Back to the Country

After the carnival atmosphere of Trinidad de Cuba, a scenic drive north through the quiet hills is welcome. Once beyond the cities boundaries, the land is sparsely spotted with small shacks, connected to the road by a trail of worn earth and a single power line. Nine kilometers from Lake Zaza—the quaint town of Sancti Spiritus rest along a rocky river.

For those seeking largemouth bass, Lake Zaza was once the place. The largest of the Cuban reservoirs, Zaza is 44 square miles of fresh water bass habitat. In the nineties, fishing parties from America were ferried here with regularity. The lakefront Hotel Zaza bustled with activity.

When the American bass tour company suspended operations, the hotel lost its revenue source, and since, has fallen into a state of disrepair. Seems Europeans don’t embrace bass fishing.

One result I fear is a rise in commercial harvesting of the lake. If this is indeed the case, one of Cuba’s most pristine inland fisheries is in jeopardy.

Sitting on the veranda overlooking the town square, Chino and I drink a mojito and and quiz Miguel, the manager of this pleasant little Inn. Miguel was born in Santi Spiritus and has fished Rio Zaza and the lake since childhood. He tells of a time when harvesting bass was off limits to Cubans. A time when the government took great measures to preserve this resource for catch and release, believing a flood of Americans were on the way to some of the best bass angling in the world.

When questioned about the current status of commercial netting in the lake, Miguel goes silent. He works for the government and is cautious. Because of the low water, the result of a severe drought, we can’t fish and find out for ourselves.

So, Chino and I took the afternoon off. Now, in a late November coolness defying the tropical surroundings, we sip our drinks and say our farewells. Chino leaves tomorrow, back to Havana. I’m headed east to the distant city of Holguin, and the rugged northeastern coast.

I’m going to miss my native guide and his international car. Chino’s 52 Chevy, powered by a Puegot diesel, connected to a Toyota transmission and with Audi brakes has become like a familiar friend. For anyone making it to Havana and wanting to hook up with a local, I recommend English fluent Chino. He’s funny, bathes on a regular basis, and doesn’t eat much. Email me and I’ll give you his contact information.

On a recent note:

The severe drought of 2011 was finally relieved with torrential rains in May, 2012. Tragically, two people drowned in the resulting floods.
Penny Pelfrey’s July attempt to swim Cuba to Key West fell short, disrupted by adverse currents. Her motivation – draw attention to the less than neighborly relations between the U.S and Cuba.

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