Vive Cuba Continued
On the way back to Havana on the Transtur bus, a couple were talking about doing a one day tour of Vinales. It meant that I would really blow my budget but I thought I should do it as you never know I might be run over by a bus tomorrow. My justification for most things! The day tour costs CUC 55 and took in a cigar factory, a typical tobacco farm, Parque National Vinales, a walk and boat trip through a cave, and Vinales town and best of all lunch was included!
We weren't allowed to take any pictures of the cigar factory. It was very interesting and you could see the amount of skill it takes to roll a cigar. Apparently they have a school where people learn how to roll them, each worker is required to roll a set amount of cigars per day and they earn a bonus for any additional number they roll. The thiner cigars (cohiba) are harder to roll so they are required to roll less of these, about thirty a day, than the fatter ones (Romeo y Julieta) where they are required to roll eighty. For entertainment, our tour guide said loudly 'its very boring work', they have a reader who reads the news and a chapter from a romantic novel.
The 'typical' tabacco farm was next to a massive resturant and a parking lot which had about ten coach loads of 'typical' tourists trapsing over the farmer's 'typical' farm. I couldn't believe it when the tourists all lined up and walked into the farmer's house gawping at his belongings. I wonder what they would think if a bunch of Cubans arrived on their doorstep and wandered around their houses? The farmer and his family sat outside watching this all, I caught his eye and if looks could kill I wouldn't have had to wait for that bus I mentioned earlier! I decided to skip the 'typical' tabacco farm and patted his horse instead. My grandfather used to farm tabacco on a small scale, but even his small scale was bigger than the tabacco farms I saw. I wonder whether this is at the heart of the 'labour shortage' problem in Cuba I mentioned earlier (school kids working on farms).
A 'typical' tabacco farm in Pinar del Rio province
A highlight of the area are the Mogotes, these are limestone pinnacles that are found in only a few parts of the world such as Vietnam and China. A cycle or hiking trip through this area would be great fun but a dutch couple I met said you are required to hire a rather expensive guide and there aren't any real trails.
Mogotes in Parque National Vinales, a spectacular world heritage site
We were also taken to have a look at the Mural de la Prehistoria which was designed by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo in 1961. It apparently took fifteen people five years to complete it. Leovigildo did not actually paint anything but stood at the bottom of the Mogote directing the others! Now I like art, but I did not like this at all. I thought the landscape would have been better left in its' natural state rather than daubing it in such a hideous mural. Another English couple said 'it's naff' which is blunt but rather appropriate.
Mural de la Prehistoria, can you sport the dinosaurs, people and snails?
After the mural we went for a walk through a limestone cave and then went on a boat trip on an underground river. The boat trip was fun, but it's a pity they used outboards rather than paddle or at least electric motors. It was quiet noisy. After the cave trip we had a huge lunch of pork, black beans and rice with a fruit starter and a desert of sweet bread soaked in cocanut milk and sugar. I think the other tourists thought I was a bit of a glutton or hadn't eaten for two weeks as I had most of our portion of fruit, three helpings of pork and when no one else wanted their pudding I ate four puddings! I don't normally eat that much!
We then went off to Vinales town itself, where we were allowed to wander around for twenty minutes. It is a small picturesque town that used to have tree lined streets until they were all destroyed by a recent hurricane. The central square with its old church and salsa bar, sin and penance in one easy location, was particularly nice.
The church in Vinales main square
It also had a CDR with a good Che mural which must of convinced me to buy a small Che desk calendar for Val as a present. The girl selling it was nice as well so maybe that help persuade me!
The CDR in Vinales, with typical political graffiti
If you have got this far you are probably wondering what I thought of Cuba. Simply put, I loved it! It took me a few days to get out of tourist mode and to understand that to see and experience Cuba you need to live like a local. Of course it is impossible to ever experience all they do but exchanging into Pesos National, eating like a local and living in a Casa Particulares helps. If you are thinking of doing the package tourist thing and staying in Vedado or Playa Ancon's all inclusive beach hotels please don't. What's the point of going to Cuba if you are just going to fry on a beach and eat burgers and chips?
The real test of a country is whether you would like to go back. I will go back, maybe in five to ten years time, to see if there have been any changes and besides I still have to see the other, eastern side of the island!
Vive Cuba! Vive le Revolucion! Vive Castro! Vive Helms-Burton for allowing Cuban culture to flourish without being slowly diluted by the insidious influence of McDonalds and Starbucks!