Have I told you about the cars? Cuba is famous for all the old 50's and 60's Fords, Dodges, Chevys, Beetles, Oldsmobiles and other makes both convertible and coupe/sedans. For many years that is all that was available and the cars were maintained, repaired, cannibalised and renovated. These days there are plenty of modern cars but the old ones have become a tourist attraction and are used almost exclusively as taxis and hire cars. Some of the cars are in superb condition while others look as though they were repainted using a paint brush. On one occasion Maree and I saw a bloke spray painting his car on the street. He had his back to us so I don't know if he was using a mask but you could see the overspray blowing past in the breeze. At least one of the old Chevys had caught up with technology as the owner had installed an iPad on which he played music videos, full blast, while driving his customers around.
Our accommodation last night was on the ground floor of a three storey building with a central courtyard. Our room was entered from the courtyard which provided the only natural light. A shuttered louvre window gave us privacy but blocked all the light. The ceiling was at least 4 metres high if not higher. The building actually had two front doors. One led to the ground floor rooms, three of them and a sitting room while the second gave access via a steep staircase to the upper levels. Our breakfast was supplied on the second floor and, to gain access we had to ring a bell whereupon someone upstairs pulled a cord which released the door latch and let us in. Breakfast was quite nice and filling.
After breakfast we took our luggage to the nearby corner where our bus was already waiting. After loading up we drove to another location and picked up the rest of the crew. We then set off for the next City Tour, this time with Abel, our guide, who speaks heaps better English than the guide from the previous time. After two hours we boarded our bus and set off for the first stage of today's trip. We had only gone a couple of hundred metres before my intestines told me that something was not right. I asked Abel to find me the nearest 'banio' fast and we pulled into the curb near a 3 star hotel. I only just made it - you won't want to read any more details I am sure. After getting back aboard we continued our trip towards Sinoa where we are to have lunch and visit an orchid garden.
I lasted about 20 to 25 kilometres more before I needed another stop. Unfortunately we were well past all the hotels on the outskirts of Havana and there was only 'wildness' alongside the four lane freeway on which were travelling. Needs must so 'wildness' it was. After this I started to feel better and when we finally arrived at the restaurant I extracted some lomotil and travelan from my luggage to help prevent any recurrence. The restaurant was in a simple building by the side of the road and you would have to know it was there because there was no outward sign. After lunch, which I managed OK, we drove to the orchid garden where a local guide gave us a tour with lots of explanations. Maree to lots of pictures of flowers and was delighted with the visit.
Another 100 km brought us to the town of Vinales where we will stay for the next two nights. Our accommodation is a house called Casa Aida that has been turned into a guesthouse. It seems that the majority of the houses in this town seem to be guest houses but the locals must live somewhere. Vinales is very touristy - any building that is not a guesthouse is either a restaurant, a bar or a shop. The town is in a lovely valley surrounded by low eroded hills. These hills have a passing resemblance to the backs of elephants and are thus known as ..... guess! The guesthouse offers a laundry service so we opted to get them to wash our clothes instead of doing a large wash in the shower.
After a walk around, a drink and dinner Maree and I wandered over to a music venue and listened to a Salsa band while watching some talented people on the dance floor. We also managed to finally log into e internet using one of our pre-paid cards and sent the next edition of our blog. I think that the locals make a good living from the tourists. Our waiter, Ephraim, turned out to be a teacher of English at Havana University. His actual day job is as a waiter because this pays heaps more in two or three days than the $50 a month he gets as a teacher.
Monday morning after a very tasty breakfast we met Abel in town for our walk through the Vinales Valley. He brought with him a local guide, Floyd, who proceeded to describe the agriculture of the region. He interspersed his explanation with a lot of bad Dad jokes and jokes about his mother-in-law. Maree and I had both expected a vigorous walk through a lovely valley instead this turned out to be a slow amble through a local farm where the main crop is tobacco. We were shown the thatched shed where the tobacco is dried (90% goes to the government tobacco factory and 10% kept by the farmer). We ended up in the farmer's supposed house (it looked more of a stage) where, surprise, surprise the farmer's wife showed us how to roll a cigar. And, even more of a surprise, she just happened to have packs of 10 hand rolled cigars sealed in plastic for sale. The route back to town just happened to pass by a small rural bar where drinks were available for purchase. Our guide virtually 'forced' everyone to order a drink. I appreciate that every dollar spent helps the people of this town but the whole place is just geared to extract as much money as possible from visitors. There are no interesting walks to take that don't cost money to get to and to participate in.
After our 'walk' Maree and I caught the local hop-on-hop-off bus which runs every 90 minutes and took a ride around the whole route. This turned out to be a pleasant way to pass some time and to view the local scenery. The strange limestone hills, many standing all alone in a paddock, are clearly honeycombed with caverns. We could see many, many caves and entrances but most are on private land. Anyway we have seen more than a fair share of limestone caves in the past. At 4:30 we reassembled to be taken to a Salsa dance lesson. Shortly before this the skies opened with a massive downpour and lots of lightning and thunder. The locals were delighted as this was the first rain for either 3 or 5 months depending on who you talked to. Of course their air was now 100% humid and the twelve of us were being taught how to salsa in a tiny room. It was not long before we were all running with sweat. I think that I must have two left feet because I kept tripping over other people and getting quite out of synch with our teacher. The one hour lesson only lasted 45 minutes and I think that all involved were quite happy with that.
We had a refreshing drink to rehydrate and waited till 7pm to assemble once again to be taken to a local organic farm which, Mm. what a surprise, is set up to provide meals to large groups of tourists. First of all we get our obligatory tour and explanation of the farm and its origin for which we have to tip the local guide and the we sit down to a meal which tastes surprisingly similar to one we had a few days earlier which did not come from an organic farm. Two differences though; one - we did get a greater variety of vegetables and two - there was far too much food supplied. They must have thought that we were Americans or something. I hope that they get to eat some of this wasteful excess or at least feed it to the pigs.