Monday, 5 February 2018

EXPLORING HAVANA - DAY THREE - VISITING THE VINALES VALLEY

The next day, following the recommendation of friends of ours, we decided to make a field trip to Valle de Vinales (Vinales Valley) situated on the western end of the island they are inscribed in the World Heritage list.  If you miss my previous posts about Havana, you can re-capture Day One and Day Two here.

The Vinales Valley is known for its lush greenery, gorgeous landscape, tobacco plantations and an enormous mural of world history depicted over the face of a rock.
ROCK MURAL VINALES VALLEY
It has always been a very popular resort destination for the locals and tourists alike but in recent years it is also become home for many health and eco-retreats, sports camps and wellness centres.  The demand for accommodation grew and more and more home owners have converted their houses into B&B or small hotels.  They also quickly adopted "field to plate" philosophy and transformed their kitchens and dining rooms into the private restaurants where everything on the menu is home produced or grown in a purely organic environment.
VINALES VALLEY
We wanted to see Cuba outside the city life and for that reason we went to the nearest travel agency, San Cristobal Agencia, to book a tour.  This travel agency represents the City Historian's Office and its income helps finance restoration of the old buildings.  It also holds the reputation of offering the best tours in Havana.
The package included a driver with a comfortable and relatively new car, a tour guide, a visit to the tobacco factory, lunch at a private house and a boat trip down underground river to see the caves. 
"
SMOKING A CUBAN CIGAR AND VIEWING A HUGE ALFRESCO CLIFF PAINTING
ARE JUST A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO WHILE IN VINALES VALLEY
"
Our tour guide, a lovely young woman named Suzanna, came to meet us at our hotel after breakfast and together we walked to a car parked nearby.    The drive took us a little more than two hours which we spent doing Q&A with Suzanna.  To our greatest delight, her English was impeccable and she possessed a deep knowledge of her country, from politics to arts.
VINALES VALLEY
Once we reached the Vinales Valley, we drove to the lookout to have a full view of the area which was absolutely lovely.  Suzanna pointed to us some major land marks including the beautiful pink coloured hotel Loz Jasmines that looked like a cake with pink and white frosting against the dark backdrop of the mountains.
HOTEL LES JASMINES VINALES VALLEY

VINALES VALLEY

VINALES VALLEY
The famous rock mural was a short drive away.  It was painted in the 1959 by the former Director of Mapping at Cuban Academy of Science, Leovigildo Gonzales Morillo and is officially called Vinales Mural de la Prehistoria.  The mural is about 120 meters long and is one of the largest alfresco paintings. 
ROCK MURAL VINALES VALLEY
 It was absolutely amazing.  We were looking at it in total owe trying to grasp its magnitude.
ROCK MURAL VINALES VALLEY

VINALES VALLEY

VINALES VALLEY
The next item on our agenda was a visit to a tobacco plantation to participate in cigar rolling and, of course, smoking.
VINALES VALLEY
We were also invited inside the cottage but as we looked inside, there were so many visitors in the house that we decided to skip it.

We did however, go inside the barn where one of the owner's sons explained to us the process of cigar making and then rolled one himself, lit it up and handed it together with his hat to my husband.  Both of us are ex-smokers, we quit smoking more than 10 years ago but in that particular situation my husband felt compelled to take a couple of puffs.

SMOKING CUBAN CIGAR
Luckily for him, another group of visitors just arrived and we left taking the stinking cigar with us.  I offered it to the driver but he was a non-smoker, so I extinguished the flame, wrapped it into a tissue and handed it over to the concierge at our hotel when we returned.  He was extremely grateful because it was a really good cigar.

It was time for all of us to have lunch.  It was set on a veranda overlooking the back garden and the field below from where all the ingredients were sourced.

Cuban diet is so much different from what we are used to eat:  there are no potatoes nor pasta, their main staple is either rice or beans.  When it comes to fresh vegetables, its mainly cabbage, corn or beans.  When it comes to bread, forget sourdough, rye or multigrain.  It is plain white bread made out of corn flour.  There are no supermarkets but rather ration shops where people get their food supplies and some other necessities in exchange of coupons issued by the Cuban government.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the food that was served to us and thanked the hosts for their warm hospitality.   
The last item on our itinerary was a boat ride along the underground river to see the caves.  We entered the caves through an opening in the rock and took stone steps down toward the area where we could got into a boat and sailed off.  
VINALES CAVES

VINALES CAVES
 Although some formations looked really dramatic and quite beautiful, I was relieved to see sunlight again shining through the rock's opening.
VINALES CAVES
We had a very enjoyable day and were quite pleased that we went and now it was time to head back to Havana.

Until then

Anna
xoxo