Vinales: Tobacco farms and mojito's

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September 6th 2013
Published: September 10th 2013
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Havana to Vinales

With only 10 days in Cuba, we could only choose one other place to visit outside of Havana. A mate from back home mentioned Vinales, and it was a good recommendation. It is a small sleepy little town in the Pinar del Rio province, about 3 hours west of Havana, and its rich red soil makes it the perfect place to grow tobacco in the shade of the karstic Cordillera de Guaniguanic range.

Adriana had arranged accommodation for us in a Casa Particular there, and boy were we glad that she did. As the bus pulled into town, 10's of frantic women surrounded the bus shouting and furiously waving flyers for their Casa's in our faces. At the back of the crowd was a tiny women with a cheeky grin with my name written on it. Before we had a chance to beat our way through the throng of women, she made her way over to us, swatting away the competing flyers like one does with flies. She explained to us that she knew how to spot us by my big red beard and glasses, and introduced herself as Estrella, which translated to English means star. Over the next few days as we ate her amazing food she lived up to her namesake, as we stuffed ourselves silly with mountains of food. Every morning we would get piles of fresh fruit, 4 eggs, a loaf of fresh bread and local honey, a pot of coffee and a litre of freshly made guava juice. She explained that she would be insulted if we did not eat it all, so we dutifully obeyed orders, eating enough food that we would not even have the hint of hunger until after the sun had set. The dinners were even bigger, for the two of us a whole chicken, mound of rice, a bowl of black beans, a pile of yucca, salad and fruit salad was produced and consumed as she kept watch from the corner of the room from time to time making sure that we ate until we nearly burst. It reminded me of that Monty Python sketch, 'an after-dinner mint sir' from the meaning of life.

Strolling around town, we noticed that nearly every house was a Casa Particular, with a brightly coloured sign indicating the name, and two rocking chairs on every porch. There is a main street, a few side streets, and then rolling fields where the tobacco is grown. It is common to see horse and carts trotting own the streets, with goats grazing in the long grass by the side of the road. In the late afternoon, the farmers come into town to have a few beers and smoke freshly made cigars. Each night big storm clouds would form over the other side of the mountains, with lightning flashing across the sky all night until the sun rose and the heat returned to burn off the clouds. The storms, nor any rain would make it as far as Vinales, so at night we watched the stars with lightning flickering in the distance.

On our first night Estrella and Celestino were explaining to us the sights and activities we could do whilst in the area. One of the main options that people do when in Vinales is to visit a Tobacco farm. We thought we understood that the next day we would be walking out to a Tobacco farm which they would call for us in advance in the morning to alert them of our arrival. Instead at 9am there was a knock on our door, with Estrella informing us that a car was here to pick us up to take us to a farm where we would be horse riding all day. Oops, i thought my Spanish was ok, but another lost in translation moment to add to the numerous others on this trip.

The car that we were picked up in was a rusty teal 1951 Plymouth, it was the length of a limousine and had the turning circle of a cargo ship. The steering wheel was the size of one of those lifesaver rings you throw in the water when someone is drowning, and after some initial spluttering the big V8 roared and vibrated through the bucket seats as bounced down the road on I assume, what was left of the original suspension springs. Although only a short ride, it ticked the box 'ride in an old yank tank' activity that you need to do in Cuba.

At the end of a muddy red dirt road, we got out of the beast and we greeted by Miguel, the Camposino who was going to be our guide for the day. Along with Miguel, we had Luis and Carmaletta a nice couple from Spain. As i have mentioned before in another blog, horse riding is not favourite of pastimes, and i usually end up getting the stubborn horse out of the group, and so it was the case here. As i was the biggest person i got the strongest and youngest horse, aptly named Cuba Libre, while Mojo got a more placid, older horse name Caramello. Miguel walked, with the four of us on horses, and soon it was apparent the Cuba Libre did not like being behind other horses, making his way straight to the front and walking at a pace at least half a step quicker then the rest. I soon realised that the reason he walked quicker then the others was so that he could stop and eat whilst the others caught up. Not such a dumb horse after all.

Over the next hour and a bit we rode around fields that we being prepared for the planting of Tobacco which happens at the end of the year. By the side of the path guava plants leaned over under the weight of their fruit and there was hundreds of dragonfly's everywhere. It was not too hot, thank god, but soon sweat was stinging the eyes and the chaffing of the nether regions began. Luckily, not too much later we pulled up at a small little farmhouse where we were going to have a break. It was only supposed to be a small break where we given a mojito and watched the owner make fresh cigars for us to smoke. Instead this turned into a long break as we met up with some old Swiss guys who had arrived a little bit before us, and the six of us started knocking back mojitos after mojitos at 11 in the morning.. Carmaletta was the main instigator for this, she was a fiery little extrovert who took over cocktail duties from the farmer and produced mojito after mojito. Not that we were complaining. From our little hut we had tremendous views over to the mountains as we drank and smoked cigars.

After a few hours, Miguel said that we really had to go and he took us down to a lake for a swim, probably in an attempt to sober us all up. The water was luke warm as it was quite shallow with old trees poking through here and there. After the swim, we went back to the hut and had yet more mojito's, and then it was a quick ride to a coffee growers house where Coco Loco's were produced; which are freshly cut open coconuts emptied of half their water and then topped up with rum. Only one drink each was consumed, however there were a number of top ups with rum, and then a strong fresh coffee pot was brewed. Although very strong, the coffee was exceptional, no bitterness and hints of chocolate and caramels. While we drank the coffee, the coconuts that were used for the Coco Loco's were cut open and we feasted on the flesh. Soon the local cat and dog, and a bunch of chickens surrounded us and surprisingly demanded to be fed some coconut as well. All of the animals scoffed down the sweet fruit, probably eating more of it then we did.

Sobered up, it was time for the home stretch back to the farm we started at. Cuba Libre knew this and decided to take off at a rate of knots towards home with me ungainly bouncing along with him. It took a number of days for my 'bit's to recover from that...

Getting dropped off back in town, the four of us thought that we needed a top up and so headed to a bar to drink beers over the remaining afternoon. Luckily when we got back to the Casa, we had one of Estrella's monster meals to provide so much needed soakage, as we had made plans to meet up with Spanish and Swiss later that night at the local Salsa bar.

The next morning with dusty and sore heads, we took off after breakfast to walk up to the lookout on the hill outside of town. Although the walk was along the side of the road, it was pretty as we weaved and sweated our way up the hill for about an hour. Once at the top, there was a restaurant that had little balconies perched on the side of a cliff with stunning views. So we plonked ourselves down and ordered some beers as a hair of the dog, and took in the vista for a few hours

Up really early the next day, we got the bus back to crazy Havana after a boozy, but a very enjoyable 3 days in Vinales.

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8th October 2013

Questions for Cuban travel
Hey there- I realyl enjoy your blog and have a few questions for you about Cuba. Not sure if you are from the US or not, but if you are could you explain how you traveled there. I am looking to go in December and am thinking of flying to Cancun, and then Cancun to Cuba. Also, how was traveling around the country? Was it mostly busses? How reliable were they? What can I expect to spent each day? Thanks for your help, Kari
8th October 2013

Cuba info
Hi there! I'm not from the states, but met many people in Cuba who were. Most of them came in via Mexico, some Panama as we did. Travel around the country is done via a decent bus service, Viazul is the company. Arrive 3 hours before the departure time and by tickets then. It is reliable. Otherwise, if you have $ then flying is an option. Cuba is not really a cheap destination, Staying in a Casa Particulares (a room in a family home) is $30 for the room. Hotels are much more. Entry to museums etc is $5-10 pp. A meal out for two with drinks will be around $25 total. A beer is $1.50->$2.50 depending where you drink, and a cocktail is $2->$4. Tips are expected, especially for the live bands at bars. For the two of us, we were struggling to keep it under $100 a day. Definetely cheaper if travelling with someone else. One tip, convert your $US to Euro's or Canadian $ beforehand, as the take 10% commission when converting from USD to Cuban Pesos. Another tip, don't get suckered into conversation with two many people, unfortunately they are just trying to get a way in to get some $ off you Enjoy, Havana is a bit nuts, but the rest of the country is beautiful.
12th November 2013

Wow thanks for sharing
I've booked my first trip to Cuba for January 9th with In Touch with Cuba. Hope to visit Vinales, it looks an amazing place. They have prepared a tour including lodging in casas partacolars. Is it safe to stay there? Any info will be really appreciated.
13th November 2013

re: Vinales info request
High there. Vinales is a nice place, very hot. It is small, only a few roads, and is safe. There is only one bar (that is quite good, with salsa dancing), and a number of restaurants. Your casa will make most of your food if want. From Vinales, you can get a taxi to the beach, or out to a large cave system. You can also get the bus to the caves and a number of other tourist sites. 4 or 5 days is more then enough in Vinales if you have an end date for your trip. VISA does not work in Cuba (as it is american owned) and don't take dollars, convert them to euro's or canadian dollars first. As USD is charged 10% commission on exchange in Cuba. Let me know if you have any other questions

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