Here’s my piece on the Orchid Gardens of Soroa in Cuba, as it appeared in the Chester County Independent :
On a summer afternoon with temperatures in the high 90s and extreme humidity our group of 13 educators climbed approximately 206 meters (1 meter equals 3.28 feet) to Cuba’s Orchid Park in Soroa. Orchids and other tropical plants thrive in this micro-climate that includes abundant rains and an average annual temperature of 74 degrees.
The Orchid Gardens of Soroa were developed due to a great sadness of the owner. In 1942 Tomás Felipe Camacho, a successful lawyer and native of the Canary Islands, purchased a tract of land in an area of Soroa. Filled with lush native vegetation, he wanted to share this beautiful site with others. At first, he thought of building a resort on the land, but a turn of events changed his plans. His beloved daughter died while giving birth. Shortly after, his grieving wife passed away. From that day forward, Don Tomás devoted himself totally to honoring his deceased loved ones. Thus, he developed a captivating interest in growing orchids.
Completed in 1952, Tomás had invested 1.5 million pesos (which was the same amount as U.S. dollars at that time). Hiring Kenji Takeuchi, a Japanese gardener and caretaker was a wise decision. Upon meeting his new employee, Tomás said, “Behind every orchid is concealed a great passion.”
Returning to the Canary Island, the orchid grower died in 1961. At his death his legacy of creating a place of beauty to honor his daughter and wife contained more than 700 varieties of orchids planted over an area of 35,000 square meters.
Today, the mountain paradise has become a National Heritage site and falls under the management of scientific institutions. Presently, the University of Pinar del Rio is in charge of caring for the Orchid Park of Soroa which now has some 950 varieties from all over the world, with about 25,000 plants.
With relations between the United States and Cuba relaxing somewhat, tourists may soon be able to visit this Caribbean jewel. A trip to Cuba is not complete without experiencing the beauty of this mountain garden in Soroa. Intense flowering occurs between November and February. Other than orchids, the park includes 70 species of exotic trees and about 300 ferns.
Visitors should wear walking shoes with a non-slip sole, carry a bottle of water and wear loose cotton clothing. Expect the tour to last several hours. Soroa is located near Viñales, west of Havana, Cuba.
Carolyn Tomlin is a Jackson, Tennessee-based author that has been writing and publishing since 1988. She has authored 19 books and more than 4,000 articles in magazines such as Entrepreneur, Kansas City Star, American Profile, Tennessee Home & Farm, Home Life, Mature Living, ParentLife and many others. You can purchase her full-length works here.
Source: Recio, Renato, Eduardo Jiménez and Milena Recio. The Golden Book of Cuba. LaHabana, Cuba:Lenguas Extranjeras, 2002.