In Copenhagen they are debating how to end deforestation, but in Cuba’s Pinar del Río they were replanting 50 years ago, creating lush, unspoilt valleys
Birds and butterflies are swooping above us and, as our taxi reaches the summit of this forest road just 40 minutes from the heat and noise of Havana, the view opens to an undulating landscape painted every shade of green. Before Castro these hills were dusty yellow and brown scrub.
If Copenhagen needs a model, this is the most eloquent I know, a visionary example of reforestation and the long term benefits it brings. While the rest of the world is ripping up forests in the name of minerals and wood, Cuba has been replanting its tropical forests in the name of jobs, the environment and a lush holiday destination for decades. This policy has worked so well that in 1984 Unesco gave biosphere status to 26,686 hectares of forest in the western region of Pinar del Río, where I am heading to stay at Las Terrazas, 50km from Havana.
Our journey has taken us along an empty motorway, past plains with grazing cattle and sugar cane fields. Few Cubans can afford the petrol to make trips out here. Those who live here survive on smallholdings down dirt tracks that wind into the forest or in villages where the main employment comes from tourism at Las Terrazas.
We reach our destination, Las Terrazas valley, and drive across a lake studded with water lilies. Clouds of turkeys and chickens scatter in front of us and, above us, orange and blue shuttered apartments for local people curve around the hillside. Hotel Moka, and a host of restaurants, bars and attractions, are dotted discreetly around the community.
We check in and walk 40 minutes along a hilly track in search of a river to wash away the dust and heat of Havana. Steps lead from the track down to a river cascading from the hills into a series of natural pools. Above, sunlight trickles through bamboos, the orange-red blooms of hibiscus trees, teaks, royal palms and a tree covered in curly red seed pods. We plunge into the cool, clear water. Grey and red bromeliads and tiny orchids stud the trees above us. A large kingfisher swoops onto a rock a couple of metres away. Eagles circle overhead.
This is Castro’s Eden, a paradise he dreamt up soon after the revolution in 1959, when he ordered a reforestation programme. Back then this place was grassland. Now it looks much like it must have done before European settlers cleared the forest for coffee and cattle. When Columbus arrived here in 1492 the island was 90% forest. By the time Castro came to power the figure had dropped to 11%. Now forest covers about a quarter of the island.