In total, we paddled five hours that day covering seven and a half miles and saw no one else, not even a toothy crocodile, just cranes, hawks, wrens and other birdlife.
Later that evening, defying conventional wisdom and sore muscles, a warm sea breeze and a little Havana Club rum rallied our group when a Cuban trio began playing on our hostel’s rooftop after dinner. Fransini, a professional dancer from Colombia, led an impromptu salsa lesson that had most of us paddlers moving to the beat accompanied by third-story views of the moonlit ocean.
Bodies rested and dance moves mastered, our next foray would be kayaking Guanaroca Lagoon, a pristine inlet that is part of Cienfuegos Bay’s extensive ecosystem. Several hours drive east from Playa Larga, we drove past guava and mango trees, rice fields under cultivation and small, immaculate towns where children in uniforms on their way to school waved at our van. After parking in a dry forest, a short hike led to a rustic boathouse and dock, where we got underway beneath leaden skies.
As we kayaked toward the southern shore of the 7,500-acre lagoon, Mr. Acosta directed our small flotilla to paddle another hundred yards in a southeasterly direction toward the misty bank. Then they came into view — a flock of perhaps 200 flamingos forming a distinct rosy pink line at the lagoon’s edge. Paddles were stilled and cameras focused. It was then that my photo gear failed me. But the same couldn’t be said about Cuba’s wild side, which minutes later put on that epic show.
The following day, the last of our tour, we traded our kayaks for a 60-foot yacht that motored us out to a remote day-trip destination, Cayo Blanco, an islet that’s home to nodding palms, shell-white stretches of sand and a beach shack that served cold Cristal beer and delicious local lobster. After a snorkel session exploring the healthy reefs, most of our group lolled in the shallows for a dip. I opted instead for a secluded spot under a low palm to enjoy a slim Bolivar corona I had purchased the day before.