Day 4: I left the hustle and bustle of Havana behind and got the bus to Vinales (there is a squiggly line above the n which I can’t type so it’s pronounced Vi-nya-les). The bus station was a bit hard to work out was was going. Only one company ran from the bus station also and it was straight across from the Zoo, which had a queue of hundreds waiting to get it. For some reason I was told kids did not go to school today and the 10 peso entry fee is good price. CUC1 is equal to 24 pesos so 10 pesos is less than 50cents to get it. I may have to check it out, bet it’s CUC10 for me thus not beating the $1.50 it cost to see tha Pandas in Macau as cheapest animal experience ever.
So the bus was half empty contrary to rumours they sell out in advance. Fairly uneventful trip until we stopped for lunch at a roadside place, that had things like snacks and wifi! So my Havana post was actually posted minus photos and sent an email to my parents and best friend.
In Vinales I was greeted by my guest house owner Sosa. Well it’s his wives house as her game is Gena and it’s called “Villa Gena”. An elderly couple but so nice and friendly. Sosa won me over with a coffee…… from coffee beans he grows in his garden! Gena seems to think I need to eat more too and was offering me a huge banquet. I like to explore and eat out though so will skip tonight’s offer. I have accepted a horse riding tour tomorrow morning though. Vinales is in limestone country and is surrounded also by tobacco plantations. Funny thing is I expected the tobacco smoke to be annoying but I’ve hardly noticed it. Hardly anyone actually smokes that much. It’s like all that rum and not drinking it excessively. It’s clearly a cultural thing.
The centre of town is quite touristy. Restaurants and souvenir shops line the street and just about every house is a “Casa Particulare”. Found wifi again in the church square. I’ve worked now to look for other tourists hanging out on their phones. While I was emailing I noticed a hen and chickens wandering about the square. This is the Cuban countryside where everyone seems to sit on a rocking chair on the front porch. My casa has at least 4 I think. I think I’ll go retire to one now and see if Sosa can whip me up a Mojito or more coffee!
Day 5: another big breakfast of fruit, bread, eggs and coffee. Now I wish I worked it off today but all I did was sit on my ass…. Actually it was a horse.
I rode through the valle de palmarito enjoying the karst country withe valleys full of tobacco farms and a scattering of other crops like pineapple. After an hour or so my guide and I stopped at a Tobacco plantation and was ushered over to a hut with did not look dissimilar to a drug cartel hut on National Geographic. Here I was shown how cigars are rolled and was promptly offered a cigar. Surprisingly I didn’t cough but after a few minutes I was wondering why people smoke and my throat was a bit dry. The dealer offered a good price on cigars but I promptly quoted in sufficient Spanish the tobacco importation regulations to Australia.
I got back onto my horse, whose name was Caramelo as I forgot to mention that. She was a lovely horse and never once disobeyed me. We rode on to the Cueva del Palmarito. It’s a cave with a swimming hole about 250 metres inside. What I was not prepared for was caving in Cuba. The only safety precaution was a light every third person or so… The cave was slippery, had a few dodgy wooden bridges and not that impressive. But it’s Cuban caving and I’ve signed up for a tour to a bigger cave tomorrow! We arrived at the pool to find three people swimming in some brown water in the dark. Funnily enough no one joined them from my little group and we stumbled and slipped out way out of the “muy loco Cuban cave”.
Back on Caramelo after she had enough rest to forget how heavy I am, we rode back via a conveniently located cafe with cold refreshments! Some Cubans have been studying Tourism 101 and how to squeeze cash out of tourists. Still a fresh lemonade always goes down a treat and the view was stunning.
Fours hours of riding later and I returned to town with a sore butt. I paid my guide a whole CUC20 for the amazing experience. A walk into town to book the next bus ticket and get some water and an ice cream soon soothed the pain.
Tonight I agreed to eat at the Casa, they were a bit nagging about it and I think it’s $10 more for them. I sat in a rocking chair reading a book listening to the clop clop of horses as they past and occasionally a truck or car ruined the ambience. Sosa and Gena’s son showed me a huge framed picture of his daughter he just got done. It was life size as I got the daughter to stand next to it to check. I’ve felt part of the family when staying here.
The meal was a spread of chicken, salad, rice, black beans and chips. Oh and a fruit salad for desert. There was no way I could eat it all even if I wanted to do so to be polite. I hope the family finished it off! I’ll need to decline tomorrow because I feel bad wasting good food. Now off to bed where I’m not expecting a miracle, I’ve not slept well one night yet since I left home. In fact maybe the plane was the best nap I’ve had!
Day 6: Luckily in Cuba other than the occasional early bus people tend to not get up early or start early. I had breakfast with enough coffee to keep me wired for the day and walked into town to go on a caving trip.
I was driven to the Cueva de Santo Thomas, apparently the largest system in Central America. So this is Cuba and we were handed a helmet with a torch on it. The hike up the mountain was quite hard in the heat. Today has been a real scorcher. We walked through the cave with the pathway formed from the footsteps of tourists.
The lights on the helmets were close to useless, someone suggested it should have been BYO candles! To be honest a candle would have lit the cave better. There were no huge drops fortunately do while it felt unsafe on a rickety wooden ladder, a fall would at best break a bone and you not due down in a chasm.
We also had a cave dog. The dog follows the guide up into the cave and out again and goes everywhere including the wooden steps. It even waits for everyone to go first then came down afterwards. At least in an emergency the cave dog could go fetch rum.
I think in summary the best bits of the cave are too difficult to reach so I saw very few cave formations. Still it’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.
Unfortunately the lazy wake up times end tomorrow as I have a bus to catch to Trindad de Cuba. Around 7 hrs direct but not sure what direct means as the roads all go via Havana. It is apparently full of tourists, but rightfully so due to the city it self being 502 years old. Old Havana is a mere 496 yrs old!