Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Day Five - Viñales Valley

Viñales valley is a karstic depression and an agricultural area growing principally tobacco. Karst landscape is formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestonedolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves (wikipedia). Other karst locations are around the world in Europe and China.
We had originally planned to take the public bus to Viñales but the woman at Infotur, the Cuban tourist office, suggested we take the bus from the Hotel Plaza. It was the same price but much closer to our casa particular. It left at 8 am and took 3 hours, with a brief bathroom break at a rest stop. The first half of our trip was on a divided highway, two lanes each direction, which changed to a two lane twisty road up into the mountains. The town of Viñales is charming with mostly single story multicolored cottages, almost all with a front porch set with adirondack type or rocking chairs. Ninety per cent of the homes offer at least one room for rent. About 8,000 people live in the town area.
The main street is lined with these homes and restaurants. It's a lively scene! In the center is a park with the church at the head. As usual it is filled with (mostly) young people on their phones or tablets. Public wifi is only available in parks and large hotels.
At the Infotur office we bought tickets for the morning walking tour starting at 9 am the next day. He also arranged for a taxi two hour tour of the valley that afternoon and called Carmen's friend for us. She came to pick us up but due to the bathroom being out of order at her house, we stayed at a different Casa, Ariel's. Our room was very comfortable with two double beds and a nice private bathroom. With breakfast it came to 40 C.U.C.s (the tourist dollars, one for one with American $).
After a very nice lunch at El Meridiano on the main street, we met our taxi guide Renee for a two hour tour of the valley sites. We had planned to use the "hop on, hop off" bus but discovered that we would need more than our available half days to see every location as it only came around every 1.5 or 2 hours. Our first stop was the Indian Caves. It turns out mid day is not a good time to be there - all the one day bus tours out of Havana arrive about then. It was a zoo for awhile but when we finally got our ticket and entered the caves it was worth while. The karstic process hollows out caverns within the mountains all over the area. In this one we were able to walk quite a ways and then boarded a boat for a trip on an underground river and out again to a dammed section where our guide was waiting.
We visited another cavern across the way which was much less interesting although it was fun to see the bar/restaurant tucked in the cavern entrance. Two young girls from Philadelphia we met the next day had quite a fun night in that bar until the wee hours.
The drive through the valley was lovely although I found the "Prehistoric Mural" didn't add anything to the beauty! We were able to take some pictures from a view spot high on the mountain and stopped at a tobacco finca that is now mostly selling souvenirs (like cigars). All in all, the tour was a little disappointing. Happily the next day walking tour made up for this (next post).
The evening was very fun. An excellent band was playing in the center where we enjoyed a couple of mojitos and then we had one of our best meals at El Bily Restaurant. Our waitress was so friendly. We ended up chatting and meeting her family when they came in for dinner.
It was lovely and cool for sleeping although we woke up with mosquito bites in the night and had to cover ourselves with bug spray. This was a first for us here as we haven't had any problem in Havana.
On the way to Viñales we stopped for a bathroom break and
I walked over to a nearby Finca. The couple invited me into
their home and the tobacco drying barn. It was a lovely

Every home has a lot of chickens, a rooster or two, pigs
and maybe ducks.

This tobacco was harvested a few weeks ago
as it's still green

The owner showed me around.

The center of Viñales with the church.

The hills are very steep with limestone cliffs.

The start of our trip down into the caverns.

The walk took us through fantastic shaped hanging
stalactites and stalagmites with varying colors.

At the end of the walk we boarded a boat,
the man has two fingers up looking for a
party of two to fill the boat. It was us!

Looking back at the exit from the caverns,

This bar built into the cavern entrance was the location for
a fun salsa filled evening that night - not for us alas!

Our guide Renee and Scott

The Prehistoric Mural wasn't a hit with Scott and I. 

But we loved this fellow on his bull!

View from the top of one of the hills over the valley. You can see the Fincas with their traditional tobacco drying barns
dotting the landscape.

Carillion Flowers - our guide indicated some
people use these as a marajuana substitute
(if we got his hint correctly).

A close up of these lovely blossoms.

Tobacco fields newly planted.
We briefly visited another Finca, although this was a regular
tourist destination and sold cigars.

Our Casa Particular - Casa Burujones with hosts Ariel
and Odeily.

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