Bay of Pigs

Dec 31, 2017 - Harmony V

Today we explored Zapata National Park and Bay of Pigs.  Birders got an especially early start so they would arrive at the Bermejas border of the park during prime birdwatching hours.  In the forest, they found many species endemic to Cuba, among them the Cuban parakeet, the bare legged owl, and the Cuban green woodpecker.  They also spotted the Cuban trogon, which is the national bird, and has the colors of the country’s flag: blue, red and white.

Snorkelers went to Punta Perdiz, along the shore of Bay of Pigs. We entered the water from the elevated limestone shoreline, and water conditions were perfect – calm and clear.  We snorkeled among and around the patches of corals scattered over white sand.  Beneath us there were large yellowtail snappers, and hiding among elkhorn corals we found damselfishes tending algae gardens.  Some of the sergeant majors had very dark coloration, an indication they are spawning.  Pairs of butterflyfishes swam together, while nocturnal fishes like squirrelfishes sheltered beneath coral ledges. 

Birders and snorkelers met up again for lunch at Playa Larga, located at the head of the bay. Tiki Restaurant is a paladar (private restaurant) in an unusual setting – on either side of the building, freshwater streams rush out from beneath the limestone platform, into the mangrove-fringed cove.  Following lunch, the director of Zapata National Park, Frank Medina, spoke to us about some of the unusual species and research being conducted within the park, which is the Caribbean’s most important intact wetland.

We visited the backyard of a local home to see the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, as well as Cuban emeralds and Cuban orioles. We also saw two pigs being roasted beneath banana leaves for tonight’s family gathering and New Year’s Eve feast. Elsewhere in the small town, we noticed life size ‘ragdolls’ seated in front of several homes.  The life-sized ‘men’ will be burned at midnight, a traditional way to say goodbye to the old year.

We went to the small Bay of Pigs Museum in the quiet town of Giron, before returning to our ship. The dining room looked especially festive for New Year’s Eve dinner, and we had a full schedule of activities leading up to midnight.  We gathered on the sun deck for our New Year’s Eve party – which included New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world, dancing, silly games, and of course – champagne!  Just before midnight, we stepped ashore to ‘burn the old year,’ and we lit a small doll on fire - a New Year’s tradition in both Cuba and Ecuador.

Happy New Year!

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About the Author

Berit Solstad


Berit grew up on the rocky shores of Marblehead, Massachusetts. In the tidal cove behind her family’s home she found horseshoe crabs, eels, and feeding frenzies of fishes and birds. Low tides exposed clam flats, crabs, mussels, and snails. She explored this marine environment through changing tides and seasons, nurturing a love of natural history and marine biology.

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