Thursday, January 04, 2024

Birding in Cuba - November, 2023 - Part 6

 25 November, 2023
Playa Larga - Cienfuegos - Trinidad

     We said our goodbyes to our hosts in Playa Larga and boarded the bus to drive to Cienfuegos. I was very happy that Jose, Jr had arrived overnight and that I was able to see him and congratulate him on his charming wife and offer my best wishes for a long and happy marriage. 
     Cienfuegos is a beautiful, well-preserved old city, redolent with colonial charm, evoking both nostalgia and wonder. We went for a walk and took advantage of a washroom stop. Cubans do have unique way of identifying the facilities for each gender, leaving no doubt as to who should go where.

     The most important theatre in all of Cuba finds its home in Cienfuegos and it has hosted major international performers in a variety of genres over the years.

     Monuments and old buildings abound. History is on every corner.

     The city square invites socialization.

     It was the seventh anniversary of the death of Fidel, and many commemorations were taking place, including this wreath laying.

     As we were leaving Cienfuegos, Tania ordered Jovany to stop the bus. She had seen an old man, walking with the assistance of what looked to me like a hybrid cane/crutch, and he was obviously in difficulty, and in pain. She took the arm of this man and very slowly walked with him into a small park where she was able to get him seated. She returned to the bus, got water for him and an analgesic of some kind. She made sure he was as comfortable as could be expected under the circumstances, hugged him and returned to the bus, by now suffering emotional distress herself.
     I wanted to get off and take a picture to record this act of decency and humanity, and was only inhibited by the feeling that it would be crass in the extreme, good intentions aside.
     I feel that this act of kindness, of human solicitude and caring, should be noted, however, and to illustrate for you the gentle, compassionate Tania I have come to know and love. There are lessons for all of us in her conduct.
     It was not far to the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden where we would both look for birds and receive an educational tour of some of the trees. 

     One of my target birds in Cuba, one of the few endemics that has evaded me is Gundlach's Hawk (Accipiter gundlachi) and it is sometimes seen flying over the Botanical Gardens, had been seen several times in recent days, in fact. The word obviously got out, however - David is here, for not a single bird had the decency to show up, despite that I had travelled all the way from Canada to make its acquaintance. Maybe next time......
     A Common Ground Dove (Columbina passerina) with its lovely scaly breast didn't quite make up for it.

     It would have been like searching for Raquel Welch and coming up with Phyllis Diller!
     There were other birds, however, and a Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) is never to be treated with anything but respect and admiration; in Ontario it is a whoop and holler bird!

     Each time I have visited the garden the same guide has accompanied us, Roger Hecheverria Galvez, a sterling fellow and a knowledgeable biologist.

     I am not sure what Trevor had found that was so interesting but it obviously pleased him greatly.

     A Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus) was a pretty common bird and had passed the stage where it evoked a huge reaction, but time and distance are everything. If only I could see one now!

     The bird that never failed to generate excitement was Cuban Tody (Todus multicolor), surely one of the most beautiful little birds in all the world.

      The flower of the Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis) is spectacular, the fruit no less striking.

     I was quite excited to discover a flat-backed millipede in the subfamily Paradoxosomatinae, my first ever of these distinctive and interesting arthropods.

     The Brazil Nut (Bertholletia excelsa) familiar to us all (and totally delicious and nutritious) grows inside this nutshell, which can weigh up to 2 kg, so better not be under a tree when they start to fall.

     Many trees were hosts to Air Plants (genus Tillandsia). 

      These epiphytes obtain nourishment and water from the air, not needing soil at all.
      The gardens ( more of an arboretum really) exude interest at every turn, with much to learn, in addition to the purely sensory delights.

     Some of us even paid attention to our expert guide!

     What a splendid place it is!

     All too soon we had to press on to Trinidad, surely one of the gems in the Cuban crown. It is not for nothing it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we would have time to discover some of its charms.
     But first - lunch.
     The restaurant we patronize, El Restaurante San José, has all the ambiance one might hope for, with skilled well-trained staff, and would not be out of place in capitals around the world.
     At first we thought we would have to break up into separate tables (which would have been fine).

     But then they moved the tables together.

     A waiter with an authoritative demeanour supervised it all.

     And fine food followed.
     We had the company of our beautiful Tania.....

     ..... and Jovany, the best driver in all of Cuba.

     Not seeing the Gundlach's Hawk wasn't so bad after all!
     The streets of Trinidad are narrow and cobbled, many impossible for our bus to traverse, so we had the pleasure of walking to our casa.

     Every cobblestone told a story; we wondered what lay behind every door.

     Our luggage was delivered by an old-fashioned form of transportation.

     And our convivial hostess welcomed us.

     Andrew wasted no time clambering up to the terrace on the roof where he took this captivating shot of the courtyard below.

     Here it is at ground level.

     I am sure you will have no difficulty in understanding our pleasure at staying in such a hostelry. Perhaps an air conditioned suite in a swanky hotel, with mini bar and ice bucket, with towels folded like swans, is more to the liking of some, but give me this any time. To just sit and conjure up images of past life when this would have been a grand private residence was an entertaining exercise. No one was more apt to join me in the wonder of it all than Mary Ann.
     In the waning light of early evening we left to walk the streets of Trinidad to go for dinner.

     Once again Tania demonstrated her humanity when she gave this poor soul a little money to help her get by, and most touchingly of all stroked her cheek before leaving her.

     It goes without saying that when Mariana is with us we have our own skilled and knowledgeable guide - and we get to keep her too!

     Do you see a white shirt with a blue pattern on it in the picture below? I bought that shirt and wear it like a true Cuban!

     We were rarely out of earshot of music, with many a combo performing on the street.

     Mariana led the way to the restaurant where we would have dinner.

     The band was already performing.

     The servers were waiting for the patrons to be seated.

     We needed no cajoling to order a drink.

     Mariana sparkled like a gem as she charmed us all.

     After a fine dinner, with Cuban rhythms pulsating in the background, we left to walk the lighted streets to our casa.

      I am sure that there was no one amongst who did not think, "Life is good!"

Thanks are once again due to Andrew, Brian and Stewart for permission to use their pictures.   
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. The Cubans are so friendly, and that little hotel is wonderful, My fave today is the Cuban Tody, so pretty. And the panties on the doors - simply charming! We have a little gift shop here run by cubans, and whether you buy something or not, you are offered a drink and always get some sweets to take home. Have a great day, hugs, Valerie

  2. the tody is adorable and so beautiful. I have to say, if i had a camera, and were in Trinidad, the card would be completly full of streets scenes and the colorful homes and buildings. the photo from the roof to courtyard would be in there IF i could get up there to take it. I love buildings like you love birds and flowers. Older buildings call to the strings of my heart. todays post the visit to Trinidad is my favorite. yet again stunning photos from your camera and your skills. and most favorite of all today are the two stories of true love for others by the oh so lovely Tania

  3. Hello,
    Great post and photos on your Cuba birding and the people of Cuba. I would have to say the Cuba Tody is my favorite bird. A great trip! Take care, have a wonderful day!

  4. ...David, the washroom doors are a hoot!

  5. Hari OM
    You captured me with your descriptions of the acts of caring and charity, David... there is so much good in the world but it mostly goes uinreported - thank your for that, among all the beauty that you saw. YAM xx

  6. So beautiful! And everyone had a great time there...and I like their creative use of panties on washroom :-))

    1. It took me no time at all to figure out which door I should open!

  7. What a wonderful trip you made to Cuba, nice to see these different parts.
    My favorite this time is the Cuban Tody.
    You had a great time together, good food and some music are good for you.
    Greetings Irma

  8. Laughing is always nice! The toilet doors are so awesome!
    It's so nice that you tell us about Tania, how she helped the old man... that's exactly it, help immediately, your neighbor... the one who is in your immediate vicinity. Of course, this requires perception.
    Charity, as the basis of society...
    has man developed into a "malfunction"... humanity as a history of destruction (nature) and war?
    No, we don't want to become pessimistic, we want to become self-aware.
    Humanity needs people like Tania. We agree.
    Thank you for your wonderful photos of the small towns too. I love the colorful little houses and the cobblestone streets... all at a leisurely pace with fine food and handmade music a la Buena Vista Social Club (1999). I'm sure you know the movie.
    All the best wishes for you and Miriam for the New Year... p.s. We also have rain... I'm still going to "my" beautiful forest :-)))
    Hug Viola

    1. There is pessimism and then there is realism, Viola.

  9. David, as enjoyable as your nature and bird life photos have been on this trip, This post with photos of the people in their environment was so interesting Tania is such a compassionate human being to have helped both the older man and woman and thank you for highlighting her actions. The world could use more compassion like she showed.

  10. Wonderful photos. The Cuban people are still unspoiled I think, still kept apart from Western capitalistic ways.

  11. Wonderful photos again today! I've only been to Cuba once, and it was to an all inclusive resort, and though I liked it, I think I would now prefer to walk among the streets of Trinidad and visit the gardens. It was only my second trip out of country and I remember being nervous on our excursion to Havana.
    That little Cuban Tody is gorgeous! I'm sorry you weren't able to find the elusive bird. Good reason to return, among many.

    1. Staying at an all-inclusive resort does not permit you to see the real Cuba. As world cities go Havana is very safe. If you want to take your life in your hands try Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago..........

  12. The Cuban Tody is very beautiful, David. It is amazing that there are such small birds. The flowers on the Canon Ball tree look absolutely fantastic. i hope i get to see a picture of you in that nice white cuban shirt. The arboretum there was certainly a very nice place to visit.
    Hugs and kisses, Marit

  13. Thank you for the tour and the wonderful pictures. Especially the one of the Cuban Tody. What a marvelous little bird!

  14. David, These posts featuring your trip to Cuba are great! I’m smiling now after seeing that first image in this post. 😊 Cubans have got it figured out! The Cuban Tody is truly an amazingly beautiful bird. Thanks for sharing so many interesting photos. John

    1. I have another interesting washroom sign, John, but you have to wait for that!

  15. Tania is excellent people. How I wish there were more like her. The world over.
    Smiling at the toilet doors, revelling in the birds you saw - and yes, that accommodation is MUCH more to my taste than a five star motel.

  16. Life is definitely good! Love all the pictures--from birds to people. :)

  17. I was a bit startled when I 'opened' your blog and found myself faced with underwear, David. Then I read the text and was amused. It reminded me of washroom doors I encountered in Boulder, Colorado. They had 'His' and 'Hers' on the doors but with slightly less obvious arrows below each, pointing to the other door. The best seats were those with a view of the doors and the mistakes that were made!

    What a wonderful person Tania is! The world would be a much better place if all were as compassionate as her.

    My best wishes to you and Miriam - - - Richard

  18. The washroom doors made me smile :)

    You certainly enjoyed a wonderful trip.
    Beautiful photographs.
    We need more Tania's in our world!

    All the best Jan

  19. Not that seeing birds is a bad thing by any means, but it is great more of Cuba. And nice to read that there is kindness in the world. It is often so overlooked and not appreciated by so many people. And those bathroom doors are something else. But they made me smile. Have a great rest of your week. hugs-Erika

  20. The washrooms signs are unique! The Cuban people are wonderful!

  21. Your trip just gets richer and richer. So many sights, it seems like you got a real look inside the culture. Tania is a gem, a woman who understands what it means to be human. Kindness is a gift, and she seems to share it freely.
    I was fascinated bybthe Brazil nut, and laughed out loud at the poor Phyllis Diller bird.
    All in all, just a most excellent post. Thank you.

  22. Dear David, we were in Cienfuegos back then, too (2014) - but apparently not in THIS toilet! 😊 It's good that Tania was able to help the old man at least a little. Luckily, there are always compassionate/helpful people out there, but there could definitely be more. Luckily the botanical garden also had a few birds to offer. It's a shame you didn't find "Raquel Welch". I had to "google" Phyllis Diller first - I guess she wasn't that bad ;-) And yes, I would have liked to live in a guesthouse like that with a beautiful courtyard in Trinidad. Do you actually know the story behind Trinidad's paving? If you feel like it, you can read my Cienfuegos-Trinidad travel report here:
    Thank you for your good wishes!
    I also wish you and Miriam and everyone you love a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 🍄🍀!
    All the best, Traude

  23. Hi David.

    How wonderful that you can still travel like this and see beautiful nature and meet people.

    Funny those pants.
    The gardens are beautiful and the Cuban Tody is beautiful.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  24. Las despedidas son siempre muy dolorosas, pero siempre nos queda buenos recuerdos y nuevas aventuras, que llenarán nuestra vida, de felicidad.
    Un abrazo.

  25. I love where you stayed and the whole ambience on this trip -- the food, the restaurant, the music. Oh, the music! That had to be wonderful. The town looks lovely (and I like how they describe the bathrooms!) This is far more than a nature trip and post but one of culture as well, and I siply adore that!

  26. We went to Miami, Florida in 2013 and saw bits and pieces of Cuban culture there. Certainly, the famous Cuban cigars sold in Miami were nice to see, though perhaps not imported from Cuba, but made in Florida. I love that colorful Tody. So far, a good trip.

  27. A truly magical time David. Love, love the pics of where you stayed and that wee Cuban Tody is an extraordinary bird. My memories of Cuba are about the kindness of people too. Much like my beloved Newfoundland. Extraordinary kindnesses to strangers that brings tears.

  28. It seems like you had a memorable time in Playa Larga and Cienfuegos. Exploring well-preserved old cities with colonial charm can indeed be a fascinating experience.

  29. A very nice report. The marking of the toilets is interesting. The means of transport by horse is specific to the system of the last century.

  30. A very nice report. The marking of the toilets is interesting. The means of transport by horse is specific to the system of the last century.

  31. Hi David – wonderful descriptive plaques of who should go where … having had to use the gents today at a local hotel we use quite often – because they're refurbishing the ladies! No other reason!!

    I so agree – re Tania and her approach to life … what an amazing lady … a generous spirit indeed.

    What joy to see your (their) photos … and yes I'd agree – it looks like it's a splendid place. While Trinidad definitely looks a very worthwhile place to visit … dinner looks rather good?! Cheers and Happy New Year to you and Miriam … Hilary

  32. It's always nice to see Cuba through your eyes...or anything else for that matter..especially the people that you joined up with...I feel as if I know them by now.
    Love the washroom signage!!
    Pretty assortment of old buildings and statues.
    Sorry that you missed your Hawk..Sounds like the birds were warned of your arrival for sure..So glad that there were other pleasures...A Dove hardly makes up for it!!
    Whatever Trevor found looks as though it has teeth..
    The Cannonball tree has beautiful flowers and interesting fruit.
    Love the arboretum..What a beautiful place to explore.
    What a lovely courtyard...cozy
    Thanks for sharing your journey..

  33. Hi David, your posts leave me gobsmacked. If its not interesting wildlife its interesting ways of life by humans.

  34. Looks a good place to visit and be interesting seeing the transport back in time, be very different but wonderful to experience.
    The photos are lovely and all seems attentive and happy.

  35. What a fascinating look at Cuba through your birding lenses! The Tody is definitely a charmer. Enjoy the memories!

  36. the buildings look classic and pretty....
    some buildings are familiar, because to be backgrounds of Michael Jacson song....
    love to read your story about Cuba and birds.....
    Thank you for sharing series of beautiful photos....

  37. Hello,
    What a great report on your outings and birding in Cuba. It is wonderful you had such a great guide and driver. The buildings are colorful, wonderful views of the plants and the pretty Cannonball flower. Great bird sightings and photos. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Take care, have a great weekend. PS, thank you for leaving me a comment!

  38. Beautifully captures in pictures and words! Loved your narration.

  39. That's quite an experience to visit that country and you really make the most of it. Very nice to share with others too!

  40. The washroom signs cracked me up. Enjoyed all the wonderful photo of the town and people. A very nice window to see the Cuban culture through.

  41. Otro gran reportaje querido amigo. Creo que me quedo con las ganas de viajar a Cuba.. Abrazos y besos.

  42. Interesting post. I was a little confused by the restroom signs because women wear boxer shorts too. I suspect most people don’t even remember why we have an embargo on Cuba. It seems almost ridiculous now.

    1. As far as I know guys don't wear panties, though - well most of them anyway!

  43. Your journey to Cuba was fantastic!
    The restroom doors are amusing!

  44. Thank you for sharing these beautiful sights, but especially thank you for sharing the stories of Tania's lovingkindness to others. They make my heart sing!

  45. I take this kind of accomodation over a swanky hotel anytime! How lovely - that courtyard! I can imagine sitting there early in the morning with a first cup of coffee, writing in my journal, or in the evening with a glass of wine and good conversation. I hope you made good use of it. I understand your excitement over the Cuban Tody, what a cute bird.


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We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.