Saludos mas alla de Cuba!
Our second stop in Cuba was Vinales, a four hour bus ride (7 pounds each) west of Havana. The journey gave us our first view of the Cuban countryside which is very lush and green with palm trees and banana plants lining the roads. Travel options are local buses (always packed), tour group buses and buses for independent travellers that we use.
Vinales itself is a small town made up of just six streets but its position in the middle of a region known for tobacco growing and cigar making (Cuba's second largest hard currency earner after tourism) was our main reason for coming here. The Vinales valley is a National Park with dramatic limestone outcrops dotted around so we planned to do some walking and cycling while we were there.
We'd arranged our Casa Particular before leaving Havana and so were met at the bus stop by the lady of the house. We don't think there would have been a problem in getting a room if we hadn't booked as when we arrived at the bus station there were about 20 people holding up boards showing their properties and vying for our attention. We then walked to her house and met the rest of the family, including Sophia the 4 month old Labrador-cross puppy. The recommendation was a good one and we had a basic but comfortable room again for the four nights we stayed. However, we were a bit concerned about an odd looking and worryingly wired electrical fitting that was directly above the showerhead in the bathroom; we found out later that this was a common modification that provided the hot water. As well as being really friendly and welcoming we had great food made for us including fresh lobster on two of the nights for less than 6 pounds each.
We had a fun day out visiting a cigar factory and a rum distillery. We went in Tato's (casa ownner) Lada which had to be hot-wired each time it needed starting. It was a wreck but he was clearly proud of it. We bought a big bottle of the local dark rum, flavoured with small guava-like fruit, for 2.50 pounds. Rum, made from locally grown sugar cane is very cheap and not much more expensive than soft drinks. Judging by the choice of labels we've seen around it looks like every region produces its own brand, the only one that we'd heard of being Havana Club (Bacardi originated in Cuba but the Bacardi family moved its operations to the Bahamas in the 1960s to avoid losing its sales to the US). We got some coke later (Cuban version as Coca Cola not available), made some Cuba Libras and drank them sitting in rocking chairs on the front veranda that evening with Tato. We even lit up one of his hand-rolled cigars made from tobacco grown in fields near the village.
Further activities included a full day bike ride around the valley (bikes "rented" from a local contact) stopping at a tobacco plantation with its old wooden drying shed covered with palm fronds. It was here that we were offered Coco Locos, green coconuts with the tops cut off with a machete and rum, honey and orange juice mixed into the coconut water. The farmer spoke good English and said that it was better for him to give up his Government IT job where he earned 15 pounds a month to work in the fields and sell Coco Locos and his own cigars to tourists!
We also learned that hurricanes Gustav and Ike devastated the valley in 2008 killing several people and destroying most buildings. The next day we did a walk in the valley, visiting another tobacco drying shed and having another Coco Loco! After than we went by horse and cart to to another walk up in the hills and bought some coffee beans.
We've got loads of other things to tell you about Cuba but will try to spread them out over the next few blogs in case you get bored! For now, one of the most notable things is the community spirit here. people sit at the front of their properties in rocking chairs, shouting, laughing and joking with whoever's around. Doors seem to be always open so that neighbours can pop in and out when they like. Children play on the streets - they don't have mobiles of X-boxes, in fact we have only seen very few adults with mobiles. More on the next blog.
Hope your Christmas preparations are going well. It's strange for us to be seeing Christmas trees and decorations going up when the sun's shining and it is so hot.
Love from Linda and Tony xx
PS We've tried to put photos on from here and Havana but without success and will upload as soon as we can.
anne & chris Another great read! Wishing you both the best for Christmas and the New Year.... xx Dec 16, 2013
Eileen & Steve We are busy getting ready for christmas, and will have to be on the ball as joseph is crawling at full speed. Looks like you are having a great time in cuba, watch the mossies and don't drink too much rum! Have a nice sunny christmas, all the best for the new year. Eileen & Steve x Dec 17, 2013
Peter Hochmuth As I read you are back on a world tour. A decent man like me remain cristmas at home. When I read about the cigars I get a longing for Cuba. I will follow the next reports on your trip Greetings Peter and Ursula Dec 18, 2013
Mary & Barry Hi both, really enjoying your blog, you make everything sound so interesting and any little Spanish bits you include we can understand! Have a lovely Feliz Navidad! Love Mary & Barry xx Dec 23, 2013