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recaro94 Pico Turquino - A travel report by Cody
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Pico Turquino,  Cuba - flag Cuba -  Santiago de Cuba
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recaro94's travel reports

Climbing to the top of Cuba

  6 votes
Pico Turquino is Cuba's tallest peak, and arguably one of Cuba's most important historical sites as the place where Fidel's revolution hid and flowered at Commandancia de la Plata. Two days for Pico, one for la Plata.

Crumbling road along our journey to Santo Domingo
Crumbling road along our journey to Santo Domingo
Pico Turquino is a difficult climb. However as this is the first real mountain I've ever climbed, take that with a grain of salt. It is 1 974 meters. We had major troubles getting into Santo Domingo to begin this journey. After setting out from Santiago de Cuba, we decided to drive the famously horrid but gorgeous highway that hugs the absolute south of Cuba from Santiago to Pilon. All I can say is that it deserves its description. This is probably where we witnessed the best scenery of the trip and also found a couple secluded beaches we had to ourselves. The road was also horrendous. If you're uncomfortable with driving along crumbing roads, falling into the ocean, bridges that you can see are breaking in half, around collapsed tunnels, basically almost into the ocean itself, and dodging endless random potholes, this road is not for you. I had anticipated being able to finish this drive in a single day, but brought a tent with us just in case. Unfortunately the shortcut I was counting on that cuts up to Bartolome Maso before you get to Pilon took us 5 wasted hours to find, and turned out to be much to rough for our Hyundai. Despite taking a running start, we were incapable of climbing the hill so we took the long way around and ended up having nowhere to sleep. We spent this night in our car in a parking lot in Yara, easily the worst night of my life. We also spent our night from about 3am-5am looking for the road to Bartolome Maso but ended up in a swamp. If you ever take this drive, the sign in Yara that says "Bartolome Maso 12 km >" actually means don't turn here, turn right in about 2 km. We tried to sleep again but were woken by thousands of crowing roosters. Once the sun rose we finally made our way into Santo Domingo at about 7am. We were warmly greeted and told we could climb Commandancia de la Plata later in the day, and start Pico Turquino the next day. The mountain was a tough climb, but worth it in the end, as was Commandancia de la Plata.

Favourite spots:
My friends leaving our Casa before we began Pico Turquino
My friends leaving our Casa before we began Pico Turquino
My favourite spot was actually our Casa Particular. After reading blog comments and internet posts like this to gather information on how to find Santo Domingo, I came in with the impression that the only Casa there was illegal and across the river. The river splits Santo Domingo in half, with the park gate and guide's house on the south side, and this spectacular Casa on the north. It is likely illegal since the guy didn't ask for our passports but it was easily the best Casa we stayed at in all of Cuba, the cheapest and best tasting breakfast (3 CUC) and best location (you have to hop across strategically placed rocks in the river to get there, no bridge). You are served your meals under a canopy of flowers, and the river is clean with several spots along it where you can easily swim. I'm aware there is a hotel there, where everyone else on our Commandancia tour stayed, but we were unable to find it and obviously far preferred the cheaper, gorgeous option of the Casa.

What's really great:
Fidel's Casa
Fidel's Casa
I'm not a huge mountain climber, but I've long resolved that in my life I'd like to climb three mountains: Mount Olympus, Kilimanjaro, and Pico Turquino. The history involved with this mountain is immense. After watching the departures. episode about Cuba I had expected Commandancia to be more hands on but it was not. Commandancia de la Plata is a bit like a museum, in that it is look but don't touch, but the walk there is part of the mystique about it. You walk the same jungle carved path that Fidel, Che and countless rebels must have stumbled along to get there and walk around under cover of the same canopy of trees that hid their activities. The walk isn't that long or hard, but it's enough to convey how serious the rebels were about being hidden. Fidel loved this mountain and climbed it several times with varying groups of revolutionaries, politicians and students. Unfortunately the stump Fidel used to teach farmers how to fire a gun has been removed by park officials.

The Peak and Jose Marti
The Peak and Jose Marti
At the top of Pico Turquino is a bust of Jose Marti. If you've spent anytime in Cuba you'll know Jose Marti statues are not hard to come by. They literally dot the entire country and it is probably impossible to find a town that doesn't exhibit his face. For this reason the statue lacks impressiveness, but it is a great sight to see when you finally emerge from tree cover and see his face ahead of you. The top of Pico Turquino is shrouded in trees, so you don't get a view of anything from the top. However, just a 2-3 minute walk from the top is a massive boulder on the left hand side of the path (if you're ascending). This deep into the hike you'll know boulders aren't rare, so if you aren't looking you'll miss it, but you can sneak around behind the boulder and easily climb on top of it. We didn't spend anytime on the path that climbs Pico Turquino from the south, but to my knowledge the best view to be had from the mountain can be enjoyed from on top of this rock.

View from Pico Turquino, not a rare sight if you go
View from Pico Turquino, not a rare sight if you go
There is a hotel here, but I never managed to find it. I hope it's clear by now but I strongly recommend the Casa across the river. As for your night on the mountain, a typical climb of Pico Turquino consists of leaving very early (6ish) and climbing 8 km to the camp where you have lunch. After that you climb the 5km remaining to the top, look around and climb 5km back down. Usually this is quite late in the day. Supper was waiting at camp for our dead legs and afterward we fell immediately asleep. There are a couple shelters filled with old wooden bunk beds to sleep in, in addition to the kitchen hut. My friend's bed broke the moment he sat on it so beware of that. I would bring a sleeping bag for this part because there are no sheets or pillows. It is also worth noting that the outhouse here is next to impossible to sit on... The next day you do the 8 km back to the bottom. If you were very fast you could do it in a day but I can't even imagine being that fit.

Other recommendations:
From Santo Domingo, there is one last road you must drive to get to the parking lot from which the hikes to Pico Turquino and Commandancia de la Plata start. This road is the steepest and most winding road I have ever seen. I do not recommend driving this road, I do not even recommend walking this road because it is insanely steep. The son of our Casa Particular host offered to drive us up in our car and I told him he was welcome to try but that we wouldn't make it. Clearly, we did, as he was experienced in the art, but even after he was sweating bullets and told us he would take care of any damage he had done to the car (it was over heating like mad and the tires were bald). I recommend getting someone to take you up unless you're extremely confident in your hilly driving skills, because it'll be hard to turn your car around once you're stuck. The hills coming into Santo Domingo are nothing in comparison.

Published on Thursday May 26th, 2011

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Mon, Jun 13 2011 - 12:06 PM rating by mistybleu

Definitely another wonderful report. I just love the pictures as well.

Fri, May 27 2011 - 11:40 PM rating by krisek

Another great report! Cuba is definitely one of my top ten most favourite places on our planet. Great pictures, superb narrative and plenty of personal comments. Many thanks for sharing!

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