As we roared through tobacco farms we had hit the country. More horses and carts on the road than vehicles, tobacco farms as far as the eye could see and surrounded by mountains. This place reminded us somewhat of a New Zealand landscape.
The region is called Pinar Del Rio, the worlds best tobacco is grown here. As you drive through the region we saw the flat landscape burst out into tall limestone mountains and caves, farmers chewing tabacco and smoking cigars as they drive the ox drawn plough through the red fields.
This slow little town refuses to change for tourists, instead as we walk down the streets, all you can see are local blokes with their belly’s out (to cool down they pull their shirts up like cropped tops), horse and carts and people sitting on a rocking chairs on their front porch and watching the slow world go by.
Tobacco Farm @ Viñales
Tabasco Farm Pig @ Viñales
With no reservation for our next casa, we thought we would try our luck with a lonely planet recommendation. We jumped out and were quickly greeted by Daniella who was over the moon with excitement to have us. We managed to get the only outside room which was huge with two double beds, bathroom and led straight out onto the terrace. It seemed as though all the other rooms were in the house and not quiet as big. We were stoked. Here we met king, a German Shepard who looked over the casa from the rooftop, and a little white pug looking dog whos name we cannot remember.
We couldn’t wait to hit the streets and check out this new place. Daniella walked us through all the best things to do, armed with a phone photo of a very bad map (this was to become the norm on our trip) and off we went to explore the town.
The main street had a square which was the only place you can get wifi. There are no need for signs as the benches and nearby cafes are lined with people on their phones, head down or engaged in one way conservations. Only since 2008 have Cubans been able to buy and use cell phones, and have access to internet. Even though full access is still not allowed.
We skipped through and checked out a vegetarian place for lunch. Full bellies and a market walk later, we headed back for a rest before heading up to Jasimines Hotel for a sunset cocktail.
After an easy 2km walk to get there, I walked up to a statue of a man, who had cigars placed in front of him on a table. I went for a closer inspection to see who, and why this statue was here, and before I knew it, the statue was coming straight for my stomach with a cigar.
Statue O Real? @ Hotel Jasmines, Viñales
Cuban Yellow Faced Grassquit @ Hotel Jasmines, Viñales
Fool me once… shame on me. Of course he was alive, but obviously I was not expecting it, and neither were the other 20 or so people around when I screamed out in terror. Alice could not stop laughing. The painted statue then made me pose with him while Alice took photos. He then gave me a cigar as an apology and sat back down to resume his business. I felt really bad that I had over reacted but it really made me jump. Alice still couldn’t stop laughing an hour later when my heat rate had only just started to calm down.
We sat on the balcony of the hotel and relaxed with a cocktail and beautiful sunset before heading back into town for an Italian meal and live music.
The next day we went out on an adventure down a dirt track, through some tobacco plantations and into a farm. We crossed through the farm so that we could start a walk to a cave. We had been told that it was at least an hour hard walking. A short and hardly strenuous 20 minutes later however, up a semi decent staircase built into a mountain we reached the peak of this cave. Cubans do not think that hiking or outdoor activities are fun, nor exciting, therefor the idea of this walk seems way to strenuous and silly. Hiking is not a thing here.
We walked through the cave which took us to the other side of the mountain. The views were amazing and the bats abundant.
Tobacco Farmer @ Viñales
On our way back we stopped at the farm for a little tour around. We saw the tobacco plants, drying sheds, sugar canes, coffee plantation, guava trees and a dozen more fruit and vegetable plants and trees. We stopped for a fresh cup of coffee before heading back into town.
Along the road are numerous cowboys with all their horses ready to pick up travellers and take them touring. We had originally thought about doing one of these excursions on horseback, but unfortunately the horses looked extremely skinny and a bit unwell. They were all saddled up, all day, tied under trees that didn’t provide enough shade and no water insight.
We refused to contribute to the way that the horses are treated, and unfortunately this is the kwhole country with only a few exceptions, one being a ranch much further east, who tries to educate farmers and cowboys on better treatment of the horses.
Cockerel @ Viñales Farm
Happy As A Pig In Mud @ Viñales
Tobacco Drying house @ Tobacco Farm, Viñales
That night, we found out that every weekend the main street erupts with live music and food stalls to celebrate.. well Saturday?! We joined in the celebrations by trying the areas famous pork, a few cocktails and a wee little wiggle in the main square. We met a 60+ American couple at dinner called Andy and Ellen that we invited to share our table to save them waiting for a free one. We ended up talking for a couple of hours. They had visited Cuba numerous times and it was really interesting to hear about the changes. They had to bring all of their money for their trip with them as Cuba doesn’t accept American bank cards or American dollar to exchange. They had become so friendly with their casa particulares that each year they bought them things they couldn’t buy here on their request. These inspired sewing machines, coffee machines and even a leaf blower! Apparently no one at Airport security ever asks questions.
The next morning we were picked up by our next collectivo, unfortunately this time we had a boring semi recent car (along the lines of a Holden 1995) and we were whisked back through fields of tabacco, swerving through the horse and cart traffic to Playa Larga. It was Sunday so at points we were the only car on the highway. At one point we saw a few horse and carts and a man on a bike being pulled along by a cow.