Back to Havana

We were heading back to Havana today and had told Tony that we didn’t want to leave until 11am.

Our breakfast 'room' in Vinales
Our breakfast ‘room’ in Vinales
The symbol at the bottom denotes tourist accommodation
The symbol at the bottom denotes tourist accommodation

We have both felt that this part of the tour was a bit of an expensive addition, having had to pay a relatively substantial local payment, the guide having very little to do and it being advertised as a five day tour, when, in fact, it is barely four. Consequently, we took our time this morning, whilst Pedro hovered, looking at his watch, as he had a long drive back to Trinidad, once he had dropped us in Havana.

We were ready before 11am but, by this time, they were both embroiled in the phone game again, so we had to wait for them. We didn’t stop at all on the way, and were back in the city by 2pm where we were dropped at our Casa for the night, which was different from the one we had previously stayed in.

After Tony and Pedro had left, we walked into Obispo Street and to a very Cuban restaurant where we had a fairly unspectacular lunch but were joined at the table by a mother and her two sons, one of whom was quite small and entertaining.

Afterwards, Deb wanted to check her emails, so we ambled up to the Parque Hotel, which is very grand, eating coconut ice cream out of a coconut, whilst we walked. I sat in the foyer and had a coffee whilst she was using the internet. The people watching, as usual, was entertaining.

Inside the Parque Hotel
Inside the Parque Hotel
The wooden circle is for pedestrians to step over the ditch!
The wooden circle is for pedestrians to step over the ditch!

Whilst we were there, we realised that the Buena Vista Social Club was playing that evening, so we booked tickets, as this was something special for the last night in Cuba. However, we had to return to the Casa first, to smarten ourselves up, which was a bit of a mission in my case.

We then had dinner at the Italian restaurant we had visited previously before joining all the cruise ship passengers in the Parque Hotel function room where the band was playing. It wasn’t really quite the right venue with its white table cloths and suited waiters but the band and accompanying dancers were excellent, even if the programme was geared to tourists. At one point, they asked everyone which country they came from and then played a few bars of a relevant song. I was the only New Zealander and the song was ‘How Bizarre’, which was a little curious!

Afterwards, we sat in the foyer and listened to some music from another band before hailing a bicitaxi to take us back to the Casa. This was entertainment in itself, as it was about midnight, and the driver was very chatty and kept stopping and turning round to talk. Consequently, it took quite a while to arrive at our destination.

Tobacco, massage and even more food

Mending the roof of the tobacco drying shed
Mending the roof of the tobacco drying shed
Path through farmland
Path through farmland

The beds in our rooms here are probably the most uncomfortable we have had to date so, apart from the stomach trouble I had been having for the last few days, I didn’t sleep well because of the bed.

However, we couldn’t laze around as we were booked on a walking tour at 9am so had to get up and get going, with the aid of some Imodium in my case.

Our local guide for the day was quite arrogant and had obviously got his spiel down to a fine art, complete with jokes. We were joined by two Belgian girls, who are currently working as nurses on Aruba, so we enjoyed chatting to them.

Farmer's implement shed
Farmer’s implement shed
Tobacco leaves drying
Tobacco leaves drying

The walk took us through farmland, which was mostly tobacco plantations of 6 or 7 hectares and where oxen were being used to pull the carts of harvested leaves into the drying sheds. One farmer showed us how the cigars were rolled with three layers of leaves, the first being a bunch of leaves that had been dried for 3 months or more, the second being one leaf from the bottom of the plant and the last layer being a leaf from the middle of the plant, which has softer leaves and is therefore more maleable. They normally roll the cigars in the evening after the field work is done and would do about 100 or 150 per night.

Outside a house in Vinales
Outside a house in Vinales

After the walk, we stopped at the bar in the plaza and had a sandwich and people watched for a while. It was an excellent position for that as every man and his dog (or horse) went past.

We then returned to the casa for some rest and recuperation and I had a massage that I had booked, which was done by the owner’s sister in law. It was excellent, once I had worked out how to breathe with my face stuffed straight down into the bed clothes. No such thing as massage tables here! Deb had to be turned out of the room as well and had to sit on the verandah in the rain for an hour, which made me feel a little bit guilty! I’m sure the massage therapist would have needed a massage herself, as well, after bending over the bed for an hour.

Our evening meal was at an organic finca/farm and Tony had arranged our transport with one of the neighbours, who has a large old car that he uses as a taxi. The food was outstanding and excessive and we didn’t have to pay as we had a voucher to compensate for not staying at Las Terrazzas, as we should have done. Unfortunately, I ran out of stomach space quite early on so didn’t eat a huge amount. The goat casserole, onion fritter and creme caramel were excellent though and I am sure there were some well fed animals later on.

Orchids, Indians and caves

No health and safety here!
No health and safety here!
Orchid
Orchid

We had a very lazy start to the day and didn’t go to breakfast until after 9am. Deb and I then had a wander around the orchid gardens that were close to the hotel, avoiding the coach parties of Germans as we went. They had some beautiful flowers and some very interesting steps up and down the garden about which the health and safety organisations in our respective countries would have had apoplexy!

Once we had finished wandering, it was about an hour’s drive from Vinales, our home for the next couple of nights.

Our guide was quite keen to have lunch somewhere but we decided that rather than waste time on this, we would have a street pizza and then go to the Caves of the Indians. So, we bought the exceptionally cheap cheese and ham pizza and stood on the side of the road eating it, whilst trucks and tractors passed by belching black smoke. A tasty addition to our food!

Indians with the tree rat outside the caves
Indians with the tree rat outside the caves
Inside the caves
Inside the caves

Pedro drove us up to the caves and they then both waited for us whilst we joined the bus load upon bus load of French and German tourists inside the caves.

Band outside the bar in Vinales
Band outside the bar in Vinales

Unfortunately, until we started queueing to catch the boat for the 3 minute tour of the caves, we didn’t realise quite how many people were there already. Obviously the Cubans haven’t considered restricting the numbers entering the caves at any one time. It did mean we had ample time to examine every inch of the rock formation though. On our way in, there were a few Indians, comprising a couple of women looking totally bored sitting next to a camp fire and a couple of men who were allowing the tourists to play with a tree rat.

We rejoined Pedro and Tony, who drove us back into town so we could have a wander. This inevitably led to a drink in a bar in the plaza where a band managed to play 3 songs before passing the hat around and needing a rest. We drifted off to find another bar and ended up chatting to a local builder and his young rastafarian friend, who taught drama to young people.  He made us each flowers out of silver paper from a cigarette packet, which was very clever, we thought, after 3 mojitos!

Souvenir stalls in Vinales
Souvenir stalls in Vinales
Viazul bus (mostly for tourists) in Vinales
Viazul bus (mostly for tourists) in Vinales

We had arranged to meet the men at a restaurant at 7pm so reluctantly left the bar, where the conversation (in Spanish) had been quite entertaining, and went to join them. Dinner was quite good, very European and cheap. The toilets were fantastic! There were seats, paper, water, soap and a hand drier. What more could a person want? Our driver was so impressed that he took photos. It has to be said here that not all Cuban toilets are made equal and many of them are seatless and paperless and about 70% are even water less (cistern and/or sink) so there is a certain amount of joy when you find everything you need.

By the end of the meal, the others had become embroiled in a game, in Spanish, they had been playing on their phones, which eventually annoyed me. We had thought of going to the bar afterwards to listen to some music but ended up going home instead as there didn’t appear to be too much happening in town.