We woke up to a nice bright sunny morning – what a difference a day makes!
We had vague plans to make this another driving day, but I realised that again I was not best prepared and that we ran the risk of passing by interesting cactus populations without realising it. I therefore moved to the back seat while Cliff carried on as driver with Mike navigating. I made use of my ‘rest day’ by scan reading the ‘Melocacti of Cuba’ book. My worst fears were confirmed, we had passed two habitat locations of different species of Melocactus already. But not to worry – we could not have stopped for good photographs in the rain and we would be passing by here on the way back anyway, so we will take a look then.
We quickly reached the town of Las Tunas, where a large round-about had a nice coffee stop lay-by plus a large image of Che Guevara supervising the proceedings. (S1691). Always on the look out for a photo opportunity I spotted a large pile of what looked from a distance like Opuntia. When I got closer, it actually turned out to be Nopalea, N. cochenillifera (Not Consolea macracantha as reported earlier) and an Euphorbia sp. growing intertwined with each other. As luck would have it, the Consolea was in bud, flower and fruit, demonstrating their floral adaptation to hummingbird pollination. As Cliff and Mike were making up their minds if the flowers were worth getting their cameras out of the car for, a humming bird started feeding on the nectar of the Nopalea flowers. I was the one with the camera and within seconds had added another half a dozen images of a hummer feeding on cactus flower nectar. Excellent. Cliff and Mike came back with their cameras, but as the bird did not re-appear, they decided to do some car repairs – fixing the fuse of the cigarette lighter that stopped Mike from charging his mobile phone and Cliff from charging his camera batteries. While they were playing car mechanics, the hummer briefly returned, but I guess the breeze was getting too strong, so that a quick health & safety check indicated that the risk of being blown onto sharp spines was too great. Never mind – I have some great pictures (he says modestly). The other target for my camera was a small, bright green Anole lizard, Anolis sp. as identified by Mike.
When we approached Bayamo, it was decision time. Should we go to Santiago de Cuba and make some trips from there, or head to the south west of El Oriente, to Manzanillo and then on to Niquero. We chose the latter. S1692 is for pictures taken along the way – primarily of one of the many Euphorbia hedges with ceroids poking their heads through and for another hedge made up of Bougainvillea in flower.
We found clean, comfortable and affordable accommodation at the Niquero Hotel, but it was still early, so after Cliff had ‘modified’ one of his electrical adapters, to allow him to use his camera battery charger from the air-conditioning socket, we went for a quick exploratory drive to the lighthouse at the end of the world at Cabo Cruz. This is the farthest point west of the southern Cuba ‘peninsula’. Detailed observations have been recorded from the coast line between Pilón and Santiago de Cuba, but the question remains if this trend continues another 20 km to the east to Cabo Cruz.
Things did not look too promising as human habitation and agriculture seemed to have pushed out natural vegetation. All of a sudden, a strange sight, a large cabin cruiser / boat on very large trailer had apparently been parked along the road and a metal open sided barn had been built around it to protect it. A quick investigation told us that we had found Granma, the boat on which Fidel, Che and their fellow combatants had sailed from Mexico to liberate Cuba. I had read that he had landed near Niquero, but had not expected to see the actual boat, apparently without security or signage, along the road. Later I learned that the boat was only a replica.
We completed the last few miles to Cabo Cruz and found that the substrate had turned to coral limestone, with dense natural vegetation growing on it. We will return tomorrow to take a closer look for Melocactus that could grow in clearings between the vegetation.
During dinner, we heard the sound of a Cuban band outside. Curious as ever, we took a look to find a small percussion based band accompanying the sounds of an old street organ with a range of tunes that included ‘Roll out the barrel’ I quickly fetched my camcorder and now have enough footage of live raw Cuban music, with people dancing in the street, to use as closing credits during my Cuba presentations in months to come.
Another great day where the unexpected far exceeded what we had hoped to achieve.