For us, one of the key attraction of the Santa Lucia region is the abundance of bird life.
After tossing and turning all night in the worst accommodation of our trip, we are up before the sun and start to hike towards the lagoon area to go bird-watching. Ever since our trip to India 6 years ago, we are alert to the opportunities to go bird-watching in areas that are protected natural habitats.
We hike a long way on the road, on the beach and through some muddy lagoon territory to watch the birds. A road bisects large lagoons rich with fauna. By walking through the scrub we are able to see quite a good variety of birds.
The flamingoes are most famed in this area, and we can hear them WELL before we see them, due to the loud noise they are making as they fish for shrimp in a flock.
The sun rises as we walk and the color of the sky is a gorgeous bright orange peachy color, which is reflected in the sea to the left of us.
We stop for a morning dip before continuing down the road for more bird viewing.
All of a sudden, the mosquitoes (which we are unprepared for) appear. They are numerous and in high gear. They start feasting on us.
I do my best to cover up using a thin shawl over my (luckily long) dress. It is later we discover my forehead and shoulders are covered in bites. So in case you are wondering why I look like a muslim woman in the pictures, a shawl over one’s head and body coverage is a great way to prevent total mosquito full body invasion and attack.
When we feel we have reached our limit, we walk back to the road and hope for a horse and carriage, as we have seen a few go by during the morning and our Soviet style hotel is about 7km away. Other than that, no traffic of any type whatsoever.
Luckily a horse comes clopping by, out of nowhere and we get a much welcome ride back to the hotel.
Talk to any coral reef aficionado and they’ll tell you that Cuba has some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean region, perhaps in the world. The large reefs around the Island protect large eco-systems of exotic fishes. We have never particularly sought out snorkeling or scuba diving, but seeing as this is a “must do” of the region, we seek out once again a way to do snorkeling on a Nicaraguan budget.
Earlier we saw the huge 40 person catamaran offered up by the state (for $70 a person). We bemoan to some locals the high price for snorkeling and our inability to participate on a US/European price scale. Once again, a solution surfaces and we arrange for a ride on a small catamaran ($15 each) with our personal state trained catamaran and coral expert. He received free training and education in exchange for 3 years of work and is still at it 8 years later.
The waters are translucent and we head out on soft undulating waters for our first coral reef experience. The catamaran is great… close to the water, fast and airy. When we drop anchor we don our flippers and snorkeling gear. Jump off the side and we are transported into the magnificent underwater world neither of us have ever experienced first hand.
It is instantly obvious why the reefs near Santa Lucia are considered to be some of the largest and healthiest in the world. We swim with vividly colored fish, the brightest yellows and blues imaginable, and most surprising are the incredible colors of the sea fans, sponges, coral… orange, turquoise, purple huge fans blowing in the sea currents. We swim over a forest of yellow coral and are mesmerized by the sheer beauty of this under-water world. There a multi-colored “clown fish” and “rainbow parrot fish”.
Think of the most beautiful aquarium of exotic fishes, than multiply by a billion, and imagine being “parachuted” in the midst of it. The range of colorful fish and surrounding beauty is mind boggling.
For Ben this proves to be particularly momentous as he (being colorblind) can see so many of the vivid colors. And I quote after returning to shore “this was the single most intense visual experience I have EVER experienced”. Perhaps it is because of the difference in the way the sun’s rays affect colors for a color-blind eye.
This area, this beach is so lovely, so low key that when its time to go, I feel sad to say goodbye to it and leave yearning for more beach time. This is for us an “Essaouira moment” – a flashback to Morocco when we left prematurely from a jewel of a Portuguese fishing village, thinking we had to “go forth”. Now the same predicament faces us: stay in Santa Lucia, or move on? We opt to move on, thinking we can create additional beach time, as we move further West toward Havana.