Turquino Peak

There’s a Cuba story rattling around in my head that I’m struggling with to find a starting point. It’s based on a day trip to Turquino National Park, site of the Turquino Peak – at 6,500 feet, the highest peak on the island on the southern coast near Santiago.

This morning it was a typical travelogue: Flora and Fauna, breathtaking beauty, and the geography and biology from changing tree zones to salt weather dry landscapes. The terrain, the adventure, the snippets of insight like the onion field, and other tourists who didn’t arrange a guide turned away indignant.

But this is Cuba, and while some things are visible, like the mountain, they are also partially hidden unless you look:

How do I speak of the layers of human geography that have worked their way into the culture, language, and history? How do I represent Cuban life, in it’s desperation and opportunity, like the symbiotic relationship the Catholic church has with Santeria?

What about endangered species of wildlife like the Fernandina’s Flicker, a woodpecker with about 600 remaining nesting pairs, and plants affected by micro farming in arid soil that washes away in a hurricane along with coastal roads that the most affected rely on like a lifeline?

How do I mention colonial masters, the Spanish, French, British and Americans changing control like hands of cards, or the Soviet Union that centralized the economy and ownership before bailing in ’91, unleashing economic chaos?

What do you do with Fidel and Raul, national heroes and international pariahs?

Good contemporary Cuban writers live off the island, as freedoms were restricted and jail possible, but now political prisoner exchanges are more common and people are being let out, with twenty thousand visas being awarded each year. How do we find the artists and artwork in between the tacky souvenirs?

The small whitewashed homes along the road to Turquino – whose inhabitants can now somehow purchase – are interspersed with the Indian-style wooden huts with banana-palm roofs. The occasional river bed is a dry, rocky scar on the scrub-lands. Pigs and goats roam free, eating the crabs crushed by the occasional car locals call ‘coffee grinders’ for their reverse engineering.

Here, by the Caribbean sea, the coconuts grow yellow.


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