We took our first Cuba style meal at the Miami airport with plenty of fried plantains, black beans and moros y cristianos (rice with black beans). As we boarded the plane it seemed to everyone that so many years of wait had come to a reality: Cuba was only 103 miles away!
Soon after the plane touched the runway in Camaguey airport we were introduce to a Cuban tradition: an explosive hand-clapping and smiles erupted from the Cubans, some shouting “after all, I am back home”.
There was a grandfather willing to meet his grandchildren, a lady almost in tears ready to see relatives that were last seen probably more than a decade ago. Dozens of Cubans were outside the airport greeting and waving to friends, colleagues or siblings. There were smiles in all of them.
As we walked off of the airport we were already embedding ourselves in this educational, birding and cultural experience. And, as much as we avoided, the unavoidable Turkey Vulture was the first Cuban bird species for the tour.
Once in Camaguey we walked about three blocks to admire the wonderful architecture, enjoy the tiles on the floor inside various house and were sprayed with the smoke of an old Chevy as we got to see our first endemic bird flying overhead, the Cuban Martin.
Day after day, we added new birds to our tour and at the end, we got to see all the endemic Birds of Cuba except for the Cuban Kite and the Zapata Rail. We also saw many Caribbean specialties and restricted distribution species.
In our last dinner we were honored to share the table with Orlando Garrido, Cuba’s most remarkable naturalist and the coauthor of the Birds of Cuba.