It was Christmas Eve and I woke up early again, so I decided to take another walk before breakfast, to say goodbye to Trinidad, the town that stole my heart. The kid from across the street was preparing the bread for the fish sandwiches his father was going to sell later, and when he seen me, he smiled and said “ola”. On the other side of the road, a cat was hiding underneath a car. I continued my walk until I met another sandwich maker, and I decided that I will buy my lunch from him. What’s better than a freshly made pork and cucumber sandwich, to replace the tasteless ham and cheese ones from the motorway gas stations? So I bought two, for only 20 pesos (CUP).
The road from Trinidad to Vinales took almost all day, as we had to go back to Havana and from there head to the North of the island. We stopped twice on the way and I got the chance to take some nice pictures of the local children.
By the time we reached Vinales, the sun was almost setting. As always, the group of locals, the owners of the casas where we were staying at, was waiting for our bus. I got the last casa of a muddy street and left with a smiley older woman that led me to my room, in the back of the yard. The casa was small but beautiful, with a nice porch and a roof with a rocking chair on it. In Cuba most of the roofs are not pointy and covered with tiles, but flat, so that they can be used for different things, like drying clothes for example. The lady showed me around and also introduced me to Cuca, their pet turtle.
As it was Christmas Eve, our guide had a lovely surprise for us and, for the first time in our trip, we were going to eat at a Cuban family’s house. Their house was lovely, nicely decorated, with a beautiful garden where they even had a small pool. They welcomed us with open arms and home made cocktails (with extra shots of Rum in them). It was a great evening, with a lot of delicious food, even wine and cake!
We had a lot of activities planned for the following day and, for once, I managed to sleep the whole night without waking up at 5am. After a delicious breakfast, our group met at the local gas station and boarded our bus. Because it was Christmas, everybody started to sing and Bethan even decorated the bus with cute ornaments that her mother made especially for this occasion.
Our first stop of the day was the Mirador, from where we could see the whole valley of Vinales, another Unesco protected area of Cuba. The scenery is very dramatic, with plains where the tobacco is grown, broken up by mogotes – steep hills composed of limestone.
We drove next to one of the mogotes, to visit the cave inside it. At the entrance, a couple of young Cubans took us even further in the past, when the island was inhabited by Taino, the indigenous people of the Caribbeans. They were both dressed in traditional clothes and were singing at the drums and the flute. The man even had a baby hawk on his arm.
After we drank a refreshing sugar cane juice freshly squeezed in front of us, we entered the cave. It was narrow and wet, and not very well lid. We walked for about 10 minutes, until we reached the water, and from there we continued out way out on the boat. The guide didn’t interact with us too much, he just told us about the different rocks from the ceiling and what they looked like. It was interesting but not that impressive.
Our next stop was the prehistoric wall, which is a painting that depicts the evolution theory. Despite the name, it was designed in the early ’60 by Leovigildo González Morillo, the former Director of Mapping at the Cuban Academy of Sciences. It is 120 meters long and it took 18 people 4 years to complete. It has to be repainted every year because the paint fades due to the weather. I honestly didn’t find it to be very interesting and I was happy that we didn’t spend a lot of time there.
I was very anxious for our next stop in the Valley of Vinales, which was a tobacco farm. It is said that the best quality of tobacco is found in this area and that the cigars made here in local farms are the same quality as the famous Cohiba, for example. The farm was nothing what I have imagined it to be. We stopped on a field surrounded with plants, at the end of which there was a small wooden hut.
I am sad to disappoint you, but cigars are not rolled on the thighs of virgins. 🙂 This was a saying that the Cuban cigar makers invented to encourage men to smoke more cigars, back in the 19th century. The tobacco leaves are harvested from the bottom up, usually leaving a week apart between each level. Then, the tobacco is taken into the wooden barns and dried. Once the leaves have aged properly, they are being sorted and piled up depending on quality, and then the cigars are made. In these small farms, everything is done by hand. I found out all this information from a man who actually made a cigar in front of us while he was explaining. Then he gave us one already dried (once they are rolled they need to go into a special box to be pressed and hold into the round shape of a cigar) to try it out. I am not a smoker and I have never tried a cigar before, but I quite enjoyed the flavor, even if it made me cough a few times. I bought 20 cigars from the farm for only 10 CUC, to give out as gifts back home.
In the afternoon we went for a hike in the valley to discover the local life. I enjoyed the quiet, relaxed and slow pace of the area, not invaded by other tourists. Even if the town of Vinales is very touristy, in the areas surrounding it you barely meet another foreigner. I loved this about Cuba, the fact that there is still that feeling of peace before the storm (aka tourists).
Tonight’s dinner was another surprise. Each of us was staying at a different casa, and each of the owners spent the whole day cooking for us, making us feel special for Christmas. All of us gathered to one of the houses and each of us had a different dinner. I had lobster and I was very happy because I never tried it before and I was actually planning on having it in Cuba, as here it’s cheap, not like in the UK.