Today might have been one of my favorite days in Cuba thus far. This morning Erin Harris and I got up at 6:00 a.m. to hike a trail called Mirador de Venus. We decided last night that it was a fantastic idea to hike the trail and be at the top around sunset. This morning at 6:00 a.m. I was questioning that decision, but we got ready anyway and headed out. The actual trail is about a mile to the top and it’s 1,230 feet above sea level. The trail was a good challenge as it was rocky and had a fairly steep incline. We actually made it to the top just as the sun was rising over the mountain and the view was amazing! There were vibrant shades of green everywhere despite the morning fog, and the views of the interwoven hills were beautiful. It was definitely worth it to get up early.
Later in the day the whole class was scheduled to take a tour of part of the Santo Tomas cave system, which is the largest cave system in Cuba. The whole cave is 46 kilometers long, however only 500 meters are available to tourists. When we arrived, there were hard hats with headlamps attached to them set out for us. We were surprised to find that in order to get into the entrance of the cave system, we had to hike up part of a rocky mountain, which was a significant climb. There were handrails along the side made of bamboo, and the path was quite rocky. Inside the cave was unlike anything I have ever seen. There were stalagmites, stalactites, open gallery-type areas, bats, crickets, frogs, and even ferns in some places. The guide explained to us that a few plants were able to grow inside because the bats carry seeds in with them from outside of the cave. In a couple of places, there were openings in which natural light streamed in; however, in others it was so dark that if we turned our headlamps off, we couldn’t see our hand in front of our faces. It was a beautiful illustration of nature’s wonders and a unique and adventurous way to explore. There are currently no protective environmental regulations in place for the cave system, which is important in order to preserve the formations inside as well as the entire system.
For dinner our group ate at a paladar called Restaurant La Cabana. Paladars are privately owned restaurants that are usually located in people’s homes. This particular paladar had a very nice and cozy outdoor seating area in front of the house complete with a bar! The food was delicious. We had fruit, salad, two or three kinds of rice, chicken, pork, lobster, and yucca. All of the restaurant staff were super friendly and seemed really happy to have all of us there. It has been terrific to see that at least some private businesses are thriving with the fairly recent changes in policy in regards to private enterprise.