Before we knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes to Havana. A bus ride took us west to the sleepy town of Viñales. In direct contrast to the busy, built up city we had just left, before us stood a quaint town settled amongst spectacular countryside that has been unexpectedly awoken since the tourist trade began to boom in Cuba. Small little houses lined the central street that ran through the centre of the town, none more than one floor or complete without at least two rocking chairs on the porch. All of them finished with guest house signs outside. As the bus pulled up, we were greeted with a mob of casa owners holding up signs, desperate to convince someone to stay at their house tonight. Luckily, we had already sorted our place out on the bus with a guy who had hopped on the stop before. He took us to his family’s casa, just off of the main road and showed us to our room. As the sun set we headed out to explore.
|Flag flying at half mast in the Plaza Mayor|
It was around this time that poor Ramsey’s stomach began to play up on us once again. Coming back with vengeance since its last outburst in Cartagena, his sleep was to be interrupted continually throughout the night. Needless to say, he wasn’t thrilled by the huge breakfast that greeted us the next morning. Loaded up on Immodium and praying it would get him by, we headed out for our adventure of the day- horse riding in the valley of Viñales. We met our guide and the three others that we were joining on the trip. It wasn’t long before our guide decided he would prefer us to translate his Spanish than try to speak English. We were taken to our horses, shown how to go left and right, and off we went. No more instruction was needed apparently because the horses were ‘semi-automatico’. It must have been true, because our guide was chilling at the back without a care in the world, chatting away and occasionally asking me to tell the group to go right/left when the odd fork in the path occurred. We meandered through the little paths that carved through the valley, a bright orange that stood in contrast to the green tobacco fields. Tobacco houses used for drying the leaves were dotted across the land, and we made a stop at one of them on our route. Inside the process of making a cigar was explained (and then translated by us) and we were shown how to roll a cigar. Of course, they were selling some cigars too, with the leaves they had left after having to give 90% of their produce to the state.
Our journey also presented us with potential swimming options. The promise of a large fresh water lake had us excited, although upon arrival we were greeted with what was really only a murky pond. Our guide seemed surprised no-one wanted to swim… We also headed to some caves, which offered the opportunity to swim by flash-light. The idea of not being able to see what’s underneath or around me was enough to convince me to pass once again!
A scary near-accident, in which one of our group members was nearly thrown off of their horse meant we welcomed a stop at a bar with open arms. Despite the alcohol ban during the morning period for Fidel, this bar was shamelessly seizing the gap in the market. Situated in the middle of the valley, it was unlikely the police were going to be checking here. And we were not passing on what had become the rare opportunity for an alcoholic beverage! El Corazon del Valle was my poison of choice, and what a good one it was, named after the area, it was something to be savoured. As we made our way back to the town, Ramsey’s Immodium overdose started to wear off. We said a goodbye to our hardworking horses and made a dash back home.
Our second day was spent walking and taking in the spectacular scenery from different viewpoints in the town. We finished by chasing the sunset and finally watching it dip behind the monoliths from Hotel Los Jazmines. We had a ginormous dinner which would have been enough to feed a small army, let alone just the two of us. With our stomach full and the sun set, there was nothing but a dark (potentially dangerous) walk back to our casa along the winding road that led back into town as we contemplated the wonderful time we had spent in Viñales.