My taxi ride to Vinales was a Cuban adventure in itself. The Taxi driver (who did not speak English), was this trendy young man in jeans and white vest who played music loudly, whilst simultaneously driving and smoking a cigarette. He drove fast and zig zagged wildly across the pot-holed unkempt roads. I sat at the front and a French Guadeloupen family at the back. The Guadeloupen family and myself had some interesting conversations en-route. I learned that petrol is sold on the black market, and that the government are aware but turn a blind eye, because petrol is necessary for Cubans to earn private income. Half way we stopped at a tobacco farm for a drink and so that the tobacco farm could have the opportunity to sell cigars to us tourists.
In Vinales, I stayed at Casa Orquidea in a brightly colored little house in a residential area surrounded by beautiful mountains . As a host Orquidea was brilliant, spoke little English but enough. My accommodation was separate to the family. The guest room I was booked in was an en-suite twin room attached to her neighbor’s house located at the rear of the casa, which I had to access via going through a gate. Orquidea could book any of the popular tourist excursions I wanted to do in Vinales. She booked a horseride for me for the following morning.
All guidebooks recommend the horseride in Vinales. I had never horse ridden before so I’ll admit I was a tad nervous. I was escorted to the tour starting point by a young man who, yet again, spoke no English so our half hour walk was spent mainly in silence. I was then left in the care of the horse guide who was a middle-aged, kind eyed man with a cowboy hat. He spoke little English. My horse was called “Palermo”, and he kept scaring me by spontaneously breaking out into canter every now and then, much to the amusement of my host, who whistled and shouted “whoazzooo”(whatever that means). My horse would stop now and then to urinate..I had never ridden a horse before therefore seeing horses urinate (and more) was a little alarming.
The first stop was at a tobacco plantation where I sat with other tourists in a hut whilst a tobacco tour guide provided information on the tobacco grown at the plant and gave a demonstration of how to roll an authentic organic Cuban cigar with honey and tobacci leaves. We were each offered a cigar to try, however I declined as I don’t smoke. The smoke smelled amazingly good. We were also offered the chance to buy a pack of cigars at $10 a piece.
The next stop was at a coffee and rum farm. I was served a rum cocktail whilst a young tour guide explained details about the rum and honey. I was also given a raw sugar can to dip into my rum. The drink was refreshing and delicious.
The next stop was a chance to swim in the river. But, as my host Orqueida hadn’t told me anything about the horseride, I hadn’t got a swimsuit with me.
The final stop was a brief tour of a cave. The cave guide was hilarious, making jokes as he described different features of the cave (“No Amercianos!”, he would say whilst pointing to a very narrow gap between rocks that we would have to squeeze through). After the tour we gave the guide $3.00.
My horseride cost $20.00 which I considered very reasonable.
My guidebook suggested two beaches within close distance from Vinales, Cayo Levisa and Cayo Jutías and both looked absolutely stunning from the pictures.
To get to Cayo Jutias, I booked a shared taxi from a tourist information agency in the center near the bus drop off point. It cost $15 and took around 45 minutes. The day I went it was yet another hot, humid and sweltering day. In the taxi with me were three young Australians, who it transpired were flying to Rio for the Olympics to watch one of their relatives compete!
In my mind’s eye, I had envisioned a quiet beach with only tourists on it. In reality, the beach was bustling with Cuban families and tourists. However the beach was still beautiful, white sands and crisp blue sea..exactly what you’d imagine a Caribbean beach to be like. The Australians left me to go snorkeling somewhere so I was left on my own. Luckily, somehow I overheard some English voices as I was strolling the beach and made friends with a couple of ladies who were setting up home under a straw beach umbrella. They were from Holland. They were very friendly and I ended up spending the whole day with them until I had to go back at 16.00.
Vinales was where I ate the best meals of all the places I visited in Cuba. Recommended by the Dutch ladies was an eco-restaurant. All the meals were made primarily of vegatables. I chose a meal made of aubergine, pumpkin, cauliflower rice and lots of other vegetables. A welcome relief from all the bread and greasy cheese pizzas I’d been eating.
Breakfasts served in Casa Particulares…
I love breakfast foods. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love eggs cooked many ways, poached, scrambled boiled, toast, porridge, granola, yogurt, fruit…you get my drift. Breakfasts typically served in a Casa to guests is typically (some or all of) omelette, bread (usually dried crispy breads and a soft bread, heated), jam, coffee (delicious coffee), teabags and hot water, a blended jug of fruit such as mango or papaya, and finally a plate of chopped up fruit, usually mango, banana, watermelon and papaya. Three out of the four Casas I stayed at also provided little sugary cakes at breakfast which I sometimes wrapped in serviettes and saved for later in the day to eat. The bread was nice but different from the bread I am used to at home. As it’s so hot in Cuba I suspect they struggle to keep bread fresh before it dries out. Cuban coffee I’ve decided is my favorite; a friend of mine is returning to Cuba in a few months so I’ve asked him to bring me back some!
If you want to know what happened next on my trip, read Part 3 – Trinidad, back to Havana and going home