Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Day 4: Careening through Cuba

March 18: Amanda and I took our time getting up and ready. We had nothing planned until 9:00am when a taxi would pick us up and whisk us out of Havana for the first time. Destination: Viñales!

Most of you have probably never heard of Viñales before, and I hadn't either until this trip. It's about a two hour drive, west of Havana, way out in the country and allegedly has some of the most scenic views in the country. Mogotes dot the area--limestone mountains with sheer, vertical cliffs and full of holes and caves. The rest of our Cuban trip would be spend in Viñales and if rumor is to be believed, three days would not be enough--but that's all we planned for.

The taxi ride wasn't particularly noteworthy. This vehicle was in the best condition yet and even included fully-working seat belts. Yeah, for seat belts! The driver was aggressive at times making me a bit nervous, and the lines painted on the road seemed to be treated as gentle suggestions rather than law as we often drove straddled between two lanes or, on the one-lane roads, over the center divider line--wherever the potholes were smallest.

Most of the drive took place over a three-lane highway (three lanes in one direction, six lanes if you include both directions), hurdling through the air at a 100 kilometers per hour. In the immediate vicinity of Havana, traffic was heavy but not to the point of congested. As soon as we left the city, the traffic was light and we rarely saw more than a few cars ahead of us on the road. On the side of the road, many people stood with money out, trying to hail a ride and at one place, several people walked around carrying grilled chickens, flapping in the breeze. It was like an outdoor Costco selling rotisserie chickens!

The last half hour of the ride took us off the main highway and onto smaller, narrow, windy country roads. The speeds were slower, but the obstacles on the road more numerous--both in the form of live farm animals that often darted out into the road, people walking near the edge of the road, and considerably more and larger potholes than the main highway.

But we made it to the small town of Viñales without any trouble and our taxi dropped us off at our new casa particular. Our room wasn't ready yet, however, so we waited outside on the patio until it was ready while our host served us fruit drinks.

Our room for the next three nights. =)

After our room was ready, we dropped off our bags then immediately headed back out deciding to make a loop around a mogote and checking out Viñales National Park.

We got our feet dirty on real, dirt trails. Horseback riding was common--at times it seemed like we passed more people on horses than on foot. While the mogotes themselves weren't developed, the land around them is farmed heavily--especially tobacco as this area produces more Cuban tobacco than anywhere else. A small dog followed us a bit, and we passed multiple pigs, bulls, goats and other assorted farm animals.

The trail was hot and largely provided no shade and Amanda seemed slower than her usual pace, but that was okay. We weren't in any particular rush.

Field of tobacco with mogotes in the background.

At one point, the trail split and our map showed a dead-end to the left. I wanted to check it out, but Amanda decided the extra steps weren't necessary so we split up. I'd check out the side trail then catch back up with her later. It took me a bit longer to explore the side route because the trail split several times, each time dead-ending at one of the limestone cliffs of the mogote.

Eventually I returned to the trail and stopped when I reached a large pig wallowing in the mud with several piglets eating lunch. As I approached, I took photos and videos, but the large pig seemed bothered by my presence eventually pulling itself up and out of the mud and facing me. While admiring nature in action, a Frenchman caught up with me and we maneuvered around the pigs then started walking together for a bit swapping Cuba stories. I also told him about some of my adventures on the Camino de Santiago in France. Good times!

I caught up with Amanda again at a giant prehistoric-themed mural painted on a limestone wall--a god-awful, tacky thing that looks like a giant piece of graffiti. This was also where our trail ended and the road walk back to town would begin.

One of the ugliest, tackiest tourist attractions I'd ever seen! Disgraceful!

We stopped at a nearby restaurant for a rest and a snack, resting in the shade and enjoying the nice breeze on the outside patio before hitting the 5-km road walk back into town.

We only made it two kilometers when a fellow in a cart pulled by a horse asked if we wanted a ride into town. I was inclined to pass on the offer but Amanda was thrilled at any excuse to reduce the amount of walking that was needed--especially over a paved road. The cost was $3. Even if Amanda wanted to walk, I knew she'd have taken the deal. She just liked the idea of being pulled by a horse. We boarded our horse taxi and started the slow gallop towards town.

The man dropped us off just a short way outside of town and we spent the rest of the afternoon looking through shops, buying postcards and finally stopping for dinner at a restaurant called 1920 where we whittled away the evening until after sunset and headed back to our casa particular for the night. It was the good life! =)

I have to imagine that this area would be a rock climber's paradise!
Pineapple! And, for those who don't know any better, pineapples do not grow on trees!
The mogotes seemed eerily unnatural to me, but so beautiful! =)

Pigs, wallowing in the mud. The little piglets were so adorable! =)

Lunch time!
By the time we hit the road walk section of our loop, Amanda was ready to call it quits!
So we hired this guy to take us most of the way back into town for a mere $3.
Lots of billboards promoting Cuba, Fidel and the Cuban way.
Amanda's describing how big that fish she caught was. Just kidding.... I think she was about to take off her hat. =)
All sorts of cute contraptions made out of soda cans, such as these cameras.
You'd see these exaggerated black statues everywhere which kind of bothered me because they look so racist. I don't really know what the story behind them is, though.
Amanda admires her dinner at the 1920 restaurant.
I perform a magic trick with my can of TuKola hovering above the glass and pouring out, without even touching the can!
The shower in our room kind of looks like a potential electrical hazard, doesn't it? =)

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