Vinales, our getaway with Monica and Mike K. Monica and I referred to them as “los dos Mike’s” because both our partners names are Mike!
We arrived in Vinales after about a three and a half hour bus ride we had organised by the helpful lady at the Cubanacan cruise terminal office the day before. Best to get the tickets first thing in the morning before they run out. The bus was full picking up tourist after tourist at several hotels in Havana and that added to the time and then finally it stopped one street back from the main Vinales square, where the cathedral and Casa de la Cultura sit.
As we walked to our casa, Mike and I mostly hungry on account of missing breakfast at an early start and Monica and Mike anxious to check in, we saw lots of tourists in the little shops, restaurants and markets. Nearly every little colourful pink, yellow or green casa we passed had signs “2 habitaciones” indicating the two rooms available to guests. I was also immediately struck by the mix of horse carts, old fifties cars and modern cars all driving pass each other as if it was normal.
Our casa particolare, Villa El Ranchon, was comfortable and tranquil. Ignazio and Raiza were immediately hospitable, warm and welcoming right from the minute we met them. They are a really lovely quiet unassuming couple who have set up two rooms with double beds, both with ensuites, at the back of their modest home. Perfect for the two couples occupying them. In front of the two rooms is an outdoor eating area under a charming thatched-roof pergola overlooking the country side. They were generous with their breakfasts and our first dinner there was a delicious home cooked feast, including vegetable soup and pescado. We soon realised that eating here was a better choice than eating in town where nearly every restaurant has the same formula and is a hit and miss affair. We felt very relaxed and safe in our casa. Ignazio’s English is also excellent and he was always helpful. It was a peaceful stay, quiet after the hustle and bustle of Havana, so you could catch up on a good nights sleep if you needed to, especially after a Mojito. Muchas gracias Ignazio y Raiza!
To the right of our casa was a short walk to the tobacco factory. In fact we were surrounded by a tobacco plantation which you could view from the casa rooftop. Just a short five or ten minute walk turning left is the village. The air wasn’t as choked with fumes as in Havana but not entirely clear of it either especially in the village centre. There was rubbish strewn about in town as well, it’s tossed anywhere, in the countryside or the city.
At the hop-on-hop-off bus stop we changed our plans when a better offer came along, offering us a package including the factory, a walk and a private driver to take us to the places we wanted to see. So we toured the tobacco factory and the plantation, a short walk into the pretty valley surrounded by the round hills. We felt this to be a better idea than just walking in there by yourself so you don’t feel like you are intruding even though the locals are friendly. Whilst I’m not a smoker it was interesting to see how their biggest industry operates. Our factory tour guide was a lady who’d been working there for thirty years and never smoked a day in her life. There was one worker who read literature and all kinds of entertaining stories to motivate and entertain the workers who were sorting out the tobacco leaves. They were paid according to how many they could do per hour. It was also interesting to speak directly with the farmer on whose property we were on. They were obliged to sell 90% of their crop to the government, the value depending on the quality, and they could keep 10% to make their own cigars. Mike K was inspired to buy organic cigars directly from the farmer.
Getting to see the Cueva del Indio took a lot longer than expected as we were sandwiched between two German groups in a tunnel in the cave with the sound of water droplets. I was becoming slightly claustrophobic but finally after about an hour we saw the cave opening and took the boat ride around. It was beautiful even if touristic. We opted out of the other caves and chose to see the Mural de la Prehistoria from a distance. Otherwise our CUCS would keep on disappearing and what we saw gave us enough of an idea. The last item on our list was really worth going to. From the Hotel Horizontes Los Jazmines we saw the most beautiful view of the valley – a panorama of a green lush valley surrounded by round mounds.
We spent two nights in Vinales and on our last night we checked out the village in the evening. It had a lovely atmosphere with a live band in the plaza, an all-girl band. Mike and I watched couples salsa together, young men doing their moves solo, teenagers checking each other out and in particular an older man asking the blonde female tourists for a dance. Well I didn’t fit his criteria, did I?
Had we stayed on an extra day I would have joined Mike and Monica on their beach day at Cayo Jutios. Although our journey together was short and sweet, we enjoyed sharing new experiences together. Instead we went to the Botanical Gardens while they headed to the water. Adios amigos and bien viaje!