Saturday, June 7, 2014

Valle de Vinales

Vinales was our second stop in Cuba - a quiet town to the west of Havana that lies within a beautiful valley and lush vegetation is abundant.

Arriving on the main street in Vinales our Viazul bus was surrounded by desperate Casa owners shouting and waving their laminated cards advertising their habiticones Thankfully we saw a pretty, demure lady standing on the steps with a sign saying ‘EMILY’ - what a relief - we got a normal one!

We stayed in a Casa Los Pandaderos   - the amazing owner Midalys treated us like royalty. A delicious and fresh mango jugo (juice) on arrival really set the tone for the rest of her amazing food offerings for the remainder of our stay, The first night we ordered pescado (fish) and honestly the array of dishes on the table for the two of us was out of control. Alex was sure that the pescado had to be hidden in the soup, but low and behold I was right once again when two huge plates came out after the initial array with gigantic (and yummy) fish fillets and vegetables. 

Midalys speaks pocquito Ingles - so muchos EspaƱol for us! Although I have very minimal knowledge of sentence structure, my vocabulary is improving drastically. I never thought I would say this, but thank god for Alex’s audiobook that has taught him some Spanish. I have no idea what you would do in Vinales if you could not speak basic Spanish.

Evening sunset from our casa balcony

Vinales really does make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There are almost as many horse and carts operating as cars, and the men driving the carts all have cowboy hats on. The houses are small but brightly painted, and almost every porch is home to two rocking chairs which are often occupied by the owners. Walking down the street is very sociable and everyone says Hola! or stops in at each others houses for a chat. A collection of house photographs for you below, it's kind of like the Cuban version of Wisteria Lane without the bitches.

Best place to lay and watch the world go by

We embarked on our Horse Riding tour through the Valley the next morning. Our hungover guide was less than enthusiastic, but it was still amazing to trek through the plantations on the small horse routes that connect them all.

We saw a huge variety of fruit & vege plantations, we even saw Pineapple’s growing! 

We stopped in at a tobacco farm to meet the farmer, see his drying shed and watch him roll a cigar whilst he told us the process for harvesting and drying out the leaves. As part of the process he ripped the central vein of the leaf out which he informed us had the highest concentration of nicotine. Once the leaves were stripped of these veins, he placed them in a  bucket with water and after some time used the ‘treated’ water as a natural insecticide rather than including it in the cigars. His cigars are organic, but I am sure this part of the leaf is in hot demand at cigarette factories! Apparently Che & Fidel liked (or maybe still do like...) to purchase their cigars from farmers in the area - it is renowned for it's great environmental conditions for tobacco growing. Only the finest Cuban Cigars will do for those revolutionaries!

The actual rolling of his cigars was a lot more basic than we had imagined, simply rolling up the leaves until a thick cigar shape is formed (1 leaf at a time),  cutting off the edges & sealing with a dab of honey and leaving the cigar wrapped in paper or a type of plant leaf which I have forgotten, to dry out for approximately 5 days or so. 

Heading off to find the hungover cowboy. All the women walk around with umbrellas for shade in Vinales.

Tobacco drying house

Alex's horse taking a massive piss, it farted constantly also.

Tobacco grower shows us how he rolls cigars

Horse rest stop

Mid-morning Coco Loco drink with a pour your own rum element

After a delicioso dinner at an Italian place in town (Alex could’t face another feasting session at the casa) we headed to a sidewalk bar for a drink where we were accosted by the town strays who were chasing down a sexy white female on heat. At times there were three dogs humping, stacked on top of each other on Alex’s leg. 

The poor gal! 

The next day we rented two bicycles for a low $5CUC each and headed out to Cueva Del Indio - an amazing, and huge cave system that lights have now been installed in, giving visitors great views of the roof of the cave and a little boat trip through them. The bike ride out to the caves was spectacular! 

Alex managed to get a flat tyre en route so we stopped in at a wee casa on our way back to borrow a bike pump. Whilst Alex was carted off out back to find the elusive pump I was stationed with an elderly lady and he granddaughter who was in a teeny tiny play pen (1m x 1m max.) and whilst grandma prepared lunch the little girl pulled my hair and hit me and instructed me to pick up the small off-coloured beans her grandmother had given her as rejects from the lunch which she purposely threw on the ground. 

Peso pizza - delicious Jamon y Queso (Ham and Cheese) for 50 cents each!
After a mid-day heat exhaustion break we headed off to see the Mural Prehistoria. A 120m long painted mural on the side of a cliff face in a valley. Although it’s size was quite impressive, the mural did look like something a kindergarten student could have achieved (I noted that the mural of the blue whale outside Geoff’s Emporium was substantially better albeit a lot smaller than , so we decided to head to a camping resort nearby where we could swim in the piscina (pool). This camping resort was obviously a holiday hot spot for Cubans and we got a few stares upon entry. Aside from the dubious murky water, it was a very picturesque spot to have a swim - surrounded by mountains and eagles flying overhead. A bottle of vodka at the holiday camp shop was a meagre $2.50 CUC and although we didn’t indulge, a number of camp goers were having shots and enjoying the blaring European hits of Bruno Mars and J.T. blasting from the stereo.

After a day of horse riding, then a day of cycling I could no longer walk properly. Alex informed me that this was likely due to a combination of three factors:
  1. Being a girl
  2. Being unfit
  3. Poor cycling technique
He admitted that I would have found the day of cycling (approximately 20 km) a lot harder, if not doubly as hard as he did due to the above.

We spent the night on the balcony of our casa eating a delicious Langosta (Lobster) dinner which was absolutely ginoromous and chatting to Midalys about her “Mi Amore” which we frequently heard her chatting to on the phone. He lives in Argentina but is headed back to Cuba at the end of Mayo (May) to head off on a 15 day country tour with Midalys. Very cute.

Looks like a backdrop for Jurassic Park huh?
Hanging out at the Cuban Holiday Camp pool - note amazing backdrop

The mural, see what I mean re: the one at Geoff's Emporium being better?

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