Touring Vinales Valley - We'll Follow the Sun - CycleBlaze

January 25, 2019 to February 26, 2019

Touring Vinales Valley

One of the things we had wanted to do while here in Vinales was to go on a tour of a tobacco farm.  Even though neither of us smoke, we are still curious about the process that is involved in creating the famous Cuban cigars. After breakfast we headed up to the local tourist office to catch the 9:00 walking tour. It was an iffy prospect just looking at the skies heavy with rain, but we figured what the heck? You gotta do these things sometimes. 

We were in a small group with two Americans from Wisconsin and a couple of retired teachers from Ontario. Their respective partners were not interested in the tour, but we teachers just can’t pass up the opportunity to learn something new! Our guide, Jose, was very patient with us all, leading us out of town and pointing out some of the various plants typical of this region. We got to visit a typical local farm setup, complete with their own coffee growing in the field next to the home. Each family is allowed to grow a certain amount of coffee which they can use for their own use plus selling a little extra. As well, there was a sweet older guy grinding corn to make tamales, which I was surprised to find out are also very popular here in Cuba. I was surprised by this because we have not seen any evidence of this in any of the places we have eaten. I guess some things just remain family traditions that are not shared with the “touristos”. 

Grinding corn
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Cooking coffee beans
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The old way of grinding
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Things are changing fast here in Cuba it seems, with families finding ways to supplement the monthly allowance they receive from the government. It is interesting to be here at this time and hear about how it was 20 years ago. I’m not sure what would be better and am hesitant to make any judgements, but Cuba sure is different from Mexico!

That does not look promising!
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Our little group and our guide, Jose. What a knowledgable and friendly guy!
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We made it to the drying hut for the farm’s tobacco just as the skies opened. We enjoyed hearing about how each family has its own recipe for their tobacco fermenting process which affects the taste of the finished process. They grow all of the spices right there on the farm and then, of course, add some Cuban rum to the mixture. At the end we were encouraged to try their cigars and you know what they say, “when in Rome”!

Growing tobacco and a drying shed
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Eventually we had to walk back to town in the pouring rain. By the time we reached our little place we were drenched and looking to warm up, so we stopped for some excellent vegetable soup and a sandwich before coming back to our Casa for a quick nap (and to give our clothes a chance to dry a bit), after which we went out to meet Jim and Laura for dinner.

We again had a great time with these two very seasoned travellers. It is wonderful to hear their many stories and to share some of our own. As we were finishing, Kris, one of the teachers from our tour stopped by with her partner Dave in tow this time and we all just chattered away like a flock of birds. I don’t know if the folks at the other tables were amused by our excited talking, but we sure had fun!

After dinner we said our goodbyes with the promise to meet in Havana on Sunday for one last dinner. Jim and Laura went back to their Casa to pack and we stopped in at the hotel to do some internetting. I had been trying to book an Airbnb place in Havana but realized that Airbnb, being an American company, does not work here. It was frustrating as I can search for places but not book. However, I have discovered a workaround! I got on messenger with my daughter up in Canada and got her to sign in as me on Airbnb. I had saved the Casa we wanted to rent as a favourite so all she had to do was find it and book it! It worked like a charm with us messaging back and forth with the details, so if you come to Cuba, it would be a good idea to have a trusted person back home who can do things like this for you. I am wishing now that we had set up our bank account with her on it as well before we left as she would have been able to call them and sort out this annoying business of our card being denied. Laura told me that she was informed by their credit card company that if they prepaid their account so that there is a credit balance they could withdraw that money without a cash advance fee. That’s something else to check on before our next big adventure. Ah well, some things you just have to learn as you go along I guess!  With our accomodations in Havana finally assured, we came back to our little room for another cozy quiet night of cards, reading and bed. 

A good way to beat the rain!
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Jan 26
Looking out the window we could see little spots of blue in the somewhat gray sky, so quickly got ourselves together to head out and enjoy as much of the day as we could. We had not arranged for a Casa breakfast so instead headed up to the local bakery for some ham and cheese croissants and café con leche (coffee with milk). The cost of this was a whole $5.00! Amazing! Breakfast taken care of we headed out on the bikes this time to explore a bit more of the valley. There was a Scottish mist hanging about which gave the magotes as mysterious feeling as we wove through them. 

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Soon we came to the Cueva de Vinales, a cave once used by slaves who were escaping from the Spaniards. There is a bar at the entrance of the cave which we skipped as it was much too early for that kind of thing. We paid the $3 each for the privilege of walking through the cave to the other side. It was interesting enough but at the end I was surprised and let out a scream as something poked out from the rocks and quickly disappeared again. Turns out it was a guy dressed in an aboriginal costume poking a long palm leaf through a hole. He had a good laugh and I did too once I realized what the deal was! He then proceeded to entertain us with a fire dance. We said goodbye to our new buddy and headed back around to where the bikes were.

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Now, at this point came maybe the second time since we’ve been here that we were annoyed by someone’s blatant ploy for money. The first time was as we passed a park in San Diego de Los Banos, where a group of students were all gathered around talking. They were all wearing their school uniforms and looked to be around 12 or 13. One of them noticed our flags and called out “Canada!” and then immediately asked if we had any money for him. Say what? Are you kidding me, buddy? We rolled our eyes and continued on to our hotel. On this occasion, as we pulled in, a guy pointed to a place where we could put the bikes as we went through the cave. We leaned them up together and he asked where we were from. We answered and then went off to do the tour. When we came back around again he walked up and said that there was a $2 charge to park the bikes – what?! Nothing was said before and I was a little annoyed so I handed him$1 and said that’s all we had. He didn’t say anything else and walked away. The thing is, if he had said as we went in that there was a charge, we would have maybe not gone in, but I was just bothered by the way he did it. It wasn’t honest and surely not part of the cave thing at all. This is a rarity here, though, so it really sticks out when someone does it. 

We rode down farther to another cave thing, but there were a lot of tour buses out front and it looked and felt really fake so we gave it a pass, turned the bikes around and headed back to town. It was a short little jaunt but nice to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.

These are really weird trees!
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Looks like the tree of life
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We really appreciated our timing as we came back to town, put the bikes away and as we started to walk into town the rain began again! Oh boy! It’s a good thing we are taking the bus down to Havana in the morning as it would be a pretty miserable ride in this weather!
We had a quiet last afternoon in Vinales, going through pictures and getting things ready for an early departure in the morning. Dinner was pizza at the little place close to us before heading up to the hotel for a little more internet time before bed. It’s not cheap, doing it this way, but it is nice to be able to keep in touch with family while we are out on the road. 

One more car pic for Jim
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Pizza Mixta - yummy!
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Today's ride: 25 km (16 miles)
Total: 1,328 km (825 miles)

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