Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth, had always been described to me as a remote, beautiful, and curious place. It has a unique history and some of the country’s most untouched natural environments. I was able to visit the island last month as part of a scouting trip for future CMRC projects.
Just getting to the Isle of Youth is part of the adventure. The plane is Soviet-made from the 1960s or 70s and it was the first plane I ever boarded from a dropdown staircase in the rear. With one window every third seat the inside was slightly claustrophobic. Fortunately I was able to snag a window seat and watched the passing Cuban countryside below—large cement apartment buildings and small towns scattered among the many farms.
Today, the tourists that make it to the Isle of Youth are mostly divers headed for one of the dozens of dive sites off of Punta Francés. I was able to go diving myself and see why the adventurous tourists make the trek. The crystal clear waters and healthy reefs were worth the trip. Not to mention the most delicious fresh lobster we had for lunch--it melted in my mouth and was exactly what I wanted after a day of diving.
Just like getting to the island, getting to Cocodrilo was also an adventure. I had to receive special permission from the Cuban government to enter the town. The trip was long (2 hours on a bumpy road in a 1948 truck) but well worth it. It was immediately clear why Fernando had always talked so highly of the place.
When I arrived I was received with open arms and fed a delicious meal of fish and congri (beans and rice). CMRC first began working in Cocodrilo in 2011 when we helped start local sea turtle conservation festivals. I was pleased to find out that Cocodrilo has continued to run the festivals even without our support. Evelio, the town’s mayor, couldn’t stop talking about next year’s festival and his plans to invite children from other communities. The growth of these festivals is significant considering fishers from Cocodrilo were catching sea turtles less than 10 years ago.
I headed back to Havana on the same plane on which I arrived after spending a 16 hour flight delay on the beach. Going to the Isle of Youth allowed me to learn a little more about a truly unique part of Cuba—I hope it’s the first trip of many.