Click here to view a web album with 72 high-resolution photos from this day.
I am writing this blog at 10PM on 5/18. We have been unable to access the Internet since arriving in Zapata Peninsula, so I fear there will be a 3 day gap between blog entries. Please forgive me for that!
This is our last day on the Zapata Peninsula. This was perhaps the mellowest day in terms of the number of different activities.
As usual, we left on our 9AM bus with Eduardo and Ludwig. We picked up a local guide who brought us into the Zapata National Park for a nature walk and bird viewing trip. The land ranged from fairly open dry tropical forest dominated by tall palm trees to dense jungle dominated by shrubs:
Along the way, we spotted a wide variety of wildlife, including several interesting birds such as the Cuban screech owl, Cuban pygmy owl (photo #1 below), tocororo (the national bird of Cuba, photo #2), the West Indian striped woodpecker, and the Cuban oriole. We also spotted termites, crabs (found here because the area floods during the rainy season, photo #3), and a large snake that was tamed by our intrepid visiting professor and nature expert Hinrich (photo #4):
The walk lasted about 3 hours and would have been entirely pleasant if not for the constantly swarming mosquitoes, a consequence of our visiting during the rainy season. Although it has only sprinkled a few times since we have been here, the sun rarely comes out in full force, instead often remaining hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. It is nice to be avoiding the hottest weather and the greatest potential for sunburns, but we always welcome the sun when it makes one of its rare appearances.
We traveled for lunch to Punta Perdiz (“Quail Point”), a lovely spot along the water:
After a leisurely lunch, everyone was psyched to hop in the water to snorkel. We weren’t disappointed. This site featured a nice patch reef near shore. We snorkeled in groups and spotted many interesting creatures, including corals (fire, purple sea fan, brain – see photo #1 below, mustard hill), sea anemones (photo #2), conch, sponges, a moray eel (photo #3), and a wide variety of fish including yellow snapper, parrotfish, and a trumpetfish:
After enjoying a post-snorkeling ice cream break, we headed to a nearby village so that the students could see how rural Cubans live. We wandered the streets of the village, greeting the locals, getting peeks into their lives, and handing out gifts (NEC T-shirts and stuffed animals, pencils, baseball cards, toiletries, notebooks). It was a fascinating experience, one that gave us a perspective that’s hard to capture in words or photographs. The feel of the place--its organic and earthy smell, the gardens and rubble and horsecarts and well-kept bungalows, the mix of curiosity and suspicion and friendliness that greeted us—was the type of experience that is impossible to get from a distance. Only by spending so much time in Cuba, and getting so close to its people, were we able to gain this perspective.
Tired from the days of hiking and busy schedules, we ate dinner at 7:30PM, and most people retreated to their beds soon after, knowing that we must awaken for an early 7:30AM departure tomorrow.
All is well. Sorry it’s taken so long to post these updates!
Best wishes from Cuba,