Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Day Six - Viñales Valley

Although it isn't allowed, some climbers still come here and manage to do some climbing (and I think find some guides 
that are happy to accompany them).
Day Six
Our hostess Ariel prepared a huge breakfast for us at our Casa Particular in Viñales. We ate it outside in a pavilion built in the backyard with two tables (photo below). Cuban coffee is very strong and somewhat thick. Scott has taken to having milk in it - he usually takes it black. I'm fine with just some sugar. It definitely wakes you up.
We packed our things and left them in her living room. Carmen back in Havana kept our big duffle bag and gave us two small cloth bags for our overnight things.
We met our guide Alex and the three other couples outside the Infotur office. Two of the couples were from Holland and one from Switzerland. They all spoke excellent English as did our guide. And what a delightful person Alex is! We learned so much about the history of Cuba, present day life in this area, farming of all kinds, music, baseball etc. His family have been farmers on their own private farm in the valley for generations. He grew up on the farm but decided not to be a farmer. His cousins are running the Finca now as his father has retired.
We spent 3 and a half hours walking around the valley on trails. We visited two Fincas and were given a tour by the farmer with demonstrations of the tobacco cycle from planting to rolling cigars. The first farmer also grows coffee beans and his roasted beans smelled amazing as did the coffee he provided. The second farmer showed us how the tobacco is dried, sorted, packed in special bales and fermented. The mixture that does this is a family recipe! He rolled several cigars and gave them to two of the couples to sample. Scott was somewhat tempted but didn't. They said they were great.
The scenery was really lovely everywhere and we saw groups of people on horse back tours on the trails as well as a few other walking groups. This morning was one of the highlights of our trip! It ended at a local baseball game where we watched a home run come in by the local team.
This time we made the wrong choice for lunch. I had spaghetti carbonara that was truly (almost - I was hungry) inedible - overcooked pasta with canned ham chunks. I'll say more about the food in Cuba on another blog post summing up our experience, but in general the food is not the exciting part of travel to Cuba.
We collected our bags from Ariel and caught the 2 pm bus back to Havana, arriving around 5:30 pm. After a brief shower and change we walked down to the historic district listening to music and had a pretty good dinner at La Mina on Plaza Armes, sitting outside watching people and the lovely gardens. We were so tired on the way back we caught a bicycle cab. The last few days we've averaged 26,000 steps - over 13 miles at least.
Scott looks a bit grim here? On the table are omelets, tomatoes
& onions, papaya & pineapple, dishes of ham & cheese, fruit
juice, bread rolls, butter and coffee!

Newly planted tobacco plants. After they are harvested the
fields will be planted with corn. That is the rotation. Other
fields are rotated with yucca and black beans.

Many tour the valley on horseback. Outside of Havana you
see many people using horses and carriages for transportation.

This is the farmer we met at the first Finca. He farms with his
two strapping sons. They raise coffee as well. The government
gets 90 per cent of their harvest of the main crops. They get to
keep any vegetables, fruits and small livestock like chickens,
roosters, ducks and pigs. Horses and cows/bulls are only
used for farm work. If they die, the farmer turns in the carcass
and gets a replacement.

This is their home. It is surrounded by flowers, fruit trees
and of course the barns and a room for rent. Six years ago
there were 60 rooms in the valley, now there are over 1,000.

At the second finca we had a demonstration of the tobacco
curing process. That's a sample "bale" which would be made
up for the fermentation and kept in a dark cool place until
ready to use. He rolled several cigars to show us how and
gave them to two of the couples there.

Here is one of the women trying one out!

A view over the valley with our walking path.

Another view with a tobacco barn in the distance.

Scott and our guide Alex.

Alex said this tree is related to the balboab trees in Africa

We watched part of a local baseball games - and exciting
home run (no one unfortunately on bases).

A view down the line of restaurants along the main street
(we didn't eat here)

But we had a very nice dinner here the night before.

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