Limestone Mountains & Valleys of Vinales!
Buenos dias! An early morning taxi and 4 hour bus to Vinales to start our Sunday. Leaving Havana was bittersweet, but after five days in the city we were looking forward to enjoying a little slower pace in the limestone mountains, called mogotes in Cuba, and valleys of Vinales. We decided to take the Viazul bus to Vinales. Although a bus will take a bit more time, it’s cheaper ($12 for a 2.5 hour destination) and takes us through a couple of small towns along the way (Las Terrazas, Pinar del Rio).
Upon arriving in Vinales we were met with eager locals trying to rent us rooms before we even exited the bus. It caused a little bit of chaos as we were clueless to the direction of our casa particular. They hunted us down and wouldn’t leave us alone. Haha. It was quite funny. Finally after running away from them, we located our casa and enjoyed a cerveza and cigar before heading off for our sunset hike through the farms of Vinales.
Our guide was waiting for us in a nice white 1950s Ford Plymouth to take us to the edge of town to begin our hike. Our guide Lester was amazing! He spoke great English and was very entertaining. Over the next three hours he dazzled us with stories, insight into the Cuban culture, and loads about the flora & fauna in the area!
The hike led us through an extensive variety of plants the Cubans use for medicinal healing. It was quite interesting to hear how they use different types of plants to cure common colds, etc versus what we are used to, prescription drugs.
Our first stop was at a local ‘shack’ where the locals harvested coffee beans and served us Cuba Libre. After a few moments of relaxing on their farm, we encountered quite a surprise we could hear cheering and horses in the background. Lester mentioned that the locals our horse racing. We asked if they bet and he said ‘undercover betting’. Apparently they do this every Sunday. We were able to catch a race in progress. Quite fascinating!
After the horse race, Lester took us to a lake and then to the tobacco farmer’s casa. Here we drank the best mojito (he used honey…delicious), learned about tobacco and watched the sunset. The sunset was amazing over the mountains and Lester’s company was perfect. The farmer came over and showed us the tobacco leaves and rolled a cigar for us. It was amazing how simple it was. There are five levels of the tobacco plant. The first two are used for cigarettes and the next three are used for cigars. The crown is the top tobacco leaf and this is the more dense and flavorful leaf. Think Cohiba! We smoked the cigar he rolled and just sat and chatted with Lester to learn more about the Cuban culture. Also, the feeling was reciprocated. Lester would ask us many questions about life in the United States.
After the sunset we walked in the dark back down to the car. Good thing for our trusty headlamps. As we were walking, we saw fireflies! It is crazy to think Florida is 90 miles north and the terrain and environment are similar, yet so different. We wish we had fireflies…..and mountains….and valleys…and Cuban cigars! We arrived back to our casa for a nice lobster feast!!
We started our first full day in Vinales with a four hour morning hike with Lester. He took us through the valleys and up a limestone mountain. It was so peaceful being out there in the morning with the sun rising and the locals preparing their farms for the day. As I am sure you have noticed in the pictures they have very vibrant red soil (clay like), this is because the soil is very rich in iron. We traversed through many farms, each one harvesting a different plant: tobacco, corn, rice, coffee beans, mango trees, yucca, sweet potato, almonds, bananas, just to name a few. We saw two native birds (tocororo & can’t remember the name 😦 ); the tocororo’s blue and red coloring is why it is known as the national Cuban bird (the colors of the flag).
Mangos were EVERYWHERE during our hike. They were also dropping like flies. We had to watch ourselves because they were all falling. Lester says, “Mango, you hit me in the head, I eat you!” “Coconut, you hit me in the head, I die.” Ha! He was a funny dude! Lester picked us some ripe mangos and we stopped for a mango break. It was soooooooooo good!!!
The journey down was a bit treacherous as the loose sediments from the limestone made it a challenge to keep your footing (just ask Katie!). We enjoyed a stop at a farmer’s home. As they were mashing fruit for fresh juices, we sat in amazement at the view and sipped on a fresh cup of Cuban coffee.
Down the mountain, through a maze of farms, and across a creek led us to the end of our morning hike. The last novelty of our trek was the incredibly large cliff painting that to our astonishment has stood the test of mother nature for over fifty years!
Before taking a taxi back to Havana, lunch at J3. A great place to feast on tapas and our second day in a row for lunch.
As we journeyed back to Havana by taxi this trip, we encountered a very common, yet fascinating way of life. Driving down the streets and highways, you see hundreds of Cubans looking to hitchhike for transportation. Our driver decided he would pick up a police officer hitchhiking his way to work. Harmless and the norm, just one of many cultural norms you learn to adjust to while traveling…
Next up: The Picture Perfect Beaches of Cayo Coco!!