Sarasota author, explorer, plantsman returns from Cuba with stories for next books
Dennis Cathcart and his wife Linda have returned from a field research trip to Cuba to study shared interests: reptiles and bromeliads on the island nation 90 miles from the US and a world away politically, economically, and environmentally.
Cathcart just published a book titled Koulèv, Adventures of an American Snake Hunter: Book One, which is an account of his adventurous life as a reptile collector, before he focused on plants in the Sarasota area. Their Cuba exploration will be a future part of his book series, publishing in 2023 and beyond. “I spent a lot of time in the Caribbean exploring for reptile species in the 1960s and early 1970s, but never got to Cuba. Cuba was the elephant in the room regarding Caribbean herpetology. It’s where many of the species evolved and has, by far, the richest fauna in the region. Writing the book reignited my interest in reptiles, and when an opportunity to take part in a sanctioned herpetology trip to Cuba came, I couldn’t say no. It was a dream come true.”
No longer the young man who faced daunting conditions, dangerous situations and had many near-death experiences back in the 1960s and ‘70s, he is still active. He and his wife Linda have explored extensively throughout Central and South America, Mexico, SE Asia including the Philippines, Borneo, Thailand, South Africa, Madagascar, and Australia “quite a few times.” This trip to the hinterlands of Cuba’s Pinar del Rio and Cienfuegos provinces “was certainly grueling.” They explored forest, limestone hills called Mogotes, the Zapata Swamp with Cuban Crocodiles and West Indian Flamingos, and cenotes in the thick thorn forest surrounding the Bay of Pigs where they found a Cuban Boa, “the largest one any of us had ever seen.” The creature had recently consumed a large native rodent call a hutia and was resting outside of a cave inhabited by Jamaican Fruit Bats. “It was easily ten feet, perhaps longer, and a stunning reward for the strenuous hike in to find it.”
The major thrust of the expedition, led by Dr. Luis Manuel Díaz Beltrán, Curator of Herpetology at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Cuba, was reptiles. Yet, the Cathcarts conducted field research to aid their compilation of a checklist of Cuban bromeliads. “So far, there are 63 species in three subfamilies, and 11 genera known from Cuba. I suspect there are more, but with restrictions and difficulty of travel, it will take time before we know.” As is often the case with faunistic and floristic surveys, it’s a generational endeavor. “We’ll do our part as best we can,” Cathcart stated. He plans a return trip to Cuba in July. This time, Linda may stay behind. “It promises to be an arduous trip. Now that she’s had a sample of what Cuba has, she’s content to let me go without her.”
Aside from non-stop day and night explorations during their eight-day stay, they enjoyed meeting the Cuban people, seeing the Cuban way of life, and beautiful scenery. “Cuban lifestyle seems frozen in time, in the ‘50s by our standards. The old cars you hear about, they’re everywhere! Many people travel by horse and buggy, plow fields with oxen and live basic, even meager lives, at least compared to ours.” He says that the people have little in the way of conveniences or possessions, but live full lives between work and family. “We stayed with families, ate at their tables.” They also got to fulfill a bucket-list wish. “On our last day we visited Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s home. The grand estate, built in 1886, is spacious and open, modern in appearance, on a hill overlooking Havana. It was easy to be drawn into Hemingway’s intimate world. The famed author’s personal effects are as he left them in 1961, expecting to return—but he never did. Visiting was a powerful experience.” Both Cathcarts enjoyed their Cuban experience, had a great time, came back a little battered and bruised, but energized to continue their fascinating work with plants and animals.
Koulèv, Adventures of an American Snake Hunter: Book One is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle and in three print editions on Amazon. Universal Book Code: Books2read.com/u/bw1rAP. Local bookstores can also order the book. Contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for signed copies. He invites readers to visit his website: www.denniscathcart.com for more information about his books, interesting stories and photos of his travels, plants, and animals he has seen.
It’s all about timing. They had some close calls. “We got phone calls from our friends who knew that Linda and I were in Cuba after the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana. Not to worry, by that time we were already back home, dealing with Covid that we picked up either in Cuba on our last days, or on the way home. Now, that’s behind us too. It wasn’t so bad. Already vaxxed and boosted, we now, hopefully, will have additional immunity.”
A plantsman since the 1970s, Dennis founded Tropiflora, a nursery company in Sarasota, Florida, in 1976. Though now retired, his and Linda’s adult children have taken the reins of the day-to-day business operation. Tropiflora is world renowned for bromeliads, of which they grow many thousands of varieties at their north Sarasota farm to ship globally. Tropiflora was the major supplier for the famous Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, shipping over 360,000 plants to the project.
Dennis is excited to report that the Sarasota Bromeliad Society will host The Bromeliad World Conference at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota in June. The show and sales will be open to the public on Friday, June 10 and Saturday, June 11, 2022. https://www.bsi.org/new/conference-corner/
Title: Koulèv: Adventures of an American Snake Hunter, Book One
Link to Amazon order page and D2D Universal Book Link https://www.amazon.com/Koul%C3%A8v-Adventures-American-Snake-Hunter/dp/1956374019/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3RKHB1DDI4NF9&keywords=koulev&qid=1652894140&sprefix=%2Caps%2C59&sr=8-3
KindleUnlimited: $0. ISBN 978-1-956374-02-5
Professional Editon: Paperback, 472 pages, color photos, tables, index, glossary. $34.99 ISBN 978-1-956374-01-8
Paperback Black and White Editon: 442 pages, glossary. $17.99 ISBN 978-1-956374-03-2
Hardcover Collector Edition: 472 pages, color photos, tables, index, glossary. $47.99 ISBN 978-1-956374-00-1