Viñales, CubaJanuary 26, 2017 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 35 °C
Bicycles, Caves, Mogotes and Tobacco.
Our western most stop in Cuba! Coming from our eastern most stop meant for some brutal travel, but I'm sure there's worse to come.
Viñales is small. There's one main drag, one convenience store and one million tourists. It's out of the way, well off the main highway, and almost camouflaged into the surrounding landscape. From the roof of our casa, lush green tobacco fields extend gently over rolling hills to the vertical rock face of numeorus mogotes - rocky mounds.
Rising to another casa breakfast, we opted for bicycles as our transport mode (third brutal day on the bum in a row!) and after a little hiccup over the quality of our bikes, we were off. The valley of Viñales is extraordinarily picturesque. Dirt trails cut through tobacco farms and clusters of palm trees, backdropped with the rocky faces of the towering mogotes. Farmers tend their crop, and señoritas their casas. Pigs, horses, goats and dogs stare blankly at passer bys and smell of burning wood sifts intermittently through the valley.
Before stop number one, we asked a local man (in a very blue pair of overalls) the way to La Cuerva des Piscinas. Half way onto his bike already, he pointed the way, then led the way, mentioning something about his famillia. Little did we know he was to be our tour guide for the day and we would have to understand spanish or get lost trying.
Our bikes took us first to a cave you could swim in. Unsurprisingly, it was cold and dark but wonderfully refreshing from the day's heat. Stop two was his famillas cafe in the valley for lunch. Stop three was his friends bar for a drink (of water to his disgust) at a very overhyped lake. Stop four, on our request, was off the beaten track, up a 'big' hill and 'very far' away. 20mins later we were there with little exertion. I'm guessing the lack of spending opportunities was the driver in his attempts of dissuasion. Our spanish improved steadily over the day, and between us (read: Cat) we had a vague idea of where we were going and what we were looking at. By the end of the journey we were more than happy to tip the man for his day's work. Hopefully it buys dinner for their family and not his beers on the way home.
We dined out every night in Viñales and spent most meals exploring the menu in search of some delicious local food. Our favourite dish would have to be Ropa Vieja which is usually a lamb and tomato based curry but varies from restaurant to restaurant. Aside from the usual pizza and pasta, food here is repetitive and rather bland. Hopefully Havana steps it up!
On our second day in Viñales we went ziplining over the forest which was exhilarating and incredibly efficient. That might sound and odd description but it accurately sums it up! We had a very brief tour of a tobacco farm which ended in us hiding from the police - probably because they were illegally selling cigars. Nonetheless it was a bit of excitement! The afternoon was spent swimming in the pool and relaxing at a hotel overlooking the valley - with a long walk at either end.
We're yet to figure out the Cuban economy. There are two currencies; CUC and CUP. One CUC = about 1 USD. One CUC = about 25 CUP. Basically, CUC is for tourists and CUP is for locals. From several different conversations, a local earns the equivalent of around 20 CUC (welder) to 70 CUC (heart surgeon) per month. Say on average about 1.50 CUC per day. But, a tourist pays 10CUC per person per night for accommodation, 2 CUC for a beer and around 6 or 7 CUC per person per hour in a long distance taxi. Now I'm assuming at least half of that ends up with the government but nonetheless, why would anyone not be in the tourism industry???Read more