Next morning we needed to venture out for breakfast, as this guys casa doesn’t offer the option. Trust us, you want the option, as finding food at 7am in the morning is not the easiest. Lucky for us there were a couple of restaurants that served up some decent grub, payable in Moneda Nacionales, and super cheap. Rocking up to a hole in the wall style place, we each sit down to tamales and ham and cheese (hangover) sandwiches, with delicious coffee for less than $5 USD.
The owner comes out enquiring our origin, and upon finding out that we’re Aussies breaks into the opening song for Australian sitcom ‘Skippy’, complete with bouncing motions. Turns out Skippy was a popular and oft run program in Cuba back in the 80’s. Now that Cuba has all sorts of embargos slapped on, it has to deal with Venezuelan TV and news as it’s in that country’s pocket. Cuba rarely even gets it’s real news, most being what the government prefers to portray it’s citizens. New friend made, we left sharpish for the bus station, this time grabbing an old car taxi chocked full with the drivers family and friends, leaving a steady stream of black smoke in her wake.
Viazul bus station, where to start. Knowing that we needed to check in to receive our actual boarding ticket, having paid for our ‘spot’ the day before, we stand around confusedly scratching our heads like the rest of the non-locals. Finally a couple of locals begin to queue at an unmanned, nondescript desk. Must be it. Sarah, along with the rest of the tourists, eagerly converge on the desk hoping for someone to show up. Eventually the lady arrives to the throng of patient passengers (she’d been on the other side of the window smoking cigarettes and mooching around with colleagues), and with a totally disinterested demeanor begins to check us in.
Three and a half hours later and 196km down, we exit the bus to a hoard of senoras desperately vying for the passengers business. Choosing one that suited our budget, we ended up at ladies elderly parents house a short walk away. Opting to fork out for dinner cooked by the lady of the house, the feast laid before us was nothing short of a buffet.
Hitching up our horses we ducked into a wooden barn, faintly lit via the suns rays protruding through the various gaps in both roof and walls, to be greeted by a girl handing out grapefruits with rum sloshing about inside. Taking two and letting our eyes adjust, we found ourselves in a tobacco drying barn, with a gentleman looking the part standing behind a wooden crate turned on it’s side.
Going through the process of the plantation, he explained that the top and best leaves they get to keep and sell, with the rest going directly to the government for use in cigarettes. He explained that unlike other mass producers which use chemicals to prolong the shelf life of the cigar itself, their leaves are soaked in a totally natural liquid including ingredients such as vanilla and honey, before being dried and rolled. After showing us how they’re rolled, we tried buying three of them. He was quick on the up-sale, offering us his pre-made bundles of 20 plus. Persuading him otherwise, and due to lack of sales to any of the others, we left with our quota.
Onwards we made our way to what we were led to believe the previous evening would be a coffee plantation, but ended up being a cave. We soon realised why, as our guide was rapid in asking the cave operator for his cut, once we’d forked over the two CUC entry fee. Not having taken a torch owing to this mild deception (who needs a torch on a coffee farm??), we stumbled our way through with six others. The caves are nice enough, pretty much like most others, with the only advantage being that at the furthest land navigable point there’s a cooling pool of water. Didn’t have to ask Sarah twice, being the only one of us eager enough to strip off and plunge in. How often do you get to swim in a cave?
Back by midday we hit the streets to hunt out some cheap lunch. Coming across what appeared to be a cafe, with a bunch of local guys drinking coffee whilst standing at a bar, Matt asks if they serve comida (food), and we’re happily escorted around the back up a small alley to the ‘El Capitano’ restaurant. Ordering two meals, we’re served a plate of grilled pork, cucumber and rice for less than $2 each. We’d heard about a prehistoric rock mural located not too far from town, the Mural de la Prehistoria, so deciding that a rum ride was the order of the afternoon, we hired two bikes (cutting the price in half with our sharp bargaining skills), and stocked up with a bottle of Havana Club and two liters of pineapple juice. Now DO NOT be fooled. There is nothing prehistoric about this place, it’s basically a commissioned piece of the worst art you’ve seen and does nothing but ruin the otherwise natural beauty of the area. Look for yourself and tell us what you think.
Knowing this was a waste of time we took a loop out to through the farms, mostly to waste time and polish off the bottle of rum, but to also take in the beautiful landscape that graces this slice of Cuba. Cow dodging and pothole hopping we eventually bumped into the Cuban version of the ‘Marlboro Man’.
Making the last gradually uphill slope into town we plonked down on the only lively corner, where two drinking/eating establishment sit side by side, with more drinking than eating occurring. The fine gentleman behind the microphone sets it all up with smooth renditions of all the ladies favourites, Sarah leaping at the opportunity to dance with him to Summertime.
Lighting up another one of the earlier purchased cigars, one already smoked gratis at the cigar barn, we struck up a conversation with an English couple sitting at the table behind us, soon organising a rendezvous for two hour’s time in the central plaza. They bring the mixers, we got the rum, again.
Joining a throng of locals and tourists enjoying an evening drink under the starts, we were into the second bottle with Matt desperately practicing his Spanish with some locals. It didn’t take long for the police to choose him to harass. Again, out of all the people in the square, both locals and tourists alike, we get singled out. Let’s just leave it there… You can check out more photos of Vinales and Cuba on Flickr here.
On a lighter note, if you’re looking for a great welcoming casa in Vinales, check out Villa Tita y el Moro. You can contact them on (0) 52446633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.