On Monday morning we collect our rental car and head
west. Our destination is
The area around Vinales is very beautiful. Small, rounded, limestone mountains, called mogotes dot the landscape. In between, are lush, fertile valleys with rich red soil. The tobacco grown in these valleys makes the best quality Cuban cigars. The soil is mainly ploughed with oxen and it is common to share the highway with ox carts. Working cowboys on horseback are everywhere. It is like stepping back into the nineteenth century (or even earlier).
In Vinales, Valentin helps us to find a casa particular. We settle in with Enca y Tony. Both of them teach at the local school, where they make the usual ten dollars a month so they take in guests to supplement their meager incomes. We pay US$15. per night and $3.00 each for breakfast. We eat our meals on the back porch of Enca and Tonys small house. A hen with tiny chicks scratches around in the dirt and the neighbourss pig occasionally bolts through the shrubbery. Enca offers dinner for $6.00 each, which we enjoy on a couple of evenings. She is a fabulous cook and the meals are wonderful; lots of interesting fresh fruit and vegetables -- I particularly like the fried plantains -- excellent fish, good chicken and pork; usually way more food than we can eat. One of the staples of Cuban meals is white rice and black beans cooked together. Malengua, something like a fried sweet potato, is also very tasty.
The rented car allows us to tour the countryside and
visit nearby attractions. We
find a Herbarium owned by the Miranda sisters, one of whom gives us a
tour. Here we learn that while
my Spanish is better than Susans, she does speak fluent Plant!
She has no trouble communicating whenever the topic includes vegetation.
We drive a couple of miles up to a resort hotel called Las Jasmines,
which looks out over the
The next day we head for the provincial capital, Pinar
Back in Pinar del
The next day, we take our hosts recommendation and drive about fifty km to an island called Cayo Jutias on the north coast. It is a low cay made up mostly of sand and mangroves and is reached by a causeway from the mainland. No one lives on the island and there are no hotels or resorts. There is only a little thatched roof snack bar, and miles of spectacular beaches. We walk nearly four km on beautiful sand with virtually nobody in sight. We swim and introduce Susan to snorkeling. She likes it! There is only a little coral but enough to whet her appetite. Despite lots of number 30 sunscreen we both get sunburned. Altogether quite a day!
Next morning we reluctantly say goodbye to Enca and Tony and set out on a longish drive to our next destination. To make better time we take the autopista. Some years ago Castro decided his country should have a freeway like other countries, so he built a six-lane divided highway complete with overpasses and interchanges. Ironically, there is hardly any traffic on it. Some large trucks and the huge tourist buses from the resorts use it, but few Cubans have cars. We see a few government officials in European cars and a few other tourists in rental cars, but for the most part it is completely empty. Some of the overpasses have no ramps leading to them, just the bridge standing there.