After our introduction to Havana, we were on the bus for our tour through Vinales, Cienfugos and Trinidad. After a few days in the chaos of Havana, I was actually feeling quite relieved that we had booked into a tour. As far as tours go, it was relatively chilled with just accomodation, transport and breakfast in the casa particulares paid for, with the option to join in with the group for activities and dinners along the way.
First stop was Vinales, the home of cigar making in Cuba. Besides cigars though, the Vinales Valley is home to these amazing rock formations called mogotes which dot the landscape and look like nothing I have ever seen before – like gigantic rocks with trees growing out of them. It was like something out of Jurassic Park!
We had one full day there and we spent the morning going for a walk through part of the valley, learning how tobacco leaves are dried and cigars are made. After a short demonstration from a tobacco farmer, we got to try the final product. Having never tried a cigar I had no idea what to expect, but it was quite mild and I didn’t mind it too much. Having said that, I don’t think I will make a habit of it! On the way back to town we stopped in a small bar for pina coladas, because, well, that was just Cuba really.
That afternoon we went to see the prehistoric mural painted on the side of one of the rock formations. Painted between 1960 and 1964, it measures 80 metres tall by 120 metres wide and depicts the geological and biological evolution that occurred in this part of Cuba. We stopped here for some pictures and yet another pina colada, where they handed us the rum and allowed us to decide how much to pour in! After this, we went for a swim at one of the hotel pools overlooking the valley to cool off. That evening we headed over for dinner at an ecological farm on the outskirts of Vinales. For the equivalent of about $13 you could get a set menu with farm fresh produce, and it turned out to be a feast! There wasn’t a lot of English being spoken by anyone but us, but I am pretty sure we had minced turkey on something akin to prawn crackers, pork steaks, chicken legs, tuna steaks, the most amazing vegetable soup, and a variety of sides and vegetables. And of course, the standard Cuban rice with black beans which I had grown quite fond of! The meat didn’t look all that appetising when it came out but the pork and chicken I tried were juicy and tender. Although I don’t like papaya in its natural form, the candied papaya they had for dessert there was to die for. After dinner we had a bit of a photo shoot in front of the sunset, much to the amusement of some of the waiters.
The next day we were off to Cienfugos via the Bay of Pigs, the site of a failed U.S military invasion of Cuba in 1961. Now it’s just a popular holiday swimming spot for Cubans and tourists alike, with just a precarious ladder down to the ocean where the swell was crashing against the rocks. Most of the group didn’t didn’t get in here but I certainly wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity. There was also a beautiful cenote (swimming hole) about 100 metres away where the water was much cooler. We stayed the night in Cienfugos, which, while cleaner and more organised than the rest of Cuba, didn’t really have much vibe. After a short walk around in the morning, we were back on the bus for the short trip to Trinidad. We spent our first morning there wandering around the town centre, ogling at the colourful houses and watching our steps on the cobblestone streets. We had lunch at a cute little cafe, La Giroud, whereas had a really nice lunch listening to some live local music. After this we got a taxi, a cool vintage green car, out to playa ancon, the premier beach in the area. I am not usually drawn to beaches when I am on holidays, as we have such lovely and accessible ones at home. It was worth going out to, although definitely not as nice as the beaches in Perth! The Brits that we were travelling with were in heaven though. We paid for some beach chairs and a coco loco (warm coconut water and rum, actually pretty gross) and parked ourselves in the shade to intermittently swim and read for a couple of hours. That night we had dinner at La Redaccion, a pretty hip restaurant in town. I had a Caribbean lamb curry, which I thought could have done with a bit more heat but was very flavoursome for Cuba. I also tried a canchanchara here After that, we headed over to La Rincoin de Salsa for some live salsa music, before heading out of town to a cave for a disco. Yes, a disco in a cave. It was like a legit, walk through a hole in the wall and down three stories disco in a cave. Entry about about $7 with two drinks included, and it was SO hot. I thought being a cave it might be a bit cooler inside, but no such luck. We only stayed long enough to have our two drinks, before escaping in search of the breeze outside. The next day we went for a hike through some forest in search of a waterfall and swimming hole. It was a really pretty walk, taking us over bridges, across streams and down tree lined paths. There was even a whole wall of wasps nests (with a sign telling you to be quiet near them!) and a tea house that we stopped in on for some honey and lemongrass tea. The waterfall itself was really cool, and you could swim right up to and underneath it, entering the cave behind where there was lots of bats living. There was also a spot to jump off about 5 metres into the water below, which is about the limit of my thrillseeking! That afternoon everyone went back to the beach but I opted to spend a bit longer walking around the town. I also had some lunch at a cafe called Don Burrell, which was great. The malanga (a type of potato) fritters were salty and perfectly crispy, while the ham and cheese pizza was surprisingly good for $2. The next day were on the bus back to Havana, making our customary stop at an all you can eat buffet for $10. These had become the norm for lunch on long bus trips and some of them were pretty average, but this last one we stopped at was definitely the nicest – it even had icecream and doughnuts!