Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Our "permit" from the US to visit Cuba restricted us to Marina Hemingway - by water.  So when we had the opportunity to travel to northwestern Cuba, we were definitely interested.  

Vinales is a three-hour drive from Havana and it would be rough in a 1954 Ford Fairline so we were pretty excited to see the newer-model Sprinter van pull up that morning.  The drive was along a proper 4-lane highway, albeit with illegal goat cheese and guava vendors on the side of the road, as well as horse-drawn buggies also called "aranhas" (spanish word for spider).  The highway even had rest stops along the way complete with coffee, juice and a full bar in case you would like a mojito, cuba libra or daiquiri for the rest of the drive.  

Arriving in Vinales is a stark contrast to Havana.  It is a valley among "mogotes" or granite hillsides.  The mogotes have eroded over time, leaving caves.  The views are lush and the farmland is plentiful.  Vinales is where most of the tobacco in Cuba is grown as well as the citrus, rice, and sugar cane.  We were able to talk to 4th generation farmers whose life has been growing tobacco and farming other crops.  They are required to provide the government with 90% of their crops but the remaining 10% is kept for the family.  As the farmer rolled the cigar in front of us, he asked if anyone would like to try - it would be rude to say no so we all gave it a puff.  Cigars are not my thing but it was a cool experience and these cigars were pretty mild so no need to worry about getting sick on the spot in front of everyone.  

We also were treated to fresh sugar cane - pressed and made into a delicious rum drink on the spot.  To go with our rum, we picked a few guavas right off the trees and ate them just like an fun and who knew guava could be eaten like that.  At first when I hesitated, not knowing how to eat the guava, our driver Tony looked at me and said "C'mon, is not going to kill you..."

The farm was just the beginning of the day - from there we had lunch at Balcones de Valle (Balcony of the Valley) with amazing views and tables on the edge of a patio that would not have passed regulations in the US - if you leaned too far back in your chair - you would fall over a 30 ft edge.  We also visited the El Palenque de Cimarrones...the caves where runaway slaves would hideout.  

Vinales was such a cool place that a few boats even stayed for 2-3 days.  We, unfortunately, had plans in Havana so we took the long nap, I mean, ride back to Marina Hemingway, arriving just in time for a Salty Dawg happy hour.  
Fourth generation tobacco farmer rolling custom cigar
When in would be rude to say No
Tobacco seeds that are germinated into plants and then replanted in the fields and eventually become large tobacco leaves that are rolled into cigars.
Pictures of the Cuban revolutionary heroes- just about every house and farm has them.  When we asked about Raul Castro's (Current president) photo, they said "He's not dead yet"
Pressing the sugar cane - the cane is laying on the table and you can see the juice being pressed into the bucket.  This was poured straight into the glass with rum and lime juice.

Russian tractor on Cuban farm


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