Saturday, 9 May 2015
After breakfast in the Hotel, we set off on a 3½ hour hiking tour with four youths who spoke only to each other in French, and two middle-aged couples: one German and one English. At length we left the bitumen and veered onto a dirt road which gradually turned into a track through a forest. The track was pleasantly shaded and the guide stopped occasionally to point out a tree, or a bird, or a plant which was edible or which had medicinal properties. His English was difficult to understand but he did a reasonable job. We caught glimpses of Cuba’s national bird, the Cocororo, with its handsome red, white and blue plumage.
One of the highlights of the hike was the ruins of Serafina, a French coffee plantation where 20 slaves had once toiled. We picked our way through the last remains of the plantation owners’ house, and the remains of a stone mill where the slaves separated the coffee beans from their husks. The forest had reclaimed the fields, house and garden. There were huge stands of bamboo, lianas, giant palms and thick rainforest vegetation in all directions. We crossed a clear, running stream as we approached and then left the plantation. The tour culminated at a mirador (lookout) which afforded a panoramic view of the village of Las Terrazas.
In the afternoon we went on a zip line tour of the forest canopy that surrounded the village. We went with an English couple, John and Susan, whom we had met during the morning hike. The staff tour office kitted us up with harnesses and helmets. They were very professional, safety-conscious, and reassuring. We boarded a small bus which ascended a steep hill to a platform where a guide demonstrated how to sit in the harness, how to stop, and what to do if you got stuck halfway along a zip line. Then came the moment of truth: to be launched off a platform on along wire about 25 metres above the ground, and hurtle through the treetops at 35 km/h.
The first leg was terrifying, but each of the next five flights got easier. The second last run was especially memorable, as it was the longest, and it took us over the lake and into a stand of tall pine trees. Our English friends did well. Susan seemed to overcome the worst of her terror on the first run, and like us she enjoyed the last few runs immensely. John had to contend with the fact that he had only one usable hand, so he found it difficult to control his position during the flight.
After the canopy tour we had a couple of beers in the boathouse. Here we also said hello to the brother of Mario, whom we had met at Los Baños de San Juan. This immediately earned as a place at a table marked ‘reserved’.
At length we returned to our hotel room for a rest and to freshen up. We emerged in the evening for a mojito and a beer in Dos Hermanos, a bar which affords sweeping views of the valley and the sunset. We ended up whiling away quite a few hours there.