We made an early start of it yesterday. Our destination was the much talked about Pinar del Río Province, one of the most rural and fertile areas of Cuba, and which contains the showpiece Valle de Viñales.
It took us a couple of hours to get there so we stopped off at a tobacco factory to take a look around. To call it a factory is perhaps rather misleading. It’s basically a sweatshop of thirty or so people sitting at desks rolling four tobacco leaves into a cigar shape and then covering it with a fifth silky leaf. It then gets squashed for twenty minutes, topped and tailed to size and put in a box ready for sale. Rather sweetly someone reads to the workers from newspapers and occasionally from the classics. Hence two of the cigar brands are called Romeo y Juliet and Monte Cristo.
Continuing on we saw fields upon fields of the main crops they grow in the area; sugar cane, various citrus fruits, coffee and the omnipresent tobacco.
Eventually we reached the Cordillera de Guaniguanico mountain range and the breath-taking Valle de Viñales. Its well deserved UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site status comes from the mogotes (tree-covered limestone knolls) that have been left standing proud in a wide flat river basin. The valley is flanked by limestone bedrock mountains that have been eroded by underground rivers producing huge caverns.
The largest cave we went to was Cueva de los Indios which was really quite spectacular. We downed a guarapo or two (sugar cane juice with rum) walked into the cave for about ten minutes and then took a boat ride on the underground river. Lovely.
After lunch we drove over to the Mural de la Prehistoria – a massive primary coloured mural covering an entire cliff face. To be frank it was rather tacky but, hey, Che Guevara apparently commissioned it so we duly took a few snaps.
It took a couple of hours to make it back into town but upon our arrival I was accosted by a beggar. We’d not seen any in Havana up until that point so I was a bit taken aback. He was deaf and very drunk and thrust a piece of paper with some writing on it at me. As I was reading it he obviously decided that it was too risky being seen talking to me and sped off up the road to find someone else to ask for money. Apparently the tourist police could have turned up at any point to arrest him for ‘daring’ to hassle a tourist and if they don’t get money within a few seconds they move on. To be honest I was a bit shaken by the whole thing. It all happened so fast and I felt as if I’d be asked to stand up and be counted but had missed the opportunity.
Stu and I went out for a bite to eat in the Old Town and chatted over our day together.