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Published: April 28th 2015
BOCA DE GUAMÁ: CORMORANTS, CROCODILES, CATFISH AND CHARM The euphoria from the previous day carried over
as the wrought-iron doors of the elevator - a caged-in relic covered with intricate patterns - parted revealing a sumptuous spread of breakfast fare - platters piled high with flaky local pastries with fresh fruit filling; oversized seasoned breads; thick, creamy porridge; eggs; cheeses; flan and an assortment of 'jugos naturales'. The breakfast room opened out to an open air, roof-top terrace and, from this vantage point we stuffed ourselves silly while watching warm glow of the morning sun dance along with rooftops of a city already awake.
The plan was to leave Havana in search of adventure in rural Cuba. The calculation was that we would come back here with time to spare before flying home. But like most plans, this one required money. The nearest 'Cadeca'
- money-changing house - was on Obispo, a few blocks left of the hotel. Obispo was Cuba's Kalverstraat, Regent Street, Front Street, Guan Qian Street, Fifth Avenue - basically, a long, tourist-filled street but with Cuban flare. This was a narrow jaunt hemmed in by six-storied buildings, and dusty too, just like all the
other side streets that led off into a dizzying warren of lanes. Antique bookshops, tshirt vendors, art galleries, hostels, restaurants, pizza holes-in-wall - everything was on Obispo, even samba dance schools where stodgy, rhythmically-challenged tourists 'danced'
heads-down counting their steps. The Cadeca was about a third of the way down, on the right side, right next to a popular 'Helado'
joint. CUC in hand, we returned to the hotel to pick up our rental car and while in most other countries, the new, gleaming white Hyundai i10 would be welcoming, we were rather longing for a Classico.
It took two right turns from the street-side parking next to Hotel Plaza to get us on to Prado - the main, tree-lined thoroughfare that split Havana Vieja. It was a massive street with double outbound and inbound lanes sandwiching a broad walkway/children's-playing-area/chill-out-spot reminiscent of Spain's Las Ramblas. A quick loop in the tunnel that tunneled under the bay and we were on the other side bound for the Autopista Nacional
- the national highway. Breakfast for 3 was egg sandwiches, tea and crackers - about 5 COP at a roadside snackette. A passenger - an elderly woman who promised to
guide us to the Autopista
in exchange for a ride - hopped in and soon after we were parked along the shoulder 'negotiating'
her fee. CUC 20 lighter, we drive off thinking that since the average Cuban lives on USD/CUC 15 per month, that little old lady was a most effective trade negotiator. 😊 The Autopista Nacional
was an endless stretch of asphalt, mostly straight with slight elevations in places, slightly potholed in places and with manicured hedges as a median. Traffic was very light here - a few horse-drawn carriages, trucks piled high with produce and workers, the odd BMW or Audi, police outposts every 10 miles or so and more than a few broken-down Classicos, with hoods popped open and people staring abjectly at the innards. Large billboards declared La Revolución this or La Revolución that. The vistas though were awesome: farmlands stretching out on both sides, sometimes ending where the sharp rise of some distant mountain range began; lazy cows lapping grass and a hawk or two swooping low over the i10. After about 200 km, we banked right, where an elongated smoke stack announced that we had just arrived in Australia. We had no
interest here and pushed on past.
Luckily for us, the boat we had come to catch was only minutes from departure when we pulled into the parking lot. We, three, and an older couple clambered aboard the small, powered skiff and sped off down the river. We were on a tributary in the massive waterway called La Cienaga Zapata - the Caribbean's largest swampland. The tributary spat us out into a huge, circular lake where coots dove beneath the water in search of fish and then beat their wings frantically to put distance between us and them. In 7 minutes flat, we cleared the lake and our eyes beheld a most wonderful sight: Boca de Guamá.
Literally The Mouth of Guamá
, Boca de Guamá was a tropical, self-sustaining, eco-resort paradise featuring many Taino-styled, thatched-roof huts on stilts over the lake, winding raised wooden pathways, impressive humped-back wooden bridges spanning the waterway and the lushness of the tropical forest that surrounded. The entire area was named after Guamá - a Taino chief who led fierce and frequent rebellions against the Spanish before being tragically axed to death in his sleep by his own brother who found out that Guamá was
sleeping with his wife (or so the story goes). A short canoe ride brought us to the ladder that led up to our house - a cosy, two-bed cottage with private bathroom and a balcony with unparalleled views. Shanna let out a shout of alarm
from the balcony forcing Vibert to curtail his toilet activities and rush outside. The placid, murky waters of the lake were now alive with activity just below where the toilet was situated. Catfish - each one the size of a grown man's forearm - were voraciously devouring the 'meal' that had just fallen from above. Dinner complete, the pez gato
eerily vanished and all was quiet again. At the conclusion of the macabre exhibition, two things were obvious to us: (1) it was dinner time in the human world as well and we were ravenous; and (2) we would be skipping any and all fish dishes. At the far end of the eco-town was a humongous, circular, thatched-roof building which served as the meals center. We chose chicken and stewed crocodile (cocodrillo)
tail which tasted much like chicken but with a fishy after-taste. 😊
Jesús came for us in his canoe at 6:30
am. He was a lanky, wrinkled-face man with a course voice and this was prime bird-watching time from the river. Cormorants, vultures, hawks, cranes balancing precariously on one skinny leg, water lilies, bird calls, a cool morning breeze and the rising sun - nature put on a show for us.
With the entire resort almost empty, we whiled away our time, far away from the maddening crowd reading books, lounging and watching Ty run amok along the paths and over the bridges. In this place, nothing really mattered and boundless happiness filled the void.
Ty's adaptation of his nursery rhyme
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a crocodile
Don't forget to (scream) / eat his tail
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