Mar 08, 2018 - Harmony V
Today, a vastly different experience awaited us as we left behind the Isle of Youth, completely off the beaten track, and travelled the length of the extensive Canarreos Archipelago to the resort island of Cayo Largo (Long Cay). This island, at 16 miles long and almost 2 miles wide, is the archipelago’s second largest island and is hugely popular with mainly European tourists, due to its spectacular long white beaches. Five all-inclusive resort hotels cater to these tourists, but the island has no native population at all. Cubans only come to Cayo Largo to work, staying about 20 days at a time before returning to their families on nearby islands. During our explorations we have striven to experience Cuba through the eyes and hearts of its inhabitants, but this is a very different reality – part of the whole experience, nonetheless.
From a natural history perspective, the island is very interesting. Cayo Largo is a limestone island, formed over millions of years from the remains of marine organisms, such as the ones that build the offshore barrier reef that runs parallel to the island’s coastline. The snorkelling here is excellent, since the coral wall is made up of many hard-coral species but also beautiful gorgonian sea fans and the large colourful sponges so typical of Caribbean reefs. Flitting among the corals are myriad colourful reef fish – a delight to the beholders. The morning started with a landing at the small marina on Cayo Largo, where we visited a sea turtle hatchery. Three species of turtles nest along the long white beaches of this island: hawksbills, loggerheads and green turtles. The nesting areas are protected during the nesting season and, every year, hundreds of eggs are removed from the most threatened beaches and brought to the hatchery where they are cared for until ready to be returned to the wild – thousands are returned each year thanks to this incredible project!
After a short visit to the local medical facility where we learned from local doctors about Cuba’s excellent health care system, we returned to the dock, under which enormous tarpon were circling, and took our local boat, the Ballenato, to the neighbouring beach named Playa Sirena. Some of us decided to stay on the famous beach to enjoy the fine white sand, crystal clear turquoise waters and delicious cocktails, in true holiday style, while others took off for a snorkelling adventure. The boat rides along the coast of Cayo Largo were also interesting since we could observe all four species of Cuba’s mangroves, and many coastal and marine bird species.
After a delightful morning, we returned aboard for a late lunch (a delicious Greek BBQ including my all-time favourite dessert – baklava!), after which we continued our smooth sailing back towards mainland Cuba, while continuing our presentation series.
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