October 16 – Day trip to Viñales
A car picked us up At 7am to take us to the Viñales valley. The driver did not speak English and it was not a classic car like I was expecting so we were very confused. In his limited language he assured us that he would take us to our English guide.
At first I thought this would be quite soon however as we headed out towards Miramar and drove further out of Havana we realized that he was driving us all the way to Vinales (2 hours). We thought this was odd and assumed we would also get our classic car as well as our guide when we got there.
I spent the next two hours wondering why someone who drove between 130 and 150 kms per hour, would not wear a seatbelt?
It was an interesting drive. He had the front windows down for the breeze and the back ones were tinted so dark that it distorted what you could see but if I wound it down I couldn’t open my eyes from the 140km wind! So I gave up trying to take pictures of the fascinating rural landscape and houses and horse and carts and goats and cows on the road.
We reached our destination at the look out over the Mogotes however we were not met with a vintage car but we were met by Francisco our guide who was very sorry for us but nothing he could do about it. I think I only acted like a spoilt brat for 10 minutes but it was hard to hide my disappointment at spending the day in a beat up Peugot with black tinted windows instead of a 1950s American muscle car. We took the obligatory photos but I wasn’t feeling the joy of this adventure and had a little cry in the car as we drive towards our first activity of the day.
Can you tell I’m pissed off?
Hiking through the valley
Francisco walked us through farmland and pointed out bird life (American kestrels, vultures), crops – tobacco, coffee, papaya, sweet potato, yuca, rice. The farmers have to grow tobacco for the government but need to grow the rest to survive. He chatted and waved to locals as we walked. He was born in this valley and now lived here again. He had been an English teacher but gave it up because the students were not motivated to learn it, always asking ‘why?’ He would tell them that maybe Cuba will change one day and they can travel. Student attitudes and a measly 7cuc a month from the government ended his career. He is making a better living guiding tourists.
We lapped up the serenity and the sounds of the birds and got eaten alive by mosquitos. No sooner had I put on repellent than it was sweater off in the humidity. Every one I squished squirted my own blood. The walk was probably over an hour but it felt like 4 and by the time we got to our destination I was totally wet and thought I would die.
And this is where we were headed: Mural de la Prehistoria
Four kilometers west of Viñales village on the side of Mogote Pita is a 120m-long painting. Leovigildo González Morillo, a follower of Mexican artist Diego Rivera, designed it in 1961. The mural took 18 people four years to complete. Francisco’s dad was part of the crew.
The huge snail, dinosaurs, sea monsters and humans on the cliff symbolize the theory of evolution “and are either impressively psychedelic or monumentally horrific, depending on your viewpoint.”
The pina colada and a wet down in the bathrooms helped me recover from the trek.
As if a stroll through the valley wasnt enough, we also rode horses. No helmets, no safety briefing and no questions about riding ability – just on you get! Lucky the horses were as hot as us and didn’t even think about a little canter. Anyway both horses and us survived and we were on our way to the next activity.
Yes, you read that correctly. This little day trip sure packs in the adventures! More walking (this time in hot and constricting harnesses and helmets) and I was regretting the whole decision to agree to ride. The instructor assured me I could go with him. So through a series of 5 zip lines I stuck with him and went way faster than everyone else which meant I was unable to ‘relax and enjoy the view’ like he told me because I was:
1. Going to fast to see anything
2. Freaking out about going too fast
Next it was lunch and since we had had no breakfast we were starving. I was really looking forward to this stop and was not disappointed.
Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso
An organic farm and private run business (not run by government but they still get a cut).
Crazy beautiful view and the best pork I’ve ever tasted alongside delicious vegetables and beans and rice – my favorite being yuca. What a spread! There was so much left over but sure enough the farm dogs got some chicken scraps and the pigs will get the rest. All recycled. This stop was the highlight of our Cuba trip.
Farmers out here must grow tobacco for the government. They give them 90% and are able to then keep 10% and sell or smoke it. Francisco took us through the farming process and then introduced us to a local farmer who showed us how he rolls cigars. Josh enjoyed one and I had a few puffs and wondered what all the fuss is about.
Our last adventure was a walk through a limestone cave to an underground river where we took a short boat ride while the guide pointed out different shaped formations such as an upside down champagne bottle and Christopher Columbus’ ships. Josh mused that not once did he point out any of the penis shaped formations and there were hundreds!
Finally we were done! We dropped Francisco at his home and drove back to the city.
A huge storm set in in our last half hour. The rain was so heavy you couldn’t see the road. Many bikes were huddled under bridges waiting for it to stop.
Can you believe after that amazing lunch we still needed to eat dinner? We consulted our trusty guide book and headed for Plaza Vieja to eat at La Vitrola – a retro 50s place. I wanted something simple like fries and that’s what I got. We passed a churros seller in one of the streets in the way so headed back there for dessert. On the way they had smelled so delicious but instead of making a new batch, she handed me the few cold ones that had been there for who knows how long. The stray dogs and cats got a treat on the way home .
This was our best day in Cuba, despite not having a classic car and getting cold churros.