Road Trip to Havana and Vinales, Pinar Del Rio Province

On Tuesday, January 31st, we started out on our bus trip from Varadero to Vinales.  Debbie, a friend living on her boat here at Marina Darsena, came along with us as she had not seen this apparently beautiful area that was our destination.  Our trip started with an early morning bus trip to Havana, P1020479-rwhere we stayed for a night at one of the many casa particulares (private homes, bed & breakfast).

View below our Havana casa

 

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View across from our casa

 

 

 

This particular casa was located on the third floor of a building facing a green park area and busy pedestrian thoroughfare.  We had the afternoon  and early evening to explore Habana Vieja (Old Havana), which hasn’t really changed that much in the past three years.

P1020488-rRon enjoyed his tour of the “esquina calientes” (lively sports discussion, by Cubans with a passion for baseball and soccer) in the large parque central near our casa and, of course, he had to sample ice cream whenever he came across a vendor!

Ron approaches the esquina caliente with caution

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Ron savours his first of four ice cream cones!

 

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Judy admires an old restored car in Habana Vieja

 

 

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Catedral de San Cristobal in the old city

 

 

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The “bike taxi” common in all Cuban cities

 

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The La Punta Fort across the Havana harbour

 

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View down the Malecon just before dusk – on a calm day…

 

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This mime was posed as a statue – very authentic looking!

 

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One of many art shops showing the “newer” look in Cuban art

 

 

 

The restoration projects in the old city continue, while in greater La Habana, the buildingsP1020528-r seem in extreme disrepair. 

 

 

A “once beautiful” old building just outside Habana Vieja awaits a facelift

 

 

The next morning we headed off to the Viazul bus terminal to catch our bus to Vinales. The scenery en route was agriculture based and several times we saw oxen pulling single blade ploughs, a farmer at the reins.  Not once did we see a tractor working a field!  The use of IMGP1422horse and oxen for farm work and transportation was reinstituted in 1991 along with severe food rationing as a result of the abrupt stop of Soviet support, which had an almost apocalyptic affect on Cuba.

A team of oxen get a break from work on a sunny afternoon

The bus stopped at Las Terrazas – an eco-resort area that was originally barren land, now replanted with 15 years of lushIMG_0139-R growth. 

 

The rest stop at Las Terrazas

From there we went on to Vinales, a beautiful valley community in the mountains of Pinar Del Rio.  We had arranged a casa particular ahead of time and we were met IMG_0145-Rat the bus area by our hostess holding up a cardboard sign which read: “Ronald – Canada”

 

Our casa had a most interesting “green cement” lawn!

 

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Ron became very attached to the casa’s “gnomette”

 

 

Our casa was just a brief walk from the centre of Vinales. The first afternoon we walked to El Jardin de Caridad – a botanical garden just on IMG_0158-Rthe outskirts of town. This famous garden has hundreds of varieties of indigenous plants with the occasional doll’s head mounted in a cluster of green. 

 

A doll’s head peeks out from a garden patch

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A beautiful display of orchids in El Jardin

 

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Coffee

 

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Pineapple

 

 

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Ron at El Jardin’s gates

 

 

After the tour we were treated to a plate of fruit, on a pleasant patio.  The cost – only what you wished to donate.

The next day we walked out of town into the valley to visit various fincas (plantations/farms) – pineapple,IMG_0179-R coffee, and tobacco.  Our walk took us along narrow paths, across fields and into farmyards.

 

Ron and Debbie head down to the farms on the valley floor

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A very large pig lazes under a tree in one field we crossed

 

 

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A turkey vulture rests atop a fencepost digesting a tasty morsel

 

 

 

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A tobacco field with drying racks nestled below a “mogote” (a dramatic, rocky outcrop)

 

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A pineapple plantation nestled up to a mogote

 

In one field, a bull decided that he didn’t like our company and made to charge us – a heart stopping moment!  At a tobacco plantation we were treated to a demonstration of cigar making and then to view one of the drying barns.

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A tobacco finca spreads out over the valley

 

 

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Cigar-rolling

 

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The finished cigars are wrapped in banana leaves and bound, then left to cure for another few months

 

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Racks of curing tobacco leaves inside the drying shed

 

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More drying shed plus stable??

 

 

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The same drying shed from the outside

 

Once again this visit to the tobacco plantation was no cost except what we wished to give, which was a little money and some small gifts to the lady who showed us around.

In the afternoon we took the Vinales bus circuit (5 CUC) – an on-and-off for the entire day ride, as in Varadero. The bus stopped at all of the major sights around Vinales including a large mural painted on the cliffside of a mogote.

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La Mural de la Prehistoria

 

The mural is 120 metres long and painted on the side of Mogote Dos Hermanas (mogote of the two sisters). It was commissioned in 1961 by Fidel Castro and took 15 people five years to complete.  The mural, composed of a huge snail, dinosaurs, sea monsters and humans, intends to depict evolution.IMG_0228-R

The valley floor is scattered with mogotes, often covered in vegetation and pocked with caves.

Mogotes line the road on our bus trip to the caves

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The entrance to one of the many caves carved into the mogotes

 

Just sitting around the central square in town on one of the many benches that were in various stages of disrepair was aIMG_0203-R great experience in people watching.  The main cathedral off the square was undergoing serious maintenance activities while we were there and, by the looks of things,  would probably be continuing into 2013.

 

The cathedral in Vinales plus one of the many old cars in the area

 

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The friendliness of the villagers made the trip all that more enjoyable and we even managed to find big soft ice cream cones there for 2 pesos nationale (10 cents).

 

A fruit and vegetable seller beside the main square

 

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Sunset from the porch of our casa

 

The next day it was back to Havana where we picked up another bus to get us back to Varadero by midday.  A great trip!

Our impression, as we bussed through several  towns, was that the economy was looking up here, although we had heard otherwise.  Homes were starting to look well maintained and cared for, which was not the standard three years ago. The older cars were in a better state of restoration and the people seemed better dressed.  Probably some of which is due to the money coming into the country from US resident Cubans to their family members still in Cuba.

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