Excursion to Viñales

Community Highlights Central / South America & The Caribbean Excursion to Viñales

Day 6: Tobacco and Horses

This morning we departed Havana early for Viñales. Our rest stop was interesting because it was named after the barrigonas (big-bellied) palms in the area.

The ride took about 3 hours over some roads with lots of potholes: I now understand why our host dad says that the trip is better by bus than car and that he hopes improvements are made soon. The roads also got narrower as we turned off the Carretera Central, Cuba’s main highway.

Viñales has become a popular destination for its mogotes, unique limestone formations that are a UNESCO site. We could see them from the bus as we were approaching.

We stopped at a tobacco farm surrounded by mogotes,
where they explained the process of growing tobacco,
drying leaves,
and rolling cigars.
We also learned the difference between Habanos and puros. Tobacco farmers sell 90% of their crop to the government. This gets made into cigars in the government factories. They are identifiable with the Habano label that goes around the cigar. They also add some preservatives to extend the life of the cigar. The 10% that the farmers keep can be made into cigars for their own consumption or for private sales. They are rolled at the farm, have no preservatives, and are not labeled. These are puros, named that way for the lack of preservatives.

According to the farm, the difference between Habanos and Puros is important for US tourists: they are prohibited from bringing home the former because they are government products but are allowed to bring home the latter because that is considered support for the Cuban people. Tricky. However, there are differing opinions online about the legality of this, and the Department of the Treasury does not mention any distinction between factory- and farm-rolled cigars. To them, they are all prohibited as of 2020: https://ofac.treasury.gov/faqs/769

So if you’re a US citizen thinking of buying cigars, it is most realistic to accept that they could be confiscated and buy at your own risk.

The farm also sold honey, coffee, and rum made with a small guava fruit that only grows on that part of the island. That rum would fall under the prohibition mentioned in the link above so again, buy at your own risk, but the honey and coffee would be fine.

Next we went horseback riding. It was my first time ever in a horse! DD1 only had ever done a 5-minute pony ride about 10 years ago, so it was her first extended ride.

It was a little scary at first, but fun. We did a half-hour loop on the farm and passed through a pretty place called el Valle del Silencio. No pics to share because DD1 and I felt too uneasy about letting go of the horn of the saddle to take a picture!

After the ride, we had an enormous family-style lunch at Finca del Paraíso. The restaurant has beautiful views of the mogotes. They also have gardens surrounding the restaurant.
After lunch, we went to our casas particulares in the town of Viñales. When we arrived, they were under an apagón that was supposed to last until 7 PM. The lack of electricity made our room warm and dark, so we spent time in the courtyard.
The sun kept going down and there was still no power, so our casa and the one next door started up generators. Regular power came on at around 8, just in time for our group dinner at 8:30.

Day 7: Caves
I woke up at 2 AM feeling hot and not hearing the air conditioner in the room: another apagón. I splashed some cold water on my arms and neck and eventually fell asleep, so I don’t know how long it lasted. We had electricity when we woke up for the day, but it definitely gave us an idea of how hard it must be to work around the apagones, especially for those who live outside of Havana. Our host mom says that people in the provinces have to deal with them much more because the government prioritizes the capital. She had heard that people in the provinces could expect outages of up to 14 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Our first stop was at the cave tour, la Cueva del Indio.
The caves in Viñales were used as hideouts for cimarrones, people escaping slavery. They weren’t turned in by the tobacco farmers nearby because they weren’t enslaving people. The cimarrones built settlements called palenques inside the caves. By the early 20th century, some people had the idea to make the caves a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, they did not see the value to the palenques and other artifacts from the settlements, so they cleared out all evidence of human habitation. What’s left is just the natural structure of the caves. It was impressive, though.

The first part of the tour was done on foot, but then we reached a river and took a boat ride the rest of the way.

The tour guides pointed out interesting structures in the limestone, like one that looked like a skull.

We also had the opportunity to try guarapo (sugarcane juice) freshly squeezed with orange and star fruit.

The one time I had tried guarapo before was many years ago in Miami, and it was just plain, without any fruit juice added. It was too sweet for me. I thought I’d try it mixed with the fruit, and I did like it better: it had a more complex flavor instead of just sweet. DD1 liked hers as well.

Our next stop was the Mural of Prehistory. Many of us thought this was the Cueva del Indio and directly translated into English and thus thought we were going to see indigenous cave paintings. We were wrong on 2 counts.
1. The painting is on the outside of the cave, not in it.
2. None of it was done by indigenous tribes (some of the painters may have indigenous ancestry somewhere, but no more so than any other Cuban).

So what it is? It’s a cooperative project, originally painted in 1960. Leovigildo González Murillo, a Cuban painter who had studied under Diego Rivera, provided the artistic vision, but many locals helped in the painting. Locals also help with periodically touching up the work. The mural itself depicts the prehistory of that part of the island, including indigenous peoples, hence the name.
Rumor has it that the Cueva del Indio bar has the best piña colada on the island. I would need more research to fully confirm this, but I can tell you without a doubt that it was really good!
FYI, they are made virgin, and adults can add rum if they wish.

All around us, we had the scenery of the mogotes. We also learned that the red tile roofs seen throughout the region were introduced by settlers from the Canary Islands.

After lunch, we headed back to Havana.

Thanks for reading!

This featured blog entry was written by amikulski from the blog Family Travel Files.
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By amikulski

Posted Sun, Apr 14, 2024 | Cuba | Comments