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Tuesday 15 Apr 2008
Vinales, Cuba

Good Morning Vietn--VINALES!

Got up uber-early today to catch my 7am bus to Vinales and had to grab breakfast at the bus station - the "typical" basic fare of ham and cheese sandwich (make sure you ALWAYS ask for it to be melted as it kills any germs that may have landed).

GENERAL NOTE ON TIPPING

As has become the norm when getting your bags onto a VIAZUL bus (or taking them off), the guy handling the bags would usually DEMAND a tip. This isn't actually sanctioned and one way around it is to just so "no hay cambio" (I don't have any change).

Frequently I found this to actually be the case, I literally didn't have any change.

Most small things are charged in units of 1 CUC rather than 0.50 or 0.75 CUC, so you don't often have change smaller than a 1 CUC anyway (which is far too much for a tip in my opinion.. you would quickly run out of money handing out 1 CUC for a tip each time)

This advice should prove useful to any situations where you find you are pressed to give a tip (although sometimes the person really does deserve a good tip).

DRAMATIC LANDSCAPE OF VINALES

Within 20 minutes of heading west from Habana, the landscape changes dramatically. The landscape rapidly becomes less flat and the horizon fills with feint outlines of karst limestone mountain formations in the distance. The forests and farms too seem to become much more abundant and greener.

Yes this is the "farmland" region of Cuba, where men are men, and tobacco is grown to kill men. "All your cigar are belong to Vinales".

What I found quite dramatic about the whole Pinar del Rio region was it's striking resemblance to Vietnam. Flat fields bordered by royal palm trees full of farmers toiling away mirrors the rice-paddy fields of central Vietnam. The karst limestone formations looked very much like Halong Bay, except on land. Vinales town itself even bears a strong resemblance to a Vietnamese mountain town like Dalat, or the Tha Khaek region in Laos.

So along with Habana resembling parts of Hanoi (in terms of the dilapidated colonial style of the buildings), the similarities with Vietnam amazed me on this trip.

VINALES TOWN

Arrived into Vinales and as you left the bus you were greeted with about 50 grinning old grannies waving their casa particular business cards in your face, making it almost impossible to get my bag. Thankfully I'd reserved another casa, a Freemason friend of Lazarro (of course.. woah betide any mason that recommends a non-cult member!) and had another "PETER" sign waiting for me, this time the entire family came out to greet me which I thought was nice. On a side note, Juan, the guy in charge of the casa mentioned that some of the people who claim to belong to a casa are actually touts, that take you to the casa and then force the owner to charge more - so that they earn commission... one thing to watch out for.

This family were genuine campesinos (farmers) and so the casa was an absolutely tiny farmhouse (including height.. I kept on hitting my head off the top of the door), with little chickens run amok all over the place.

In fact the second thing you notice about the entire Pinar del Rio region (after the landscape) is that livestock are given free reign to wander wherever they please (and eat food from whoever they want). This leads to some pretty fat and feisty birds... which has the advantage that they taste yummy for "cena" (dinner).

Dogs as well rule the roost. Seemingly having no owners, and living off whatever scraps are thrown from tourist tables, they wander around in packs and latch on to the first person that gives them any sign of recognition. I recount one day when I was people-watching in the plaza only to look down and find 4 dogs under my seat.. growling whenever a beggar came by looking for some dinero. When I started feeling a little itchy I thought it best to move off pronto!

FREEMASONS (again!) plus REDNECK REVOLUTIONARIES

The Freemasons seem have a major presence in Vinales with a huge temple on your right as you enter the one-street town. Outside the temple is a large bust of Jose Marti and a subtext specifying him as the founder of freemasonry in Cuba. Interesting.

Being "country" folk, the people in Vinales are tough, hard-going, and full-blooded nationalists through and through.
Tough because I saw the 80 year old owner of my casa grabbing my heavy backpack with ease and slinging it onto his shoulder whilst zooming ahead faster than I could manage to keep up; hard-going because people laughed when I asked if they had any helmets when I went cycling (tapping their heads as if to say "this should be enough!"); and nationalistic as evidenced by the copious pro-"Revolucion" slogans you see EVERYWHERE (and obviously most of them were put there by the locals, rather than the government propaganda machine)


Later that night I checked out a cabaret at the ONLY really good cantina in town, the Casa de la Musica (again!) in the Plaza Mayor. It seems that every town has its own Casa de la Musica!

Met a local Afro-Cuban girl there by the name of Ines who I got to sample my new-found knowledge of salsa. Evidently I still had loads more to learn, but she was a great dancer and over the coming 4 nights, we would meet up each evening to salsa some more... Cool

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Perdido en Cuba de Fidel

Travel blog by peterforan

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2 weeks in which I crap-dance salsa-stylee in my own inimitable way; terrorise the Cuban people after one-too-many mojitos and visit bars where they actually ENCOURAGE people to smoke cigars as big as your leg. If I get time I'll take in some culture..

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  • Coconut rum...

    Vinales

    Cuba

    Coconut rum on Cayo Levisa.
  • Cayo Levisa.....

    Vinales

    Cuba

    Cayo Levisa.. Pure paradise
  • "Do-rum...

    Vinales

    Cuba

    "Do-rum rum rum.. the do-rum rum.."
  • Volveran!

    Vinales

    Cuba

    Volveran!