Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Road trip to Vinales

IIt Vinales is a rural town about 200 km west of Havana.  It is inland in the mountains and we took a taxi there, $15 CUC per person. We arrived about noon on Friday and returned on Saturday afternoon. It is known as the best tobacco region in Cuba and the town is filled with casa particulars or homes that rent out a room.  We had been told to make sure we got a house that had a rooftop view of the mountains and when we arrived we wandered about until we found one that would take the four of us, we travelled with Jim and Janet from on the boat Viewfinder, they are from Montreal. 
        Enjoying the sunset with mohito in hand.
Horseback riding is big business in Vinales. 
In a tobacco drying shed. 
The ecological tractor of Cuba, all the work is done by hand, no mechanization. 
We witnessed a unscheduled cock fight, the darker rooster was the king of this particular patch and he made no bones about it chasing off all intruders. 
A tobacco farmer outstanding in his field.
Our buddies Ken and Wendy had been to Vinales and they said they had gone horseback riding and really enjoyed it.  I was pleasantly surprised that Barry agreed to come with me, we had a truly wonderful day. The temperature was very pleasant, the horses were "semi-automatic" (Barry's term) and the scenery was spectacular. 
The ecological tractor at work, they were beautiful well kept animals. 
They put us to work!!  The tobacco is picked in the field and the workers rip the leaves in half and pile them up their arms, then they transfer them to these poles and the oxen pull a bunch of the poles, which are riding on a wooden sled back to the drying shed. 
We bought one cigar here, the two Dutch boys who were on the ride with us bought 30 cigars and claimed they could sit around and smoke their brains out. Under the Communist system the farmers are required to sell 90% of their product back to the government and they get to keep 10% for themselves. A hurricane went through this area in 2008 and flattened all the drying sheds. The gov't paid groups of citizens from other parts of Cuba to come to this region and rebuild the sheds. The owners did not have to pay for this help but were required to feed and house, or provide places for the work crews to sleep. 
A worker is raising the pole with the newly picked tobacco in the shed, the dangerous part of the operation is when they have to move the heavily laden poles up to the top of the shed.  I don't think you can see but the tobacco at the top of the shed is much dryer than the leaves at the bottom. 
Next we headed into a cave on the side of the cliff. It was a 250 m. walk in a very dark cave that had stalimites and stalitites and there was a pool at the end that was filled with mountain fresh water. It was about a meter deep but very refreshing, Barry did not get wet, but I swam almost down to the end with our Dutch buddies. 
Our next stop was a coffee plantation. The small plants next to the mortar and pestle are about two weeks old.  At the moment the coffee is blooming and the small green beans are just starting to grow, they will harvest them at the end of the summer in August. The mortar and pestle is used to get the outer hull of the beans off after they are dried and before they are roasted. We bought some honey and some ground Arabica beans. At this farm they were growing tomatoes, onions and manioc as well. 
On the way home, both Barry and I were really stiff when we got off the horses, it was a four hour ride! I had a nice long shower once we got back to the boat and hopefully my butt won't be too sore today.  It was so worth it though, what a gorgeous day. Barry says if he could only take one trip in Cuba, Vinales would be his choice.