We Trekked Across Cuba for Charity: A Mini-Memoir

By Jacqueline Jeynes
Jackie and her daughter-in-law
Margy Kennedy cross
the finish line in Cuba.

“How would you like to do something for charity?” I asked my daughter-in-law Margy one day. 

“Yes, why not?”

“Great. I've just signed us up for a charity challenge trek across Cuba.”

The charity is MIND in England and Wales. It provides advice and support, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness, and promote understanding.

It is a few years since we got back from our trek in Cuba, but it seems like a lifetime away from the Caribbean sun, sea, and sand now that travel is restricted globally.

It was a well-organized trip with spectacular scenery and friendly locals who took great care of us with food and music at every rest stop. Not an easy task with a group of 35 women and five men (plus three guides) to cater for. 

I was in the slower group
The trek was hard work—up to 15 miles a day for five days in difficult terrain—through forests, along riverbanks, and over rocks to see magnificent waterfalls. There are always varying fitness levels amongst those taking part in an organized charity trek, all with their own personal challenge as well as the difficult task of raising funds. Generally, walkers naturally fall into two or more groups as the fastest ones want to forge ahead and the slower ones want to look at the scenery. I am happy to be in the slower group, especially as we caught the magical sight of glowing fireflies in the rain forest as night was falling.

The weather was hot, 25⁰-30⁰ C during the day, but not as humid as expected. The biggest problem for me was mosquito bites despite using high-power insect repellent. I always use a single walking pole as I have not mastered the two-pole action without tripping. Those who didn’t have one were soon using stout branches from the forest for the steep climbs.

Highlights of the trip
  • Opening window blinds on the first morning of the trek to see the sun rising over a spectacular lake we had not seen the night before. 
  • Two nights camping, particularly the shower facilities. There were two wood-paneled shower cubicles at the bottom end of the site with a little trickle of warm water. Unfortunately, just as a couple of us bubbled up with shampoo and shower gel (environmentally friendly of course), the water stopped. Bottled water did the trick for the final rinse, but I believe the screams (very cold water!) could be heard around the camp.
  • Several of us took advantage of the massage service available at one hotel. While the masseuse I had concentrated on my back and shoulder (sore from when I fell), it appears the very handsome young masseur was a great hit with some of the party who had the “full works”—don’t ask!
  • One of our party met the love of her life at Ancon two days before we came home and was returning to Cuba in July to see him.
  • Apparently, one young woman also met about a dozen interesting young men but only vaguely remembers the details.
It was an incredible experience with a friendly group of walkers. We all had our own targets to meet. Mine was to walk all five days for the full distance of approximately seventy miles without too many ill-effects, which I did with no blisters at all.  Margy completed this, her first trek, despite both knees and ankles strapped up and while being in considerable pain.

It was worth it
  • We raised £5,200 for MIND. While we were away for ten days, several young men in the UK will have committed suicide, thousands of tranquilizers will have been issued on prescription, and at least two people will have been committed to a secure unit.
  • The training paid off as the trek gave me a goal to aim for over the colder winter months leading up to the February departure date. 
Although I’m now seventy-one years old, I have completed other treks since then, including Mount Etna, and still do my daily walk of around three miles. A couple of years ago I walked the 136-mile Wye Valley Way in Wales, UK, over fifteen days and am planning to do 160 miles of the Severn Way between Wales and England in 2021. 

Who knows, I may even get around to writing my travel memoir next year, "Don’t Puke on the Turtle!", a cry from one of the organisers on my Venezuela trek.

Jacqueline Jeynes received her PhD in Health and Safety in small firms from Aston University, Birmingham, England. She is a former national policy chair for the Federation of Small Businesses in the UK. Photo courtesy Jacqueline Jeynes. The amount of £5,200 is approximately $6,900 in 2020 USD.

No comments:

Post a Comment