After our frustration at the Viazul bus terminal in Havana, we negotiated with a collectivo outside to take four of us (Pedro and I, plus another couple that we’d got talking to during the fiasco) to Vinales for a similar price per person as the bus would have been. It wasn’t a luxurious ride – myself and the couple crammed in the back, and Pedro riding shotgun. Our luggage was tied on top of the roof because it didn’t all fit in the trunk. We were only about two and half minutes into our three and a half hour journey when the car broke down. Not a good start… but the driver managed to get it sorted fairly quickly, and away we went.
It was incredible how quickly the landscape changed once we got out of Havana. Agricultural land as far as the eye could see. We even saw people working in rice paddies. The stress of Havana melted away on the drive (literally melted – it was stinking hot), and I started looking forward to what Vinales had to offer.
After a pretty uneventful drive, we made it to Vinales, and I loved it straight away. It had a small town feel, lots of brightly painted houses, horses and carts trotting down the roads, craft markets, and plenty of bars and restaurants.
We had some trouble finding our AirBnB, and when we finally got there the lady didn’t have our booking because she hadn’t been able to get online for the past week. Or something to that affect – she explained it all to us in Spanish. But she found us a room in a casa on the next street over, and it was perfect. The owner was very warm, and we felt right at home. Each day day started with fresh fruit salad, coffee, juice, toast, and eggs. Breakfast of champions!
On our first day we took a horse-riding tour through the valley, explored caves (where I fell and busted up my knee), learnt how tobacco was grown and made into cigars, and sampled one for good measure. Only one of the guides spoke fluent English, and he explained to us that all of the guides were farmers, and hadn’t had any sort of formal guide training. We communicated with our particular guide in broken Spanish, and got the gist of the majority of what he told us. It was a bit tough on the Norwegians in our group who didn’t speak any Spanish, and who hadn’t ridden horses before, but we loved it.
The best part of Vinales was the landscape. It really was stunning. Luscious and green, with banana, sugar cane, coffee, and tobacco plantations scattered throughout. There were farm animals everywhere, and even though I’ve done a stint on a farm in Cairns, I am still a suburban girl at heart, and I got a kick out of seeing pigs wallowing in mud on the hiking trails, getting chased by turkeys in the middle of nowhere, and listening to new-born chicks follow their mum through the scrub in search of food.
Oh, and there was a proposal in amongst it. That was pretty cool too.
After Vinales we headed took a collectivo back to Havana, and then jumped into another one to the north coast to Guanabo. The driver looked about 18 years old, and acted like a tour guide, pointing to buildings and slowing down to show us things along the way. Again, his car broke down on the way, but he managed to get us to Guanabo and we weren’t in a hurry, so we didn’t mind.
We’d booked another AirBnB, but the instructions didn’t provide us with a specific address. As in no street number. The driver hailed locals, about six different people along the way, and asked them where we had to go – literally wound down his windows and whistled at people- and it was interesting to see the dynamic. People would stop what they were doing to assist. So people working in the travel industry in Cuba might not have time for tourists, but Cubans seem to help each other out without batting andeyelid. It was great to see.
We’d pre-planned to go to Guanabo when we booked everything in Cancun, and we chose it because we thought we may want some beach time. It was a beach alright… but a Cuban beach. The boardwalk had crumbled, and the crowds of locals and tourists that flocked to the beach during the day simply walked away from the rubbish they’d created and we watched helplessly as the tide rolled in, knowing it was going to wash away their litter for them. It was pretty frustrating. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to keep their beaches pristine, to attract more tourist and their associated tourist dollars to the area. And even for their own enjoyment! Who wants to sit at a beach surrounded by beer bottles and cigarette butts? There were also jelly fish up and down the coast which fascinated me. At first I thought someone had blown up a heap of water balloons and dropped them everywhere. And there was a serious lack of cafes or general eateries in the vicinity. You work up a hunger (…and thirst for beverages of a cocktail nature) walking up and down the sand. But it was a decent place to rest out head and wait out our time in Cuba before we could escape back to civilization in the form of Lima, Peru!