Paragliding over prisons & Scuba diving across Cuba

Instead of paying $51 for the 14+-hour overnight tourist bus from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, I opted for the truck-to-bus conversion vehicle for locals and paid $15. Not only was this converted truck much cheaper, it was also much faster than the tourist bus, which stops in several cities along the way, and we were able to travel with and meet locals who would never dream of paying 2-months' salary for a bus ticket. The two girls I was traveling with and I made friends with a group of Cuban guys who were heading to Santiago for a paragliding championship. We spent the next two days on the mountain literally waiting for wind. The first day wasn't sufficiently windy so nobody could fly. The second day, there was far too much wind so only the very experienced paragliders flew. Finally, the perfect wind came at sunset the second day and we sailed over the mountain, the valley below, and somehow, a prison. I can’t imagine that any American prison would allow paragliders to fly overhead without shooting them down and bringing them in for questioning.

As I made my way back to Havana, I stopped in every province along the way, visiting at least two cities per province, and scuba diving at just about all the major sites. My first dive in Cuba was in Guardalavaca, which wasn’t terribly exciting but the staff was very friendly and the overnight security guard looked over our tent and let my friend and me use the bathroom and showers. The lock broke and I was stuck in the one-stall bathroom staring at gigantic spiders overnight but that’s another story. Santa Lucia offered a shark diving package where bull sharks surrounded us and were fed fish by the instructors. As I struggled to take a selfie with my new GoPro camera, a large shark opened its gigantic mouth, bearing its jaws to eat the bate a few feet behind my head. The camera had been facing the wrong direction the entire time and I decided that instead of trying to document my dives, I would start being fully present and without a camera in the future. I somewhat regretted my decision when I saw dolphins during a dive in Cayo Coco and then turtles and thousands of brightly colored fish in the Bay of Pigs. That’s right, the site of the infamous US invasion at the Bay of Pigs is one of the best dive spots in Cuba. I pitched my tent on the beach, was nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes, and dove at Cueva de los Peces, Punto Perdiz, and nearby Caleta Buena, where fresh water meets salt water, offering a unique combination of sea life.

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