Island of Youth

Feb 28, 2018 - Harmony V

We spent the entire day today visiting the second largest island of the Cuban Archipelago, the Island of Youth. We boarded a local boat shortly after breakfast that took us to a small marina located on the western side of the island and had the chance to watch some of the mangroves that border most of the shoreline, mainly red mangroves, and some birds flying around or perched on poles including Caspian terns, magnificent frigatebirds, and double-crested cormorants. Right there on the dock we were greeted by a nurse who checked our temperatures using a digital thermometer to make sure that none of us may be carrying an infectious disease into the island; after that we traveled for some 45 minutes around the countryside towards the capital city of Nueva Gerona. While doing so we learned about the different crops that are being cultivated here, like mangos, bananas, corn, and many others. We also saw numerous buildings here and there that once were part of the more than sixty universities that the revolutionary government built on the island and where young people from many Latin American and African countries, the former Soviet Union and even Israel studied medicine, dentistry and other careers.

We visited the infamous Presidio Modelo, located in the outskirts of Nueva Gerona, that was built following the design of the Joliet prison in Illinois and where those revolutionaries who failed attacking the Moncada garrison in 1953 where incarcerated including Fidel himself. We actually saw the very same quarters where he and his brother Raúl spent nearly two years and had the chance to learn many details about the prison.

Once in town we paid a visit to a maternity clinic, where pregnant women who live in remote parts of the island spend the last few weeks of their pregnancy; we learned about the excellent medical attention that they receive and how once their time come are taken to the hospital, located a few steps away. From there we went to school; not a regular school but one dedicated to the arts and where elementary and secondary grade students learn not only the regular stuff but also how to dance or play a musical instrument. We were delighted watching several young kids practicing at the piano or dancing inside the classrooms.

After having enjoyed a superb lunch at the restaurant we needed to stretch our legs a bit and we walked around town watching the everyday life of this quiet and peaceful non-touristic town. We enjoyed ice cream, peeked into local stores, and talked to the locals, learning more about the good nature and talent of the Cuban people.

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About the Author

Carlos Navarro

Undersea Specialist

Carlos J. Navarro is a biochemist specializing in marine biology, a M. Sc. in Environmental Management and a freelance wildlife photographer/author. Carlos has spent most of the last 30 years living along the shores of the Sea of Cortez and participating in numerous scientific, conservation and environmental education projects on the vaquita, marine invertebrates, sea birds, great white sharks, baleen whales, jaguars and crocodiles. Carlos’ six years of jaguar research provided the basis of ONCA MAYA, a non-profit organization dedicated to jaguar conservation based in Cancun, of which he is a founding member and still serves as a scientific advisor. He loves being underwater, either free-diving or using SCUBA gear and have had the chance to explore the underwater realms of Alaska, Mexico, Svalbard, the trans-Atlantic ridge islands, the Caribbean and both coasts of South America from Panama to Chile and Brazil to Argentina. 

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