EDITORS NOTE: Our friends and colleagues, Mexican photographers Miguel and Juanita recently spent 10 days in Cuba traveling with their good friend, Juan Blanco Arroz. We are happy to publish their stories and photos in four installments. First, is the beautiful countryside in the West around Viñales, second will be the colonial town of Cienfuegos founded by settlers from France and Louisiana, third will be La Habana, and last will be a report from two of the dive sites around the archipelago: Maria la Gorda and Bahia de los Cochinos. Enjoy, ML.
About a two-and-half hour drive west of Havana is the agricultural region of Viñales in the Pinar del Rio province. The area is home to the tobacco fields that are responsible for Cuba’s world-famous cigars. The town itself is pleasant, has interesting architecture and is a good jumping off point for bike tours, horseback riding and climbing the area’s famous mogotes (tall monolithic mountains). As with much of Cuba, you will feel like you are in a time-warp with 50s-era American cars, 60s-era Russian cars, horse-drawn wagons on the streets and highways, and teams of oxen plowing the fields.
There is a definite small-town vibe, with people asking where you have come from and showing general interest in telling you about their lives and knowing about yours.
One of the highlights of our visit was finding a Casa Particular just outside of town run by the Crespo sisters (firstname.lastname@example.org) for 20 CUC per room ($1 Canadian = .90 CUC). Just across the road was a tobacco drying shed (casa de secadora) in the middle of a field being plowed by a team of oxen. Men were walking behind the plow, hand-planting corn, which is rotated with the tobacco crop. The man in blue said the owner would be happy to show the tobacco shed to us.
The patron, Benito Camejo Torres, showed us his drying shed, explained the tobacco growing and drying process, and demonstrated how to hand-roll a cigar. He smokes 10 of his cigars a day, but only to the halfway point. He proudly told us he was 72 because he enjoys life, doesn’t need lots of money because he has good work, family and a little bit of rum each day.
Sounds like a recipe for a good life.
TRAVEL FACTS (all prices in Canadian dollars):
Flights from Cancun to Havana are around $300
Rental car: $40 – $70 per day, full insurance included
Gas: $4 to $5 per gallon
Casas Particulares – $20 to $30 per night, breakfast $4 – $5