A spectacular and dangerous trek up Pico Turquino reveals a side of the island often overlooked
Fireflies appeared like sprites in the forest when we were still a long way from home. The sun had gone down in a burst of brilliance over the mountains, including the thickly wooded slope where, 61 years ago, Fidel Castro and a small band of guerrillas had taken refuge to prepare a revolution. Darkness was stealing through the trees, exquisite but frightening.
It had taken us far longer to reach Cuba’s highest point – the 1,974-metre summit of Pico Turquino – than expected, and now with a moon that was little more than a sliver of a smile, we’d been caught on the mountain.
My girlfriend and I had driven 500 miles from Havana, gently southeast along almost three-quarters of the island. It’s a journey where a sidewards glance can make you feel like you are in the late 1800s, what with the horse-drawn buggies, the campesino farmers in sweat-rotted straw hats and the clapboard houses.
We passed through Santa Clara, where children take rides round the town square in a shrunken version of a horse-drawn carriage pulled by a billy goat. And Camaguey, where the citizens carry themselves with the dignity of cattle ranchers. On the road, we passed a rusting truck releasing thousands of racing pigeons.