caves, giant rocks, and credit card hacking...
08.05.2016 - 13.05.2016 30 °C
The journey from Trinidad to Viñales took about 8 hours in total - it was hot, sticky, and really uncomfortable. Poor Billy was hungry most of the way too, so it wasn't the easiest of transfers! However, as we began to get closer to our destination we started to see the huge limestone rocks that make the valley of Vinales so iconic.
We got off the bus and walked around the town in search of a place to stay. The view from of the mogotes (lime cliffs) were beautiful so we didn't want to stay in the town, even though every single house was a casa particular offering a cosy bed and a bite to eat. Instead we walked... and walked... with our bags until we found a casa particular closer to the view we had come to see.
On our second day in town we headed out on a tour around the town. We went to see the Prehistoric Mural which TOTALLY tricked us. We thought it was going to be awesome indigenous artwork on a cliff... instead it was a mural of prehistoric times done by what looked like a 4 year old - Don't tell Cuba I said that though, because apparently it was done by a famous artist of theirs - oops!
The tour took us to a wonderful viewpoint where it felt as if the valley spread out before us had no end.
We went to the Indian Cave / Cueva del Indio which was far better than we were advised it would be. Yes, it was as touristic as everyone mentioned - with a huge line of people cueing up for the tiny boat ride on the inside, but the actual cave itself was beautiful!
And the river ride on the boat was amazing too, scary at times because the river was so tight and the driver wasn't going at snail pace!
We headed to a tobacco farm to learn how Cuba makes their famous cigars. Vinales is the area where the best cigars in the entire world are made - so even though neither of us smoke, we thought we should go and have a look.
The tobacco curing houses are really cool. Their roof covered leaves hang all the way down to the ground, and inside are racks and racks and racks of drying tobacco leaves.
Our guide was absolutely terrible - it was as if he had learnt a script in English but had learned it with total mispronunciation. I didn't understand a single word he said, and for some reason he was not happy to explain it to us in Spanish! So after our tour we still know very little about cigars or tobacco. But we had fun playing in the leaves which did smell delicious as they were cured with rum, vanilla, honey, and cinammon!
The tour of course concludes with a free cigar smoking session and a hard sell by a true Cuban con-artist which we didn't partake in either much to their dismay...
We asked our tour guide to take us to a river instead of seeing the inside of a party cave in the daylight. I am always happy to visit a party cave - when there is a party. But without the party, it held very little interest for us. So our driver kindly took us on a lovely drive through the countryside to a waterhole where we plunged straight into the cold water. Strangely, the government in Cuba does not allow private houses or casa particulares to have swimming pools. The ones that had once existed in our casa particular and that of our friends had both been sadly covered in with concrete. To be in a country with such dry and intense heat, without access to water was something Billy and I found very hard. So the swim in the river was an absolute treat, and the perfect way to end our day touring Vinales.
The following day we headed to what is the 2nd largest caving system in Latin America; Santo Tomaso Caves. This was not at all touristic like the Cueva del Indio and there were no paved walkways leading us through.
We had to climb up a sheer rock face just to get into the entrance area, and then work our way through the caves in the pitch black using only our headlamps for light. In parts, the caves opened up to beautiful views of stalactites and stalagmites with pretty birds flying home to their babies.
We headed back to Havana for our final nights before our flight, and on our very last day we decided to venture out to one of the nearby beaches. Again, we were slightly disappointed with the quality of the beach - probably because we live in paradise here in the Dominican Republic. All of the other travelers were lapping up the sunshine and the waves, and of course we had a great day... but it's hard when Bahia de las Aguilas is our benchmark for a beautiful beach!
We walked around Havana one last time
And ate our favorite 50cent meal at the Cuban only restaurant - without being nearly arrested this time!
We boarded our plane and waved good bye to Cuba, flying over the most beautiful Caribbean Islands as we made our way back to Cuba. I even recognized my beloved Providencia far below and waved down sentimentally to my friends and the place where I had temporarily found true peace nearly 2 years ago now.
We landed in Panama, and I decided to check my bank balance because we needed to get ready for our immediate departure for Haiti. Cuba had been so expensive that we had used my credit card a few times, so we were worried about what money was left... And then up popped the screen - I was $3000 in debt! I checked my balance over and over again, not understanding how that could have happened. The internet was painfully slow and kept disconnecting, but finally the transaction list loaded enough for me to see... I had been hacked!