It is close to 5am on a fresh morning in May 2015. I got up just a couple of minutes ago and someone already knocked at the door of my room at a Cuban family, where I stayed. It was the guide picking me up for the two-hour drive to the base of the highest peak in Cuba, the Pico Turquino, that I planned to climb today. I quickly put my stuff together, packed the sandwiches my lovely hosts prepared and met Ricardo, my driver, outside. We set of into the early morning darkness towards west and left the city of Santiago de Cuba behind us. I was able to close my eyes on the first half of the drive to get some rest. On the second half this was no longer an option as the streets were pretty bumpy and the 40-year-old car not too comfortable. We even had to go around two bridges that had been destroyed by a strong hurricane a couple of years ago.
When we arrived at a little village at the sea, nobody seemed to be there. We couldn’t reach the mountain guides here because the phone lines were broken so we didn’t know what to expect. I imagined quite some tourists to go up there but at the end it was only me. My driver was talking to a guy in Spanish and I didn’t understand a word but they looked worried. After I ate some breakfast they told me that it’s probably going to rain and we should start right now to get back in time. Ricardo told me the day before that tourists usually need 10 to 12 hours to go up and down the mountain. I was optimistic that I would be a bit faster as I’m used to hike and run on hills. Finally the guide from the town nearby arrived and we started at the trail head upwards.
My guide only spoke Spanish and I didn’t at all but communication always seems to work somehow. Right at the beginning I noticed that the trail was very good prepared so apart from the 2000m of elevation gain only the heat and humidity might be a problem. We hiked through a really nice rain forest surrounding and the humidity increased constantly. After around two hours we were completely in the cloud and we were able to see the little water drops in the air. As the trail got narrower I took the lead and hiked pretty fast until the guide stopped me and asked to go a bit slower because he was tired and suffering back pain. About half way up we rested, ate some bread and of course rehydrated. I needed to drink liters of water as my body was not used to the heat and humidity of southern Cuba. On the way to the top we could spot the sea-shore sometimes when there was a gap in the clouds. I wasn’t to sad that the sun wasn’t shining as this would have increased the difficulties of the local climate. The trail itself and the dense forest and animals around were enough to see anyway.
After around 3.5 five hours of hiking we reached the 1974m high peak full of sweat and a bit exhausted. We replenished our energy reserves and filmed each other wringing the sweat of our shirts. A few mangos and pictures in front of the Jose Marti statue later, we started our way back down. Soon after, we felt the first couple of rain drops on our skin. And that was where the adventure began. Some minutes later an intense tropical rain made us soaking wet and the trail slippery. It didn’t take long to transform the trail into a powerful stream in which we needed to go back down. At first I tried to keep my feet dry but I soon realized that this was hopeless. We increased our pace and ran down in the knee-deep water for about 1.5 hours where the rain finally stopped. We managed to hop down Pico Turquino in about 2.5 hours and were relieved when we finished the hike after a bit more than 6 hours.
My driver was somewhere at a beach when me and my guide were hugging at the finish line, happy as we were. He still thought it would take me more than 10 hours to go up and back down Pico Turquino. They called him and served us an energy rich meal to reload our reservoirs. He was very excited when he finally got back from the beach because he never accompanied a tourist that did this hike in 6 hours. We still had time to visit a local carnival and met another experienced guide from the Sierra Maestra. After my driver told him the story, he grabbed his wife’s beer and congratulated me to my effort. I don’t know if I was one of the fastest tourists to go up there but it seemed to make some impression on the locals. After all it was hard to go up in the intense heat and humidity but I just like doing challenging stuff. It was a great adventure hiking up Pico Turquino and the drenching rain made it even more special. If you have the chance to go to Cuba I strongly recommend you to go hiking in the Sierra Maestra as well.