While in Cuba we had the opportunity to trek in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The first day we visited the rebel headquarters of Fidel Castro which was located deep in the jungle. It was fascinating to see how the camp had been constructed so that it could not be seen from above. One of the aspects that enabled the hearts and minds of the Cuban population to be won over was the nightly radio transmissions that were made from the camp. During the day the radio antenna was lowered into a pit so that it could not be seen by aircraft flying overhead.
The different buildings were all spread out away from each other. Wooden steps and pathways had been constructed with hibiscus planted along the sides to provide camouflage. One of the most fascinating buildings was the cook house where the food for all of the camp was prepared, primarily after dark. A large slightly hollow tree was used to direct and then disseminate the smoke amongst the foliage, reducing the risk that it would be seen
Fidel’s house was the most impressive building. It had two rooms and specifically designed walls and a trap door to provide escape routes in all directions. Within one of the rooms there was a large white fridge. The fridge looked very out of place in a wooden building without electricity, especially as it had a large bullet hole in one side. The fridge was powered by kerosene and used to store medicines. It had been carried up into the mountains and during the transportation fired at and damaged. Luckily it still worked after the incident.
The following three days were spent trekking deeper into the jungle and climbing the highest peak in Cuba, Pico Turquino at 1972m. On paper the distances and the overall height gain did not seem that great and I thought we were in for a generally easy hike. However, the terrain was difficult given that every time you climbed a peak you nearly ended up going as far down the other side before strating to climb the next one. The path was also difficult at times as the steps were more suitable for giants than normal sized humans. In addition, the high heat and humidity made the trek more challenging than I had anticipated. Having said that, it was a great experience and I really enjoyed the days spent in the mountains. There was the constant calls of birds and insects and we could see numerous varieties of orchid, fungus and other plants along the path. I particularly liked seeing the hummingbirds: often hearing a small buzz of the wings before seeing the flickering of green turquoise as they flew by.
For two nights we stayed at Aguada do Joaquim, a simple mountain hut refuge. Facilities were very basic (no showers) but we were treated to some wonderful food and there was plenty of local beer, all brought up by mules. While we had many luxuries that the Revolutionaries would not have had I feel that the trek gave a glimpse of the conditions that they had to live and fight in. The constant heat and high humidity means that it is very difficult to dry anything and therefore there is a need to ‘just live with it’. The challenging terrain gave an impression of how difficult it would have been to manoeuver around the mountains. This was probably an advantage to the Revolutionaries as they lived within the terrain and probably came to know it very well. They also had the local population on their side – a great early warning system and probably an important aspect in their final victory.