Touring Vinales in a Tourlaine

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June 16th 2016
Published: June 16th 2016
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Greetings all, from the most glorious rooftop yet!!!

I'm sitting on top of my little house in Vinales, Cuba. That's right, I have a house! After my first two nights in Vinales in a non-descript casa right off the main bit of town I transferred to this casa, home of Boris and Cusita, south of town and off the main drag. It's a beautiful piece of property, with the main house and then a little in-law suite house, which is mine! It was a queen bed, a small kitchenette, stocked fridge, and a bathroom with a well pressurized, hot water, waterfall shower-head! It looks out at tobacco fields and at a tobacco warehouse made of leaves. Perfect! Even more perfect are the steps that lead to the flat roof of the little house, which is where I am sitting right now in a rocking chair. I watched sunset last night, sunrise this morning, and right now I'm just basking in the sun! The breeze is pleasant and it’s a tranquil place, loving it! There are of course roosters crowing and sometimes pigs making ungodly noises, but being void of tourist buses, crying infants or soviet motorcycles, all is well!

So what is special about Vinales and why is it the third most visited town in Cuba? Well, it because of the mogotes. Mogotes? Huh? Mogotes are these special land formations here in Vinales. The entire valley area used to be a mountain, and then there was an earthquake and everything which is now the valley caved in, and what was left were unique rock formations covered in resilient Palm trees and riddled with caves. The surrounding valley is very fertile in growing tobacco and coffee, which was the main source of income before tourists figured out how awesome Vinales is.

My first night in Vinales I did a sunset walking tour. That afternoon/evening was sunny and having experienced shady weather recently I was worried that it might rain the rest of my time in town. The walking tour did give great views of the mogote range, so was glad to see them right away. The guide spoke English, French, and of course Spanish, though I think his French was better than mine. We stopped by a coffee place where we saw a demo of the natural, machine free, organic, traditional way to grow, process and make coffee. Let's just say, it is a ton of work, thank you Industrial Revolution! If not, coffee would be crazy expensive! There was the option for a tasting, I passed.

Then onto a tobacco farm, where the farmer gave a demo on the rolling of a cigar, again, the natural, machine free, organic, traditional way. Again, holy work. But this guy could hand roll a fattie like he'd been doing it his whole life! Which he more than likely had been! The whole time he was explaining the process and rolling, he was puffing away on his own cigar. I asked him how many cigars he smokes a day "oh, maybe 8, 10, 12". Oh yeah just twelve? He smoked two in the hour we were there. Farmer Smoke did say that lung cancer isn't an issue in Cuba. Really? Would the WHO back you up in that? Note to self: research lung cancer in Cuba to prove rural tobacco farmer wrong.

Farmer Smoke explained about the different parts of the tobacco plant, and what parts were used for what. I learned that 75% of the nicotine came from the spine of tobacco leaf which doesn't actually go into most cigars and that the lowest parts of the plant are what are in cigarettes and that's why they are so gross. In the "natural" way, he used drips of honey to seal the cigar and make it taste nice. Again, a cigar sample was offered, I again declined. I didn't want to make a face or God forbid cough tuberculosis like in front of this man and his resilient respiratory system.

The final stop was a three story high vantage point to watch the sunset over the mogotes. Unfortunately by this time there was decent cloud cover, so not much of a sunset. Oh well, the mojito was tasty!

The next day I did a hop on hop off bus thing, I paid $5 and could use the bus to get around the outer parts of Vinales all day. I hit another good lookout point, a weird "prehistoric mural" on the side of a cliff face that looked very bright to be prehistoric, and then a pretty cool cave, la Cuevo de Indio. This cave was very neat; as it was lit on the inside, you walked through on your own for about 20 minutes and then took a motorboat down an underground river.

Yesterday I hooked in with a group going out to the St. Tomas cave, about 18km out of Vinales. To get out there, a French man, a Brazilian man, the tallest Dutch couple ever, and I rode in a brilliant magenta 1957 Ford Tourlaine, driven by a golly Cuban with very little English. It was chilly on the way out there, but after the cave adventure, the weather was clear and warm, so the top came down, and I felt like a movie star!!! One of the coolest transports I've ever taken!

The cave itself was great. St. Tomas is the second largest cave system in Latin America, with 49km of cave on 7 different levels. That's a lot of cave! You have to climb up the side of the mogote and then enter the cave in an opening in the rock face. Kitted out with helmets and head lamps we entered with a guide, since this cave is big and unlit, and getting lost would be bad. Now I've been to a good number of caves, but I did find this one pretty impressive. Many things to see, many reasons to wear the helmet. Yes it came in handy a time or two. I also really enjoyed the dogs that accompanied the group; they were cave dogs and super cute. I pet them often.

The guide who took us through the cave spoke English well so he did his schpeals in both English and Spanish. He also made some pretty good racist jokes. It's well known in the travel world that Japanese people take a ton of pictures, so when asked how long the tour would be he said "oh it depends on how many Japanese people there are". Everybody laughed uncomfortably (ok, I wasn't uncomfortable, I thought it was funny and very true!), seeing that this was a decisively white group of people. He also said something offhand about Mexicans hiding in caves.

So after all of that activity, now I'm in chill mode. I could go for a hike today, but I'm feeling pretty lazy! And with my view, I am pretty content on the roof!

I have loved Vinales; it's pretty here! I've spoken to a few other tourists during my outings. Actually, pretty exciting, I met a travel writer who is apparently "kind of a big deal in Croatia"!!!! Ok! Only one of his books has been translated to English, it's not available at the library, so I will have to look around for it once I get home. He was pretty quiet about it all, but his girlfriend was happy to brag haha! Also met a retired couple from Kelowna, and a solo guy who lives in the West End of Vancouver!

Tomorrow I'm returning by bus to Havana and trying, for the fourth time, to buy a boat ticket to the Isla de la Juventud. That damn island has become my White Whale and yes, I feel Ahab crazy trying to get to it. It just shouldn't be this hard to buy a Boat ticket to a place relatively few people want to go to!!! If I can't get to the island I do have a backup plan that involves a very slow train and a beach.

Vinales Vitals

Vinales is a hopping tourist destination, as I said, third in Cuba. Lots of groups come through, casas are basically every second house and taxi drivers are abound. Ignoring them usually works, though one followed me down the street for two blocks until I looked at him with a death stare. No need for translation.

My new house has the greatest shower. I know I mentioned it already, but I wanted to give it its fair credit. It's the best shower I have had since being in Cuba. I have had two showers since arriving at this casa yesterday. And I will have another tonight. I love my little house. Since I’ve talked about how much I love my little house so much, I figure I should mention the name and give you guys the link! Casa Boris & Cusita

I have discovered a little restaurant that makes great pizza in Vinales. It is pretty amazing to order Hawaiian pizza and have fresh pineapple on it. Dream.

I asked the owner of the Tourlaine if I could drive. He laughed. That's ok, it was probably not the easiest clutch in the world.

I found two little puppies huddled together sleeping at a restaurant. So cute I could barely handle it. They were super tiny, but seem strong, which is now unfortunately my reaction to puppies after Kyrgyzstan. Awww, they are so cute, I hope they survive winter!

Well, I think I'll head back to my book. On book 9!!!! Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Crazy.

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16th June 2016
Vinales Valley

A little piece of heaven
Congratulations on your new house. What a great place to chill.

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