When you mention Cuba, most people immediately think of Havana or Varadero for their holidays.
But those towns are tiny dots on Cuba’s map.
cuba-huge-nature-reserve16Around 23% of Cuba is a totally unspoilt natural environment, plus Unesco Heritage towns, centuries old.
There are 13 National Botanical Gardens, with mountains, lakes, evergreen forests, and spectacular waterfalls hidden amongst them all.
Because there aren’t many made-up roads in Cuba, we travelled around a lot of the time on strong ex-military lorries, known as Russian limousines!
After a brief tropical downpour, roads were transformed into rivers and mud-trails. The lorries cruised effortlessly through them all.
Just as well. There was no way that I was getting out to push!
We rarely saw any other vehicles. The few residents came out to stare as we passed their simple shacks. Children waved while women nursed babies. Packs of dogs glanced up, then they ignored us. Some of them walked in front of us and refused to move until a blast of the hooter sent them scuttling to the side of the road.
There is a choice of guided walks through the forests and swamps, varying in difficulty.
Hiking boots are a must for most of them. It’s wet and slippery in the rain forests even when the weather’s hot and dry outside.
cuba-huge-nature-reserve10I wouldn’t class myself as a walker. It’s not my favourite pastime. But walking slowly in a group, surrounded by the most stunning scenery, and stopping regularly, it’s surprising how much I achieved.
We plodded along behind our guide, stepping over tree roots, balancing delicately along tree trunks across rivers, clutching ropes, pausing to stare at a plant, or listen to the sound of a bird. Our guide knew the names of them all. He pointed out the tocororo, Cuba’s National bird, perched high up in a tree, hidden in the branches. It’s call sounds like ‘Tocororo!’
Everyone helped each other. The men stood on rocks, offering hands across the streams and rivers.
Mariposas, Spanish for butterflies due to their shape, are the Cuban national flower. Their beautiful white blooms are seen everywhere, and the sweet, lily-like scent wafts towards us as we walk.
There is also a perfume with the same name, made out of the flowers.
Eyes on the ground, we climb up and down the steps, often originally dug out by coffee growers’ slaves.
cuba-huge-nature-reserve04Sometimes I look up, and realise that I’m walking along a narrow ledge with a long drop down through the trees to the river below. But I never felt in any danger.
In Los Helechos, we crossed the Hanabanilla Lake by boat, then walked along a path to join the original trail. Due to global warming, the lake’s level is a lot lower than it used to be.
Just 21 families live in the area and help to protect its environment.
We came upon a small shack in the middle of nowhere. It had a corrugated iron roof. The floors were dirt, and flimsy net curtains separated the bedrooms.
In the front porch stood a giant wooden pestle and mortar, where they grind the coffee. In an emergency, they can bang the pestle against the side, playing a distinctive tune. The sound carries a long way. The next neighbour will immediately spread the word that they need help, probably by banging their own coffee grinder.
Out in the garden, a solar panel on a pole is a modern addition to their way of life.
They made us coffee as real as you can get; picked, ground, and cooked for us, served with bananas from their trees.
cuba-huge-nature-reserve08Lovely. I tried to ignore their primitive washing-up arrangements; a drop of recycled water in an old bucket. I complain about chemicals in our food making me bad. This was, um, natural. And, no, I had no upsetting side-effects from it.
We met the grandfather, son and grandson. They were stunningly good-looking, even in their ragged clothes. Eyes shone with character, despite, or because of their basic way of life. Their weather-beaten faces were an artist’s delight. They were very shy at first. They don’t get to hold many conversations with strangers. But when we left, they silently walked with us for several miles. I think they enjoyed the contact.
We reached a high waterfall, gushing down into a crystal-clear pond. The grandson stripped down to his pants and leaped over the side. He enjoyed the admiration. Some of our group stepped gingerly downwards and dived in the icy water.
Back at our boat, we looked behind us. There were the men, sitting in a small rowing-boat, waving to us. It would probably be a long time before they had company again.

About Lyn

LYN FUNNELL CV (well, sort of!) Lyn had very successful careers as an Air Hostess, Sales Rep, (she was one of only a couple of women. She beat all the men regularly, becoming the Top Rep in the UK, and 2nd in the world.) And then Catering took over. She did everything from the washing-up, to Silver Service Waitress, and Chef. A few times, she had to cook the meal, dash round the other side and Silver Serve it! In between all this, she wrote as often as she could, building up a reputation as a published short story writer, (Horror and a twist in the tale,) and a Poet. She has appeared as a Performing Poet, and a Demo Chef. Then she discovered the world of the Food & Travel Writer. And that’s what she has continued doing to this day. Her main hobbies are Cookery and entering Competitions. She has won many prizes, including holidays and a moped. She enjoys entering Competitions, submitting her original recipes. She was first in many Competitions, including the Good Housekeeping Millenium Menu, Fruits of France, Bernard Matthews Turkey Recipe, and appeared on BBC’s The One Show Spag Bol contest. She was one of three Finalists, coming 2nd, which makes her Britain’s Spag Bol Queen! Now she runs B-C-ing-U! and loves it! After several years of being messed around by Editors, and having loads of contacts, Lyn formed her own online Magazine, vowing to treat her writers fairly, and to do everything possible to further their careers, publicise their books, etc. She now has a band of excellent regular writers, and the Magazine’s going from strength to strength! Lyn’s online published books; Adverse Camber A collection of my published poems. The First Book of Short Stories The Second Book of Short Stories The Third Book of Short Stories. Many of these stories have been previously published. St Anthony of Padua. The Patron St of the Old. A story of one woman’s terrible ordeal in a Home, and her family’s rescue of her. The Girl Who Watched. A Cuban girl is attacked by an English journalist & what follows! Willy the Whizz & the Wormhole. Suitable for Young Adults, aged 15-95! Get Out Of Debt And Stay Out – Forever! Unsympathetic, hard-hitting, realistic solutions to your problems. All these books are published by Andrews UK Ltd www.andrewsuk.com No, I didn’t pay them to Vanity Publish! They’re all available from Amazon, and many other online publishers. LYN FUNNELL.