Live the experience of playing with the clouds, having them under your feet … As a child, who has not dreamed with that? We used to imagine that there were other worlds, floating islands inhabited by mythological beings …
There is a place where you can watch the clouds from above, but is also the highest scaling challenge you can pursue in Cuba: The Pico Real del Turquino ascending, the highest point of the island with 1974 meters of altitude above sea level. But this tour offers much more than a mountain climbing: birds brightly colored, transparent butterflies, black lizards, arborescent ferns tall as coconut trees, beetles of ferocious bite, and as anticipated, the wonder of seeing the rain under your feet … I invite you to overcome with me the head of zebu.
This is the crew that accompanied me, Flora and Fauna friends, Rey fromEcotur and Ramon Cereijo from Mintur. Let´s challenge the beast, buffalo, zebu, the magnificent … I don´t know how many nicknames the locals call the Turquino. To me, it’s a bull about to attack.
Those who seek to climb the Turquino, if they don´t exercise systematically they should prepare for it, and create the minimum conditions: preferably long pants, a backpack and a hat. There is always one who leaves everything to the last minute and … she shows up with a briefcase to climb Turquino! Immediately, with ariques of Yagua, we improvised her a backpack.
Beating the Cebu requires physical effort and perseverance, but that is not enough, the mountain is merciless, it also requires health, some have lost their lives trying to beat this goal, to have will is not enough. Let´s be clear, in these places Death is stalking. If you have heart or respiratory problems, it is advisable to consult your doctor before attempting the challenge, and you should carry all the medicines, because receiving medical help in the mount is virtually impossible, you have only your own resources and the help of those who go with you.
To protect your knees and avoid falling is vital to have a scale cane, don´t think of something sophisticated with carbon fiber and rubberized handle, no, a simple Mount stick will be your best ally, and if there are two, then even better, soon you learn to use them.
Another element that should be present for this type of excursions is the energy food, either sweets or chocolates, in my case I always charge Basoco, a kind of candy made with sugar cane juice, sesame and sour orange, its envelope also be biodegradable (reed leaves), its taste is exquisite.
These friends, of very few knees, they have a lot of will , they move at a slow pace and in each bank they ask for a break, but the truth, the best way you can enjoy the trail is like this, not doing so against the clock, but as one who takes a walk.
The Turquino is a shoe breaker, the mountain does not believe in brands, the ones called “Russian boots” are preferable or a “robapollos” tennis those with thick soles, because if they are “chupamiao” (with thin soles) I don’t guarantee the return with shoes on.
Our guide picks Cayajabos. With them the Maumaos (soldiers of the Rebel Army) made necklaces, if you take it, you will have good luck in your hand, no wrong will happen to you.
We are at more than six hours to reach the Aguada de Joaquin. I have listened to the guides say that there´s who has made the journey in one day, in fact them, the guides, they often do it, but is an extremely difficult goal, and unattractive to me. What I enjoy the most about the place is the view, watch and photograph all the gifts these natural places give us.
The spring water is fresh and super natural. I do not understand how someone can bring several bottled water from the city. Just to take one, you will refill during the trip.
I find in the path the Cupey, this murderer of trees already has his next victim. The plant grows from the seeds that birds excrete high in the trees. With the rain it germinates and sends down long and thin roots, when they reach the ground begin to thicken and end up strangling the host. Sometimes the killed tree falls dragging death to his murderer, but in other occasions they slowly rot leaving a tunnel between stranglers’ branches.
Finally we reached the goal of the day, we get to Aguada del Joaquin. A clearing in the bush with two shacks, the ecological station where the dining room and bedrooms are. Here we spend the night.
Great was my surprise when at the Aguada I found, in the nearby gardens, wild, quite acid but delicious strawberries. As a child I always had curiosity for strawberries, for me it was a mystery because I didn´t knew the natural fruit. I thoroughly searched of all bushes. I shared some, don´t think I am so selfish.
We immediately started preparing the bath, the water is from the spring and is super frost. Most people heat it in wood stoves, but instead Ramón and I decided to invigorate the body with cold water, which wasn´t cold water but blades down my skin. Still I do not understand where I got the courage to such a test; anyway it was relaxing. Before the meal we decided to have a dominoes game, but soon strange clouds started moving towards us so it was impossible for us to continue the game.
Anyway the food is ready and hunger is always impatient. A light dinner, with cheese and crackers with mayonnaise, which I ate one too many. Cuza beware, that much mayonnaise can give you digestive problems, they warned me, but have deaf ears, my stomach is iron.
The night is upon us like hawks upon chickens, however, then it becomes peaceful and the moon is superb. I take a deep breath, the air is absolutely pure.
They warn us about the use of the blankets, the temperature here can drop to almost unbearable levels. King uses two, just in case, he says.
Nothing disrupts the sleep, you have everything to make it good: silent, low temperature, good bed and …tiredness. But morning comes in a flash and it is better to face the Buffalo early. From Aguada we can see it, standing imposing before us.
After breakfast and ready for departure, an earless cat comes to say good bye. We have to cut their ears so that they cannot escape to the mountain. They believe that as the rains water enter the ears, they will always stay home to be sheltered. God knows the real reason that stops the animal, most likely they damage the ability to hunt.
The climbing to the Alto del Joaquin is the most demanding effort, it almost takes your heart out. It takes several breaks to reach the top, once conquered you can say that you have dominated the monster.
If you feel passionate about bird photography, I recommend you to get ahead of the group to avoid the bird scary noise and have incredible opportunities. It happened to me that when I focus at a cartacuba, it flies towards me, I run to adjust the focus, and the bird again approaches, and did so again. I had never seen a friendlier and photograph-loving cartacuba, just a few meters from me and I couldn´t take advantage at all, my camera is not professional and the poor needs time to adjust manually.
It is a bird’s paradise, if you walk silently and you get up early, you will have incredible opportunities, as the one this hummingbird gave to me, the smallest bird in the world, who posed briefly for me.
Like this it also appears the tocororo considered the national bird of Cuba. At all times you listen to their songs, and you get to see them between the mountain and the stockade, the male differs from the female by its bright colors.
I take twenty pictures of these beautiful birds, I regret not having a better camera and a more powerful lens, but the opportunities are many (though short) you will always have the opportunity to take a well-focused picture.
I have advanced enough to see from a hillside the group that I’ve left behind, and that progress has not been solely for the interest of photographing birds. The pure and raw truth is that the excessive consumption of mayonnaise starts making a mess. I have to pay for not having listened the warning. Several times I have to “go” and whenever I do the fear invades me that la mula del diablo (a mule devil) attacks my wealthier parts, unprotected in that process. The mule devil, a feared beetle by its bite, like all dangerous insects, has bright colors. Luckily I came out unharmed, and made some pictures, but I wonder if this really is the suspect, anyway I kept at bay, just in case.
In kilometer ten, I took a break and I waited for the group. The scenery is amazing, it seems that instead of a path, I took a tunnel to the past and I am now in the Pleistocene among ferns and rare giant trees.
The Monkeys pass, was the most dangerous, people had to do it helped with a string, now we take rustic stairs, luckily for us.
To go from one mountain to the other you walk down the spine of the mountain gorges and cliffs on the two sides, but the trees, with his infinite fatherly will guard our way. Then we arrive to a huge rock, if one day it goes rolling downhill, it will be a disaster.
From here it is a step to the top of the imposing, the guide warns us, and it´s true. I am the first, I want to take pictures of the group entering. Finally in the bump of the Cebu!
But we are not alone, a group of cadets has risen from Santiago by way of The Caves. We share photos and songs.
The top is a small plaza with a Marti bust in the middle. Too bad that the height of the surrounding vegetation doesn’t allow the highest point of Cuba to become a natural viewpoint. On the ground improvised to prepare a snack, this time rejected the mayonnaise offer.
We are there a brief time, we must descent in one day, but going down all the saints help. I’m almost running, one would think it´s an endless descent, legs shaking. I get to The Aguada and go straight to the toilet, which was the secret reason that justify so much energy. When the group arrives I already showered and ready to resume the march. On the way, they showed me a tree where the lightning fury had taken on it.
We returned down the Platica path. For a moment I even thought I was on a Gulliver journey, the anison plants, which in my village are simple bushes, here are gigantic and form a dense forest along the creek.
Our guide tells us that ginger here grows wildly. It is also common to find bananas and pineapples in the middle of the path.
The Platica town is small and cozy, with only a few houses, but it has a beautiful orchid garden and home gardens show various and precious flowers.
There is also a small restaurant, an eco-lodge and a plantation where they cabbages and other vegetables are grown. Some say that about a kilometer from La Platica a rich pool for swimming exists, but it´s only for those who like a cold swim, because the water is always cold.
We had lunch and departed from there to the Alto del Naranjo, where the jeeps awaited to take us to the Santo Domingo village, but we faced a difficulty since we almost could not fit in because we all wanted to carry our climbing sticks. Lose those canes, the chauffeur suggested. We refused, they were not mere sticks, they were trophies, the weapon used to dominate the Cebu fury and we made possible the childhood dream of playing with the clouds.
* Traducción realizada por: Lic. Zenia Bermudez López. Graduada de Lengua Inglesa y Francesa en la Universidad de Holguín “Oscar Lucero Moya”