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Published: July 22nd 2018
Sun-Mon 1 & 2 July Day 3,4: Viñales
After another hearty (fresh, organic) breakfast, before leaving Soroa, we visited an excellent orchid garden with about 200 different types of orchids, more than half of which are Cuban species. The property was developed from 1960 by a man who had lost his wife during the delivery of their daughter. It was beautiful and so cool. Massive ficus trees provided homes for epiphytes as well.
On the bus we watched a video on the Peak Oil crisis of the 1990s when the USA started their crippling embargoes on Cuba. People were starving as Cuba’s partnership with Russia produced a reliance on Russian tractors and fertilisers for their urban agriculture.
Cuba had to take drastic steps to change. All spare land and roof tops in Havana were used to grow vegetables. Australian permaculturist helped Cuba to introduce organic food production. Less fuel available meant less tractors so other methods were discovered. Cuba found other methods to produce food. They introduced a ration system to ensure all their people were supplier with all basic needs. Massive reduction in
the use of pesticides occurred. People were starting to work with nature. They had to reclaim the old farming land and return to using oxen rather than tractors. Old farmers came back to train younger people to use oxen. Cuba eventually found many benefits to coping with USA embargoes.
They lost 80% of their GDP within months. Private farms are now incredibly high production as is the co-operatives. Farming was now decentralised as well as centralised. People worked together and helped each other people and shared the sense of ‘neighbour’.
Without oil, transportation was crippled. However, the medical services flourished in Cuba as the country was looking for a new industry to improve the country’s economy (and health). Social services increased, and the population received free health care. The Cuban diet changed, and their health improved. Fresh food was demanded. Cuba increased their number universities (Havana had 4 unis which increased to 40 unis) and increased their number of doctors to such an extent that doctors became an ‘export commodity’.
Carpooling and hitch hiking was the norm. It became
compulsory to pick up hitch hikers if they had room in their vehicle. Bikes were imported from China and millions more were eventually manufactured in Cuba. Communities were redesigned so that walking to schools and facilities became possible. Solar and wind power was introduced. The country used crop-waist to produce electricity. So 30%!o(MISSING)f energy generated in Cuba was generated from harvest waste. Cuba changed how they thought about living. They turned off their lights and looked for other ways to save energy.
After all the changes, Cuba has an independent ‘internal economy’. They have adapted change to address their crisis. Quote: The world is only ‘one’ and there is only ‘one’ of us so let’s work together. Share, love and friendship will save the world.
We arrived at Viñales in the middle of the day. It is a small village surrounded by stunning limestone pincushion hills called mogotes
. Viñales is a beautiful and lush valley in Pinar del Rio province of Cuba, with a population of around 10,000. It's about 26 kilometres north of the city of Pinar del Río, and was declared a UNESCO
World Heritage Site.
Viñales is said to be Fidel Castro's favourite place in Cuba. The mountains are beautiful, and the farmers grow the best tobacco in the world.
Cuba was once covered by limestone ("karst"). Much of this limestone has eroded away, leaving mountains with steep sides and rounded, jungle tops. The mountains are called mogotes
, which means "haystacks." Many mogotes
The red farmland and unique microclimate produce the best cigars in the world.
There were plenty of outdoor activities on offer, and as it was 40-odd degrees, so we were not committing to anything too strenuous!!!
The nightlife is very active in this village with the residents more than willing participants in dancing to the local live music.
Before settling into our new ‘home’ on the first afternoon we visited a tobacco farmers house to learn how to roll a perfect Cuban cigar. After 25 years of not smoking Tom was given a cigar which he smoked half of it (without inhaling!). Tobacco farmers are given their land and the tobacco
seeds. They must give 90% of their tobacco crop to the State and sell 10% for their own gains. On the off season, they can plant any other crop and reap 100% of the gains. This secures the supply of tobacco for the cigar manufacturing industry which is very important to Cuba and hence the Government’s 100% ownership.
That night we went to a lovely restaurant with Lisa & Toby from NZ. Caipirinhas, beer and Italian food was the go that night. It was great company and so much to talk about, followed by a walk back to our ‘home’ in the balmy evening temperature. The places we are staying at are all private homes with separate areas for guests. The rooms so far, have air conditioning, bathrooms, hair dryers and they provide breakfast. This is the preferred accommodation in rural Cuba. The families are wonderful and not at all intrusive. They wait for our requests.
The next day, again, after a hearty breakfast which included heaps of mango, we set out for our days adventure at 8.30am. We decided to book into the cave trip
which was the biggest cave in Cuba, the Santo Tomas caving excursion.
Instructions was to walk to the baseball arena (very popular in Cuba) and we would be picked up by a taxi. It was a 1950s Chevrolet which was beautifully restored automatic with air conditioning. We picked our guide up on the way. On arriving to the check in point and after being given a hard hat with head light, we were joined by several people from Switzerland, USA and England.
We had a steep, rocky 150m climb to get up into the main opening of the cave. What a spectacular view we had from the upper landing. We then headed down into the cave holding onto chains and ropes. I was hoping Tom was going to be OK with the climbing and secretly, I was worried until our caving experience was over. He did very well thank goodness. The guide was also very helpful.
Although we have visited many caves around the world, every cave has been different. This one was 45 kms in total length but
that was several levels. We only visited 3 levels and about 1.5kms. We saw some water bodies in several sections. Bats, crabs, crickets, geckos and endemic lizards were sited during our visit.
The first section was very hot and humid but as we descended it got cooler but never cold. There were plenty of stalactites and stalagmites but unfortunately many had been used to hang on to. There were however, some beautiful ones. We were wandering around the different levels of the cave for about 2 hours.
Outside there was also a memorial of Juan Quintin, 1937 which was an impressive size.
We drove back into the town (10kms) through the beautiful mogote-dotted landscape. It was spectacular scenery. About 2 kms from the village I asked our driver to take us to the prehistoric paintings which was about 1km off the main road. It was painted in 1961 representing history of the region.
Returning to the village, we stopped at one of the many, many restaurants for a coffee, then beer, then
lunch as well as accessing some wifi. Most of the restaurants in Vinales offered wifi as it was very much a tourist village which mainly consisted on 1 main street. We saw many horses with single riders or pulling carts. We even saw a bullock-drawn cart.
Unfortunately, we were still waiting for money to be transferred into our Mastercard Travelex card as our Visa card (debit & credit) did not work in Cuba. Although a Bank of Queensland Visa, it must be its association with USA Visa that is causing the problem. We were wishing we had Euros in cash which would have been no problem to change to CUC. It has also been the weekend where no bank action takes place. We felt confident the money would arrive on the Travelex Money Card because it had been transferred out of our bank. We had USD but was saving that for Central America and didn’t want to subject it to the really high tax that Cub puts on USD. Our poor guide Dany needed the cash to pay the accommodation. We think this is Cuba’s tourist industries way of dodging tax.
After lunch and because it was the hottest time of the day we went back to our room in the air-conditioning for a bit of reading and photo management and getting ready for the evening.
In the evening, we met up with Tracy, Lisa & Toby for dinner. Tom & I went to the village centre earlier to sit and watch people go by with a cold beer or 2.
For dinner we chose another Trip Adviser recommended restaurant and had a pizza (4 CUC) and caipirinha and some more great chats with the group.
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