Day 3: Port of call: Antilla/ Holguin
After our day at sea, we were anxious to begin our Cuban land excursions.
As the ship entered the Bahia de Nipe, I must say I felt a bit like Christopher Columbus with a sense of excitement approaching this foreign land. I clamoured onto the upper deck with my camera and telephoto lens and could see villagers along the coast beginning their days.
The port of Antilla is a tiny village but serves as the gateway to the larger resort city of Holguin (population 1.5 million) and its surrounding towns. It is also not too far away from Biran, the birthplace of both Fidel and Raoul Castro.
In fact, one of the more popular excursions here is to the homestead where the Castros were raised and homeschooled. Some among our group even had the thrill of seeing Raoul himself and his entourage at Biran when he unexpectedly appeared to visit the family home. He graciously waved to the busload of cruisers and posed for some pictures. Talk about a bonus!
Another excursion was a taste of “Cuba life” which involved a visit to a typical farm, a nature park and lunch at a local market. This had positive reviews as well.
With another excursion there was the chance to swim with dolphins. The setting seemed to be more natural and humble than say, a Sea World, and I was assured the dolphins appeared to be well treated as those who swam with them shrieked with laughter.
I opted for the catamaran excursion to Paradise Island. Having suffered through a cold and snowy Canadian winter, I was desperate to take in some sun! Two filled catamarans set off along with a terrific host Alberto who spoke at least four languages and had a strong library of reggae on the sound system. Oh, and an open bar at 10AM! Get down.
After a longish sail in perfect weather, and along pristine and empty coastline (perfect for beach resort development one day) we arrived in Cayo Saetia that I had to admit, certainly resembled my idea of paradise! An absolutely stunning private bay and beach with an imposing straw-roofed restaurant perched on the point awaited us. This was going to be home for the rest of the day.
Once on dry land, we boarded a caravan of jeeps and vintage military trucks for a “Safari”. Unknown to many, a number of years ago, Fidel Castro decided to import a slew of animals from Africa and stock a nature reserve with wildlife. On our safari through well worn mud trails, we could see herds of antelope prancing in the distance, some tiny black pigs (pigmy boar, perhaps?) dashing for cover and black vultures circling overhead (how did they know I was here?) We stopped to feed a corralled giraffe (yes, a giraffe) and to photograph a rather aggressive ostrich. On the way back we hung on for dear life through bumps and crevices that left me bruised and laughing.
Back at the beach restaurant we were treated to an extensive hot buffet lunch which was surprisingly good (be sure to try the soup. Excellent!). The chef stood by at the end of the meal ready to soak up the diners’ compliments and any loose change.
Then it was time for relaxing at the beach. The water was stunningly clear and safe for swimming under the watchful eye of a lifeguard. After a few hours of this we boarded the catamarans again and went to another area of the bay to do some snorkelling. The fish were plentiful and colourful as advertised.
Back in the harbour we dropped some tip money into the pot for Alberto and his crewmates then boarded the tenders for the ship. Onboard it was time to get ready for dinner and the evening’s festivities that tonight included a “Cirque Fanatstique” show starring talented Cuban and Montreal circus performers and followed up with a show by Luddy Samms of the Drifters who happened to be one of the guests from Jamaica.
All round, an excellent day and evening abroad and off the Cuba Cruise.
Tomorrow we take Santiago de Cuba!
Cuba Cruise travel tip: if you like to take photographs, try to have breakfast early and have your excursion day bag packed so that you can spend more time on the upper deck taking photos as the ship arrives in the port. A telescopic lens is a good idea.
On shore, if you have signed up for the catamaran try to get on the one hosted by Alberto. Not only is he an excellent host, he is gracious with dispensing additional information about Cuba and the Holguin area. If you are taking the jeep safari, get to the vehicles early and try to get on one of the two jeeps instead of the trucks. You will have more fun (if you don’t bounce out of the vehicle entirely). Hang on tight!
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer.
To begin AJ’s cruise on Day 1 click here