September 1998

Island Fever: The Pearl of the Caribbean, Cuba beckons again
by David Cline

[Excerpted] Among the books is a little bilingual gem published by Pangaea Press called Natural Cuba/Cuba natural by Cuban naturalist Alfonso Silva Lee. It invites us to put aside the politics and to go native. Purportedly the first layperson's guide to the island's remarkable endemic fauna, Natural Cuba clearly is not a guidebook of the usual sort. One senses that Silva spent many a day with his eyes glued to the ground, never bothering to provide road maps, let alone suggestions on how to get to these natural wonders. But, his careful and inspired observation, and the respectful tone of his narration, do compel you to discover the Bee Hummingbird (the world's smallest bird), tiny frogs and miniature boa constrictors, rare orchids, and the extraordinary Clearwing Butterfly. There is also the Bird-eating spider--a really big scary tarantula that, I guess, eats birds. (There was a photo but no explanation.) Over 10,000 land-based species have been identified on the island, and Silva says there are still many discoveries to be made.

Sealife is equally rich with 1,400 known species of mollusk, 1,300 of which are known only on the island -- islands are funny that way. In particular, Cuba has some really stunning snails; the Painted Tree Snails and Painted Land Snails are swirled in lavish bands of red, brown, black, and yellow. The book includes many quite beautiful photos of some of the more visually unique species.

(David Cline is managing editor of Transitions Abroad, a magazine focusing on alternative overseas travel.)