Special Programs

  • Look here for upcoming Special Events, Special Tours to join, and Special Pricing





  • A great month for gardens, celebrations, and all of our tours

November 2013

  • Bi-annual International Choral Festival. Calling all choristers and music lovers – international choirs invited. Non-competitive festival.

Welcome to the Real Cub

Well our latest group of birders have just left, triumphant from a week of birding which netted 65 species and 11 of the Cuban endemics.

So now we dig out the kitchen – the site of many very early breakfast makings, and great dinners. With birders wanting to catch that moment of dawn or even earlier we send a packed breakfast of fruit and omelet and a snack, often made at 3 in the morning.

We are fortunate in the Santiago area to have many separate micro-climates so we offer a truly marvellous array of habitats ranging from cloud forest to almost desert. As 50 kms of the coast and mountains is part of a protected biosphere the mixture of coastal marshes, tiny beaches, pastureland and mountain forest provides increased range for almost everything.

In fall we have ospreys using the heights and thermals to set them right for a long glide to Haiti, and at this time of year the cold in the mountains drives small birds down to the warmer coast – including this time the bee hummingbird casually drinking in a patio, much to the delight of our co-ordinator, who was getting anxious, the ornithologist who wanted perfection, and our birders, who had dreamed of such a happening.

As not all birders want to bird all the time, we include in our week a couple of our wonderful history and cultural tours, and always something about organic food production.

Cuba is changing so quickly; almost every day the newspapers carry news of a factory restarted, fruit or vegetables harvested at rates not seen since the early – 90’s or even the 1980’s – a time preserved in a haze of good food, great ice cream, and working transportation.

The sleeping giant of the Caribbean is waking up bit by bit from the nightmare of the Special Period. For those of you just starting to learn about Cuba; this was the time between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the start of the renaissance in 2005. The example used when people talked about “Peak Oil” and how to survive it.

Cuba endured through those years. The government shared out what was possible to buy, keeping the essentials of health care and education, but often without the very basics which could make it possible. In contrast to today’s perilous streets, there was seldom a vehicle to be seen. Even government vehicles were often without gasoline, including the police.

The Special Period changed Cuba and Cubans. There was a lost generation, trained for jobs which suddenly disappeared.

From the air Cuba looks a fertile and green island on which anything could be grown. But that green is a deception. An African shrub of the acacia family was brought to Cuba as an ornamental plant. Surprisingly aggressive in its new environment it dug its roots in deep, dispersed its seed shotgun style, and bathed in the endless hours of sunlight like any tourist. During the Special Period it enjoyed an uninterrupted period of dispersal and growth. Whole forests grew like those in Sleeping Beauty, and almost as quickly. Without chemicals to control it, without gasoline to plough the fields and cut it down, it took over. Quickly growing to trees, thickets, forests. Even after several years of ongoing programmes to take back the land, Cuba estimates that there are about 90,000 ha of the stuff. That’s about the equivalent of a third of Rhode Island.

Goats will eat it when it is young, and camels and giraffes love it, unfortunately we are a little short of those. And it provides outstanding habitat for many small birds and animals.

It is also a nitrogen fixer, and makes superb charcoal once you get passed those 5cms spikes. Only in Cuba would you see this as a silver lining! But indeed it has proved to be almost golden. The sale of the charcoal has allowed large government farms to invest in covered growing areas for vegetables designated for export or for hotels and restaurants, irrigation, new plantations to replace old and diseased citrus, and to increase productivity to early 90’s levels. Wages have risen as part of the profit is shared and homes have been repaired or built.

At the beginning of the Special Period, Cuba had imported much of its food from the Soviet block, suddenly there were no canned vegetables, meat or fish, to supplement what was grown locally. Children became used to rice with an egg (if there were any), or whatever could be managed. Vegetables were available expensively in the few free markets. At one point rice went to 5 times what we pay now.

Cuba had imported not only a large portion of its food but also high protein grains for animal feed, all told, like Britain before World War II, probably around 60%. With the embargo from the US clamping down on import possibilities, Cuba relied on meager imports from Europe, Eastern Europe and increasingly China. Flour came from Canada, fish and other foods and dry goods from Spain, Mexico. There were few processing facilities, so most food came in in processed bulk to be distributed in whatever came handy.

This in a country of rich, fertile soils, that at one time grew a large portion of the world’s sugar and coffee. But sugar prices fell, and coffee growing had been urged onto too many developing countries. With the loss of chemical fertilizers, no boots, no machetes, no gasoline, and low prices, Cuba became a net importer of practically everything it ate.

And Cuba paid cash. It had stopped paying its international debts; which further contracted its possibilities.

Many of the Soviet built industrial complexes became shadows of their former selves. Raw materials were in short supply. Electricity came and went, often for days. Roads disintegrated, buildings fell down under the assault of hurricanes and floods. But children went to school, hospitals functioned, and everyone walked.

Follow my blog for more on the Real Cuba, our exciting island tours, homestays, beaches and more.

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