Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cuba - Day 2 - Vinales

Day two I awoke in the hotel where Hemingway lived and pinched myself.  We showered and went to the lobby where we met our driver for the day, Humberto. Humberto spoke English with a VERY thick accent so, personally, I only got about 80% of what he shared with us about Cuba that day!  His car was parked on the Malecon so we walked there and headed out of Havana for our adventure!  As we drove through Havana Humberto pointed out the various municipalities, Centro Habana, Vedado, and the wealthier Miramar.

About an hour into our drive we stopped in a small city called Soroa.  But first, let me tell you about the drive.  The majority of the cars in Cuba are an amalgam of various makes and models.  When something breaks on the car (or on anything at all), there is no money to fix it or to buy a new one so they must improvise. And I mentioned in yesterday's post that tires are rare and have to be brought in from other places. Therefore, as they navigate the roads, some paved, some not, they are extremely careful to avoid any rough pavement, potholes, etc. At times we would brake suddenly so that I thought there must be an animal in the road - nope, it was a rough patch.  Eric and I believe that Cubans must be the most cautious drivers in the world!

So, Soroa.  This was a surprise stop to us but Humberto knew we had a little extra time before our scheduled horseback ride so he dropped us off here for about an hour.  We first paid 2CUC each to hike back to a cascada, or waterfall, called El Salto de Soroa.

Across this foot bridge was a man collecting the fee

Everything was so green and the humidity was high!

We first came to the top of the waterfall and looked down

Then we hiked down and looked up

Across the street from the cascada was the orquideario, or orchidarium, where they grow over 700 types of orchids.  These are just a few of the photos I took of just some of the species.  Just don't ask me to name them!

We still had about an hour and a half drive to get to Vinales where we were doing a horseback tour of the valley.  We, very carefully, navigated our way to the tour group, Knowing Vinales, and got on our horses.  Mine was named Cuba Libre and Eric's was named Mojito!  Our guide was Yosvany.  Interesting fact about his name, it is pronounced Josvany and there is a generation of Cuban's who's names were spelled with a "y" but are pronounced with a "j" and they are known as "The Y Generation".

We rode our horses through Vinales Valley to a tobacco and coffee plantation.  I tried photographing some of the farm houses as we rode, but it turns out it's difficult to get a steady photo while on horseback!

Doggie on the porch

A tobacco farm

In the back right is a mogote, which is a steep-sided hill formed of limestone

The plantation where we stopped was owned by a farmer and his daughter.  They spoke no English so as the farmer explained the coffee and tobacco processes Yosvany translated.

The coffee beans are laid on this slab to dry out

He then grinds them to get the bean out of it's pod

They roast the beans in this pot - no water

The tobacco leaves are strung on a piece of twine and hung up to cure for 6 to 8 weeks
We were a few weeks too early to get to see much of the tobacco process but he did take us to his patio to show us how to roll a cigar while we enjoyed the best coffee I have ever had.

He first picked the proper leaf to use as the outside of the cigar

The darker tobacco was more intense while the lighter was more mild - Eric chose a mixture of both

After rolling the cigar, we wrapped it in a palm frond for a few minutes to help hold the shape and keep it tight

He then removed the palm frond and lit the cigar
I didn't get the hang of the cigar smoking, but I sure enjoyed this amazing coffee

He had built his home and surrounding structures himself and they had two dogs, a cat, and lots of chickens.  So while the three men smoked cigars, I walked around the property and took photos.

Fresh eggs

Dominoes is almost as popular as baseball in Cuba


We next walked over to an old cave where we squeezed through a very narrow passageway to get to the other side.  I tried really, really hard not to think about every scary movie I've ever seen about a dark, wet, narrow cave.

The caves were under this mogote

At the other side was a bar apparently run by this dog

Cattle - which is all owned by the Government and if the farmer slaughters it he can get up to 10 years in prison
Next we rode our horses over to a lake where there was a small bar and a bano - oh, and piglets!

Piglets on the rocks!

Machete used to cut the sugar cane (in the back right)

Press used to get the juice from the sugar cane

Finally, we went to a lovely restaurant called Finca Agroecologica el Paraiso where everything came from their own gardens.  It was a huge, delicious meal.  Just look!

Entrance to the farm to table experience



View from our table

Cocktails - we only had 1 because that's all there was room for!

Yucca and taro root chips

Immediately followed by a delicious soup full of fresh veggies

Immediately followed by lettuce, carrots, beets, peppers, sweet potatoes, pickles, and onions

IMMEDIATELY followed by tomatoes, fish, beef, and sour kraut

IMMEDIATELY followed by beef, rice, chicken - ending up with a total of 15 plates on our table and window ledge!
After this amazing meal, we enjoyed the view for another minute before heading back to Havana in the taxi with Humberto.

Back in Havana we went to our rooms to freshen up and then we hit the streets of Habana Vieja to see what we could see.

Cuba's fort near our hotel

Musicians in the Plaza de Armas

Found this adorable place to have a nightcap

The center of the restaurant was open to the sky

Top two Cuban beers

The seats were letters

Back outside, walking down Mercaderes Street

Please understand why I didn't bring you a lousy t-shirt


This became a theme the rest of my travels - I want to go back and help the problem with strays

Artwork on the walls

Plaza Vieja

I wanted one of these giant drinks but Eric wouldn't let me!

Warrior wielding a fork while riding a chicken!

Small hotel we walked past

Basilica San Francisco de Asis

Basilica San Francisco de Asis

Basilica San Francisco de Asis

Dog enjoying some art

Havana alley at night

"Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit."  ~ Frank Borman

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