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Birdwatching and a birthday in Playa Larga, Cuba

My last trip was a family trip organized around a big birthday… and when I had to pick somewhere to celebrate it, Playa Larga was the obvious choice!

This family was really interested in birding and nature. Playa Larga is in the Zapata Swamp region, a great place to enjoy Cuba’s natural beauty. So we spent some time with a local naturalist and looked for as many of Cuba’s endemic species as we could find. We did pretty well, sighting the tocororo, Cuba’s national bird; Fernandina’s flicker; the zunzún, or bee hummingbird; and several others.

Don't look now...

The family that birds together…

Hiking around the Zapata Swamp

Hiking around the Zapata Swamp

Playa Larga (“Long Beach”) has other things going for it as well. There’s the beach, for one thing… a perfect place to hang out when we had down time. Some of the group did a little snorkeling and diving. I mostly relaxed with rum drinks made from fresh coconuts.

We stayed at a hotel right on the beach, and some of us took full advantage...

Here Ari and Leo are taking a nap with some new friends.

We also checked out an amazing seafood restaurant, where the owner proudly showed off all the food and cooked it before our eyes on his grill. There were six plates: lobsters, fish fillets, fish steaks, alligator, shrimp, and crab. He really wanted us to see just how fresh it all was, and we loved his cooking. So he was pretty happy about that.

dinner in Playa Larga

This region was also the site of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, making it a key part of Cuba’s David-and-Goliath narrative. So there are billboards all over the place proclaiming Cuba’s “great victory over Yankee imperialism” and similarly understated propaganda. To me, that’s cool – as I’m fascinated by the way Cuba tells its story. A couple of my travelers on this trip felt the same, and we had fun looking for billboards to photograph.

"The mercenaries reached this point." That's how the propaganda refers to those who attempted the Bay of Pigs invasion. They're mercenaries, puppets of imperialist foreign interests, fighting for the cheapest, basest motives. Meanwhile, the Cuban defenders were noble patriots.

“The mercenaries reached this point.” That’s how the propaganda refers to those who attempted the Bay of Pigs invasion. They were all mercenaries, puppets of imperialist foreign interests, fighting for the cheapest, basest motives. Meanwhile, the Cuban defenders were noble patriots.

My favorite part of our visit to Playa Larga was our birthday party! For this, we went to one of my favorite spots in town. We celebrated in style with a roast pig dinner, cake, and a bottle of Santiago de Cuba 12-year rum.

Cake is served to the birthday boy

Cake is served to the birthday boy. The family made t-shirts as mementos of their trip, and this was the night to wear them!

Joining us for dinner was the Cubanacán Quintet, and afterwards we enjoyed some of their music. If you follow my blog, you know these are good friends, so it’s always a treat to hang out with them. Here’s their rendition of El Cuarto de Tula, which my travelers adopted as the official song of our trip.

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