You can’t see everything.
It’s something I’ve had to remind myself of numerous times on my travels. When I get to that famous museum and it’s closed for renovation, when the beach has washed away in the tide and I can’t go in the sea cave, when the show is only on weekends but I arrive in town on a Tuesday. It happens all the time.
I just miss stuff.
In some ways it’s good. It means I’ll always have a reason to go back, and it keeps me a little more grounded in reality. The world is not just about me going around happily looking at stuff; other people and circumstances factor in too and I don’t always get what I want.
So I thought I was ok with having missed just about everything I actually went to Cienfuegos for. The trip to the waterfall was too expensive, the ferry times to the castle just didn’t work out, I somehow ran out of time for the cemeteries, and getting to Laguna Guanaroca for birdwatching was just too difficult.
It’s not like I didn’t do anything in Cienfuegos. I wandered up and down the shopping street with my companion, marveling at the outrageous number of shower curtains that were for sale. We saw the cabaret show at Tropisur. We walked to the end of the peninsula at Punta Gorda, and stopped to chat with some friends on the Malecon for a while, soaking up the afternoon sunshine. I spent a day on the beach with those same friends.
But I’d just somehow missed most of the attractions that were on my radar.
So when I left Cienfuegos I kind of felt like I’d failed. I realized that all the things that had drawn me to this town in the first place, I hadn’t seen.
I proceeded to travel right to the other end of Cuba, seeing lots but also missing out on various other sights that I’d meant to visit, for many of the same reasons.
And then when I was on my way back towards Havana, I found myself passing by that way again. And I had a second chance at Cienfuegos.
I knew the waterfall trip was still going to be too expensive and that the ferry times wouldn’t have changed, so those were out. The cemeteries I could go to anytime (and I did…more on that later) but Laguna Guanaroca was best visited early in the morning, and I was determined to make it work.
After some investigation into how and where and when, I got up early one day and caught a local bus to the lagoon, getting off just past the entrance. As I walked back up the road I had to cross a bridge over the outlet stream from the Laguna Guanaroca to the bay, and the view made me stop in my tracks. The sight of the lagoon was spectacular, the sun still low in the sky over the mountains in the distance, but peeking through the clouds and turning everything subtle shades of pink and purple, which was all reflected on the perfectly still water surrounded by bushy green mangroves. Stunning.
At the entrance to Laguna Guanaroca, I paid my fee and along with two more Canadians was led down a path towards the lagoon. Along the way he showed us the calabash used to make maracas and various other trees. A tiny emerald hummingbird buzzed around, and we climbed a slippery, rickety tower to look out over the surrounding forest and lagoon. We stepped carefully around huge anthills and examined a termite’s nest and tunnels on a tree.
At the small bamboo shack at the end of the path, tiny rowboats were waiting for us. The couple stepped into one, and I into another, and we set out across the mirror-like water, my boatman Wilfredo stopping paddling every time he saw me taking a picture of the many cormorants, egrets, pelicans, and herons in the surrounding mangroves.
The soft morning light was perfect, the lagoon still and quiet, and the calmness enveloped me, the only sounds those of the occasional bird calling and the oars gently splashing in the water.
Approaching the far side of the lagoon the flamingoes appeared as a faint pink dotted line where the water met the mangroves, getting larger with each pull of the oars. They were unbothered by our nearly silent advance, calmly ducking their heads underwater for those tasty shrimp.
As we got nearer, they started to move. In perfect sync they all put their heads in the air and started walking in the same direction, an army of long pink necks marching away from us.
The other boat got too close, and suddenly the flamingoes were in the air, long spindly bodies over our heads, black wing tips now visible. Across the lagoon they went, circling back and around again and again, finally settling on the far side.
We stayed for a while, watching the pelicans and seagulls sitting on a perch, until they, too, departed, leaving us alone in the tranquil morning.
We rowed back to the dock, spotting more water birds. An anhinga stretched its wings from the top of a mangrove while a turkey vulture soared overhead. A snowy egret stood sentinel, watching for those elusive fish.
We passed a few other boats on the way back, them just heading out to the flamingoes as we were on our way back. I tipped Wilfredo and got out of the boat just as a crowd of about 20 people approached the dock to start their trips. I was glad I’d gone early. The lagoon’s tranquility that I’d experienced as one of just two boats out there was about to be shattered, and I didn’t want to be there to see it.
Things to know about visiting Laguna Guanaroca
- It opens at 8am. Go as early as possible for maximum bird life and minimal human activity.
- You can get there by taxi for 20 CUC return (you may be able to negotiate 16 CUC…good luck!) or try the local bus for 1 CUC each way. The first one goes at 8am.
- It’s on the road to Rancho Luna (the beach!) so you could easily combine the two.
- The boats have no roofs, so take sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, water and mosquito repellent.
- The cost is 10 CUC and the whole tour takes less than 2 hours.
- They’ll ask for your passport! I didn’t take mine, but it was ok, I just had to sign my name on a list.
- The guide on the walk will probably speak English, but the boat rower probably won’t.
- Tip the boatman. He does this all day, every day, and his salary is very, very small.
Have you been to Laguna Guanaroca? What birds did you see? Where’s your favourite peaceful place to check out bird life?