After five delicious days in Havana we departed on a spanking new Yutong Chinese bus for the town of Vinales to the west and just to the north over some mountains from Pinar del Rio, famous for the many Major League Baseball players it has supplied over the years.  The bus ride was comfortable and speedy and we were greeted in Vinales by a horde of casa particular owners waving signs for those of us with reservations.  Fortunately our host had a sign for us which read “David and Donnie” though only the Donnie (obviously for Bonnie) is visible in this picture.

"Welcome to Vinales!"

“Welcome to Vinales!”

Pedro quickly led us through town to his casa particular, called Las Vegas and bright pink from front to back.

'Las Vegas' casa particular, on the edge of town

The view from the roof was our first sense of the beautiful scenery we would encounter for the next three days.

tobacco and corn and the karst formations beyond

Vinales has a charming consistency to its architecture and nearly all the buildings are close to what this one is.

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Every single residential porch sported at least two rocking chairs.  We began to think it was an obsession.

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Vinales is not a large town and is focused principally on the growing and curing of that famous Cuban leaf which is the envy of the cigar smoking world.  We had a wonderful introduction to it when we took a hike out a trail at the end of one of Vinale’s streets and into the tobacco fields beyond.

The trail out of town into the fields

It wasn’t very long before we encountered a tobacco farmer hard at work in the fields cutting leaves and hanging them on racks to initially dry.

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And of course it didn’t take a minute to start talking, so we offered him a cigar–a Monte Cristo Mini–which drew a laugh from us all.

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We hadn’t gone much further up the trail when we encountered Hernando aboard his horse, cigar alight, who invited us to follow him and his horse (not too closely, thank you) down a path to his house and ranchito.

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It was late in the afternoon and things were wrapping up.  His children were washing down the horses, the other animals were being fed, and the sun was beginning to slant its way into the yard.

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After inviting us onto his porch, introducing us to his wife and offering coffee, he got down to some serious cigar rolling, a Cuban folk art at its zenith in Vinales.

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He rolled us a few and here’s a look at him at work:

In the end we all fired up,  bought a bunch of cigars for Bonnie’s brother, a serious cigar smoker, traded hats and all were more than satisfied.

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We did walk a little further up the trail and did meet this lady whose garden was filled with beautiful flowers and who had a long and fascinating life story to tell, no doubt.  Note the cigar in her hand!

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The curing of tobacco is done in truly beautiful barns which look like structures out of Africa or the South Pacific, covered as they are with palm fronds.

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And inside the tobacco is hung on racks which reach from floor to ceiling.  The smell is a smoker’s dream!

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Another striking thing about Vinales as opposed to Havana was that while there were 1950’s vintage cars around, the overwhelming mode of transportation was a bit more antique.  Horses and oxen were everywhere pulling everything from teenage joywagons to the local taxis. And they clearly had the right of way!

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We also took to bicycles and struggled up the steep climb up the mountain to this beautiful view from a restaurant hanging over a cliff edge.

Just beyond was one of the two beautiful upscale hotels on the fringe of town, and we were tempted to just dive in.

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We also stopped at a fruit and juice stand and its owner along the highway which was so charming that it deserves a photo all its own!

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Finally, we hired a taxi to take us out to the Valley of Silence, which is the end of access to anything in that direction.  Beyond there are no roads!  The highlight is a cave in the limestone mountains which form the valleys in this part of Cuba, and we took the tour, partly a walk and partly a boat ride in the river that still exists after forming the cave over millennia.

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We loved Vinales and think it gives any visitor a view of a Cuba still viable and alive if timeless.  And the natural beauty is spectacular.

From Vinales we headed off to Cienfuego and Trinidad by taxi, a trip across half of Cuba on its sole ‘interstate’ highway.