Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Road to Vinales

Monday we had a road trip to Vinales, about two and a half hours west of Havana.  Vinales has some of the most spectacular scenery on the island.  Thirteen of us (including our group leaders and our wonderful Cuban photographer guides) climbed into an air-conditioned bus and sped off west through Havana's more middle class neighborhoods and the ritzy Miramar area.  We were heading to the Vinales valley through the Sierra de los Organos, a range of mountains in Northwest Pinar del Rio Province.   The whole valley has been designated a National Park.
 The mountains are called magotes (haystacks) and are the remains of a limestone plateau that rose from the sea millions of years ago.  Over the years, the rains and rivers have dissolved the limestone into butte like formations.

We did make a stop after about 90 minutes or so to a rest area with a little restaurant, clean bathrooms and a Pina Colada stand!!!

Senor Pina Colada would whip up a batch of the mixer in the blender, sprinkle a little cinnamon on it and then tell you to drink some of it before you poured in the rum.  There was a bottle of rum sitting right there.  It was great and I will have to experiment this summer to see if I can recapture the taste of the Cuban version.  There was also this fellow there making large pots out of palm tree trunks.

Our next stop before we hit the town of Vinales, was an overlook with an incredible view of the entire valley, best known for tobacco farming.  Apparently several of the tobacco farmers have realized that they can make a few extra bucks having touristas come out to their farms to shoot photos.  Why not?  It seems like a very win-win situation to me.

Valley view with drying house covered in thatch

The first farm we stopped at had a huge drying house.  The tobacco was carefully picked, then several leaves were tied together at the top of their stems and then the packet of leaves would be placed on a rod so that it would dry in the right humidity, which is regulated by opening and closing the doors of drying house.

One thing that was amazing was the smell of the tobacco.  It was almost too much for some of our photographers who didn't stay in the drying house very long.  The farmer also demonstrated how to hand roll a cigar.

We then went into the town for lunch.  We had lunch at this little paladar that was recommended by our guide.  But we were warned to just drink beer or soft drinks and nothing with ice in it.

In most of Havana, these signs are faded, but it looks like this got a paint job recently.

Then we wandered around the square a bit before getting in the bus again to visit a special tobacco production facility where the leaves are "marinated" and put through different degrees of humidity and the leaves are hand-sorted.  But that's the next post tomorrow.  But here's a short video clip of a band playing in the square.
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