About four years ago, when I started taking groups to Cuba, I decided to include a place that far fewer tourists consider, which is to their detriment and our benefit. Located about 2 1/2 hours southeast of Havana, the Bay of Pigs is known to all, but visited by far fewer than Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Vinales. For many years, I erroneously referred to the destination as "Playa Larga," when in fact, that's just the name of the hotel located near the apex of the bay which is frequented, mainly, by scuba divers. Ten friends and I visited the area in 2002 and actually did some nice diving in both the Bay of Pigs and a lagoon called "Caleta Buena." Had my shiny, newish, Nikon "point-n-shoot" camera not imploded inside the "protective bag housing" at 40 feet, it would have been a smashing success instead of a crushing defeat, but I digress.
Speaking of the Bay of Pigs, much like the origins of our island's name, "Cayo Hueso," there is some doubt surrounding the naming of this place, too. First of all, ask anyone that has been to the southern coast of Matanzas province and they'll tell you, the only pigs around there are penned up and destined for dinner tables.
So what's the deal? Well, a brilliant, intelligent and friendly national park guide in the area named "Kiko" shared this nugget of info, and I've not been able to find anything to refute it other than a lame Wikipedia entry saying it was named after a "cochino" fish, which we call a queen triggerfish. Perhaps that's true, but Kiko's version makes more sense to me.The story goes that some guy named "Conchino" owned a lot of land in the area, so, as with many places, he got to name the body of water. Well, lo and behold, over the decades, perhaps centuries, it was transformed into the "Bahia de Cochinos." Moving on, for some reason, everyone, including most guide books I've ever seen, call the fishing village "Playa Larga" when in fact there are two small neighborhoods, one called "Buenaventura" and the other is "Batey Caleton." During the 2002 trip, not knowing any better, we stayed at the Hotel Playa Larga and it was fine, but those days are long gone, there's just too much to miss by staying in a faceless hotel. Interacting with a Cuban family exponentially adds to the experience, particularly if you're willing to learn a little Spanish.
So, while planning my first group trip to the region in 15 years, I found a couple of places online and for the past three years my friendship with these families continues to grow with subsequent trips and many, many emails.The first place I booked is called the Grand Canyon, I'm not sure why, but it's very comfortable and the hostess, Libbys, is a gem, her husband, Alex, is pictured here with a catch inside his small, wooden boat. After seeing the incredible fish photos on his phone, I told her I'd love to get a photo or two myself. Sure enough, the following day, she called me to the alley where I saw this guy and his billfish, which are routinely caught within a mile or two from land. On my next visit, Libbys' house was already booked, but I found a place right around the corner called "Casa Beba." The reviews were fantastic, so I made the reservation. Suffice it to say that the reviews were spot on and another wonderful family joined my Cuban orbit. The home's namesake is an octogenarian powerhouse and backbone of the community, and once I get a little more info from her next Wednesday, I plan to share it here. I hope you enjoy it.