fare. The local specialty is a coconut milk sauce made with cilantro and tomatoes, similar to the sauce that ropa vieja is made in but with the strength of cilantro and the smoothness of coconut milk that reminded me of a milder version of one of my favorite Thai soups, the name of which is escaping me now as I write this.
Our second day in Baracoa we climbed El Yunque, the second highest peak in all of Cuba and it was just the adventure I needed. At the foot of the mountain we had to cross cuba’s third largest river (it’s hard to brag about these accomplishments when they’re not top tier in terms of height or width but they were fun and I think maybe the size ranking helps one picture what it was like).
Soaking wet we began our climb, around three hours up and two hours down through vertical mudslides and nary a rock to cling too. It was messy insanity and so so hot but absolutely fun. I can’t say that i would claim it again, mostly because I felt like I had inappropriate footwear but I’m not sure what appropriate footwear would be, I think maybe just really rugged waterproof boots with a good grip. I have this fantasy where I brought my bean boots to Cuba because time and time again I get sloshed in rain and mud and long for some shoes more cozy and durable than flip flops and sneakers.
Leaving Baracoa was a much longer saga than it could have been but not entirely frustrating or unexpected. Our plane was broken and they had to send the passengers on a bus to Santiago to take a different plane to Havana, however every bus in Baracoa was being used by tour groups so they had to send a driver from Santiago five hours away to get us. All in all it was a thirteen hour delay for a one hour flight but the airline got everyone lunch at the gorgeous seaside hotel beside the airport and we splashed around in the pool and sunbathed in our underwear (our suitcases were locked up in the airport! Sometimes you have to make do!). The hotel had a small lookout over the water with a replica of the cross that Columbus placed in the earth when he reached Baracoa and found himself in Cuba. It was a little eerie and surreal to consider- the lookout point was so lush he must have thought he had found paradise, but I closed my eyes and thought about how lucky I was to be by the ocean all things considered, saving my feelings about Columbus and replica crosses for another day.