Often I describe my experiences wandering the beautiful deserted beaches of Cayo Largo, alone with the sea, sky and sand, as evoking the first day of creation.
But here is something different. I was walking down a beach I had not visited before. No one was visible and seaweed high water marks emphasised the wildness of this place. I was heading toward a distant cliff on a point, looking forward to rounding it and seeing what new vista would appear.
The beach was very wide at this point, backed by low limey palisades and dunes topped with brush. A lone royal palm dominated, its fronds weaving gently in the wind. The sound of the surf and wind were as a cocoon and I felt the familiar sense of isolation in time and place.
As I neared the point a remarkable sight slowly appeared...it was so strange that I could hardly comprehend what I was looking at. It only slowly dawned on me.
The concrete walls and orange tiled roofs had been blasted clean of paint, and I could see into the interior rooms, some with abandoned furniture scattered. The damage had clearly occurred a long time ago. The ruins were extremely weathered. Brush had grown over the grounds.
I could see ruined stairways tumbling onto the beach, obviously once grand but now trashed and beaten.
I was almost to the point (punta); the ruined site stretching all the way. When I arrived, it was clear that the site had once been a spectacular lookout terrace with a decorative surround ringing the vertical walls.
What apocalypse had occurred here? To me it gave every appearance of a nuclear attack. Amidst the beauty, peace and timelessness of the beaches of Cayo Largo, this was an incredible sight, in the original sense of the word.
I had missed one of the most poignant aspects of this wreckage on my first sweep...an intact signpost standing alone in heaps of rubble.
I think Jimi Hendrix, “Third Stone from the Sun:
"Strange,...Beautiful... ,grass of green... With your majestic silver seas…"
Much later in our trip, we discovered exactly what had happened to the Capricho.
We happened to visit the Cayo Largo Museum, admission 1 convertible peso. (More about this later.) It turns out that one of the most significant events in the recorded history of the island was the direct hit by Hurricane Michelle in November 2001. It was a Force 4 and the eye passed directly over Cayo Largo. This was followed by a flood which completely submerged the island.
The infrastructure damage was very extensive. The Cubans, who are no strangers to hurricanes, set to work and by and large a visitor would never know of this cataclysm...but Villa Capricho was completely destroyed.
It was never rebuilt, or torn down, and the there the remains lie undisturbed on a beautiful, peaceful stretch of paradise.
You can find a detailed account of the hurricane here: http://www.cayolargo.net/michelle.html. This website is the fount of wisdom for all things Cayo Largo, by the way, and is a good place to visit when pining for the pearl of the Spanish Main.