Cayo Saetía National Park, Cuba

Photo: Anagoria [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
Frustration. Disappointment. Anger. You’ve run through every emotion. They don’t change the reality, though. You’re not going to Cuba anytime soon. Only a few years ago, the United States started to ease restrictions on the Caribbean island. Journalists, educational groups, and Cuban Americans could legally travel to Havana. Commercial flights and cruise ships soon followed. Then the loosening American policy was abruptly reversed under new conservative leadership. Your plans went down the tubes.

So while your own country is moving backward, Cuba is trying to find its way in the modern world. Fidel Castro, the communist revolutionary, died in 2016. His brother and successor, Raúl Castro, stepped down as president in 2018. A constitutional referendum followed a year later. It implemented term limits, recognized private property, and restored the prime minister position. There’s more work to be done, of course. But Cuba is not the same country that it was at the end of the Cold War.

That was evident when you put your Cuban wish list together. You definitely wanted to see Havana. The majority of your plans weren’t in the historic capital, though. You started looking east. It led you to Holguín, where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. The province is still rural. Much of the land is covered with forests. Coral beaches line the coast. While one of the country’s largest natural reserves blankets a small island in Nipe Bay.

Like everything else here, Cayo Saetía National Park has an interesting history. The park used to be a private game reserve for the Castro brothers. Antelope, ostriches, water buffalos, and zebras roamed the island’s grassy plains and forested swamps. When the ruling family stopped visiting in 1994, this miniature Africa was turned into a national park. Day-trippers from Guardalavaca now arrive for jeep tours, snorkel trips, and horseback rides. It’s a completely different side of Cuba. It’s also one of the first spots you plan to visit when the next United States administration takes over in 2021.

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