February 9 Rain’s almost done, time for a tour.

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We were up and had breakfast in time to go to the Cubatur office to catch a tour, on our way we walked by the Masonic Lodge in Baracoa, (Just down the street from the Cubatur office).

When we got to the Cubatur office we found out that they had canceled everything the previous day and we were at the top of the list to go on the tour today. Great! The guide was there and waiting to see how many on his list would show up and how many had left. There were 8 of us, Bonnie and me, two German girls, A German couple older than us, and a Spanish couple about our age. We were doing the Yumuri River tour. The last tour was more North and east of Baracoa and this was more south and east of Baracoa. Much flatter and much better roads for the most part. Our first surprise was the bus. The previous tour bus was a 15 passenger air conditioned van. The guide saw the bus and did a double take at the driver, who shrugged. This was a 1954 Chev that had the bed cut off and the standard cuban people hauler installed. The air conditioning was provided by rolling up the curtains. The bus was the standard black smoke belching diesel that doesn’t smell at all like the Yanmar Diesel on my boat, or any other diesel that I have been near. It was burning almost half the fuel and producing soot FOUL stink with the other half. My guess was it was a combo of diesel and fryer grease. It was truly rank. The other rather quaint feature was the started didn’t work. He tried ONCE, and then let the bus roll down the hill and when I symbolically popped the clutch he did too and the diesel sprang to life. From then on he made sure he parked on a hill so he could pop the clutch again and get it started. The young German girls got a great giggle out of me popping the clutch and the truck starting. You have to have a sense of humor in Cuba. I was watching the gauges through the window in the back of the cab. I think there were three of the 5 (not counting the speedometer that didn’t work) that moved. The only one that seemed to have a sensible reading was the amp meter, and most of the time it was charging the battery. It only started to read that it was draining was when the rpm got too low. The bench that we sat on was a piece of tropical hardwood about 5/8ths of an inch thick about 10 wide and probably 12 feet long. The two benches would have probably cost several hundred dollars alone in Canada. They were pretty.

The first stop on the trip was to a cocoa plantation. Come to find out they never plant just one crop they mix at least two, this plantation was cocoa and coffee.

The tour of the plantation was really interesting. The cocoa plants were in blossom, or perhaps they are continuously in blossom this time of year. There were lots of cases of both seed pods and blossoms on the same stock apparently only about 3% of the blossoms produce fruit, the rest are damaged by winds etc. The blossoms appear everywhere on the plant from trunk to the top (usually pruned to make it easier to harvest and for the sun to be able to penetrate the foliage better). There were fruit in almost all stages of development from blossom, to small seed pods the size of your little finger to the sized of two fists together and twice as long. There are two colors of cocoa red and green, they both mature to yellow and taste exactly the same (so they claim). We have pictures of both. This plantation plants coffee as well but there wasn’t much to see with regards to the coffee. No beans or blossoms on the coffee plants we saw.

Coffee and chocolate, two of my favorite things! We found out that once again the standard rules for farmers seem to apply here as well, the government takes 90% and the farmer can sell the remainder and keep it themselves. They did a explanation of how the farmers make their 100% chocolate balls (about the size of a snowball, or for those who don’t do snow a bit bigger than a baseball and smaller than a softball). The farmers don’t have the machinery that the chocolate plant that Che started has. They pull off the outer shell and put the beans in a sieve for 7 – 9 days for the white shell to drop it’s fluid as well as to have the cocoa beans to ferment. After that they pound them into a mush and put it back into the sieve for another 9ish days (depending on heat and humidity) during this time the Cocoa oil drips down and is collected. This is pure cocoa butter and is sold in nice fancy wood bowls to tourists for 5CUC each. The big plant sells this around the world for cosmetics etc. The 100% Chocolate balls are formed by hand with a small amount of something (I couldn’t hear) and put in the freezer to harden, once hardened it will stay hard even out of the freezer and keep for a year, “no problem”. One of the German girls asked how old the woman farmer (or farmer’s wife, not sure which) was. I had her pegged late 70s early 80s. “I’ll be 63 in April” she proudly said, Bonnie just turned 63 a few days before. Bonnie’s had a much easier life, and it shows.

One of the things that got pointed out was that all of the refuse gets tossed back under the trees for fertilizer. Cuba doesn’t have access to modern chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Everything grown in Cuba is organic, not by choice but by necessity.

We stopped at the set for a French remake of the Robinson Cruiso movie that starred a famous French actor that the German girls knew. We saw a few hummingbirds flying around and one stopped long enough for me to switch cameras a couple times so that I could get a photo, patience is a virtue.

We left there and when to the place where we could order lunch. We ordered a conch steak to share and did a little walk around on the dark sand beach. The surf from the previous day’s high winds were still pounding on the shore. There may still be higher winds offshore pushing them in. The dark sand was not that hot due to the clouds and the high surf. It looked like a nice place to come back to so we were happy. I made two mistakes one was not wearing a swimsuit and the other was not bringing my aquasocks. The swimsuit I wasn’t really upset about I wasn’t planning on going into the salt water and I figured that any fresh water swimming would be nixed with the two days of very high rainfall. The aqua socks for protecting my feet would have been a very good idea.

We are always amazed at the blossoms that are everywhere on everything from the smallest plant underfoot to the trees the size of a mature elm in full red blossom.

The blossoms on the tables weren’t real, they were all made out of plastic, (water bottles mostly) T hey were impressive art all by themselves.

We walked the beach a bit and then headed back on the bus to the unique palm tree that has two stocks growing off a single base, a genetic anomaly and the only example known.

From there it was to the German Pass. Before the revolution there was a large plantation on one side of the pass and Baracoa on the others. Workers that wanted to work had to pass through this rock fall in order to get to work and the German family that owned the area put up a toll booth, hence called the German Pass or German Tunnel. The view back toward Baracoa was spectacular.

From there we went over to the Yumuri River look off. The name came from the local aboriginal tribe the tinte ? They were enslaved by the Spanish and forced to work. They threw themselves off the lookoff screaming “Yumuri” translated as something like “Death is better than slavery.” We got a couple of spectacular pictures looking down the road at the sea. Across from the lookoff was a tree that was full of Polymitas they are a colorful land snail that has been pushed to near extinction by locals selling them to tourists and we were told not to buy them and if we were caught the Cuban government would fine us over $100 dollars. I’m pretty sure that if Canada Customs finds you importing products of an endangered species you would end up in jail, with a much heftier fine. The shells were very pretty and we enjoyed seeing them and taking lots of pictures. Apparently the only color not seen is blue.

From the lookoff we went down to the river and got according to the brochure “walk a boat” up the river. Ok what really happened was we walked onto the boat and the local guy rowed us up river to a small island. There were the 8 tourists, the guide, the guy rowing the boat and two old rather beaten life jackets. I’ve always said that if I drown there will be the obligatory “he was not wearing his life jacket” message attached as a warning to others. The water was very brown from the runoff and it was impossible to see more than a few millimeters into the water. It could have been 100 ft or 10 inches and it was impossible to tell. Except for when someone jumped into the water in front of our boat and swam across about 100feet and then stood up and walked the rest of the way across the river. I’m guessing that most of the time there is not a lot of water in the Yumuri.

Before we got on, Bonnie had me take a picture. The dock was two or three boards stretching out into the river. Bonnie looked at me and said take a picture for Mike Stanley and tell him to show the picture to the members of the yacht club complaining about our docks needing repair.

We walked around the island in the river and the guide showed us a couple of hummingbird nests. One had babies in it but mom showed up and sat on it and wouldn’t let anyone else look. The aqua socks would have been a good idea for the trip as the island was normally a sand bar and mostly dry the bulk of the island was dry but I got my feet wet a couple of places crossing the river. It was almost chocolate milk brown with sediment from the hills.

When the more intrepid water waders got back from looking at another nest the guy we had seen swimming across the river was back with several green coconuts for sale. He chopped a hole and stuck a bamboo straw through the hole and you could drink coconut water and when you were done he would chop the nut in half and dig out the meat for you to eat if you wanted. It has never been a favorite thing of mine but Bonnie loves it so we shared and she got the lion’s share. At 1 CUC each the coconut guy did ok.

We went back to the La Playita Restaurante and had lunch, the conch was good but didn’t hold a candle to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club Restaurant. We walked the beach and found a treasure trove of beach glass, lots of greens, and browns, but we also found a rare blue piece and even rarer yellow piece of glass Bonnie was also finding lots of sea beans of the sea heart, almonds, and even a few hamburgers.
We were walking back and forth along the beach and in one little outcropping of stone we were looking down at the beach sand for glass and when we looked up, we were presented with an amazing fossil find, fossilized wood, brain coral, fans shells of various types and lots of really interesting stuff.

We enjoyed our little trip to the dark sand beach and the Yumuri Canyon There was a private cab doing exactly the same tour and he was either just before or just after us the whole way. He followed us home until he got sick of the black exhaust and past us. I took a picture out the back of the truck a few times and later Bonnie looked at it later and said that it was an almost complete picture of Cuban transport. A bicycle taxi, a horse taxi, a old american car, a bicycle, and a motorcycle all enveloped in a black haze of diesel from the back of our bus.
We got to our casa from the tour and it was starting to sprinkle so we settled to let it go by. While we were waiting we got a picture of almost a perfect double rainbow. The clouds were pretty for the sunset and cleared out for a walk to a restaurant for dinner. We took the umbrella but didn’t need it.

We went to the Calalou as suggested by Karl our guide from the first trip. The food was very good and the service excellent. Bonnie had the fish and I had the Chicken Parmesan. I should have known better the cheese is always in bigger quantity than the chicken and it usually isn’t great cheese, or parmesan. As the cheesey chicken when it was pretty good but bonnie’s fish was better.

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