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2107 MAY CUBA, VINALES

WE HEAD TO THE HILLS FOR A CHANGE OF SCENERY.

sunny

DAY 95 THURSDAY 11TH MAY

Havana to Vinales

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We had breakfast at the hotel this morning just for the convenience and the other place had turned to crap anyway. 5cuc for breakfast at the hotel was a pretty good deal for a bowl of fruit, bread, butter and eggs. And a huge jug of fresh fruit juice, today it was mango. So far all the fruit we have been served has been delicious, only fruit in season in Cuba is available as they don’t import any fruit from other countries.
A few last-minute purchases before we waited for our private car to arrive. Not only was there concern about getting all our bags into the boot of the car, there was also concerns about getting the bags down the stairwell where a souvenir shop was set up on the steps and both walls.
We started the move around 11.30. The young girl who cooked our breakfast helped me get the bags down the stairs so there was no drama. The Lemons were already waiting on the street so we could make the second trip for our carry bags. We were waiting and I had a silent prayer that Maykell did not forget us or was just a no show. Shame on me as he arrived a little after 12 noon as promised full of apologies for his lateness due to traffic. The boot of the old blue and white Ford looked big, but the combined mass of our 5 bags looked bigger. 15 minutes later after several rearrangements our bags were squashed into the boot and we loaded ourselves into it with day bags stashed between our legs. Lucky these old cars have lots of leg room in the back. 3 in the back seat was a little cramped but not too bad.
We bid farewell to Havana at 12.30. It was nice city and we have enjoyed our stay here, but it was time to explore further afield in Cuba. Our destination today was Vinales, about 185 km south west of Havana. We drove on the highway for most of the trip and it was a surprisingly good road. 3 lanes with hardly any traffic at all. The speedo in the Ford did not work, but we cruised along at a pretty good speed all the way without any hiccups. I had heard that these old cars can sometimes be a bad choice for long distances, but we had no problems at all and when in Rome, I mean Cuba.
There was not a great deal to see along the way, a few cows here and there, and we saw some goats by the side of the road. The landscape was quite green. Our driver spoke no English so it was a pretty quiet journey. Just after 2pm we stopped about 50km shy of Vinales for a toilet / stretch your legs stop. There was a shop where we purchased some potato chips, the first we had seen in this country. Actually, the shop at this stop at this stop was better stocked than the supermarkets we had seen in Havana, go figure. Back on the road the driver put on some Cuban music to either get us in the mood or keep himself awake.
It must have been around 3.30pm when we got closer to town, as the traffic was heavier coming towards us. After asking directions a few times we found casa particular El Moro where we will be spending the next 3 nights, 20 cuc per room. Unloaded the Ford, paid and thanked the driver and were shown our rooms. The owner lady does not speak any English and seems a little abrupt in requesting our passports and advising we were to have no visitors in the room, but I think it was a language thing. Her son was there also, he spoke English and gave us a little run down on the tours that were available for the area. They all seemed very expensive so we said we would think about it. Then they started to really push us to have breakfast and dinner at the Casa. Well this is the wrong approach for us as we more inclined to find our own food when the host is so pushy. And besides the prices they quoted for dinner were much more than what I had seen on chalk board menus on the way in. We declined and went out to explore a little.
It was late afternoon and the first thing we needed was to find a place to have a cold beer at a reasonable price. This need was fulfilled by El Colonial – a bar in the middle of town right opposite the central park. They had outside seating so we could watch what was going on in the street and the beers (Presidente) were 1.50cuc, just in our price range. We sat for a while and even had 2 beers trying to decide what we might do here in Vinales.
After our drinks, it was decided a hire car for the day might be our best bet, but this will have to be sourced tomorrow as it was now too late in the day. Now it was time for dinner and a restaurant just up the street was offering specials for 3.50cuc (plus 10% tip or tax) – it was the usual chicken or pork with rice & salad/vegies. So, we sat and ate an early dinner.
Nothing happening here at night, we retired early back to our casa.
We saw some horse and carts travelling along the road once we got off the main highway, and in town here we have seen quite a few ox and cart that are obviously still in use for farming or whatever. This is the tobacco growing area of Cuba so we hope to be able to visit a farm while we are out here.
More tomorrow.

DAY 96 FRIDAY 12TH MAY

Vinales.

Breakfast we took up the road at a new restaurant that we passed last night. The owner seemed really nice and the breakfast advertised on the board was cheap at 2.50cuc & 3.00cuc so we decided to try it out.
Lyn had what they called a normal breakfast which consisted of toast (bread roll cut in half and toasted) slabs of butter & slabs of jam for 2.50cuc, Dolly & I went for the traditional which was the same with 1 scrambled egg and a bowl of fruit (pineapple & pawpaw) for 3.00cuc. We were all given a glass of fresh mango juice and I had coffee with milk while the other 2 had tea with the bags they brought along. They don’t seem to drink black tea here in Cuba, if they happen to have tea at all it is some kind of fruit tea. Anyway, it was a good breakfast and we were able to have it outside and watch the world go by.
We were a little late with meeting up with Toni & Shawn but they had been productive in our absence. They had organized our taxi to our next destination in a few days’ time, and bartered for a price for a tour around Vinales for today. Nice having someone else around to organize things, thanks Toni. I have been having to do all the organizing for the last few months, so it’s nice to be able to take a back seat and leave it up to someone else. Not so good for Toni as she is the only one who steps up, but it is nice for me! So again, thanks Toni.
It turns out a hire car was not possible as they are only allowed to have max 4 passengers, including driver, and there were no hire cars available in Vinales anyway. Today we had a choice of 2 yellow taxis for 25cuc each or one old American car for 40cuc which could squeeze in all 5 of us. When in Cuba opt for the old car, and today we had just that. It was an old bomb of a car but it was big and comfortable and took us to all the places we wanted to go with Yoan, our driver who spoke no English, waiting patiently at each stop for us.
First stop was at the lookout at the Los Jasmines hotel, which offered a great view over the Vinales Valley. It was beautiful and very similar landscape to what we had seen in Northern Vietnam. Here the limestone castes are called mogotes.
Next stop Mural de la Prehistoria (entry 3cuc). On the cliff at the foot of the 617m high Sierra de Vinales, the highest portion of the Sierra de los Organos, this 120m long painting on the side of Mogote Dos Hermanas was designed in 1961 by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo. It took 15 people five years to complete it. The huge snail, dinosaurs, sea monsters and humans on the cliff symbolize the theory of evolution and are either impressively psychedelic or monumentally horrific, depending on your point of view.
This place was a little laughable, but anyway. They were selling 3cuc pina coladas where you pour your own rum, so this redeemed the place somewhat and by the time we had left Dolly, Lyn & myself were impressed with the place, while the Lemons who did not indulge in the pour your own rum cocktail still thought it was shit! Lol.
Next stop, Cueva del Indo (entry 5cuc) was a shameless tourist trap. An ancient indigenous dwelling, it was rediscovered in 1920 and motor boats now ply the underground river through the electrically lit cave. I thought this place was ok, it was cool that we could walk through and ride the river inside one of the mogotes.
Next stop was a walk through El Palenque de los Cimarrones (entry 3cuc) , which apparently was a cave where slaves used to hide out in. The displays were crap, but again it was cool just to be able to walk through the middle of one of the mogotes. Out the other side and there was a small tobacco farm where we could walk through a drying hut.
There was a restaurant / bar at the mouth of the cave and the guy had told us about a cocktail that we could try for just 2cuc. It was basically just fruit juice but again with pour your own rum, with the rum bottle placed on the table for us to refill our glass after every sip. I know that rum is cheap in this country but this is ridiculous! Dolly, Lyn & I just had to indulge again at these help yourself prices, when in Rome umm Cuba. We also ordered some fries and some little meatballs which were very tasty – lunch sorted. Lemons opted for a beer and fries.
Last stop was at a family tobacco farm. The young guy took us into the drying shed and explained the process from planting the seeds to picking the leaves. Again, such details are not all remembered but one interesting point I do remember is that he said, 90% of their tobacco leaf crop is purchased by the government at a very low price set by the government. They only get to keep 10% for themselves to sell privately. This goes for all tobacco growers, no choice.
Here we did get to have a puff on a cigar that had the end dipped in honey. I’m not sure if this is common practice or if they just do it for the tourists, but we did all get to have a puff on a real Cuban cigar! They were also selling their cigars for 14 = 45cuc or 20 = 60cuc. These cigars come wrapped in palm leaf so they stay fresh and do not go hard and brittle. He said if they are kept in this wrapper and put in the fridge they can be kept for up to 4 years. Unfortunately, we would never be able to take these into Australia because of the wrapping and I guess the cigar itself being hand rolled. But really, I was not interested in buying any as I don’t really want to smoke another one and don’t even know anyone who smokes cigars. However, having a puff on a Cuban cigar in Cuba is all part of the experience.
It was about 3.30 when Yoan dropped us off at our casa, it had been a good day and we had now seen the sights around Vinales at fraction of the cost of taking a tour. Best part was it was at our own pace, and without having to travel in a coach with load of other tourists.
We did meet this lovely American guy, and his wife, who had sailed down from Florida in a hired yacht. He mentioned they were planning to come to Australia one day to do some sailing so I gave him my email address to contact us in case they ever make it down under. Funnily enough, they live close to friends we are visiting in the States this trip so you never know we may visit them if we get an invite.
A few beers in our local in Vinales, El Colonial, we tried to wash the taste of the stogie out of our mouths. Didn’t really work but the beer was cold so enjoyed anyway.
Little relax back in the casa then out again for dinner back at our breakfast restaurant.
Dinner was nothing special but it was cheap so not too much to complain about.

DAY 97 SATURDAY 13TH MAY

Vinales.

We returned to the same breakfast restaurant for our 3cuc start to the day.
Today we have hired a car again that is going to take us to the beach. Toni was up early this morning and managed to flag down the driver we had yesterday. Although he was not able to take us today, he found a friend with a car big enough for the 5 of us to travel in. She negotiated a fixed rate of 70 cuc for the return journey and waiting time. It would cost us more than that if we all took the bus and then would have to work with its timings, this is a much better option.
The driver was waiting for us at 9am and soon we were off. Cayo Jutias was not that far away – 60km – but due to the condition of the road it took an hour and half for our talented driver to weave and try to dodge as many potholes as possible. Even with his avoidance skills it was still a rough and bumpy ride.
We drove though some lovely green country side and a couple of small villages with the usual coloured painted houses. Finally, we made it to the coast and we could see water. We drove along a causeway for a couple of km’s which was flanked with what looked like dead mangroves.
In the late 1990’s the island was linked to the mainland by a massive causeway that offers a dramatic view of the province’s mountains in profile. 9km from the main highway is a metal lighthouse, the Faro de Cayo Jutias, erected by the USA in 1902.
Soon the road come to a dead end and we were rewarded with a view of amazing turquoise looking water, gently lapping on pure white sand. Paradise! It was beautiful and the uncomfortable road trip was instantly forgotten. We all got in the water for a cooling swim, the water was crystal clear and the white sand underfoot felt very compacted. There were a few people here on the beach, but I would not say it was crowded at all. Not too many spoiling our serenity. After lolling and floating in the water, Lyn, Dolly and I went for a little walk along the beach to build up an appetite. The Lemons chose to laze under a palm tree on the beach. Yep it was heaven.
We walked about 100 meters up the beach. Saw a guy who had quite a catch from spearfishing, multi-coloured fish, not bad size, but he was not sharing. Lol. Guess these were for his family or he was going to sell them to a restaurant perhaps. We walked back again and grabbed a beer which we sipped in the clear water, then headed to the restaurant for lunch. Fish lunch (with rice) was only 4.80cuc which Lyn & I had, while Dolly had chicken & rice for just 2.80cuc. Great prices for a beach side restaurant – washed down with 2cuc Presidente beers!
Lyn & I had a quick last minute swim before it was time to get back in the green car and navigate the road back to Vinales. The trip back seemed to be faster, although it did take the same time 1.5 hours. Great excursion to the beach, so glad we decided to make the effort.
Back in Vinales after we had all showered off the salt and sand, it was time for a beer at El Colonial. As we were walking up the street it started to rain lightly. We got a bit more of a shower while we sat drinking but it did not really mean it.
The Lemons went off in search of dinner and after we had finished our beer we headed back to the restaurant with the 3.50cuc meals that we ate at the first night. We ordered pork ribs, which was actually a pork chop but it’s all good, it was cheap and it was pork so we were happy. Served with the usual rice and salad.
Back to the room to pack our bags again as we are on the move again tomorrow.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 22:01 Archived in Cuba Tagged vinales

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Comments

Brilliant and very accurate description! I don't know how you remember it all lol!x?

by Dolly

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