We disembarked from the bus and went straight to the ticket counter where we discovered we had to wait 30 mins for it to open. When someone eventually did arrive he informed us that the bus to Vinales was already full. Understandably we were rather annoyed with this since we had tried to book our tickets a week ago however no one bothers to pick up the phone. (in cuba you can immediately spot an immigrant because they actually do their job...) Fortunately we were able to find another couple who were also trying to get to Vinales and between us we got a taxi for $60 in an old Mercedes (the official ones wanted $90) which has apparently done 800,000 miles!! The journey took approximately 3 hours including a stop to buy a drink before we had to bump start the car to get going again. As we drove into Vinales we came over a ridge to be confronted with one of the most amazing views we have seen so far in our travels in Cuba. Vinales is a small town of 7000 people and is surrounded on all sides by large mountains which rise up almost vertically out of the otherwise flat landscape. This is also the biggest tobacco growing region in Cuba and as such there are plantations as far as the eye can see punctuated every so often by a straw house where the leaves are left to dry. After dropping off the German couple and a few attempts to find the address we had been given we eventually arrived to find the lady who runs the house. Unfortunately she is fully booked but she had arranged other accommodation for us and we climbed up onto her roof where a spectacular view of the area and a coffee awaited us. The man we are staying with arrived and we walked the short distance to his house which it turns out is just up the street from a ranch which offers horse rides. Mae asked how much the room cost and organised a ride for the next day and we then got settled in. We soon went out as we needed to get some money and check the internet. We managed to find the bank OK but after waiting in a queue for about an hour it turned out that the card machine had 'no communication' so we were forced to walk around the village exploring and taking photos until the exchange bureau opened after lunch. We found the two places where they play danceable music and finally succeeded in withdrawing some cash, checked the internet where we finally had a response from spirit who have extended our vouchers until the 15th of January,YAY and also that we don't need to take Malaria pills yet, also YAY. Deciding it was now siesta time we made the short journey back to the casa and slept for the rest of the afternoon. That evening we went to a restaurant for some dinner, which was very nice if a little expensive and then walked across the road to a bar where a live band were playing. We got a few dances in despite the best efforts of the DJ and some dancers who performed a show of some sort before leaving when it seemed that the music was descending into reggaton at about 11.30.
Abaraiso and Chocolate.
We got up this morning feeling well rested after getting a good nights sleep and had a delicious breakfast which included water melon and grapefruit juice, neither of which have we come across anywhere else yet. Then it was time to meet our guide, Luis, who took us to his yard 100m down the road, the horses are the 1st ones I've seen in Cuba that look anything like in the condition I'm used to seeing at home, nicely rounded with muscle and sleek coats! I was given a little appaloosa called (I think) Abaraiso and Andy's even smaller horse was called Chocolate!! :) Luis was on a horse which by Cuban standards was positively huge, a 15.2hh skewbald which looked very out of place later on when it was tied up amongst more ordinary Cuban horses. We spent an hour or so walking and trotting a bit along tracks around the base of the mountains into a valley lush with tobacco crops. The scenery was beautiful and it was very peaceful riding along, occasionally passing other tourists on horses coming back from their trek, eventually we arrived at a small hut where we dismounted and sat in the shade for a bit while Luis smoked a cigar. There were various fruits and cocktails available but it was still early in the morning (ish) so we declined the rum and instead were treated to a short lesson in the art of cigars! The 2 men there showed us how they rolled their own cigars and explained how the ones they and others in similar campanismos made them were different to the ones made in the factories. The main difference being that the tobacco leaves after being dried for 3 months in the huts were then dipped into various fruit juices...pineapple, guava, papaya as well as honey before drying again. This gives the finished cigar a much smoother taste as well as having so much more flavour and aroma than the others, plus they are about half the price! Before the haggling could begin we made a move and got back on the horses to ride for another 20 mins or so to a cave where it seemed all the tourists n Vinales had descended! There was a rather muddy looking brook running into it but you couldnt really see where it went, then there was a queue to head in and when you got to the entrance to the section where there is a pool you can swim in there was a man charging people $2 to go past. As we didnt have swim stuff with us, not realising we were going to a pool, we decided not to pay and sat outside for 10 mins or so watching the slow procession of tourists go n and out before deciding we might as well head back. Remounting once again we went off at a considerably faster pace than before with my horse getting quite excited and having a good few bucks each time he decided to canter, once I realised this was normal for him I was ready and could prepare for it whereas the 1st time I wasnt expecting it and had it not been for the huge pommel would have been sat on his neck! Once the ground was level we were both urged into a canter and I was really impressed by how Andy coped with it having only been on a horse 2 or 3 times in his life!! :) He seems to be picking up riding very quickly which is annoying as it took me years to learn and yet after his 3rd ride he's cantering and has just about mastered rising trot too!! We took a different, shorter route back and with a final gallop up the hill were back at the yard, its odd that they do the complete opposite here of what is taught in England in that we always gallop away from home and go back slowly to cool the horses down and teach them not to bolt for home. When we dismounted we went back to the house to get some money to pay and then had a look at some of his other horses, one of which was absolutely stunning with an arab look about it, very muscular and gleaming with health, his name was Tambu and I would quite happily have bought him and shipped him back to England had I been going home any time soon! Reluctantly leaving the horses behind we went back to our casa and spent a couple of hours catching up on the blogs and resting before heading out to find some dinner in the form of pizza as well as try and find a bus back to Habana for friday (all fully booked :( ) then sat at a bar to have a drink. We finished our drinks and were about to go when we saw the couple we'd gotten the taxi with and ended up spending the rest of the night drinking and chatting with them. We went to the Casa de Cultura at one point and watched old men 'rap' and face off against each other which would have been quite amusing had we been able to understand it, we didnt stay long though and left shortly after yet another rendition of Guantanamera. After agreeing to meet again the next evening as well as get a taxi back to Habana together we left for our casas and went to bed.
We got up just in time for our breakfast at 10 and relaxed on our terrace for a while as we debated what to do that day. Eventually we decided to walk into town and look for some shoes as mine had finally worn through, annoyingly they didn't have much in my size and nothing which would go with the trousers I have with me, we finally gave up and concluded I'll have to wear my walking boots until we reach Chile. We walked a little further into town and as we reached the main square we once again met the couple we had shared a taxi with the previous day and sat chatting to them for an hour or so while they waited for the tour bus to return and take them off to some caves in the mountains. For the rest of the afternoon we went back to our terrace and practised some dancing, we decided to have a go at learning pachanga which turned out to be extremely hard and after an hour and a half of practice, after which we barely got the basic step, we decided that something more relaxed might be needed, we then practiced some Waltz and I had a go at teaching Mae Viennese Waltz but while we managed to do the steps I couldn't find any music to practice to so we had to go back to the normal version once more. We had agreed to meet our friends, who turn out to be called David and Delphina (funny how you can talk with someone for ages and never get round to asking that!), in the main square at 9 and we arrived to find them already there finishing off a couple of sandwiches. This time we decided to order a bottle of rum and one of lemonade as this works out cheaper than buying individual drinks. We spent all evening chatting about various stuff and drinking rum and left when the bar closed although none of us know what time this actually was!!