The following article is published in the #RGNNCuba Magazine: Vol. II, Summer 2017, produced during ROOSTERGNN Academy’s Travel Journalism & Photography Internship Seminar in Havana and Trinidad, Cuba, under the editorial direction of RGNN Expert and Mentor Benjamin Jones. Follow #RGNNCuba for all of our Cuba coverage.

After four days in the tourist-packed town of Trinidad, I wanted to get away from the souvenir shops and raucous salsa clubs and get a taste of rural Cuba. A horseback trek through the nearby Escambray Mountains with my sister Nicole seemed the perfect getaway.

We started the afternoon journey with wrangler and trail guide, Osmel Requiel Zerquera, who arrived at our guesthouse in full cowboy regalia of ten-gallon hat, jeans and spurred boots. We rode over to his stable in one of Cuba’s ubiquitous bike taxis where I got the opportunity to choose from 35 horses for my gallant steed for the trail.

My view for the afternoon ride atop Ricardo. | Ashley Burger

Zerquera put the saddle on and let the horses get one last sip of water before I mounted Ricardo, my roan ride for the day.

Being a Kansas girl, I had previous experience with horses, but Zerquera assured me that “no experience is needed to ride the horses for the trail because the horses know the trail well, and they won’t go fast for beginners.”

Almost 30 minutes into our excursion, we pulled onto the side of the trail into a barn to tie up the horses.

We walked over to the Cafeteria Isabella de La, a café surrounded by nothing but the barn, but it was constantly visited by horseback-riding tourists and locals.

I ordered a chicken and cheese sandwich as I watched the owners prepare a sugar cane drink right before my eyes. They ran the sugar cane through a press about six times and each time more and more juice came out from the pithy stalks.

Zerquera said, “sugarcane is good for the man because he is working the arms, but it also good for the woman to watch the man.”

The sugarcane being pressed by workers at the Cafeteria Isabella de La. | Ashley Burger

After the sugar cane had been pressed, they delivered a cold sugarcane concoction for 2 CUC (around $2). There is also a rum version, a sort of rustic daiquiri, for 3 CUC.

The drink was very sweet and the sandwich was delicious as we sat and enjoyed conversation with some tourists from Norway and some locals learning English words from Nicole, who teaches Spanish in Kansas.

 After an hour of conversation and eating, we mounted our bronze beauties for the rest of the ride.

The views of green pastures, roaming cattle, and small-town children playing outside put a smile on my face. There were also gorgeous, tall mountains surrounding us and friendly Cubans calling out greetings.

We passed house after house full of families eating, watching TV, and sitting outside their simple homes.

Then we entered the rainforest portion of the ride. Some 15 vultures soared far above our heads and mud covered our horse’s hooves as we trotted through rocky and muddy terrain.

At one point, what sounded like a growl came from the brush, and we thought we spotted a black shape moving in the bushes.

“Go horsey, go!” shouted Nicole and we cantered away from the perceived danger.

The horses knew the route well even when we went through the crowded cattle pen and the mud sludge puddles. We pressed on to our goal only to find out we had to walk ten more minutes to the watering hole.

The walk was a moderate difficulty level with uncertain rocks and some big steps.

We finally reached our destination of clear turquoise water, a cave to explore, and a steady flow of blue cascading from the rock formation. The water was a comfortable cool temperature, and it was the perfect stop to wash off the mud on my body and sweat on my face.

Some of the rocky terrain we covered on foot. | Ashley Burger

My sister and I were the only inhabitants at the waterfall because the more popular times to visit the falls is between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In the latter half of our stay at the fall, a French couple joined us for a dip. We talked about our adventures and enjoyed the peaceful escape.

We leisurely spent an hour at the fall as our guide waited nearby to take us back to the horses and finish our journey.

The ten-minute walk felt shorter, as well as the ride back to Trinidad. The views I saw and memories I captured are ingrained in my mind.

The four-hour excursion ended at sunset, the perfect time to look back on my picture-perfect afternoon of making friends, expanding my knowledge of Cuba and its countryside, and seeing new places.

Osmel Requiel Zerquera – family owned business

To set up a ride contact Casa Ida guesthouse at (+53) 4194007; 25 CUC per person with meal and ticket to the fall included. Or walk the streets of Trinidad where people will offer riding but see if it includes the ticket to the waterfall.