Published: December 17th 2011October 15th 2011
Today, it was all about Julio Ceaser, our guide who took us hiking through Vinales’ fields and limestone, pin-cushion hills. Julio was an intelligent guy, with a degree in English and German, and an English accent that sounded like he’d spent four years at Bristol University and another year travelling in Perarrr. He was so interesting, and talked with so much poise, that we almost forgot to take in the views – which were stunning, by the way.
We talked about Vinales itself, post revolution, and agreed that life is generally ‘better’ for its 4000 inhabitants. It’s always been a pretty self-sufficient town due to the fertile valley plains, with most people able to grow some food and keep pigs, chickens, goats etc. Now any privately owned land has been distributed amongst the people and they get to keep 5-10% of any cash crop (mainly tobacco and sugar cane) they grow. On top of that everyone has ration cards, so even if you can’t sustain yourself you can still (just about) survive. The biggest benefit brought about by the revolution, however, is that this rural area is now guaranteed free health care and education.
even Julius, who has a relatively comfortable life, believes change has to come. As it turns out, this would turn out to be the unanimous verdict of everyone I spoke to in Cuba. He spoke about how change has to be done slowly and avoid the almost inevitable corruption that will creep in. He believes that this could be achieved by holding one-party elections, where voters choose which type of communist leader they want to run the country. What they don’t want is what happened when Russia liberalised its economy. In the mayhem that followed, Russia was hurt by the immediate flow of cash and corruption into the country and the only winners were a few privileged friends of Boris Yeltsin and large foreign companies. They also don’t want a repeat of what happened after their own revolution, where they lost all of their skilled people to higher wages and better lives abroad. In a country that spends over 10% of its GDP on education, they’d have to be worried about allowing educated people to leave Cuba easily.
It was all getting a bit serious until we got to an isolated limestone cave and Julius played us
some Celine Dion on his mobile. Ian called it before a word was even sung. Just outside the cave we noticed some climbing pegs in the ridiculous over-hanging, steep, sharp walls of the mogote and I had a stressful flash back to my climbing experience in Railey Beach, Thailand, with my extreme friends, Charlie and Colin. Climbing is not technically legal in Cuba, but authorities turn a blind eye to tourists crazy enough to climb here and spend some more CUCs. Charlie would have been in his element. I wasn’t.
After lunch, we continued to smash out Vinales. This time we hired some bikes and rode the 6km up to Ceuva del Indio. It’s big and impressive inside and the boat tour through the last 500m is pretty cool but it’s a tourist haven and, even in low season, the amount of tourists with us in the cave took the edge off it. So we rode back in to Vinales and then out west to see the Mural de Prehistoria, some bizarre 50-year-old painting of dinosaurs on a cliff face 4km outside Vinales. I’ve heard words like ‘psychedelic’, ‘monumental’ used to describe it. For me, it looked
like some one-mile-tall toddler had been given lots of colour and a Saturday afternoon to paint the theory of evolution and, because you don’t want him to have another tantrum, you tell him it looks dead good. However, that wasn’t the point of the bike ride. The point of the bike ride was to breathe in the phenomenal views and laugh at Ian’s lack of mud guards.
The day still wasn’t over. We met up with the Israeli girls again for a Saturday night out at the only club in Vinales, Centro Cultural (in the central plaza). After some village entertainment – and I mean that in the cricket sense – we were left to dance to songs that fluctuated between reggaeton, salsa and Calvin Harris. Our lack of mobility showed early and some locals swooped in to show us how it was done. By the end of the night, we were on our 8th
beer and resigned to taking some ad hoc dance lessons from the one guy who hadn’t picked up one of out girls.
There are more photos below