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Journal - 03-Apr-2001, Tuesday, María la Gorda, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
(Trip: Cuba)

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Click for larger image! Country living in Cuba. Keywords: backpack,camp,camping,tent,Cuba,pinar del rio,maria la gorda,dive,diving,snorkeling,snorkel,coral,beach,coast,park,tourist,travel
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Click for larger image! Private Paradise. Keywords: backpack,camp,camping,tent,Cuba,pinar del rio,maria la gorda,dive,diving,snorkeling,snorkel,coral,beach,coast,park,tourist,travel
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Country living in Cuba
Private Paradise
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Click for larger image! Evening Entertainment. Keywords: backpack,camp,camping,tent,Cuba,pinar del rio,maria la gorda,dive,diving,snorkeling,snorkel,coral,beach,coast,park,tourist,travel
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Click for larger image! Caribbean Twilight. Keywords: backpack,camp,camping,tent,Cuba,pinar del rio,maria la gorda,dive,diving,snorkeling,snorkel,coral,beach,coast,park,tourist,travel
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Evening Entertainment
Caribbean Twilight
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I wake at 7:30. Monica is sleeping. I leave her to it. If her night was anything like mine, she needs all the sleep she can get. My only worry is that if we're going to do the Guanahacabibes reserve tour, we should do it as early as possible. The guides are available from 7 am.

Monica wakes about half an hour later. There are a number of humming birds in the tree above us. It's nice to lie back and watch them through the window in the tent.

We bath in sea in the same mini bay I almost lost my flip-flop in. The pool is about the size of a large jacuzzi, formed by a U-shaped gap in the reef.

By the time we're dressed it's 9:30 and the sun is well in the sky. It's too late for tour - the birds will no longer be active and walking will be hot work. We decide to go and find some (inexpensive) food instead.

I put a set of camera batteries in a solar charger and leave it on the dashboard. The charger's never really been tested before so it will be interesting to see how it works.

Driving along, we spot something on the road. It's a large crab. Slowing down, we see another, and another, and another. The road is covered in crabs crossing, making their way to the sea. As we approach, they rear up and wave their pincers threateningly. It's almost comical. I try to take some pictures but they scurry away too quickly to get any good shots. We carry on, slowly.

At the reserve center, they tell us the nearest shop is in Manuel Soza, about 20 km away. We head off, driving very slowly to save fuel - we don't know when we'll be able to fill up again.

Several thousand pot-holes later, we arrive at Manuel Soza. We pass what seems to be the only shop but carry on to the town's limits just to make sure. Most of the vehicles on the road are horse-drawn carts. There aren't any other shops (or any other type of business).

The only store sells clothing and packaged food. We buy long-life yogurt, biscuits, cheese, and water - essentially everything available. Looks like that will be our diet for today. Tomorrow we'll head back to civilization.

At the check-out counter, the assistant scans each item, then manually keys in an eight-digit code. The code for the water is not accepted. They check the code against a long print-out, and try again. Same problem. I wonder how often they sell water that they haven't noticed the problem up to now! After fooling around for five or ten minutes, they resort to keying the water into a different register. The code is accepted but now we have to pay for the water separately at the other register. Whatever works.

On the drive back we give a lift to two men. One works at the diving center, the other at the reserve. The diving instructor tells us that all the instructors work a week on, a week off. Sounds all-right. He spends his week off with his wife, traveling around Cuba in his uncle's American car. Cubans may not have much cash but they seem to have plenty of free time.

A bumpy forty-five minutes later we arrive at the diving center, and rent a set of snorkeling gear for $7 a day. On the journey we'd given some hints to our passenger to see if he'd organize a discount for us but he didn't seem to bite. Why should he - all tourists are rich(!).

We return to camp to eat our vittles. We've bought a packet of Cuban-made 'Vita-biscuits'. They look the recipe came from Russian nutrition research. The malty taste is quite good, however.

After breakfast, Monica has the idea of going for a walk. We passed a lake or lagoon on the drive this morning, and she wants to see if there are any crocodiles there. I'm a bit dubious, I'm sure the lake was at least 5 km away, but the walk will do us good anyway.

We walk slowly, the sun is very hot. We pass a man sitting in the shade. What does he do? We pass some derelict buildings which, based on the graffiti, look like groups of youths camp in them occasionally. There is a very skinny couple sitting in the door of one of the buildings. It looks like they live there. Looks like they live on government rations too.

We've hardly walked any distance before we start to feel uncomfortable in the heat. Our heads are throbbing lightly and we don't have the energy, or enthusiasm, to go on. It doesn't look like the lagoon is going to show up soon. We turn around.

Even though it seems like we've been walking for ages, we've only covered a few hundred meters of road. Pretty soon we're passing the skinny couple on the door step again. The man in the tree is now sleeping but wakes as we pass.

When we get back, more humming birds are buzzing in the tree above the tent. In search of shade, Monica lies down inside the tent. I sit under the tree. We both feel very heavy and lethargic.

After an hour of resting, we work up the energy to jump in the sea to cool down. The water is deliciously fresh; getting in was a good move. Once cooled, we can enjoy the sun and beach.

A few hundred meters away, a small party arrives with a stereo. This spoils our deserted paradise a little but we're happy to share. The group seems to be a family. How can they be enjoying the beach on a weekday? We get the impression that work isn't taken too seriously in Cuba. What will happen if the social state disintegrates one day?

Monica tries the snorkeling gear and swims out to sea. When she comes back, she's wearing a big smile and says it's wonderful.

I jump in and put on the mask and snorkel. What awaits me is amazing. Below the water is a world of breathtaking beauty. It's difficult to even know how to describe it.

It looks like an underwater garden - with corals as the shrubs, and fish as the birds and insects. There's over ten meters of visibility - so clear that the water doesn't seem to exist. I'm floating over a psychedelic garden. The sandy sea floor has gentle dips and rises, like a rockery. All around are giant clumps of corals - bright green tubes, purple fans, orange spikes.

Schools of fish swim above each coral cluster. The variety is astounding. Small shiny fish swim in schools of a hundred. Larger exotically-colored fish lurk between the corals, eating algae. Other fish, the color of the sand, feed on the sea floor.

The quantity of fish is amazing; they seem to have no fear of a pale homo sapiens sapiens floating above them. The range of colors is mind numbing. This is high up my list of most incredible sights. It would have been worth coming all the way to Cuba just to witness this one scene for an hour or two. I'm dumbfounded.

Granted, there are surely even more beautiful places to dive in the world but this is our own little paradise and we're thrilled by it. If there's ever time I regret Monica's camera not working (the one with the underwater case), now is it. Damn Canon!

The rest of the day is spent swimming and sunning. I take some gorgeous 'ocean paradise' photos of Monica snorkeling in the clear blue-green water. It doesn't get much better than this.

Another beautiful sunset marks the end of a magical day.

The only nagging problem is a little discomfort in our stomachs. We haven't felt 100% for a couple of days. I had hoped it would sort itself out but it's still with us, and, if anything, seems to be worsening. Let's see how we are tomorrow.

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Cuba - Rotorua, New Zealand - Christ Church, Dublin - Monument Valley, Arizona - Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico - Staffa, Scotland - Huamantla, Tlaxcala, Mexico - Costa Rica - Tule Tree, Oaxaca, Mexico - Fiesta, Mexico City - Making Lacquer, Olinalá, Mexico - Talavera Ceramics, Puebla, Mexico - Mata Ortiz Pottery, Mexico - Lebanon
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