Chocolate, Pig & Coconuts – Wild Nature in Baracoa, Cuba
Baracoa is a difficult to get to coastal town on the North Eastern end of Cuba, above Santiago. It was one of Christopher Columbus first discoveries and has been left pretty much ignored by the Cubans for centuries because of its complicated access behind the mountains. Its a cobblestoned, colonial village surrounded by impressive mountains, rugged coastline and rainforests filled with wildlife.
Its also the poorest area of Cuba and the poverty was very visible, the tourist dollar doesn’t reach this far away from Habana and the chocolate harvesting season is only 3-4 months. It was heartbreaking that so many women & kids asked us to donate ZZ’s clothes in exchange for chocolate and cocoa butter as their kids didn’t have enough to wear or any shoes. I gave away so much stuff our bags were noticeable lighter by the time we left. I wish I’d known this area was in such bad shape because we would have brought more clothes, shoes & toiletries to give away.
Its well worth the shlep in a Viazul bus from Santiago which winds its way along the new mountain pass (5-6 hours) via Guantanamo or the other more “adventurous” way in from Holguin, via Moa (4-5 hours), you will need an off road jeep for the last 70km as the “path” from Moa is a dirt track which when wet (almost always in this tropical area) is full of deep, potholes filled with red, clay puddles. We came in via Moa and left via Guantanamo.
We spent several days exploring the incredibly “wild” coastline and rainforests of the UNESCO Nature reserve.
All the chocolate in Cuba is grown in the cocoa bean plantations around Baracoa, ZZ loved visiting the rural cocoa farms where they showed us how the pick, open, dry, cook & grind the beans to make the chocolate, we got to taste the cocoa at every stage to see how the bean’s “chocolatey” taste evolves throughout the process. I actually preferred some of the “unfinished” chocolate as I like the strong, dark, unsugared version. ZZ was delighted to be encouraged to munch his way through kilos of chocolate everywhere we went, I dont think they get many kids visiting this area so he was quite the novelty.
Spit Roasted Pig
While we were trekking through the rainforests, marvelling at the tropical fruits hanging from every branch, we stumbled across a small village that were roasting a pork for their Christmas festivities, ZZ’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when they explained that they’d killed their “pet”, shoved a large stick through one end and out the other and were happily spit roasting it over a fire. He talked about becoming a vegetarian for days, although a couple of fresh lobster dinners seem to have persuaded him to at least continue eating fish 🙂
The beaches along this coast are magnificent although very “rustic”, dont expect sun loungers & cocktail waiters. Its more about people watching: Fishermen showing us their daily catch of huge, colorful lobsters and incredible sea shells with the slimy owners still inside. Farmers wandering along the beach with their oxen, Locals collecting drift wood to cook dinner, Teenagers shimmying up coconut trees to get us a coconut to drink ….