Thursday, December 29, 2016
Cayo Saetia shows the wild side of Cuba

Back in July, I wrote a little piece about a remote island just offshore from Cuba’s Holguin province. But the terms “offshore” and “island,” are a bit misleading as Cayo Saetia is really only a stone’s throw from mainland Cuba. The channel between them was cut to create a game reserve, thereby keeping the antelopes, zebra, dromedaries, ostriches, horses and cattle contained. There is also a large herd of water buffalo. I’m not sure how they keep those beasts from wandering, but it seems to work.

Originally created for government officials and visiting dignitaries to hunt in the 1970s, Cayo Saetia changed gears in the early ‘90s from hunting with guns to hunting with Canons (cameras, that is). This truly odd place is about 75 miles southeast of Holguin, the capital city of the province, and is well worth the sizable hassle of getting there. Visitors cross the small bridge and check in with a security guard before making the short, heavily wooded drive that reveals a fenced-in compound with a reception area, restaurant and bar and a dozen or so, quite nice bungalows. While I’d never suggest just showing up unannounced, the Internet hype of “you’d better make a reservation well in advance,” did not prove true. During my last visit, our group of four had the place to ourselves and it was an epic experience.

One thing they don’t exaggerate is the remote nature of the island. The closest town is Mayari, about 12 miles down a road that resembles the moon, so making a beer run is, more or less, out of the question. Thankfully, and, as usual, the staff is always amazingly friendly and stocks plenty of refreshments and surprisingly good food, and though the animals are now protected, antelope is available for dinner. It sounded weird at first, but the old adage “when in Rome” kicked in, and I must say, it’s pretty good.

While on Cayo Saetia, you can’t just wander around the forests and prairies, but for a very nominal fee, a guide will load you up in an ancient Russian jeep and take you on the closest thing you’ll ever find in the Caribbean to an African safari tour. There’s usually an ostrich or two hanging around the jeeps and within minutes, you’ll see huge, black water buffalo lounging around a watering hole, an occasional deer and a herd of “wild” antelope racing across a field of long, yellow grass. It’s surreal, to say the least. After an hour or so of shooting (again, cameras), they’ll take you to a rustic, waterfront restaurant overlooking a beach that resembles a “Jurassic Park” movie set, but I’ll save that image for another time.