A four hour bus ride took us east of Havaanna to Viñales, a tiny city in the countryside surrounded by mogotes, mountains made of leftover limestone after the rest has been worn away, leaving flat topped mountains rising up over the valleys. From the start, it felt like Pat and I were stirring up trouble in this sleepy little town. Due to a schedule mix up, our bus arrived two hours early, meaning our casa particular owner wasn’t waiting for us at the bus station. In an attempt to find her place on our own, we mixed up the address and ended up checking in at her unsuspecting neighbor’s place. It wasn’t until we were exploring the city a few hours later that we were chased down by a woman with a sign with our names on it! We explained the mistake and she marched us back to her neighbor’s place. After some heated words that turned into laughs, we collected our suitcases, signed on the government ledger and moved into Teresa’s Holiday Inn. When I saw the shiny pink bedspread, fake flowers and pink pictures of kittens, I knew our experience at this Casa wasn’t going to be quite as lovely as it was with Miriam in Havaanna.
From the start of our visit to Viñales, it felt like we were expected to conform to a preset “tourist program”. Each house in the town was perfectly restored and looked identical to its neighbor. Having seen two different casas, we also got the same sales pitch at each: “here is the menu for dinner, it is a ton of food and much better than you can find in the restaurants, I have a guide you can book who can take you on a horseback ride to see the countryside and a secret cave, here is the price of drinks I can make you” and so on. It all came off as a bit mechanical and…rehearsed. Pat and I had the uneasy feeling that the whole setup might be a bit too orchestrated. At least in Havana you knew a lot of things were under government control/strict regulations but it wasn’t SO blaring.
Aside from this, our visit to Viñales was absolutely lovely and the area is a must-see if you visit Cuba.
Our host was wonderful and our meals were just as bountiful and tasty as she had promised.
The guide she arranged for us was very friendly and our ride through the hills was nothing short of spectacular. The cave was a bit underwhelming, especially for Pat, who has claustrophobia. There was a pool at the end of it but the idea of swimming in murky, dark cave water and then getting back on our horses soaking wet didn’t sit well with either of us.
On the way home, we stopped at a tobacco farm to see the drying tobacco leaves, watch a farmer hand roll and cigar and of course, receive a sales pitch about how we should buy some of the cigars made from the 10% of his crop that his family gets to keep. I ended up being translator or our group of tourists, earning myself some free fresh-squeezed coconut-grapefruit cocktail and a cigar. Pat bought a couple of packages of cigars as gifts and I entrusted him with my cigar as well, since I’m not terribly fond of tobacco myself.
Back at the casa, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and then went for a run. There were tons of small black flies along the horse path we ran on, leaving our sweat-soaked bodies covered with them. In addition, my horribly sunburn was starting to blister and peel. Nothing says vacation like picking small black bugs and flaps of skin off of your travel partner. You’re the best Pat!
We caught the early morning Viazul bus to Trinidad. One full day and two nights was definitely enough time in Viñales.