El Corazon de Cuba
Educational Program


Topes de Collantes


View from road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, Cuba View from road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, CubaI love topography because it gives the land texture and creates diverse views and opportunities, even if it means some climbing on the bike. The Guamuhaya Mountains came through on all counts. It has beautiful valleys, tremendous views, numerous microclimates with their associated changes in vegetation (orchids, ferns and hardwoods), hiking opportunities, rushing rivers and numerous cascades.


View from road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, Cuba View from road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, Cuba View from road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, CubaCuban road engineers don't mess around.  When they need to cross the mountains they get right at it. The road to Topes de Collantes frequently has a 15% grades, and in a few places I am sure that it was several points above that, perhaps 20%. They aren't scared of steep roads!

  Bicycles on car, road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, Cuba Viewpoint on road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, Cuba  Vegetation along the road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, CubaView from road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, CubaThe road is challenging enough that the average bicyclist might want to opt for hiring a car, at least for 20km. This does make it harder to study the details along the road - nuances of vegetation and beauty.  
  View from road to Topes de Collantes, Trinidad, Cuba Road, Topes de Collantes, CubaBicycling to the pass does a lot to justifies carrying around the small chain rings on the bike -- that some rarely use. It also justifies "cross-training" or a slow walk up the mountains to enjoy the views (while pushing your bike).  It is a grunt but the significant climb is less than 10 km (6 miles) and only reached about 3000 ft (920 m). With a little perseverance most people can fell the success of making it on their own power.

At any rate, the elevation is sufficient to create a totally different climate.  In the mountains it was lush and cool.  A couple of the dominant crops are coffee and guava.  Orchids perch themselves in the trees and the Royal Palms of the forest.  A half-dozen varieties of moisture loving ferns could be seen at the lowest level of the forest.  My favorite of the highland botany was the giant ferns, which are described as living fossils.  They stand 15 feet (5 m) high and look like something out of Jurasic Park. Similar ferns can be found at at higher altitudes and cool climates in tropical Africa.

  Jurasic fern, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Jurasic fern and forest, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Road, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Jurasic fern, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Road, Topes de Collantes, Cuba  
  Coffee and orchid, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Topes de Collantes Information CenterTopes de Collantes, which is partly known for a waterfall is also the site of a health spa community. The complex is accessible to Cubans and foreigners alike, but we were lodged at different hotels and ate in different dining rooms. We did share the same swimming pool. Near the main road is a large community herb garden of long raised beds with mint, tilo (an herb that makes a chamomile-like tea), and another plant that looks like an aloe. A man happened along at that moment who told us that the flesh inside the leaves was diced up and refrigerated, eaten as a tonic for ulcers and upset stomach.  
  Road, Topes de Collantes, CubaRoad, Topes de Collantes, Cuba View from the road, Topes de Collantes, CubaNorth of the pass, the road is never as steep and the micro-climates don't seem to be as pronounced. For 25 km (15 miles) it is one of the most beautiful, paved road, rides in the country - and the 50 km (30 miles) beyond this are darn good as well.  
  homesteads and farms, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Fruit stand along the road, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Orchid on a power line, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Bird on a power line, Topes de Collantes, Cuba Beehives, Topes de Collantes, Cuba  
  (Above, from left to right) In the hills there are homesteads and farms. Along the roads there are fruit stands. Both orchids and birds compete for rights to the power lines. And, a row of beehives is home to the local pollinators.  
  Coffee bushes, Cuba Coffee bushes, Cuba Bohio, Coffee farm, CubaWe made a stop at a small coffee farm.

If you ever have the opportunity to smell coffee blossoms don't pass it. Actually, if they are in bloom, it is very hard to miss the strong and sweet aroma. If you know the smell you are likely to be hit by it before you see the flowers.

Visit to coffee farm hand-grown coffee, Cuba Sugar apple, Cuba Sugar apple, CubaWithout any forewarning of our visit (though we knew our hosts), without hesitation, they hand-grown some coffee (left) and brewed a pot.

The refreshments included a plate of sugar apple.

  Mountain stream, Cuba Mountain stream, Cuba Mountain stream, CubaThe hidden gem of the coffee farm is the dazzling stream that flows through the property. The owners have developed the estate with trails, viewpoints and pavillions. So, fresh coffee, fresh fruit, and verdant pristine environment, what about this isn't paradise?  
  Scenic road, Santa Clara, Cuba Farm animals, Santa Clara, Cuba Rural village, Santa Clara, Cuba Scenic road, Santa Clara, CubaBack on the road, and more snapshots into the economy and culture of rural Cuba. In this area there are variety of farm animal, assorted village and every farm is cultivating a different mix of crops.  
  Family doctor clinic, Cuba Examine room, Family doctor clinic, CubaThis is an hour-plus long visit to a family medical clinic and a meeting with part of the medical staff. The discussion covered many aspects of their program; clinics involvement community health care and prevention, prenatal care, infant care, studentsí health, adolescent health issues, women health (breast exams, cytological tests, HPV), pregnancy management, general adult health issues, lifestyle issues (hypertension and diabetes), communicable diseases (TB, AIDS, STD), family planning, mosquito borne disease (dengue, Zika), medical record keeping, consultation and examination rooms. Immunization program: polio, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, rubella, measles, mumps, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza B, meningitis B, and meningitis C. Common themes throughout the discussion were prevention and early intervention.  
  Blood pressure check, Family doctor clinic, Cuba Cleaning road-rash, Family doctor clinic, CubaWe took advantage of the health care services to get a blood pressure check and to have a little road-rash expertly cleaned.


  Public education and prevention are strategic priorities. In line with this, all the family doctor clinics have a variety of health education posters. It is interesting that the selection of posters differs from clinic to clinic. The Ministry of Health must have produced dozens and dozens of posters. There is no discernable pattern on why a clinic has its particular collection of broad signs.  
  Self breast examine poster, Family doctor clinic, Cuba STD prevention poster, Family doctor clinic, Cuba Rights of Children poster, Family doctor clinic, Cuba HIV prevention poster, Family doctor clinic, Cuba Domestic violence prevention poster, Family doctor clinic, Cuba Ebola poster,  Family doctor clinic, Cuba  
  Shade grown coffee, Cuba Pack-train for coffee, Cuba Coffee processing factory, Cuba Coffee processing factory, Cuba Coffee drying area, Coffee processing factory, Cuba  
  The premier cash crop in this area continues to be coffee. It is all shade grown coffee. Some of the shade is being created by banana trees. At one point, there was a pack-train of horse, carrying bags of coffee. Presumably, this is the best way to bring the beans out from more remote farms in the mountains. Along the main road is a coffee processing plant. It was not active at this time, but you can get a sense of their capacity from the several large drying areas that stretched around the back side of the factory.  
  Colorful geology (left)

Two student who wanted to be photographed (right). Now their picture is on the Internet.

  Malaga (taro), Cuba Castor tree, Cuba Cashew nut tree, CubaField of mature malanga (taro) left.

Cashew nut tree (right)

Castor tree (far right)


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