When you spy a cigar-chewing guajiro driving his oxen and plough through a rust-colored tobacco field, you know that you must be within striking distance of Vinales. Despite its longstanding love affair with tourism, this slow, relaxed, wonderfully traditional settlement is a place that steadfastly refuses to put on a show. What you see here is what you get- a tiny agricultural town that just happens to occupy one of Cuba’s most natural corners. Grab a sillon (rocking chair), sit back on a rustic porch and enjoy a slice of real rural Cuba.
My first view of Vinales valley…
In this town, the unprecedented tourism boom Cuba is having was really obvious. Our guide, driver, and the guy helping to arrange our accomodations were bewildered about how there were more tourists in the town than locals. There was not a single bed vacant in the whole town. Travelers who had not pre-arranged their rooms were stuck sleeping in the town square. They all said they had never seen it before.
A few shots of the town…
These locals are using the internet in the main square. In most Cuban towns, the main square is a wifi zone. In order to use the internet in Cuba, you wait in line at an Etesca office, buy a user name and password for Wifi, where you pay by the hour. The wifi is extremely slow, comparable to dial up, and requires a lot of patience. I never bothered with trying, I quite enjoyed my time off the grid while in Cuba.
We went for a walking tour of a tobacco farm in the valley. We learned how tobacco is grown, cut, stored to dry, and how cigars are rolled. Some of us tried rolling one. Upon seeing an Asian guy being taught how to roll one, the Cuban guy explaining the process jokingly said, “Oh No! We are not going to teach any Chineses how to make Cuban cigars!” 🙂 Several of us tried and bought cigars.
This is the only wild animal I saw in Cuba. It is a tree rat, a very large tree dwelling rodent with orange teeth. I was a little mortified at the European tourists who thought it was “cute” and tried to “pet it”.
Our next stop was the Mural de la Prehistoria. The painting was designed in 1961 by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo, a follower of Mexican artist Diego Rivera. This massive mural took 18 people 4 years to complete. We all had a bit of a laugh at this, with all of the tour buses stopping to see this. The huge snail, dinosaurs, sea monsters and humans on the cliff symbolize the theory of evolution and are either impressively psychedelic or monumentally horrific, depending on your viewpoint.
We stopped for lunch at a nice little spot where we sat outside. For some reason on this trip I ate pescatarian or vegetarian, lots of shrimp and grilled fish. The portions of chicken and beef were way too large and can take up to 2 1/2 hours to come out.
Our next stop was Cueva del Indio. An ancient indigenous dwelling, it was rediscovered in 1920.
Then we headed over to one of the hotel pools for some rest and relaxation. The older lady in the picture is Jane Goldsmith, a novelist. I really enjoyed hearing her life stories. Her book, “Indian Winter” can be purchased on Amazon.com.
We had a home cooked meal at one of the casas that evening. I had tasted a piece of Ariel our driver’s dinner, of what I thought was really good beef. He told me it was turtle meat! It was damn good!