Our last stop in Cuba seemed to sit halfway between the beach scene at Veradaro and the much more authentic Cuban experiences we have had so far. In addition to the many bus groups we saw, Vinales attracts a substantial number of hikers and bikers who enjoy the unique vistas surrounding the town. Viñales Valley is an outstanding karst landscape (limestone interacts with underground water and the water dissolves the limestone to form an amalgamation of caves, underground channels, and a rough and bumpy ground surface) in which traditional methods of agriculture (notably tobacco-growing) have survived unchanged for several centuries.
Vinales had been virtually destroyed during by Hurricane Gustav in 2008 but with the help of Venezuela it was rebuilt and maybe that's why it didn't seem to fit with the other parts of Cuba we had seen. There were many more travelers and tourists here, and there seemed to be a plentiful mix of restaurants and accommodation- it was obviously a popular stop and we wanted to find out why.
We set up an all-day mountain bike ride with Boris the Bike Guy, but the night before our adventure, our luck with the weather gave out and it rained heavily turning most of the better trails into mudpits. Rolling around in the mud with DH has always been a highlight activity but not with our English-speaking, Russian-named, Cuban friend watching so we elected to abandon the trails and use the paved roads which took most of the challenge out of the biking. When the rains returned, getting sprayed by every passing vehicle got old very quickly and we cut the ride a little short. I'm sure that better weather would have made for a better experience but I think we both leave Vinales wondering what the fuss is all about- the setting is beautiful but the authenticity of our previous stops in Cuba was much more enjoyable.
As our visit to Cuba winds down, we'll be leaving with wonderful memories of the people and places we met and saw, and we'll also take away a lot to think about. It's inevitable that your inner communist will struggle to get out- admittedly in my case, that's a relatively small being, but you do start thinking about solutions to the huge inequalities among people that are due primarily to luck and circumstance. Can I honestly say that I worked so much harder than the average Cuban that I deserve such a significant advantage in life? I was asked to supervise Andres P, Andrew S, and Herve V, and that alone warranted a special compensation, but where I was born, and the opportunities provided, had much more to do with my successes than did my hard work. The obscene wealth held by a very small percentage of the world population has to be addressed since it never has, and never will be voluntarily shared with those far less fortunate in any significant way. While surviving 634 attempts on his life (Castro's claim)- that included poison pills, a toxic cigar, exploding mollusks, and a chemically-tainted diving suit as well as powder to make his beard fall out so as to undermine his popularity- Castro's solution of forcing the financial equality issue at the point of a gun obviously hasn't worked (and never has in any other communist/socialist experiment), but simply accepting the gross inequities of life isn't the right answer either. As a start point we might look at taking all monies from the Housewives of Beverly Hills since they have clearly demonstrated a disconnect between societal contribution and wealth- working quickly through vapid movie stars, basketball players, and some Wall St types might start to level the playing field. We would highly recommend our own wealth transfer program of dropping off our money all around the globe which has proven to be a lot of fun.