Monday, December 10, 2012

Che Guevara's Cave

The next stop in our Cuban journey with New Mexico Ornithological Society is Cueva de los Portales, the impressive limestone cave where Che Guevara hid during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

One entrance into Cueva de los Portales (Photos by Narca)

This 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union / Cuba was one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War. The crisis was a direct result of our involvement in the attempt to overthrow Castro's government at the Bay of Pigs invasion. Our Cuban guide Ray tells us something I hadn't known––Castro only declared the country officially Communist after the provocation of the Bay of Pigs.

During those 13 days, Che Guevara––an Argentine revolutionary who became one of the most loved figures within Cuba and a symbol everywhere for rebellion––used Cueva de los Portales as the headquarters for the Western Army, which was under his command.

Che Guevara's image is everywhere, here on a vintage Chrysler.

When Alan and I visited the cave in 2004, there were a few stark pieces of furniture, including the bed where Che slept and the table where he played chess. Now some wooden construction has been done to give it a slightly more homey appearance, and the bed is neatly made up with sheets. The ceiling of the cave looms 90 feet above these bits of furniture.

The bed where Che Guevara slept during the Cuban missile crisis.

Textured limestone wall

Its history aside, the cave within these limestone mountains is most impressive. The cave lies within La Guira National Park, and the forests here shelter some of Cuba's special birds.

Limestone cliffs at La Guira National Park

The intriguing plant life would rouse anyone's Inner Botanist. 

The first new endemic for the day is a Cuban Solitaire––its plumage is modest, but its song is as haunting as that of other solitaires.

The Cuban Solitaire's song resonates in these mountains and, later,
 echoes in our daydreams.

A Great Lizard Cuckoo thrashes about the bromeliad-laden branches, and Cuban Green Woodpeckers forage on the palm fruits.

The Great Lizard Cuckoo is a relative of our roadrunner.

Fruiting palms attract hordes of hungry birds.

Possibly Cuba's most spectacular bird is its trogon, and today several trogons watch us curiously, as we admire them. This glorious species is both widespread and fairly common.

A fabulous Cuban Trogon, the national bird (no surprise there!)

The mountains around Cueva de los Portales also harbor Cuba's national flower, called White Ginger. It is actually native to Asia, but has thrived after introduction to Cuba. Cuban women used it to smuggle messages to their men during the wars for liberation of the 19th century.

White Ginger or Butterfly Jasmine, Hedychium coronarium,
is Cuba's national flower.

Next destination: the Zapata Swamp!


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